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SMSU Team Wins Research Chefs National Competition

Published Monday, March 28, 2022
From left: Jordan Clark, advisor; Amberlynn Morgan; Alex Harmdierks
From left: Jordan Clark, advisor; Amberlynn Morgan; Alex Harmdierks

A pair of Southwest Minnesota State University students have won the Research Chefs Association Student Culinary Competition at the recent RCA Conference in Atlanta, Ga.

Amberlynn Morgan, a senior Culinology major, Chemistry and Nutrition minors, from Shakopee, Minn., and Alex Harmdierks a senior Culinology and Chemistry double major from Victoria, Minn., won with their “Sizzlin’ Biscuit Wrap.” Their team name was “Menu Masters.”

Their food item followed the competition guidelines: a menu item for a k-12 breakfast or lunch using an alternative protein and inspired by Atlanta cuisine, site of the convention.

 “It was a plant-based concept,” said Jordan Clark, a food scientist for Monogram Foods in Chandler, Minn., and an adjunct faculty member at SMSU and the team’s advisor for the competition.

Morgan said the competition was a learning experience for her, from start to finish. “We consulted with professionals in our industry for advice and gained hands-on experience. We got the opportunity to practice benchtop work in our kitchens and consult with our advisory board. It was exciting to win and see all our hard work pay off.”

Morgan said their creation “had to be palatable for students, something that combined familiar flavors and textures but was also nutritious and plant-based. We chose something that involved the comfort and homestyle food of Atlanta in the buttermilk cornbread biscuit and the smoky plant-based sausage patty.”

Harmdierks enjoyed taking the entry from concept to completion. “We started by researching the history of Atlanta as a city and the current food trends there. Then we studied various middle and high school cafeteria menus from across the country to see what meal options already existed. We knew our product would need to be kid-friendly so we wanted to combine familiar tastes and textures of Atlanta food trends into the plant-based meal. After testing various alternative protein concepts, we consulted with Schwan’s and narrowed our focus towards a plant-based wrap,” she said.

“It was a rewarding experience because we were able to tie knowledge from classes, work experiences and industry professionals together in order to present a product we were proud of,” added Harmdierks.

Clark described their entry as “being like a breakfast Hot Pocket.

“Both Alex and Amberlynn did a great job creating a product that was feasible while understanding the customer — the convenience, simplicity and ease of use,” said Clark.

A second team of SMSU students also competed in another category and finished no less than third, said Clark.

The “Trees to Treats” team of  Shamar Brown, a senior Culinology major from Maplewood, Minn., and Jensen Watson, a senior Culinology major from Muscatine, Iowa, competed in the Food Evolution competition. Their entry created a product out of repurposed food, using palm powder. “It was like a Nutri-Grain bar,” explained Clark.

The overall experience was transformational, said Morgan. “We learned about the food product development process from a holistic perspective and saw the process from start to finish. As seniors in the Culinology program, the competition helped prepare us for working as scientists in the food product development field.”