Obici brings a title to the table

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

As the final moments of the Area 324 Culinary Competition ticked away on April 2, Greg Retz attempted to maintain his composure.

&uot;I thrive on competition,&uot; said Retz, Obici Hospital’s executive chef/food service manager. &uot;Me and my guys always want to be the best. As bad as it sounds, we want to be better than everyone else.&uot; Retz and three of his colleagues had given it all they had for over two hours (and weeks of practice beforehand), and now it was time to find out if their latest challenge had been met.

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Joined by Obici display chef Dan Hahn and Pulaski residents Niki Martin and Ken Waldenville, Retz was trying to nab the team’s first competition title. With six other teams standing in their way, the local team headed to Tyson’s Corner, near Washington D.C., for the event.

Based on the theme &uot;Harvest of the Sea,&uot; the team had designed a display featuring all the bright spots of the beach. A table covered in sand, seashells, starfish, netting, a makeshift pier, and even a boat made of bread, had been created, mostly from the mind of Cary Fedei of the hospital’s marketing department.

They’d even placed a ‘Sea Log’ in the midst of the display. &uot;We dipped it into tea water and put it in the oven to make it look realistic,&uot; Fedei said. The log showed judges and guests exactly what the chefs were whipping up.

Required to use seafood cuisine, the team had picked an unfamiliar dish. They cooked up an Almond- Encrusted Pan-Seared Escolar Medallion with a Strawberry Vinaigrette, as well as an Atlantic Coast Fish Chowder. &uot;Not many people have heard of the escolar,&uot; Retz said. &uot;It’s like a mackerel. People sometimes call it the ‘butterfish’ for its texture.&uot;

Like they were piecing together an engine on an assembly line, the four chefs had to prepare enough food to feed 200 guests, all in less than two-and-a-half hours. &uot;Everyone was assigned a task,&uot; said Retz, who fixed the vinaigrette and seared the escolar, which Hahn had previously fabricated (as in, taken out the bones).

&uot;I was amazed at how well the team functioned,&uot; Retz said. &uot;Everyone was looking out for each other. There was nothing left behind.&uot;

There was one other thing that wouldn’t be forgotten, and the group received it two hours after the competition drew to a close. As the hundreds in attendance feasted on their culinary creations, the chefs waited to find out if they’d make local history.

Then the announcement came – the group had become the first from the area to win the gold medal.

As Hahn burst into cheers, everyone congratulated one another. &uot;Everybody did an outstanding job,&uot; Retz said.

For the rest of the week, Obici visitors will be able to witness the results of their local cooks’ hard work. The team has assembled their table display in the Courtland Caf\u00E9, downstairs at the hospital. The gold medals and certificate of victory are also there for the seeing.

Later on this month, local apprentice cooks will get a chance to take their first step toward &uot;chef-hood,&uot; as Retz holds a class at the new Obici Wellness, next to the Suffolk YMCA on Godwin Boulevard.

&uot;Decadent Desserts&uot; is from 6 to 8 p.m. on April 22. Retz will demonstrate Italian custard served over strawberries, Fantasy Bread Pudding with Wild Turkey Sauce, Fallen Angel Cake with Heavenly Cream, and Zinfandel Poached Pears with English Sauce.

The cost is $25 per class, payable at the Wellness Center no later than the day before the program. Wellness Center office hours are Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Cash and checks are accepted. For more information, call 934-8572.