TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Students from the Art Institute of Tampa and airmen from MacDill Air Force Base faced off in a rematch culinary challenge last week.

The first match took place in November of last year, but the students and Airmen decided to square off once again in what was described as a “win all, say all.”

Executive Chef Bill Colella for MacDill Air Force Base and Chef Instructor Joaquin Alcocer for the Art Institute of Tampa were in charge of the teams but didn’t assist in the actual challenge.

Each team prepared a starter, a salad or soup and an entrée. They had 45 minutes to set up their station and 90 minutes to two hours to prepare, produce and present their dishes. The competition itself was held at the Art Institute.

Many dishes, especially on the side of the Art Institute, heavily featured salmon. Their entrée was Peruvian, with some Asian-styled fried rice that was Peruvian-influenced, as well as salmon that had a “chipotle-like sauce” that was coated around it, as well as roasted carrots with a pineapple chutney salsa, Chef Alcocer explained.

A panel of three judges evaluated the teams. While the Art Institute came away with the higher score by 14 points, barely besting the chefs at the Air Force base, a good time was had by all and skills were gained and enhanced.

Chef Alcocer said this event is absolutely important to help enhance Tampa’s culinary scene.

(WFLA Photo)

“It shows that Tampa is also booming in the culinary market. We are really, truly allowing these students to get out to the culinary world here in the Tampa Bay area and we are putting out great students that are just going to show their charisma, their tenacity, their ability to cook properly and do what they can to be the best chefs in the future,” the chef said.

He wants his students to gain confidence, and this event helped – especially with the time constraints placed on the teams.

“Time constraints were truly something that these guys practice on, so we did have a little bit of understanding on what we needed to do within the time frame,” said Chef Alcocer. “But it’s still pressure that they [cannot] expect because everything and anything can happen within this event. So the stress level is always at a high…” 

Chef Bill Colella, of MacDill and Aramark, is a former instructor at the Art Institute of Tampa. He said bringing back the same level of education and training that he brings to the Air Force was important. He called it a “great, great experience” all around.

“So when they’re deployed around the world, that they have the necessary skills so they can supply the food quality as we do here at MacDill,” he said of his chefs.

They practiced prior to the event. The MacDill team figured out a dish that would fit within the time frame, while also making sure that it was quality.

“So none of us came into this cold, everybody practiced,” Chef Colella said.

Moving forward, both instructors said they’re working on something to “step it up one level again” following the delicious rematch.