Culinary Arts Student Annie Baker Wins LB's "Copper Chef"

Culinary Arts Student Annie Baker Wins LB's "Copper Chef"

25 Apr 14

Story and photos by Alex Paul, Albany Democrat-Herald reporter, April 23

Twenty-two-year-old Annie Baker has been cooking since she decided as child that she liked to eat good food — although she says she doesn’t have a favorite dish.

Hailing from Olathe, Kan., Baker won the 10th annual Copper Chef title at Linn-Benton Community College, announced Monday afternoon. The event is patterned after the Food Network’s popular "Iron Chef" cooking show.

Five second-year culinary students competed, preparing a starter course and an entree in 90 minutes. Their creations were tasted and ranked by five independent judges based on appearance, taste/texture, flavor, harmony of choices and degree of difficulty. 

Baker said her culinary interest was piqued because her mother is an excellent cook and her sister, Alex, 26, is a chef in New York City.

“We share a passion in the kitchen,” Baker said of her goal of opening a restaurant with her sister.

An Oregon State senior, Baker spent last year at LBCC, which is part of OSU’s nutrition degree requirements. She chose OSU because her father grew up in Oregon and she fell in love with the state during family vacations over the years.

“I wasn’t sure I was going to come back to LBCC this year,” she said. “It would mean adding time before graduation and there wasn’t a spot open for me.”

She was notified in mid-summer that someone had dropped out and she was glad to take the opening.

Baker plans to complete a couple summer classes at OSU and then moved to the Portland area to gain more experience, although she has worked as a grill cook at Aqua in Corvallis for a year.

“It’s been a great experience and I’ve learned a lot,” Baker said. “I have built friendships that will be with me forever.”

Baker said she took part in the Copper Chef competition because, “I wanted to challenge myself. I feel I have a lot of skills, and this type of competition really tests you. During a regular class day, we have about seven hours to work. We had 90 minutes to get it all done.”

Baker said she had worked out several possible recipes in her mind, depending on what ingredients were made available by instructor Sami Hopson. Each contestant was asked to prepare a starter course and then an entree that included a protein, starch and vegetable.

She believed fish would be a staple in the contest, but Hopson threw the participants a curve when the main protein was pork tenderloin.

“I hadn’t even given that any thought,” she said. “When she revealed the ingredients, there were so many possibilities.”

Her starter course was bacon and blue cheese stuffed mushrooms with anchovy bread crumbs and crispy leaks.

The entree was pan-seared pork tenderloin over celery root and potato puree, confit of grilled fennel and onion served with apple, raisin, grape and orange chutney and crispy turnips.

Baker won a gleaming copper roasting pan, apron, salt and pepper shakers and thermometer.

Contestants Stacy Lebar, Ryan Johnson, Melissa Alvarado and Mikaela Stoner, also received prizes.

“Sign-ups for Copper Chef opened at 6 a.m. and they were here at 5:30,” Hopson said. “It’s open to all of the students, but in my six years here as a student and instructor, I’ve only seen one first-year student compete.”

Hopson said she is impressed by students who are “willing to put themselves out there in front of their fellow students and be judged. It’s a great learning experience.”

Hopson said the contest offers participants opportunities to draw from their extensive classes in baking, pantry, quantities, soups and sauces and butchering.

“They can use those skills creatively,” Hopson said. “They did great. I am like a proud mama as I see the second-year students prepare to leave.”

Hopson called Baker a “stand-out student. She’s fearless, not afraid to take risks and to potentially fail. She has a real diversity of what she can do. We’re glad she came back to us this year.”