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Published October 01, 2012, 11:33 PM

Concordia culinary manager takes home silver medal at national contest

MOORHEAD – Sitting in his office inside Concordia College’s kitchen, Phillip Edwards takes a deep breath and starts explaining how exactly he got his silver medal.

MOORHEAD – Sitting in his office inside Concordia College’s kitchen, Phillip Edwards takes a deep breath and starts explaining how exactly he got his silver medal.

The culinary manager of Concordia’s dining services for a little more than a year, Edwards performs such duties as coordinating the 300 student employees, organizing catering events and taking care of everything else that goes on in the kitchen.

Earlier this year though, he had a bit of an unexpected adventure.

Last January, Edwards entered a regional culinary competition in Grand Forks for chefs in the National Association of College and University Food Services. It was his first time participating in such a competition, and he figured he’d give it a shot.

In the contest, chefs had one hour to complete four identical dishes, with the only stipulation being that the dishes had to make use of flounder.

Edwards went the route of Asian food, and drew up a recipe of soba noodles with miso-glazed flounder served in a bowl. He finished third – better than he expected, but not well enough to advance to the national competition.

Even so, “I was pretty happy,” with this first competition performance, Edwards says.

Several months later when the competition moved onto nationals, he was in Boston with co-workers attending the conference at which the top chefs would perform when he got a phone call.

The winner of the regional competition – a chef from the University of Colorado-Boulder – was told that his wife was going into labor.

“So he just threw his stuff into a cab and went to the airport,” Edwards says.

The regional second place winner, also from Colorado, was stuck at work and couldn’t make it out in time.

So it fell to Edwards to compete if he wanted to.

There were just a few problems, though: The competition was in exactly 24 hours, Edwards hadn’t so much as thought about his recipe in the last six months, and he needed to collect his own ingredients and tools, none of which he had.

“I didn’t have anything,” he says. “I didn’t have a knife. I didn’t have a cutting board. You have to bring everything.”

Even so, Edwards knew he couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

Once he said yes, the co-workers of the UC-Boulder chef came up to Edwards and offered him their help.

“They said, ‘We’re with you, we’re your resources,’ ” Edwards says.

After coming up with a grocery list of what he needed for his dish, the chefs went off in all different directions, with one even running to Chinatown to get some fresh lotus root.

A trade show going on at the conference at the same time provided some necessary pots and pans, and before he knew it, Edwards was ready to compete.

After a night of very little sleep, “I felt like I was prepared, but my mind didn’t stop working,” Edwards says, as he and his co-workers made last minute adjustments to his recipe.

As the hour-long competition started, Edwards worked under the intense scrutiny of a live audience and a camera crew, who watched every move he made.

He finished the dish in time and presented it to the chefs. But he had to wait another long, excruciatingly sleepless night before finding out in the morning: he won a silver medal, and finished fourth place out of six competitors, each of whom came from schools much larger than Concordia.

Now several months removed from the stressful, adrenaline-fueled contest, Edwards looks back and shakes his head, thankful for the opportunity and amazed that everything “just fell into place,” he says.

“That was a whirlwind 24 hours,” he adds, laughing. “How could you say no to something like that?”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535