Iron Chef

Culinary artist cooks for 2,000 students.

While the majority of Ball State students are still asleep and dreaming, Marsha Dawkins, the sous chef at Woodworth Plaza, is preparing enough food to feed approximately 2,000 individuals.

An ordinary day for Dawkins begins promptly at 4:45 in the morning and concludes at 3 p.m. In addition to her duties at Woodworth, Dawkins also bakes for other campus dining facilities, including the Atrium, Elliot and Noyer Halls.

"My daily tasks aren't that difficult because I stay organized," Dawkins said.

Dawkins, who is entering her second year on campus, explained how she designs spread sheets and forecasts the outcome of food consumption on a weekly basis. She has approximately 40 to 50 members on her staff.

Over the summer, Dawkins attended the eighth annual Chef Culinary Conference for Collegiate Cuisine.

Held at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst June 16-21, Dawkins said the theme for the program was "Tastes of the World" and focused on the best of Asian and Moroccan cuisine and American comfort foods to reflect the growing diversity of cuisine in campus dining.

Dawkins said the conference brought in a number of chefs, dieticians, food service managers, educators and trade people representing collegiate food services from schools across the country.

Dawkins was encouraged to attend the conference by dining service director Ann Talley.

"We are very proud to have Marsha on our staff and we appreciate the talent and enthusiasm she brings to the job," Talley said. "She exhibits a high level of performance. I felt she would be an excellent representative of our department and the university."

Dawkins said the American Culinary Federation has undergone several changes last year. Several adjustments were made for the conference, two faculty members from the Culinary Institute of America were added to the staff.

The faculty members were responsible for conducting several seminars at the conference. Additional hands-on sessions were also added to the conference's agenda, and a team competition sanctioned by the ACF was held at the conclusion of the conference.

The culinary competition sponsored by the Campbell Soup Co. gathered 10 teams of four chefs who competed against one another to prepare the most creative menus. The teams were picked at random. Each team was presented a mystery basket that included all the mandatory materials to prepare a sufficient meal. The groups were given 30 minutes to compile and submit a four-course menu with 10 servings. Of the 10 portions, three were used for judging purposes, one for a photo and critique and the remainder for individual-plated service.

Chefs were allowed four hours of preparation time. It was judged by three ACF certified judges.

Dawkins said the rules were so strict that no team received a gold medal, but Dawkins' team tied with another group to receive a silver medal. Judging was based on taste, presentation, temperature and texture. To receive a silver medal the team had to accumulate 32-35.99 points.

This was her first national competition. She said the highlight of the event was receiving the silver medal and a $600 gift certificate. The medal now adorns her living room wall.

Dawkins admits the conference was exhausting.

"When you do a job you love, the hours just fly by. You don't feel it until you come home and relax."

She said the conclusion of the day was the most rewarding because the chefs were allowed to eat the dishes they prepared.

While attending the event she decided to implement Asian cuisine in the menu at Woodworth sometime this year.

An original native of Hawaii, Dawkins said she has been baking since she was a child. She recalls helping her mother in the kitchen. At age 10, she assumed the majority of the cooking responsibilities for her family. She has nine brothers and sisters. She attended Pennsylvania Culinary School and graduated as valedictorian in 1999.


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