Regis College’s Executive Chef Michael McCutcheon won Aramark’s Northeast Region Higher Ed Cooking Competition last year with a duck bowl that incorporates his experience cooking with Korean flavors and bulgogi [meaning “fire meat,” it’s Korea’s thin-sliced, mega-marinated, super-flavorful barbecue style].
This spicy bowl’s main components are rice noodles, beet kimchi and sautéed duck breast. The kimchi’s beets amp up their natural earthy flavor with rice wine vinegar, fish sauce, gochujang, scallions and garlic. McCutcheon uses the beet greens in the kimchi, too, along with napa cabbage.
The secret ingredient? Duck fat! The very thing that makes duck a bit of a challenge for a lot of chefs—the bird’s over-the-top, ample fat—really makes this dish sing as part of a savory jus and a sautée base for the rice noodles.
After winning the competition, the duck bowl went on to become an Executive Chef Special in the dining hall and then became part of an on-trend pop-up event.
We asked McCutcheon a few duck-related questions.
Q: Why don’t we see more duck on the menu from college chefs? It seems like it only comes out for competitions! Is it the expense?
A: “Duck is a great protein used a lot in cooking competitions due to its versatility and deliciousness, but mainly because it showcases a chef’s ability and techniques. It is a pricey protein, so many times, it’s served in higher-end settings and catered events.”
Q: What was your plan going into the competition? Did you know the ingredients ahead of time?
A: “This particular competition was a mystery basket challenge, so we did not know the ingredients for the challenge. The basket included pomegranate, whole beets with greens and a whole duck. We had 20 minutes to make a menu and an hour to prepare and cook. We were able to use additional spices and ingredients that would be found in a standard kitchen pantry.”
Q: So you had to make up this recipe on the fly…
A: “I was unable to practice this dish; however, I have experience cooking with Korean flavors and bulgogi-style dishes.”
Q: What’s your solution for serving duck while still being budget conscious?
A: “Because duck is a premium item, it’s important to use it in a bowl or other composed meal to keep costs down without sacrificing quantity or quality.”