ACF Chef Keith Gardiner talks about his winning ACF Culinary Knowledge Bowl team

By Kenya McCullum

It’s not surprising that ACF Chef Keith Gardiner, CEC, CCE, CCA, AAC, took his team at Guilford Technical Community College in Jamestown, North Carolina, to victory in the 2023 ACF Culinary Knowledge Bowl: After all, he’s been a culinary educator for about three decades, as well as a natural competitor who has participated in various cooking and sports competitions over the years. We spoke to Chef Gardiner about how he prepared his team for victory.

53103389489_7a083b04df_oQ: How did you get involved in the Culinary Knowledge Bowl?

A: The ACF hadn’t done it in over five years, so I happened to see an email that they were going to do it again this year. I asked the school if we could do it, and I applied for a culinary chair grant to fund the team. That’s what started the process; I needed to make sure we could get the money first.

Then I had students who were interested take a written exam to qualify them. We also looked at their GPA to see how they did in classes and looked at how involved they were with other school and community events so we got students who were committed. We created a rubric and chose the final six students. It’s normally four and one alternate, but ACF said I could bring another alternate. My goal with the grant was to bring as many students as I could to experience a national convention.

20231020_090516Q: How did you prepare for the competition?

A: There were three textbooks that any of the questions could have come out of. One was professional cooking, one was professional baking, and another one was a hospitality management book. There were questions on baking, sanitation, nutrition, management, and general cooking terms. Anything that was in those three books was really fair game.

We practiced about three hours twice a week, and then students got together on their own another time during the week. We would come in and actually run through knowledge bowl games, see how quick they were on the buzzer and how good they were at answering the questions. Once we got good with the games we had, you could actually build your own game. So students were assigned different categories or topics within the textbooks that were assigned, and they came up with some of their own games focusing on the same material from the books.

Q: What did you do during your prep times?

A: Sometimes they would meet and they weren’t necessarily face-to-face, but they were quizzing each other on questions. They also created Quizlets and things like that, and they would maybe do flashcards. Then usually on Fridays, we’d do a face-to-face practice where we would set up the game and have the buzzers and everything just like they use at the competition. They would practice using those buzzers, answering the questions on the board, answering the questions within the allotted times, and actually scoring several games. Some days we’d get through eight games, especially once they got good at it. They were nailing the questions, and they all became much, much smarter.

Q: What kind of guidance did you give the students along the way?

A: Just to keep practicing and if something went wrong in the practice, it was just a practice, so keep your head up. And especially during the game, I told them no matter what happens, if you get a question wrong, just move on and do better on the next one. It’s not over until it’s over.

Q: What do you enjoy most about competing?

A: I think it’s kind of the same thing as being in the kitchen. It’s the stress. It’s the rush from it, the adrenaline when you’re in the heat of the moment while you’re cooking on the line, putting out a lot of covers and everything’s going well. I like to practice working up to a competition, so the training and things like that. But I love the heat of the moment and fighting the situations you encounter to get through it. I like pushing myself.

Click here to learn more about ACF’s Culinary Knowledge Bowl.