Culinary bowl team photo with teacher
  • FSDB culinary team menu for competition.
  • student in front of statue
  • student and teacher arm in arm
Students Rock the Culinary Bowl

On April 28-30, 2017 the American School for the Deaf (ASD) hosted their 8th Annual Deaf Culinary Bowl competition. The event took place in the Naugatuck Valley Community College (NVCC) Culinary Arts kitchen, located close to the ASD campus in Hartford Connecticut. Also competing besides FSDB and ASD – The Texas School for the Deaf and both Riverside and Fremont campuses of the California School for the Deaf.

FSDB Culinary Arts Instructor Kevin Voelker was the coach for Team FSDB, which consisted of Vanessa Coleman Dean James D’Angelo, Thomas Dornstauder, James Hunter, Michael Shoemaker, and Liam Von-Mahr. Director of Food Services Jessica Stankiewicz served as an assistant coach.

Stankiewicz vividly described their fast-paced competition timeline: Our trip started April 28 at 7:00 am Friday morning and ended when we got back to campus Sunday May 30 at 6:00 pm.

 “We arrived in Hartford at 4:00 pm and immediately felt the heat, we had to wait 45 minutes for the bus to pick us up, then go straight to the store and buy the food needed and stay within our given budget. Whole Foods is not the cheapest place to shop but we ended up with $9.00 to spare. We arrived at ASD, dropped off our bags, went to the cafeteria for pizza and then to the Deaf Iron Chef competition. It was really cool for our kids to see a famous chef who is Deaf. Kurt “Irish Chef” Ramborger confirmed there is a place in the industry for Deaf people. We finally got settled in our dorm with lights out at 11:00 pm. Saturday at 7:00 am they fed us an amazing breakfast and sent us off to the NVCC. When we got there the competition rules were explained. Teams had 30 minutes to set up equipment and gather the things they needed. Then they got another 30 minutes to measure ingredients. Afterward the coaches had to leave and could not enter the kitchen again. The total time for preparing and serving all dishes was 110 minutes, but the appetizer needed to be ready in 30 minutes, and they had 50 minutes to complete the entree. The remaining time (30 minutes) was to complete the dessert.”

Despite this being their first culinary competition, the FSDB team took home awards! They received 1st place for dessert, which was a flourless chocolate torte with raspberry sauce topped with mint sprigs. The team also received 3rd place for their entrée, a lobster risotto dish. A special award went to Thomas Dornstauder, chosen as Most Valuable Cook (MVC) of the competition. Dornstauder received the award because of his superb leadership and communication skills. Chef Kurt was so impressed with Dornstauder that he told him that when he was ready, to talk to him about a job! Dornstauder had competed in two previous FCTC events. He is a natural leader who articulated his leadership philosophy as, “You have to be responsible and keep checking, double-checking what everyone needs.”

Students loved the whole experience, from flying to Connecticut (first flight for some) to the teamwork to learning from mistakes. Vanessa Coleman, a student in the Blind Department, was inspired by the experience of working on a team, saying “You can do whatever you want! Being visually impaired, the communication was difficult, but I got my point across. There are no limits.” Michael Shoemaker enjoyed the competition to the extent that he will pursue culinary arts after graduation from FSDB. James Hunter, who celebrated his birthday during the event, raved, “Students helped each other during the competition so well and I loved seeing the Deaf community involved in a culinary competition. It was fascinating! I enjoyed visiting the ASD campus and I hope to compete again next year.”

Some students emphasized how much they had learned from their mistakes. Dean James D’Angelo described the recovery after error as one of his favorite parts of the competition. He explained, “The rice burned while we were working on the lobster risotto and we had to make a new batch. We also realized we forgot the onions but luckily it occurred to us to use green onions instead. We kept going despite all our mistakes and we finished on time!” Vanessa Coleman made some spontaneous decisions during the heat of competition. She described her reasoning, “When I was making the dessert, it took so long to cool I felt frustrated. I kept checking and checking and it wasn’t going to cool in time. Then I realized the judges didn’t know how we wanted to serve it. So I said to Thomas, let’s just serve the dessert in the tins! We put the raspberry sauce and mint leaves on top and rolled with it.” (Their dessert won first place – kudos to Coleman for her quick decision making skills.) Liam Von Mahr also focused on learning from mistakes: “I burned what we were cooking. I almost gave up but I kept trying and the second time it turned out alright. I will remember that.”

Coach Voelker commented, “The Culinary Arts students were so good to work with, I wasn’t too worried about the outcome. Six students had a good experience just being in the competition. They know a lot and really communicated well. I’m proud of my 2017 Culinary Arts students.”

All of this year’s fearless students hope to compete again, and Career Development Director Andrea Armstrong had great news for them – the costs for competition participation have already been approved for next year!

By Christi Boortz, Instructional Services

About FSDBThe Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind (FSDB) is a fully accredited state public school and outreach center available tuition-free to eligible Pre-K and K-12 deaf/hard of hearing and blind/visually impaired students. Comprehensive educational services at FSDB are individualized, specific to the unique communication and accessibility needs of each student for independence and lifelong success. FSDB gratefully accepts private donations to support vital programs that directly benefit students and are not paid by state general revenue funds. To visit the school or to learn more about eligibility for enrollment, contact 1-800-344-3732. For more information, visit