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O.C., EHT pair serves up winning meal at ACCC culinary competition

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Isabella Burke and Grace Carpenter knew they were in for a challenge as one of six teams competing at the inaugural MRE Culinary Challenge on Friday.

All of the other teams had three members. But the local duo's third member was not able to participate.

“We were a little bit intimidated, said Burke, who lives in Ocean City. "We felt confident with what we had prepared and we ended up doing better than we expected.”

MREs, or Meals Ready-to-Eat, were created in 1975 by the U.S. Department of Defense as a combat ration. It is a self-contained complete meal designed to withstand rough conditions and exposure to the elements.

Each MRE contains an entree and a variety of other food and drink items.

For the competition, each team spun a wheel and blindly chose their ingredient bag kits. They then had an hour to prepare an entree and either an appetizer or dessert.

Once completed, the teams had 10 minutes to plate and present their creations to the contest’s three judges, who based their scores on taste and presentation.

Carpenter and Burke made potato gnocchi with meatballs and a pancetta blush sauce with peas and basil oil. They also chose to make a desert: pound cake tiramisu with homemade coffee cello reduction mixed with espresso and served deconstructed.

“I was surprised (we won)," Burke said. "Grace and I are both first semester baking students and we've never done anything like this, so we were a little nervous going into it and we were just happy to participate. So, winning was really nice.”

They won by one point, 134-133.

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“We were definitely surprised," agreed Carpenter, who lives in Egg Harbor Township. "We both looked at each other and we completely didn't even think that would happen. Like (Isabella) said, we're first year bakers, but I'm glad that we were able to participate and come out on top.”

The winners will get the Let’s Chow Food Truck for one day, when they will be able to take it wherever they wish. The truck has been a tool to teach Atlantic Cape’s culinary arts students about mobile food operations since March 2022.

As for how the winning duo plans to spend their one day with the Let’s Chow Food Truck at their disposal.

“I think we both would really love to do some kind of fall fest and sell baked goods," Burke said. "And I am also really close to a couple of charities in Atlantic City so maybe we could go and serve some people there.”

Gelasia Nurse, Julio Gomez and William Fence came in a close second with their beef and chicken tinga ramen tostada, and coquito tres leche cane with coconut whip cream, toasted coconut and walnuts.

Third place with 121 point were Saudi Dolphin, Anthony Spero and Amy Jimenez with their spaghetti and Italian and vodka sauce with barbeque beef and ravioli, Mexican-inspired arancini with chicken burrito bowl appetizer, and vanilla pound cake with cream cheese frosting, cranberry reduction and toasted pecans.

Fourth place, with 113 points, were India Scarbrough, Jayda Hills and Jasaiya Phillips with their Mongolian beef with fried rice and beef ravioli mixed with carrots, onion, celery and egg, Apple pound cake with candied Italian sausage, cinnamon, sugar and graham crackers, and banana nut cake with caramelized nuts and whipped cream.

The judges were Scott Cronick, local radio host, writer and business owner; U.S. Army veteran Rodrigo Pimento, an Egg Harbor Township police officer who was a Academy of Culinary Arts student, and Steve Hellman, former four-year U.S. Coast Guard chef and current owner of Hellman’s Kitchen.


Lynda Cohen

BreakingAC founder who previously worked in newspapers for more than two decades. She is an NJPA award-winner and was a Stories of Atlantic City fellow.




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