Northeast Tarrant

Culinary students from Scotland compete in Iron Chef competition at Grapevine’s The REC

Special to the Star-Telegram

As part of Grapevine’s Sister City Culinary Education Exchange, two Iron Chef teams of students participated in a reality-show based contest on June 12 at The REC of Grapevine.

The competition consisted of two teams that battled it out for culinary supremacy in Grapevine.

“This competition was a wonderful way for the student teams to work together and demonstrate the skills they’ve been developing during this cultural exchange,” said Maureen Baricelli, sister cities development manager, Grapevine Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Both teams enjoyed the competition and we appreciate everyone who helped make this event such a huge success.”

The teams arrived to assess the food items in their pre-assembled baskets and made a culinary plan.

“They made a starter, an entree and a dessert,” Baricelli said. “For the entree, they had a choice of lamb, fish or chicken. Both teams chose chicken. The food was quite incredible, I have to say.”

The judges included City Councilwoman Sharron Spencer; Iain Scouller, regional general manager of Merlin Entertainment; and Paul W. McCallum, executive director of the Grapevine Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The West Lothian team featured four students from West Lothian, Scotland, one of Grapevine’s Sister Cities. They students were Russell Neilson, Kayleigh Witherspoon, Molly Frampton and Jordan McMichael.

“It was very fun,” Witherspoon said. “I've never done a cooking competition before so it was a fantastic experience. We didn't know what ingredients we were getting to work with so it was a good surprise on the day and I'm glad we got the chance to do this.”

The West Lothian team faced off against the Grapevine team, consisting of Dylan Benfante. Samantha Olcott, Kassy Lopez and Morgan Hook.

Benfante, a former Grapevine High School student intern in West Lothian, said he enjoyed his three weeks as an intern overseas.

“You got to see a whole different world of cuisine,” Benfante said. “The city of Grapevine was gracious enough to sponsor the whole thing. Nothing came out of my pocket.”

Benfante, who is working at the Riverwalk Cantina at Gaylord Texan Resort as part of his experience through his schooling with the Culinary Institute of America, said the competitors were resourceful as well as creative.

“They forgot to bring sugar so we used sugar available at The Rec,” he said of the multi-generational recreation center that opened last year. “We found 500 sugar packets and ripped them open.”

Categories were creative use of ingredients, appearance, aroma, flavor/taste and texture. Medals were given to the competitors, some who put their hardware around their necks and took selfies for friends and family.

“They absolutely loved it,” Baricelli said.

The West Lothian culinary students arrived in Grapevine on May 30 and have been working at three Grapevine hotels: the Residence Inn by Marriott, Embassy Suites DFW Airport and the Courtyard/TownePlace Suites by Marriott. The goal for the culinary exchange is for the students to learn best practices and how the culinary components function in a large scale hotel.

The chefs from these participating hotels developed the necessary parameters. Chef Dominic Osterwalder of the Embassy Suites compiled a list of ingredients designed to test the contestants abilities and imagination; Clemente Espinosa, food and beverage director of the Residence Inn, donated the food; and Chef Jon Pape of the Courtyard/TownePlace Suites brought kitchen supplies as well as his experience to the REC, where he helped coach and oversee the operation. An independent chef, Joseph Koons, also helped guide the students, bringing many exotic spices for them to use.

This was the first culinary competition between Grapevine and West Lothian. Grapevine’s Hobby Lobby donated chef hats for the two teams. The banner was donated by NJ Graphic Design in Grapevine.

The city has partnered with three Sister Cities across the globe: Krems, Austria; Parras de la Fuente, Mexico; and West Lothian. Each of the participating cities benefits from the program’s educational, professional and cultural exchanges. The exchanges allow educators, civic organizations and tourism and travel professionals along with citizens in the community to share professional experiences and knowledge, thus benefiting all three communities.

“The students are home hosted,” Baricelli said.

For more information about Grapevine, the Sister City Program or any of Grapevine’s events, visit or call 817-410-3185.

Marty Sabota: 817-390-7367