Art of Living Competition
By Gabby Landry ‘18
Two hours on the clock. A full kitchen at your disposal. Judges examining your technique and teamwork. No, this isn’t Chopped, Cutthroat Kitchen, or Master Chef; it is the Art of Living (AOL) culinary competition.
From Friday, March 24 through Sunday, March 26, about 40 girls from Boston, Washington, D.C., Delray Beach, Toronto, and other cities gathered at Arnold Hall Conference Center in Pembroke, MA for the annual Art of Living Conference. The weekend was filled with activities, including opportunities for prayer, the culinary competition, a “Great Cakes” showcase, and a Skills Gallery.
This was my first year participating in the Art of Living. Normally, high schools girls meet for monthly AOL meetings, where they practice with their cooking team and plan for the competition. This year, at the last minute, I joined the team of Ciara Dunn ‘18, Sofia Conte ‘19, and Ciara’s sister Sheila Dunn, who needed a fourth teammate.
When I first heard about the cooking competition, I did not expect it to be so intense. Needless to say, I was nervous and was not sure what I had gotten myself into. But the competition, and the other activities of AOL, exceeded my expectations.
The culinary competition theme was Brunch Revolution, and our team had planned to make a Mexican Brunch consisting of an egg casserole, fruit basket, churros, aguas frescas, and—at the last minute—refried beans. In the kitchen, I had pretty simple jobs: cut the pineapple and kiwi for the fruit basket, make aguas frescas, and do the dishes to keep our workspace as clear as possible.
The kitchen was alive and intense with a flurry of high schoolers moving around to prepare the food, judges examining our cooking techniques and how we worked together, Arnold Hall staff helping with the cooking equipment, and friends and family looking on.
Although we started off strong, our team soon experienced some frustrations in the pressure of the competition. The decision to add refried beans to the menu threw us off. I had never worked in that kitchen before, so I was confused about where things went. As we prepared the meal, the judges grilled us about the different elements involved, but because we were each focused on our different jobs, we weren’t able to easily explain the final vision until the end.
However, we did our best to work as a team, and we had a great time putting the meal together for the judges. The final product looked beautiful and reflected the work we put in. We presented our meal to the judges, and explained why we chose to include the different elements.
The two other teams also worked skillfully, one preparing an Easter-themed brunch and the other creating a Mexican brunch, with different elements than ours. In the end, the team from Washington D.C., who prepared the Mexican brunch, won the gold medal award.
The other parts of the weekend were less exciting but just as interesting as the culinary competition. I was really impressed with the group from Washington D.C. who showcased their cake-making and decorating skills to everyone in the Great Cakes seminar. We enjoyed their beautiful creations for dessert on Saturday night. The “people’s choice award” for best cake went to the strawberry cake, but all were beautiful and delicious.
The Skills Gallery was also impressive. Groups from D.C. and Florida demonstrated their skills in a variety of areas, with presentations on picnics, sandwiches, bread, event planning, and a redesigned door. Their exhibits were beautiful, and each team impressed the audience and judges with the amount of work they put into their projects.
Throughout the year, AOL teaches girls how to care for the basic needs of the person at the level of an art. The events, meditations, and the kind and welcoming Arnold Hall staff all reflected the philosophy of St. Josemaria, who taught that one can find God in any seemingly small act of work. The Art of Living Conference as a whole was a fun and interesting experience, and I would definitely recommend it to any Montrosian!