Plates of fantastic food from some of the richest culinary traditions march up to the fifth floor of the Wilkinson Student Center. These delicious dishes will soon decide this year’s winner of the French & Italian cook-off.
Shink. The flag slides into place. Before the scents of cream and crêpes, marinara and gnocchi, or bruschetta and bread fade away, someone has won the French & Italian cook-off and slides their flag into the coveted chef-statue’s hands. For years, the French and Italian clubs have dueled with whisks, spatulas, and a mixing bowl or two at the annual French & Italian cook-off to decide which country (and which half of the department) has the superior cuisine.
The cook-off’s success depends heavily on the participation of club members. On the day of the event, students from each club must make a dish authentic to their country that fits into one of three categories: appetizer, entrée, and dessert. Once the dishes are assembled, representatives from each club choose the best dishes from each category to present to impartial judges from other College of Humanities departments. The judges then choose the best dish in each category; the club that wins the most categories wins the competition.
Winning the competition brings a sense of pride to the club and the faculty members from the victorious half of the department. In the French and Italian department office is a little golden statue of a chef holding a flag. The flag the chef holds denotes to all department visitors which club won the competition the year before and sparks friendly banter among students and faculty.
2013: The first French & Italian cook-off takes place. The event has been happening within the Italian club for a few years, but now the French club joins in. In their first meeting, the Italians defeat the French by taking the appetizer and dessert categories, but the French won the entrée category with an excellent coq au vin (rooster-wine stew).
2014: One of the French students wants to make fresh Belgian-style frites (French fries) for his dish. He brings a deep fryer to the event and fries up his potatoes in the hall of the Wilkinson Student Center, unbeknownst to any faculty. Everything is going splendidly—the frites are perfect, the hallway a bit smokey. Unfortunately, former BYU President Samuelson soon comes around the corner leading a group of dignitaries. Not so good for the frites. . . .
2015: The French club wins the competition by winning in all three categories. This is the only time in the history of the cook-off that a club has completely swept the competition. This is also the first year where food from Francophone countries, especially African countries, starts to make an appearance at the cook-off.
2020: COVID-19 strikes. Just before the cook-off could be held, all in-person activities are canceled, and the world goes into quarantine.
2021: COVID-19 strikes again. The cook-off is canceled. But the faculty in the French and Italian department are prepared this time and hold “cooking shows” with club members instead. Students learn how to make authentic recipes, such as crêpes and gnocchi, over Zoom. The faculty advisors successfully share a new type of culinary experience, and students can’t wait to test out new skills and recipes at next year’s competition.
2022: The cook-off is back on! Students climb to the fifth floor of the Wilkinson Student Center and enter a room filled with food. The judges are slowly handed dish after dish as hungry students taste test everything from homemade caprese salad and arancini to boeuf bourguignon and crème brûlée. In the end, despite the exquisiteness of the Italian club’s winning pistachio lemon cake, it is a gruyere puff pastry and the boeuf bourguignon that tips the French club over the edge and into the first-place spot.
Competitions can be fierce, but over the years this one has brought the French and Italian department’s faculty and students closer together. The yearly gathering gives both sides the chance to share their passion for great countries, great food, and great friends.