Return to All News

Academy of Culinary Students Compete in the Inaugural MRE Culinary Challenge

10/10/2023 | Media Contact: David Zuba, Public Relations Manager and Copywriter | (609) 343-4933
Winning team members Isabella Burke and Grace Carpenter with owners of Let's Chow and Culinary Director Joseph Sheridan

MAYS LANDING — Atlantic Cape Community College Academy of Culinary Arts freshmen baking and pastry students Isabella Burke and Grace Carpenter knew they were in for a challenge. Up against five teams-of-three at the inaugural MRE (Meal, Ready-to-Eat) Culinary Challenge on October 6 at the Mays Landing campus, Burke and Carpenter proved that sometimes four hands can be better than six.

Burke and Carpenter preparing their MRE ingredientsThe duo captured first place honors (despite being shorthanded after the third member of their team was unable to participate) by a slim one-point margin of 134-133 with their tasty potato gnocchi with meatballs and pancetta blush sauce with peas, basil oil. They topped it off with a sweet dessert featuring pound cake tiramisu with homemade coffee cello reduction mixed with espresso and served deconstructed.

Heading into the competition as the only twosome was a daunting task.

“We were a little bit intimidated. We felt confident with what we had prepared and we ended up doing better than we expected,” said Burke, a resident of Ocean City. “I was surprised (we won). 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.”

Burke’s teammate Carpenter concurred.

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

Culinary student cooking her team's dishAt the start of the challenge each team spun a wheel and then blindly chose their ingredient bag kits. Each team had 60 minutes 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.

Each MRE ingredient package contained one protein item, but differed in that some had instant potatoes, instant rice or ramen noodles. All featured a limited number of basic ingredients, such as flour, sugar and some vegetables. The dessert kits featured sugary favorites like Skittles and Starburst.

The MRE was created by the United States Department of Defense as a combat ration in 1975. It is a completely 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. MREs have been the main operational food ration for the United States Armed Forces since 1981.

Burke and Carpenter present their dishes to the judgesThe challenge was officiated by judges Scott Cronick, host of Off the Press with Scott Cronick on News Talk 1400 AM, writer for Shore Local Magazine, partner with the Tennessee Avenue Beer Hall in Atlantic City and head of the Metropolitan Business & Citizens Association; Rodrigo Pimento, U.S. Army veteran, former Academy of Culinary Arts program student and current Egg Harbor Township police officer; and Steve Hellman, former four-year U.S. Coast Guard chef and current owner of Hellman’s Kitchen.

Rounding out the top four finishers:

  • 2nd place (133 points) was the team of Gelasia Nurse, Julio Gomez and William Fence with their beef and chicken tinga ramen tostada, and coquito tres leche cake with coconut whip cream, toasted coconut and walnuts;
  • 3rd place (121 points) was the team of 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;
  • 4th place (113 points) was the team of 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.

Winning team of Burke and Carpenter with the owners of the Let's Chow Food TruckThe winning team of Burke and Carpenter will get the Let’s Chow Food Truck for one day where they will be able to take it wherever they wish. The Let’s Chow Food Truck ( has been utilized since March 2022 as a tool to teach Atlantic Cape’s culinary arts students about mobile food operations.

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. And I am also really close to a couple of charities in Atlantic City so maybe we could go and serve some people there,” Burke concluded.

Visit for more information on the Academy of Culinary Arts program.


About Atlantic Cape Community College

Atlantic Cape is a comprehensive two-year community college serving the residents of Atlantic and Cape May counties. The college offers over 40 career, transfer and workforce development programs to more than 8,000 students annually at three campuses in New Jersey: Atlantic City, Cape May Court House and Mays Landing.