By GWEN SISSON
Next week, Mississippi’s Collegiate DECA Culinary Champions will advance to national competition, and members of the Zeta Tau Alpha House are excited they are “practice.”
For lunch and dinner, Chef David Wilkerson is “practicing” for the competition with new and adventurous dishes as head chef for the sorority house at Mississippi State University.
“All of this is practice for the competition,” Wilkerson said. “I am very excited and they will have a lot of activities planned for us.”
They all practice individually, then Wilkerson and his team, consisting of Joey Hansford and Eric Stewart, get together each Sunday to practice together with a variety of dishes that might win the national title.
The Collegiate DECA National Culinary Competition will be held in Orlando, Fla. and the teams will compete in a well-stocked fine-dining kitchen of Florida hotel. The competitors know the secret ingredient is protein, but they do not know what they will be working with until they arrive. Competitors also must use ingredients found in the kitchen. There is no shopping involved with this competition.
The 23-year-old chef began his culinary career on a volunteer basis in the kitchen at Brian Michael’s Meat Market. His father is part-owner in the restaurant and he was encouraged to help out the “family business.”
He loved the creativity. After a Hotel and Restaurant Management degree and working with Chef Ty Thames at Restaurant Tyler, Chef Wilkerson is now serving as the head chef at the Zeta Tau Alpha House and receiving rave reviews.
“For many of these girls, they are far away from home,” Wilkerson said. “It is important to me to make them feel at home. That’s comforting. I want to stay fresh and not become repetitive.”
Olivia Cada, member of Zeta Tau Alpha, said she is excited about the variety of fresh, creative foods now being served at the house.
“We have a nice variety of things we’ve never had here before,” Cada said. “It is good to have ‘legit’ food. He uses the grill and we have a lot of healthy things to eat now.”
Cada also said Chef Wilkerson tweets his menus each day and it has dramatically increased the number of sorority members actually eating at the Zeta House.
Judy White, Zeta house mother, said Wilkerson is conscientious and seems to be having a lot of fun in the kitchen.
“We are very blessed to have him,” White said. “He takes so much pride in what he does and the girls are getting a four and five star dining experience at every meal.”
Wilkerson has only been with the Zeta House since January. With Wilkerson on the staff, White said the girls are being introduced to a level of quality dining they would not typically experience until their 30s.
“The girls are learning a lot about food, and everyone is having fun,” White said. “Who knew there were so many delicious ways to make grits?” White said.