Group shot of the women's field hockey team
Chopped team preparing their dish

For three years, MSU Culinary Services has partnered with the women’s field hockey team to hold a Chopped-style cooking competition in the spring. In addition to gaining culinary skills and building a stronger team culture, the students have an opportunity to learn about the nutritional value of various foods and how to prepare for competition on the field.

“After seeing how successful this was for the men’s hockey team, I thought it could be a great experience for us,” shared Helen Knull, head coach. “We spend time educating them on how to fuel their bodies and this allows for practical experience in preparing a meal.”

Instead of competing against another school in a sport they’re accustomed to playing, they’re been challenged with honing their skills in the kitchen. At the beginning of each event, Corporate Chef Kurt Kwiatkowski presents cooking techniques such as knife skills, the best way to cook chicken and how to make homemade pasta, providing knowledge that will stick with participants for life.

Following the culinary skills presentation, each team is provided with a mystery basket of ingredients to incorporate into a dish. “We talk a lot in practice about getting comfortable being uncomfortable and for many of the girls being thrown ingredients and told you need to prepare a dish in 60 minutes is not a comfortable situation!,” expressed Knull. “It’s fun to watch different team members step up and lead in an area that is way different than our everyday environment.”

Unexpected foods such as Chex cereal and vanilla wafers have been incorporated into the baskets over the years, surprising team members and giving them a unique approach to cooking. “Last year, the vanilla wafers were really exciting because they threw us off!” said Sophie Macadré, a senior majoring in communications. “The Culinary Services staff have been awesome and we learn so much in the kitchen. They always make it a great and comfortable experience.”

Amanda Robinson, a sophomore majoring in business who has participated for two years, enjoys the creativity of the competition. “I love that we get to create something out of a few ingredients and our own knowledge,” she shared. “It’s taught me to appreciate other people’s strengths, and allow them to build our team. Not everyone is great at cooking, but if we divide and conquer based on what each member is good at, then we can make it work.”

The participants have transformed the Chopped event into a friendly competition, developing their own team names and coordinating outfits with their partners. Throughout the events, they’ve updated the MSU field hockey social media platforms with team photos, video content showing progress, the announcement of the winners and images of their final creations.

“Every year the quality of the food has improved,” Kwiatkowski shared. “This is an event that the coach and the team look forward to each year, and we’re proud to support their development.”

Knull also expressed that meeting with Culinary Services in the spring to choose the menu items and discuss modifications from the prior year gives the student athletes an opportunity to be invested and take some ownership in their team culture. “Chopped has taught me how to take other’s ideas and not shoot them down when it comes to teamwork,” freshman Hannah Ackers said. “My team was able to feed off of easily feed off each other’s ideas to make a cohesive dish.”

The coaches plan to continue the event in future years to build on the team’s collaboration skills and continuously enrich their knowledge of personal nutrition.