By the time Val’s Iron Chef competition rolls around for the fifth time next year, a new team of cooks will be crowned champions. Obvious as that may seem, it has been anything but a guarantee for the competition’s first four years — the same team, albeit with some slightly different members, has won each year it’s been held.
Each year six four-member teams chosen by the organizers of the competition are tasked with concocting an appetizer, an entrée and a desert using some of the ingredients regularly available in the dining hall, in addition to a basket of ingredients brought in for the competition.
The ingredients in this year’s basket, each of which had to be included in each dish, were surprisingly exotic, as the teams had to incorporate black garlic, mussels from Maine, Caperberries (pickled flowerheads with a very distinctive taste, in case you were wondering), a chayote and fresh beets into their dishes.
The teams were given an hour to prepare their dishes before presenting them to a panel of judges — and presentation was key, as the teams were also graded on the aesthetic appeal of their dishes.
“We really didn’t know what to plan for; our goal was to not get last place,” explained Brittany Evans ’11, a member of the second-place team.
Some of her fellow competitors, however, sought an extra edge, bringing in smartphones wrapped in plastic to search for recipes involving the ingredients in the basket. According to Director of Dining Services Charlie Thompson, the Iron Chef rules next year may adapt to reflect these changes in the nature of the competition.
The students competing in the competition have the added benefit of learning to explore all the options available at Val.
“After the first year, I saw Val in a whole new light,” explained Hallie Schwab ’11. Schwab, along with fellow seniors Melissa Pritchard, Erikka James and Kristen Ahye raked in the $100 Judie’s gift card grand prize with a lineup including a gazpacho beef, mussels with lemon, gnocci, onion rings and poach pears.
Prizes for the rest of the participating teams were, in descending order: a $75 gift card to The Pub, a $50 gift card to Panda East, a $25 gift card to Moti, a gourmet Tuxedo Cake and a cookie platter. This year’s contestants were: seniors Britt Evans, Kristyn Dunleavy, Jaci Daigneault, Courtney Long, Dan Bamba, Caroline Burke, Hanna St. Marie and Kristin Hickey; juniors Lem Attanga-McCormick, Eric Bunker, Alex Stone, Sam Sperling and Sinead Murphy; sophomores Geneva Lloyd, Megan Doyen, Chris Allen, Kai Goldynia, Alex Stein and Will Kitchell.
Last Wednesday, there was a dinner organized in Lewis-Sebring for all of the contestants that showed off the culinary prowess of the Valentine dining staff, with items like “Breast of Duck in Maple Gastrique on Morsel Mushroom and Fiddle Head Fern Hash” and “White Chocolate Bavarian with Fresh Berry Salad” gracing the menu. During that dinner, to which all of the contestants were invited, the difficulty of working with the beets was discussed, among other things.
Next year, Pritchard will return to the competition to serve on the judges’ panel.