The aromas of garlic potatoes and roasted sesame seeds wafted through the JSC Quad Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. as six teams — Orange is New the Snack, La Croix Lovers, Very Hungry Chef-ipillars, Chop It Like It’s Hot, Veggie Tales and Iron Men — battled it out at the Food, Energy and Sustainability Team (FEAST) Garden’s third Iron Chef competition. Faculty and students came together to cook all-vegetarian starter and main dishes comprised of ingredients from the FEAST garden to promote sustainable food and farming. Orange is The New Snack took home first prize, Chop It Like It’s Hot came in second and Iron Men placed third.
As part of FEAST’s “Earth Month,” FEAST member and event coordinator Triana Anderson (senior) and e-board members from the garden decided Iron Chef was a great way to show the Occidental community how to have fun with more sustainable vegetarian cooking.
“Vegetarian and vegan foods use significantly less water and fossil fuels than meat-based products do. It was a conscious decision to use vegetarian and vegan ingredients, to make cooking with and eating vegetarian ingredients not seem as limiting and more accessible to everyone,” Anderson said.
FEAST members partnered with campus dining to bring in a group of judges from the local area to evaluate the teams on their dishes. The judges were sociology Professor John Lang, who teaches “Sociology of Food” as well as CSP Courses “Culture of Food” and “Restaurant Culture,” Samantha Bonar, assistant director at the office of marketing, professional chef Gilda Giddens from Pasadena restaurant Craft Hill and one student judge, FEAST e-board member Diego Zapata. Each team had under one hour to cook and serve their dishes to the judges for ratings in taste, presentation and incorporation of one of the secret ingredients, fava beans or fennel seed.
The winning team, Orange is The New Snack, included staff members Tiffany Feng, facilities operations coordinator, Joe O’Hara, facilities architect and senior project manager and Joey Valles, maintenance and operations supervisor. Their starter dish, a mango strawberry salad drizzled with balsamic vinegar and caramelized pumpkin seeds scored high on presentation and taste. They especially won over the judges with their main dish, crispy yakisoba layered with vegetables and tofu.
“I definitely learned a lot of tricks during the event. I cook occasionally at home but nothing this serious. It was also great that we delegated tasks because we had at least five minutes to spare at the end,” O’Hara said.
The event attracted a diverse array of Occidental community members. Administration, campus safety as well as facilities staff and students watched the contestant’s quickly cook up their dishes.
“We heard about the event from campus dining staff and signed up right away. I think we were the first team. It was a lot of fun and we would all do it again,” Feng said.
Second-place winners were members of Chop It Like It’s Hot: sophomores Eva Jahanshir, Osa Goldfarb and Michelle Kong. For the team, applying for the competition was an easy communal decision because of their mutual love for cooking. The team filled out the form right after the competition was announced by campus dining through the student digest email and on Facebook class pages.
Throughout the competition, Chop It Like It’s Hot members were consistently chopping, stirring and mixing away, occasionally running back to the ingredients table to pick up more spices. Their starter dish, a sweet potato hash with a mango fennel salsa, wowed the judges in categories of presentation and taste. Lang praised the dish and the team’s creative and tasteful incorporation of the secret ingredient.
“We didn’t know what to expect with the secret ingredient but it all came together well. The only trouble we had was with controlling the temperature on the pans but that only required some extra attention,” Goldfarb said.
The compact cooking space brought in a new challenge for even the most experienced chefs. Each station had a small iron grill and another table for members to prepare their meals. Most teams came in with a rough idea of their plans, recipes and task delegations. For Chop It Like It’s Hot, the team dynamic felt natural.
“We cook all the time together — on vacations with friends, when we visit each other at home or any time there is a kitchen. We have great cooking chemistry,” Jahanshir said.
One of the main highlights of the event involved the Iron Chef Health & Safety Inspector, Kyle-Mitchell Hyde, also the technology applications manager in the card office. Hyde fully embodied the role with a customized inspector jacket and his very own “food safety” music mix. While “Don’t Get Sticky Wit It,” a parody of a Will Smith song, played the in the background, the inspector checked up on each team’s food safety procedures. This entailed checks for washing hands and switching gloves after each task, throwing away all tasting spoons and leaving no leftover food crumbs on the table.
No teams suffered any major red card violations for food health and safety. Red violations were used in instances of major food cross-contaminations or for large messes. Almost all of teams received yellow card violations in food and safety. Yellow violations were used in cases of forgetting to switch gloves or leaving used dishes and pans out on the table. Food safety violations were counted into each team’s overall ranking but even for La Croix Lovers, Josh Beisel, David Collins and Katie Roach (first years), the only team with no violations, the extra points couldn’t counter the food creativity of other teams. The Iron Men, Allen Li* (sophomore), Ittipat Vanich (first year) and Pablo Nukaya (first year), and their main dish, vegetable curry, scored almost perfect in taste, which moved them up into third-place.
“We wanted an Earth Month event that incorporated the entire campus, raised awareness about food consciousness, and also publicized the productivity of the FEAST vegetable garden. We have taken notes on how the event went this year and hopefully we will be able to learn from the event we put on this year to put on an even more successful one next year,” Anderson said.
*Allen Li is a photographer for The Occidental Weekly