On Thursday night, students raced against each other and the clock as they whipped up college-style food. Yes, that’s right, Iron Chef came to Cornell.
“It’s kind of always been something I wanted to get done,” said Meredith Cutler ’09, the organizer of the event.
She brought her idea to Sababah, a Jewish social programming group last year, but the event didn’t completely take off until now, she said.
Eight teams originally entered the competition. However, there was only enough time for four teams to compete, and so teams answered cooking-related questions in order to gain entrance to the competition. Peter Sherman ’07 of the Whistling Shrimp improv comedy group asked the questions.
Elimination questions ran the culinary gamut. Some included: “The process of baking an egg is called what?” “I need two other names for crimini mushrooms” and “Name five types of cheeses.”
Sherman, Noah Brozinsky ’08, Julie Cantor ’09 and Brian Amos ’07, four members of the Whistling Shrimp, narrated the event, providing an extra dose of humor to help liven the competition.
Similar to the Iron Chef television show, the Cornell version of the competition required contestants to cook a dish in 20 minutes, using a secret ingredient which was unveiled at the last minute. The secret ingredients were matzo for the first round and non-alcoholic beer for the second.
“Twenty minutes is a short time to both come up with an idea and cook something,” said Amanda Dropkin ’08, one of the winners from the first round. “We basically looked at the ingredients they gave us and tried to figure out how we could incorporate that with matzo.”
The judges, Rina Wagman ’10, Brandon Fortenberry, kosher dining cook and Prof. Rupert Spies, hospitality facilities and operations, judged the dishes on taste, originality and presentation.
Each team was supplied with a “pantry” that included food items such as bread, tofu, applesauce and potatoes. They were also given a toaster oven, a microwave and a George Foreman Grill.
For each of the two rounds, competitors scrambled franticly in the last remaining seconds, trying to put the last-minute touches on their dishes as the audience joined the countdown.
The winners from the first round — Dropkin, Lily Hakim ’07 and Elana Edelstein ’08 — used matzo as a base to make a Mexican-style dish which beat out the competitors’ meal of sautéed onions and grilled potatoes with applesauce and matzo for dipping.
“We wanted to break the boring matzo mold,” Hakim said.
Although the team did emerge victorious, they had doubted their victory.
“[They’re] making something that smells pretty good but looks a little bit like puke. The good kind of puke. Oh, someone just ate it. Not like puke at all!” Cantor remarked at one point during the round.
“We were really pleasantly surprised. We were expecting [the judges] to throw up,” Edelstein said.
“I think we were robbed,” said Erica Waichman ’09, from the defeated team. “We tried to focus on presentation and flavor. I think what threw us is we didn’t quite have enough time to cook the potatoes, so I think the judges weren’t very happy to bite into a crunch potato.”
The second round was just as intense as the first. Jessica Zhang ’09, Zak Bell ’10 and Claudine Uyan ’10 of the winning team made beer-battered French toast with an applesauce and tofu side. Their competitors concocted a bread pudding.
“These are some amazing dishes I’ve seen so far,” Sherman said, as Brozinsky commented on the “mix between a grimace and a smile” on the judges’ faces.
“Originally, we were planning to have one Iron Chef winner,” Cutler said. This would have consisted of a third round, pitting the two winning teams against each other. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to due to time constraints for the room.”
The winners of the competition received college-themed cookbooks. Cutler said she plans on running the event again in the future.
“I think I [want to] find a way to better involve the rest of the audience. I think they had fun, but I think if the event went any longer it would have started to get boring for them,” Cutler said. “I want everyone to be as excited about [the event] as I am.”
Cutler is considering getting video cameras for next year’s event so the audience can see what is cooked more clearly.