Tasting Victory

Submitted by Katherine D. Duke

Welcome to Kitchen Stadium, usually known as the upper terrace of Valentine Dining Hall.  Tonight, student chefs in white hats and aprons stand behind tables, armed with knives, skillets and spices, ready to do battle. This is Iron Chef Valentine.

Students organized an Iron Chef match several years ago, but this is the first time Dining Services has officially sponsored the competition, complete with prizes for all. Charlie Thompson, director of Dining Services, promises that “everybody goes away a winner tonight”—not least the judges who get to sample the food.

The four teams of four (coincidentally all women) have been chosen at random from the many who applied to compete.

“We’re prepared—we’ve been training all week,” reports Hallie Schwab ’11 of Team One, “having fun with the stir-fry [station in Valentine], some good, some bad.”

Some students are already… um… seasoned culinary veterans. “I work at restaurants at home, and my dad’s a chef,” says Kristina Doyle ’11 of Team Two, who likes to make desserts and Greek food.

At the appointed time, Chef Manager Howie Morrison lays down the rules. In one hour, each team will create a salad, an entree and a dessert and present it to the panel of five judges, who will sample and rate each dish on flavor, appearance, consistency, presentation and originality. The overall scores will determine which team wins the grand prize. Finally, Morrison uncovers the secret basket of ingredients: chicken breast, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, brown sugar and fresh pears. The chefs must use every one of these ; beyond that, they have their choice of any ingredients in the Valentine servery. Let the cooking begin!

While the competitors are busy measuring, chopping and sautéing, I talk to the five appointed judges. Judie Teraspulsky brings the most discerning and authoritative palate. She points out that presentation can always be improved with practice, “but taste and texture have to do with how somebody cooks something. You can improve on that, but that’s what I’m always looking for.” And she should know: She began at age 10, baking for the concession stand at the Aspen Music Festival (where her father was principal cellist), studied home economics at Indiana University, worked at the Lord Jeffery Inn as a baker and is now the owner of a restaurant in town so popular that she has recently had to expand it. Yes, she’s that Judie. “It’s those early years of cooking that capture you,” she says.

Samuel Morse, professor of art and art history and Asian languages and civilizations, is, as one might expect, a connoisseur of Asian cuisine. He learned Japanese cooking while living in Japan, and he taught himself various Chinese styles out of cookbooks. He’s also a fan of the original Japanese Iron Chef program “with the really tacky dubbing”; he has used the show in a first-year seminar on the Japanese aesthetic.

Director of Athletics and Physical Education Suzanne Coffey has one very important qualification to be a judge: “I’m an expert eater.”

Does Dean of Students Ben Lieber feel up to the task of judging? “Let’s put it this way…” he says, “Given my experience with the culinary world, I’m amazed that anyone would’ve thought to select me. I just show up where people tell me to.”

The fifth judge, Betsy Cannon Smith ’84, alumni secretary and executive director of Alumni and Parent Programs, has brought along her young son Donovan, who will serve as busboy for the judges’ table.

Time’s up. In considering what I might have cooked for this contest, I’ve thought only as far as Maybe chicken marinated in… something… on a bed of… something… and pears in both the salad and the dessert. But the actual creations blow me away. The sunflower seeds are toasted! The pears are “deconstructed”! The sauce is “tea-infused”!

Each team presents and describes its meal. The judges dig in, discuss and write down their ratings. Donovan works up a sweat, running from the table to the servery and back with plates, bowls, silverware and water.

When the ratings are tallied, Professor Morse stands to declare the results. It’s a close competition, with a mere 30 points separating the top chefs from the bottom.

  • Fourth Prize ($50 in movie passes) goes to Team Two (Kristina Doyle ’11, Alison Flint ’11, Sarah Lapidus ’11 and Katie Kervick ’11), who’d made crepes out of the waffle batter from the waffle-iron bar.
  • Third Prize (a $75 gift certificate to Applebee’s) goes to Team Three (Liz Dalton ’09, Zandra Walton ’09, Christina Wong ’11 and Mercedes Taylor ’11) for their Italian-style meal, featuring bruschetta.

  • Second Prize ($100 to Chili’s) goes to Team Four (Haley Douds ’10, Julie Hansell ’10, Amanda McGinn ’10 and Cait Patterson ’10) for their gorgeous presentation, feta cheese salad and use of orange slices.

  • Grand Prize ($150 to Judie’s) is awarded to Team One (Hallie Schwab ’11, Melissa Pritchard ’11, Catherine Knuff ’10 and Katie Moravec ’08). “We were particularly impressed with their variation on the Thai-Malaysian theme of satay, with the peanut sauce and the curried banana,” says Morse. “The use of the cucumber in the salad reminded us a lot of Southeast Asian dishes that some of us had eaten before.” 

Donovan earns a $1 tip and an offer of a future job on the wait staff at Judie’s.

Later, Dining Services will host a dinner in Lewis-Sebring for the chefs and judges. They could do worse than to borrow some recipes from the guests of honor.



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