The words “Let the Iron Chef begin,” echoed through the room 120 during fourth period as Sustainable Agriculture,teacher Joe Stewart, announced the start of the third cook-off competition of the year on Wednesday, Jan. 31.
Like the popular Food Network TV show Iron Chef, participating students are split into teams and given guidelines, a theme and a time limit to produce an original and tasty dish hoping to impress the judges in order for them to be titled ‘Iron Chef winners.’
The level of competitiveness matches the original Iron Chef as students use their creativity in attempts to outshine the other groups, according to senior Emerson Cole.
“I think you only get a few extra credit points if you win but it's still a bragging rights thing if you can say you made the best food, so people get really into it,” Cole said.
Each team is evaluated in four categories: taste, presentation, sustainability and general safety and clean up. But for the the first time since Stewart began these competitions in 2014, the class took on a new theme: fermentation.
The students chopped up vegetables and placed them in a jar with brine (a mixture of salt and water) as part of the fermentation unit they studied. The process of fermentation draws out the juices of the vegetables and creates foods that are more flavorful and nutritious, according to Stewart.
“It adds another layer of fun and makes more connections for us because last week we fermented and so this year we get to use the fermentation,” Stewart said.
The class attempted to answer the question of how creative they could get with fermented food using a variety of items. From pot pies to spring rolls to homemade sourdough bread, the dishes made it difficult for judge Stewart and guest judges Erik Berkowitz and Emily LaTourrette to decide who won.
The challenge didn’t phase Cole’s group as they prepared spring rolls with tofu, zucchini, kale, fermented carrots and radishes. Senior Cooper McClay, Cole’s teammate, originally had the idea to make spring rolls.
“Luke Zlatunich called me the night before when he was at Safeway and explained that we were going to make lettuce wraps but use kale instead. I looked in the pantry to see if I had anything to use and I saw the spring roll wraps in there and knew that was what we should make,” McClay said.
Competing against Cole and McClay’s group, another group made a grilled cheese with a side salad featuring fermented pickles. Senior Anna Kaufman spent the previous day making her own sourdough bread using fermentation methods. Senior Olivia Carrel initially had the same thought process as Cole.
“I didn’t really understand [fermenting foods] before we started but getting to actually ferment it and getting to make our own pickles and bread was pretty awesome,” Carrel said.
Stewart was impressed by all the dishes created.
“I thought they were great. There were a lot of good signs of planning that the teams did that went into [the competition] and talking about what was necessary to bring in ingredient-wise,” Stewart said.
After tasting each dish the judges deliberated, but were unable to come up with a singular winner. The spring rolls and homemade bread were crowned the winners of this year’s Iron Chef competition.
“There was homemade bread, where they actually did a fermented sourdough, and they did a really nice job with some kale that they picked from the farm 30 minutes earlier,” Stewart said.
Stewart was also impressed with the elements in the winning spring rolls.
“The other group did a interesting spring roll, which was unique, where they sauteed some of their fermented stuff and also included some kale and cilantro from the farm,” Stewart said.