Iron Chef competition fills locale

Culinary students bring ‘Taste of Italy’ to clients

By Reggie Santini, Advocate Staff

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Team “Whatdahell” won the Taste of Italy Iron Chef cook-off at the Aqua Terra Grill on Thursday at 11 a.m.

“It was fun, it is good practice — it is the first time my team won first place,” third semester culinary student Kate Bautista said.

Two spaghetti dishes, one with braised beef and red wine sauce, and another with clams and shrimp in a white wine reduction won the competition. “Whatdahell” came in first with a landslide victory of 41 votes.

“Fly Chicks” came in second with 27, and “Fancy Zoodles” had 21. There were six teams in total.

Before the competition results were tallied, confident Bautista said, “I guess it can be a little nerve wrecking, but we prepped all of yesterday, so we are ready.”

“The Iron Chef competition gives students a chance to feel what it is like (to work in a restaurant) — we have been preparing for the cook-off for about a week,” culinary arts department Chairperson Nader Sharkes said.

Over 200 people showed up to the competition, Sharkes said. At one point, guests had to be seated in the patio and the doors had to be closed to incoming guests because of a lack of seats. The culinary arts department’s Iron Chef cook-off raised over $1,000 in revenue from ticket sales alone.

Culinary department instructor Elisabeth Schwarz said, “The new location (of the restaurant in the Student and Administration Building) made it hard to anticipate what would happen, but we are happy with the huge turnout.”

Apart from the lack of seats, the lights kept flickering, and went out for brief minutes throughout the competition. That didn’t stop guests from getting back in line for seconds.

Guests paid a $5 entrance fee (drinks not included) at the door, and lined up in front of the buffet bar. Lasagnas, pastas, chicken bombs and baby back ribs were some of the dishes guests could sample.

The culinary arts department will use the revenue from ticket sales to help students in the program cover part of their equipment expenses or the cost to study abroad in Italy, Sharkes said.

Each team offered them a small portion of its prepared dish to taste, evaluate and ultimately vote for the favorite. The teams had their names and dish description placed next to each dish.

Sharkes and Schwarz were seen running from the buffet line to the kitchen throughout the cook-off until its ending at 12:30 p.m., when the winners were announced.

“Sometimes I feel like I have to be a chef and a babysitter. But they worked hard, so we now let them enjoy what’s left of their art,” Sharkes said.

The teams headed to the kitchen to enjoy some food and congratulate each other as the guests began to leave the Aqua Terra Grill.

City of Richmond social worker Diane Hill said, “It is awesome, everything is so greatly seasoned — my friends are taking a to go box home — compliments to the chefs.”

This year’s cook-off provided students and local community residents with a preview of the Aqua Terra Grill—which Sharkes said will  open on Tuesday.

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