Competitors serve comfort food

By Anthony Kinney, News Editor

Team “Silent Killers” won first place in Contra Costa College’s “End of Winter Iron Chef” competition for their champagne chicken with rice plate at the Aqua Terra Grill on Feb. 6.

The Iron Chef competition was the first event hosted by the culinary arts department this year. Culinary arts department Chairperson Nader Sharkes said the competition, with winners determined by guests’ votes, is practice for students before the Aqua Terra Grill and Pronto café opened for service on Tuesday.

Guests who participated paid a $5 entry fee, grabbed their voting ticket and plate, then filed in line for the buffet-style feast.

There were about 100 guests tasting the five different plates of food prepared by culinary students. The five teams, comprised of four students each, formulated their own recipes for dishes that embodied the theme of this year’s cook-off — “winter is over.”

“Students make their own teams and use their own recipes,” Sharkes said. “It’s great practice for the students.”

The “winter comfort food” style menu consisted of Cajun lasagna, cheesy mashed potato topped beef stew, crunchy taco bowls, cod medallions and loaded deep-fried chicken drumsticks.

Sociology major Shelby Wichner was one of the guests who paid $5 for an assortment of foods that included over five dishes.

Wichner said the teams delivered an array of delicious flavors while staying on the seasonal theme.

“I loved it,” she said. “It was such a great price and the food felt so comforting.”

Although every dish was enjoyed by the guests, team “Silent Killer” was crowned the crowd favorite with about 25 votes.

Wichner also attended last year’s Iron Chef event. She said she thought the champagne chicken was “cooked to perfection,” and she said it was its sweet savory flavor that won her over.

“You could just pull the meat apart,” Wichner said. “The taste of the champagne chicken was so comforting that when I chewed I imagined myself cozied up in front of the fireplace on a cold winter’s day.”

Team “Butternut” won second place with 20 votes for its chicken potpie with roasted vegetables dish.

Culinary arts student and member of “Big Mama and the Boy” Jamarei Whitelaw said her group knew what dish it wanted to prepare since the first day of class.

Whitelaw said it took her team two and a half hours to prepare its cheesy mashed potatoes topped beef stew for the cook-off.

English major Joshua Saephan said his favorite dish was the chicken potpie, with the lasagna coming second.

“The pot pie was perfect, but I really liked the lasagna too,” Saephan said. “It (the Cajun lasagna) had a strong kick that was full of flavor, and so creamy — it was excellently prepared.

Contra Costa County welfare worker Lashanda Davis was also at the event.

Davis said working with CalWORKs brings her to CCC’s campus every Tuesday, so last week she was encouraged to attend this semester’s Iron Chef competition.

“The chicken pot pie is my favorite dish. It was on point,” Davis said. “I need that recipe.” The diverse crowd of students, teachers and community members seemed pleased with the culinary students’ dishes and the customer service provided by the staff.

Davis said she was blown away by the excellent customer service taught in the culinary program. “I got my drink faster than I usually get it at a typical restaurant,” she said.

The only hitch of the event was team “Value Meal” and its deep fried loaded chicken being undercooked. Student chefs in the group had to refry the entire batch halfway through the competition.

Saephan said he enjoyed all the dishes and that he understood the mishap with the fried chicken since the event is a learning experience for many of the culinary students.

He also said he was impressed with how well the team handled the half-cooked chicken when it was brought to their attention.

“They addressed the problem, refried the chicken and it was delicious,” Saephan said. “I couldn’t be mad at them.”

The competition is held at the start of each semester. Revenue goes to culinary students for scholarships to study abroad.