Berkeley iron chefs No. 1

Berkeley College students can take pride in the Lo Mai Gai appetizer coming soon to Yale dining halls: After all, it was thought up by two of their own.

The team from Berkeley — consisting of Sarah Diehl ’10 and Courtney Fukuda ’12 — took top honors in the Yale College Council’s first annual “Iron Chef: The Final Cut” competition with the appetizer and a halibut entree.

Lauren Harrison '09, Paula Chatterjee '09 and Sandy Gill '09 compete for Ezra Stiles in the first annual “Iron Chef: The Final Cut” competition.
Nick Bayless
Lauren Harrison '09, Paula Chatterjee '09 and Sandy Gill '09 compete for Ezra Stiles in the first annual “Iron Chef: The Final Cut” competition.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Fukuda, member of Berkeley’s winning team. “We practiced so much and we came in pretty confident.”

The competition, which was organized by the YCC and Yale University Dining Services, pitted students chefs from each of the 12 colleges against each other in a timed cook-off judged by Provost Peter Salovey, incoming Yale College Dean Mary Miller, Yale Dining Executive Director Rafi Taherian and Yale Dining Culinary Director Thomas Peterlik. YCC organizers dubbed the event, which packed 450 people into the rear section of Commons, a success and said they plan to organize the event again next year.

“This was a great event to not only incorporate students, but incorporate the dining staff,” said Ezra Stiles YCC Representative Krystal Flores ’10.

The competition began with an informational meeting held in early October. Potential chefs then submitted recipes for one appetizer and one entree to Dining Services, which evaluated them to choose the contestants from each college.

After choosing the lucky 34 contestants, Yale Dining threw them for a loop: The recipes would have to include butternut squash, provided by local producers through Fowler, a local produce provider. Students were given weeks to react to the ingredient change and were required to practice preparing the dish at least once using equipment and ingredients in their own residential college dining hall. Judges then evaluated the contestants on organization, cooking technique and taste.

Davenport College’s Jacob Conway ’11, Maggie Gray ’11 and Sarah Toomey ’11 took second place and a $500 cash prize with a butternut squash gnocchi and filet mignon. Third place, and $250, fell to Branford College’s Justin Steinfeld ’11, Daniel Stone ’11 and Jia Huang ’11 for their butternut squash soup and their ravioli dish. Berkeley’s team was awarded a perfect score of 40 points — 10 for organization, 10 for cooking skill and technique, and 20 for taste. Davenport narrowly missed with 39 points, and Branford took third with 37 points.

YCC launched the Iron Chef concept this fall as part of an initiative to increase interaction between students and Yale Dining Services, said event organizer and Trumbull College YCC Representative Tomas Rua ’10. Corey Hudson, a Commons dining staff member who worked with Calhoun College’s students, said the event brought the staff closer to the students they serve.

“It was a role reversal,” Hudson said. “Usually the students eat and the cooks cook. But tonight, the students cook and the cooks eat.”

Students showed up to the event with a competitive spirit. Morse College’s Tommy Benfey ’12 said that his freshman counselor organized a gathering of a over 20 freshmen behind the Morse flag to travel en masse to the event.

By 6:30 p.m. Thursday night, Commons was packed. Student chefs, bedecked in full chef’s garb complete with large white toques provided by sponsors, took their places behind cooking stations. Volunteer student timekeepers patrolled the stations with large Homer Simpson clocks around their necks, adding an element of stress for the cooks.

The judges took their task seriously: Taherian was spotted repeatedly wiping sweat from his brow in between judging dishes. After each tasting, the judges commented for the crowd.

“I feel as if I’m in another world,” said Miller, as she tasted the winning dish. “The transportation of flavors was really well executed.”

Miller had a near miss with Berkeley’s dish, Salovey said: She did not realize the lotus leaf was inedible.

Saybrugian onlookers were confident that their former master would launch their team to success, but the results show that Miller has left behind her partisan role for the deanship.

Morse’s worked hard to perfect their recipes — including one for “Golden Raisin Stuffed Chicken Breasts Roulade” — but Taherian ultimately found their “Butternut Ravioli” less-than-satisfactory.

“‘A’ for effort,” said Taherian, upon tasting Morse’s butternut squash ravioli, which was whipped up from scratch.

Yale College Council and Yale Dining designed the event to be a spectator sport, turning the rear section of Commons into Yale’s own “Kitchen Stadium,” the setting for the original, popular series. Once dishes were judged, leftovers were set out for spectator consumption. Until leftovers could arrive, volunteers with the Yale Globalist provided ethnic finger food to keep the crowd satisfied.

“This is great,” Benfey said from the event’s sidelines. “I’m really impressed with how they put it together.”

To prepare team Berkeley’s winning courses, Diehl and Fukuda drew recipes that included toasted cashews, kaffir lime leaves and parchment paper for steaming.

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