Knives slashing through locally grown crops, woks sizzling as smoke furls and rises, perspiring student chefs bringing diverse flavors together as they race to beat the clock — it’s Iron Chef Yale, and it’s the Final Cut.
Twelve teams, one from each residential college, competed Wednesday night in Commons for the honor of having their name engraved on the coveted copper pot trophy, the bragging rights that accompany the title of Yale’s “Ultimate Chefs” and, perhaps most importantly, the cash prize.
Morse’s team, Celina Kirchner ’10, Matt Boone ’12 and Kevin Adkisson ’12, took home the $1,000 jackpot. The Morsels prepared an appetizer of cones with salmon ceviche, consisting of mango, sprouts, and cucumber and for the main dish an Asian sampler plate with three different kinds of salmon, prepared by an intricate cooking process involving rice and tea in a wok to smoke the salmon, Boone said.
The Branford chefs came in second and Calhoun’s team took third place.
“We’re so excited!” Kirchner said after her team took first. “We didn’t even place last year. We owe so much to the great help from the Commons dining staff. They were awesome mentors.”
This year’s secret ingredient was Alaskan salmon, and each team had 60 minutes to prepare an appetizer and an entrée using the designated ingredient. Every cooking station included two hot plates, and teams were allowed to marinate food in advance but not precook.
A 20-pound giant king salmon, sitting atop bluish ice chunks and decorative seaweed, adorned the area in front of the judges, provided courtesy of Alaskan Seafood Council, which co-sponsored the event with the Yale College Council, Yale Dining and YTV.
Last night’s competition marked the second annual Iron Chef Yale event, though there was one marked difference this year: A preliminary round, held in each residential college, preceded the final event and ensured that only Yale’s best chefs made it through to the end.
Courtney Fukuda ’12, guest judge and one of the grand prize winners from last year’s Iron Chef competition, said that the preliminary round made everything much more exciting.
“There’s a significant amount of skill this year,” Fukuda said. “Only the best of the best are competing.”
The panel of judges consisted of Fukuda, Provost Peter Salovey, Yale College Dean Mary Miller, Yale Dining Executive Director Rafi Taherian, and nationally renowned chef and author Joyce Goldstein. Judges had five minutes per team to score the contestants based on cleanliness, creativity, flavor composition, use of the secret ingredient and adherence to time restrictions.
This year, however, there was another twist: Teams were also judged on sustainability. Judges pre-scored the teams based on their submitted recipes for choosing local, in-season ingredients.
Fukuda said that the sustainability factor made a significant difference in the final results. Davenport actually came in third place for taste, but lost points for sustainability, she said.
In the end, Morse reigned supreme.
“Morse’s dish was restaurant quality, no doubt about it,” said Fukuda.
Meanwhile, teams faced other obstacles. Team Ezra Stiles, for instance, lost two of their three participants to the flu right before the competition. Jaya Wen ’12, the only remaining chef from the original Stiles team, said that she had to rearrange cooking assignments and give the newly recruited chefs tasks they’d be comfortable with.
Team Trumbull also faced a setback when their first pot of sauerkraut was accidentally knocked over by a member of the dining hall staff.
“We panicked a little when the sauerkraut was knocked over,” Mike Educate ’11 said. “But we recovered in time and everything was great by the end.”
One team, however, dealt with the pressure of competition just fine. Self-proclaimed “natural competitors,” the Silliman chefs were all also members of Yale Track and Field.
Proudly opening their chef jackets to reveal their matching track T-shirts, the Silliman team explained that they approached the culinary competition the same way they would approach a track meet.
“It’s all about playing to your strengths,” Matt Bogden ’11 said. “[Connor Dooney ’12] is from Ireland, so he made the potatoes.”
While the student chefs prepared their dishes, sponsors of the event set up tables and handed out free food to onlookers. Students and small children crowded the Alaskan Seafood Council table as men in crisp white jackets doled out pieces of a large salmon to the eagerly waiting guests.
To show support for their college teams, friends grouped in front of some colleges’ cooking stations, enthusiastically waving signs and cheering.
“It’s great fun,” said Cyril Ortigosa, a member of Yale’s dining staff. “Everyone’s really enjoying this.”
Prior to announcing the prizewinners, Salovey gave out Special Category Awards that reflected the different skills of the teams. Most Interesting Dish went to Morse, while Silliman received Most Enthusiastic Cheering Session.