Orange crab legs protruded from overflowing saucepans, crab patties sizzled in skillets and one student punched holes in slices of bread with a ceramic circle for crab sliders.
Commons was transformed into “Kitchen Stadium” Thursday night as competitors from each residential college donned chef’s hats, pulled on plastic gloves and set to work concocting dishes for the third annual Final Cut cooking competition, featuring this year’s special ingredient: Alaskan king crab.
In a competition modeled off the “Iron Chef” television show, each three-person team had an hour to prepare four portions of an appetizer and main dish, both incorporating Alaskan crab. Silliman College’s trio — Steph Cheng ’11, Adam Fishman ’13 and Ray Xiong ’12 — won the $1,000 grand prize with their appetizer of crab zeppole served with spicy lemon whip and main course of pancetta sage crab risotto. The Ezra Stiles College team finished in a close second place with a set of dishes inspired by molecular gastronomy, and Jonathan Edwards College came in third.
In addition to the prize money, the copper-plated saucepan trophy and the chance for residential college fame, competitors had an extra incentive to do well, said Regenia Phillips, director of residential operations. The winning dish will be incorporated into the Yale Dining menu cycle, albeit in a modified form.
“In previous years, we had to make some adjustments [to the winning recipe] because of ingredient availability and cost, but it was still the winning recipe,” Phillips said.
Yale College Dean Mary Miller, Executive Director of Yale Dining Rafi Taherian, head football coach Tom Williams and Kevin Adkisson ’12, one of last year’s winners, judged the teams. They analyzed the taste, presentation and sustainability of the dishes as well as team members’ organization, said Jeanette Norton, deputy director of Yale Dining.
Teams could not prepare or cook any food in advance and had to adhere to a menu they previously submitted. The menu rule caused problems for Team Stiles, whose technically complicated fried hollandaise did not turn out as expected, Austin Shiner ’11 said.
“Hollandaise is the same as mayo, but made with butter, not oil,” Shiner said. “You have to add molecular gastronomic elements to it in order to stabilize the dish and then fry it. Our experimentation didn’t quite work.”
While the hollandaise mishap cost Stiles a crucial few points in the scoring, judges said, the team did manage to pull off a second type of molecular gastronomy — crab foam — which judges praised for its sophistication.
Taherian called the crab foam the most unusual of all the dishes he tasted, describing it as “very high-end restaurant-like.”
Team Silliman practiced every day in the Silliman kitchen for two weeks leading up to the competition to perfect its menu, team member Fishman said. But for vegetarian Team Davenport, the special ingredient of the night itself was a hurdle.
“We’re all vegetarians, so we’re not actually able to eat our dish,” said Ali Abarca ’13. “We don’t know what crab tastes like.”
All competitors received 10 pounds of wild crab, but the other ingredients in their menus varied widely. While Team Trumbull made crab and chili spring rolls and large crab ravioli, Team Calhoun cooked spinach crab tortellini and patties of tofu, chicken, crab and vegetables.
To make crab sliders, one Jonathan Edwards student methodically pressed a ceramic circle into slices of bread, creating perfectly round pieces for the top and bottom of each slider. Nearby, Team Timothy Dwight, decked out in personalized red-and-black Timothy Dwight aprons and hats, toiled over a king crab gumbo.
As the student chefs busied themselves at their cooking stations in the back of Commons, 14 food vendors offered free samples of their products. Displaying everything from Portobello mushroom tortillas to Greek yogurt and sushi, the vendors attracted a snaking line of students that stretched from the entrance to the back of the dining hall. The Yale College Council also raffled off gift cards to New Haven restaurants.
Thirty-two teams of chefs competed in the first round of the competition, held separately for each college, Maureen O’Donnell, the general manager of Commons, said.
The Final Cut competition was organized by Yale Dining and YCC, and was sponsored by Alaska Seafood and FreshPoint, a produce vendor. Morse College took first place in last year’s competition.