Over 1,000 students packed into Commons Thursday night to watch teams from their residential colleges chop, dice, fry and saute in pursuit of this year’s Iron Chef Final Cut title.
The competition, organized by Yale Dining and the Yale College Council, gave each team of three students one hour to display their culinary prowess as audience members looked on and sampled offerings from 21 vendors scattered throughout the hall. Varied approaches to using this year’s secret ingredients — mushrooms and cod — yielded dishes ranging from rice-paper wrapped cod to honey-glazed mushroom bruschetta. But Silliman College’s team ultimately took home the $1,000 cash prize with its wild mushroom appetizer and steamed cod with a homemade shrimp and mushroom stock.
“We wanted to feature ingredients and do little to change them,” Jared Shenson ’12, a member of Silliman’s team. “We started the hour with butterflies but then settled and knew what we were doing thanks to practice.”
Shenson said his teammates, Aliy Zhang ’15 and Hallie Meyer ’15, spent many hours planning their menu and practicing how they would cook their dishes, adding that they collaborated with last year’s Silliman team, which also claimed first place.
Judges for the competition — who included Provost Peter Salovey, Director of Undergraduate Career Services Allyson Moore and Yale Dining Executive Director Rafi Taherian — watched the tactics of each team closely, basing their evaluations on flavor, cleanliness and innovation, among other considerations. Each team earned a place in the event after winning preliminary competitions in their residential colleges.
The staggered starts of each team began with the Jonathan Edwards College representatives. Ioannis Legmpelos ’13, who competed for Jonathan Edwards, said his team was confused about the time limit and had to rush their preparation of their mushroom bruschetta. The team managed to avoid creating “soggy and stale” bruschetta, he said, but time constraints prevented them from perfecting its presentation.
One competitor from Calhoun College, Elliot Morse ’13, faced challenges beyond just determining the right combination of ingredients: She could use only one arm, since she had broken her collar bone. Alison Pease ’13, another Calhoun representative, said the team had the modest goal of not “setting things on fire,” and while Morse said her sling did not hinder the team and just required more organization to make sure her teammates “got the two-armed tasks done,” her efforts earned admiration from some Calhoun supporters.
“It’s truly inspirational to see someone with so much passion for fine dining in the face of a debilitating injury,” said Natalie Papillion ’13, who attended the event.
The Davenport College team won second place with a cash prize of $500, and Pierson brought home third with a prize of $250. Other awards for the competition included “cleanest jacket,” “best organized” and “most interesting dish,” won by Pierson, Silliman and Davenport, respectively. One of the loudest cheers of the night came when Morse College earned a “chicken tenders night” by fielding the “best cheering squad.”
Jeanette Norton, deputy director of Yale Dining, said the organizers hoped to emphasize the importance of sustainability by rewarding contestants for reducing their waste, using sustainable ingredients and keeping their cooking areas sanitary, as well as inviting vendors that value sustainability.
Audience members said the Iron Chef competition proved exciting, but many said they actually spent most of their time preoccupied by the enormous array of food. Rodrigo Cuestas ’15 said he attended the event because he heard he could try many types of food, and Joshua Jacobs ’15 said he also appreciated the chance to try exotic foods.
“Although normal day dining food is good, I enjoyed a change from the daily menu,” Jacobs said.
Vendors at the event included the Alaskan Seafood Marketing Institute, General Mills and Michele’s Family Bakery.
Correction: Feb. 25 2012
An earlier version of this article misstated the class year of Jared Shenson ’12