With 60 minutes until the buzzer rang, the countdown was on. The challenge: to create an original, tasteful and presentable meal consisting of an appetizer, entree and dessert incorporating the “secret ingredient” — salmon — into each dish.

Designed to resemble the popular Food Network television show “Iron Chef,” this Wednesday’s cooking contest was sponsored by the Asian American Cultural Center and showcased two teams of three racing against the clock to create a winning meal.

In one corner of the kitchen, Team Strike Force cooked with a Christmas theme, incorporating red pomegranate seeds and green cilantro into their menu. In the other corner, Team Tel Aviv celebrated the Jewish heritage of its members by whipping up a zucchini and potato latkes appetizer, served with none other than caramelized salmon and green onion sour cream.

The two teams were sent to Shaw’s with $20 each to buy ingredients for their meal. After they returned from Shaw’s, the secret ingredient was revealed. To the surprise of the contestants, salmon was the secret ingredient.

“We planned for fruits, spices, a sweet vegetable like carrots, and even octopus,” said Claire Stanford ’06, captain of Team Tel Aviv. “But we didn’t expect salmon.”

Stanford is a contributing reporter for the Yale Daily News.

Team Strike Force, which was at a disadvantage early in the game because only one teammate arrived at the kitchen on time, began the hourlong cook-a-thon by slicing sizzled chicken, salmon and Wisconsin Sharp cheese to create an innovative entree: melted cheese sandwiched between chicken and salmon, served with onions and tomatoes and garnished with pomegranate seeds and cilantro.

For its appetizer, Team Strike Force prepared a cheese, chicken, salmon and herb mixture wrapped in bacon and served the concoction on skewers.

“The bacon dish was a spontaneous collaboration,” said Phuoc La ’05, captain of Team Strike Force.

La’s team selected a rather unconventional but innovative dessert: chilled pomegranate seeds bathed in salmon, served with kiwi and gummy bears.

“I didn’t expect the pomegranate seeds and gummy bears, which were quite unusual,” said Molly Lewis ’06, one of the contest’s five student judges.

Team Tel Aviv began its contest by slicing vegetables, shredding potatoes and mincing salmon. They fried up a zucchini and potato latkes appetizer, complemented with a caramelized salmon and green onion sour cream. An entree of rosemary-sauteed salmon and chicken, served over a bed of red and yellow peppers and garnished with green onions and lemon slices, topped off the meal.

But the judges agreed the dessert was Team Tel Aviv’s masterpiece. They served mini dessert cakes with homemade whipped cream and caramelized apples, sprinkled with caramelized salmon, cinnamon and powdered sugar.

“I have to say that taste-wise, the cakes were far superior,” Lewis said.

Stanford agreed and added that her team’s dessert was by far the best dish on the menu, despite the fact that incorporating salmon into a dessert was extremely difficult.

The judges selected a winning team based on the originality, presentation and taste of the two menus. After testing each dish, the judges deliberated. They decided that Team Strike Force won the originality category by incorporating salmon into the meal in a creative and innovative way.

“There were some creative salmon expressions,” Lewis said. “It broadened my culinary horizons.”

The judges awarded the presentation points to Team Tel Aviv, crediting the team’s “mouth-watering” garnishes on their entree and the fine sprinkles of cinnamon and powdered sugar on the dessert.

“The food reminded me of a river from my youth,” said Henry Harding ’06, one of the judges. “It was like poetry in my mouth.”

After a long and heated debate, the judges awarded the taste points to Team Tel Aviv, thus declaring Team Tel Aviv the contest winner.

“I was impressed with the extremely high quality of the food and the knowledge of the ‘Iron Chefs’ themselves,” said Patrick Huguenin ’06, another judge.

The members of the winning team were presented with gift certificates, courtesy of the Asian American Cultural Center.

The contest was designed in part to relieve the stress that often comes at the end of the semester.

“But surprisingly, the contestants were even more stressed in the kitchen,” contest organizer Tiffany Phan ’05 said.

The contestants from both corners of the kitchen agreed that the contest was an enjoyable experience. They said they were able to let their creative juices flow while satisfying the tastebuds of the friendly judges.

“I watched the TV show and always thought it would be really fun to do something like that,” Stanford said. “I was disappointed by the fact that there was no cameraman harassing me, but I survived.”

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