Just because I live in the middle of nowhere doesn't mean I have to eat like it!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Dorm Room Iron Chef- DSU Style!

(Warning- Massive Wall of Text Incoming!)
Tonight the Math and Science Club of Dakota State University hosted a Dorm Room Iron Chef Contest.  There was a secret ingredient, there were commentators, there was a chairman and there were contestants!

The contestants had 45 minutes to creative an entree item. They had a couple pounds of the secret ingredient, a pantry of items that could be found in a dorm room (or from the grocery store within walking distance of campus,) and prepaid cards with $20 of meal plan money that the contestants could use to buy items from either the Convenience store on campus or the main servery. Contestants each had a butane burner, an induction cook-top, various utensils, pots and pans and knives to use- similar to cooking implements found in the dorm floor kitchens. Judges scored on taste, creativity and use of the secret ingredient. The winner would get the title of Dorm Room Iron Chef and their dish will be featured in the servery at a later date.
The night started out with 'The Chairman' holding an apple and welcoming everyone to the kitchen stadium. He introduced the judges and  then the contestants. With a bite of his apple and the shout of 'A la Cuisine!' the action was on.

The secret ingredient was... Elk! Lots of options and each contestant went in very different directions.Galen was off to the C-Store to find more ingredients, Jimmy was messing with eggs and flour, Jackson was in full stride getting ingredients from the pantry and playing with distilled rice spirits- IE making fireballs... while Vidur was slicing and dicing his onions and peppers.

Five minutes in and Galen is back from the C-Store with Doritos and microwavable alfredo and noodles. He starts up the microwave and POP went a couple of breakers. The organizers call a timeout and they move the microwaves to different outlets. Just too much power for the little breakers to wield...
With power issues sorted out everyone was back in high gear to try and get their dishes out in time. Jimmy was making a large pasta noodle- later we found out to be a spicy elk ravioli. Vidur was making an elk curry. Jackson was making an elk stir-fry while Galen was heating up the alfredo noodles and adding elk to it.

Various problems sprouted up through out the cooking time, most having to deal with the induction burners turning themselves off (they do that if there isn't enough metal in range for the electrons to travel through and heat up the pot) or not turning the knob on the butane burner over far enough to trigger the ignition mechanism.  All contestants were able to overcome these obstacles and finish in time.

With ten minutes to go Galen was plating up his plates. He had the Elk Alfredo with Doritos crumbled over top, some fruit from a mixed fresh fruit cup, half of a sourdough bun with some olive oil and one and half mini powdered donuts. When asked if he felt he was plating too early, Galen simply shrugged and said something along the lines of alfredo tastes the same hot or cold or at least close enough.

Jackson had his stir fry mostly ready to go and was making a yogurt sauce with fruit cashews. Plenty of time to go!

Vidur had his curry ready and was planning on using some croissants with some garlic oil.

Jimmy had his ravioli in the water and was working on a spicy ramen noodle side and saute some tomatoes.

Time is nearing up and Galen got creative with stacking his one and a half donettes. Jackson finished plating his stir fry and cup of fruit and yogurt sauce without setting off the fire alarm. Vidur had his garlic, breadcrumbs and oil ready to grill his croissants  and Jimmy was in overdrive trying to finish in time. The clock has just seconds left and everyone but Jimmy is finished. Jimmy is saucing his noodles and tomatoes as fast as he could. With the final second he managed to finish saucing his fourth plate, just squeaking by.

 Before I go start in on the judging portion I want to make note of some notes I made while cooking was taking place. Jackson left the skins on his kiwi in his yogurt cup and the cashews were burnt- nuts get hard to cook in oil and they keep cooking long after they have left the oil. Jimmy's ravioli dough was a little thick and I was wondering how the ramen would tie in with the ravioli. Vidur's curry was a little watery but he strained the portions he plated for the judges. Galen plated a little early.

Jackson was the first to have his plate judged. One judge didn't like the kiwi skins. Another said the yogurt sauce was a bit sour, with the fruit it balanced out but the sauce on its own was sour. Cashews were burnt so the soup/sauce was dead in the bowl but the stir fry was well received- just could have had more sauce for some judges. The leftovers were picked through heavily before I could get up there so I cannot comment on Jackson's dish.

Vidur was next and his curry intrigued the judges. Apart from a couple small comments on the croissants being oily and fatty they loved the flavors and loved how well the curry and pastries paired up and were surprised that it was not spicy at all! I had a chance to sample Vidur's curry and the flavor was good but kind of offset by how oily it was but I also didn't get the strained stuff.
Jimmy served next and the judges said the ramen was a little on the spicy side. The ravioli could have used more salt and the ravioli could have cooked a bit longer.  There were mushrooms in the ramen and they got high praise other than there could have been more. I was fortunate enough to be close when the leftovers were put out and I got a fork full of ramen and tidbit of the ravioli. Not bad but I am in the 'use a hot sauce other than Tobasco' camp for the ramen. Word on the street is Jimmy always has a large bottle in his backpack.
And nearly thirty minutes after it was plated was Galen. There was an interesting assortment of comments for Galen. The food being cold, strange assortment, a true dorm room dish, doritos were a nice touch, liked the way the donuts were stacked, etc.... There wasn't anything left for me to try, the judges ate it all so sadly no comment from me.
While the judges added up their scores I asked some spectators what they thought of the event. Everyone I talked to was having a great time. Others were glad the event was at DSU. It is something special and very out of the norm. Others were impressed by the number of people that stayed on campus to watch, especially for a Friday night of the suit case campus. Others loved the commentating that took place and the random comments from the 'peanut gallery', saying it helped make the night more enjoyable and more like Iron Chef.
I was also able to talk to a Galen and Vidur before the judging was announced. Galen said his plate came out like he hoped, it was true dorm food and he wasn't afraid that his food being cold would effect the outcome. Vidur had no idea what an elk was and made his dish like he would make something with ground turkey. He also wished he had some rice or better bread to serve his curry with.

Judging was announced by the Chairman and Vidur won with a 49, Jimmy had a 46, Galen a 45 and Jackson with a 38. When I asked Vidur what his thoughts were on winning he was happy and said he felt great, he loves to cook and he eventually wants to open up a couple of restaurants, once he finishes his business degree and learns more about cooking.

While everyone was trying to clean up I talked to Jimmy and Jackson. Jimmy said the right person won and he learned a lot from his first cooking competition, he realized he did plan his time accordingly but looks forward to competing again. Jackson said he had a good time and learned a lot from his first food competition.

When talking to representatives from the Math and Science club they were impressed by the number of spectators saying it was the largest turn out to any event for the Math and Science club. They were also impressed that that many people showed up on a Friday night. I asked if they planned to host any other Iron Chef challenges and they said they want to eventually have preliminary contests with a bracket system to get more people involved in the competition. I was trying to lead up to asking how I could compete without being a student  but they had places to be and books to read or something that college kids do these days.

I was just candidly talking to some judges and they were asking what I thought of things so I figured I would ask them some of the same. The two that I talked to were impressed by the food, especially for only having 45 minutes to do it in!

It was a very entertaining event and I am happy that so many people want to read about it. I look forward to the next one.
If anyone would like some larger pictures, please email me, leave a comment or ask me on campus.

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