A dash of friendly student rivalry — served with a large helping of flavour and fun — is up next on the University of Saskatchewan Culinary Services’ menu.
The Student Iron Chef Competition is back for its third year, taking place on Jan. 28 at Marquis Culinary Centre on campus. The competition is meant to exhibit culinary talent among students at the U of S, as they face one another to see who can cook their way to a cash prize.
Students work in teams of four and each team is paired up with a chef from Marquis Hall to help them with the process. The teams are responsible for creating a menu, and are then expected to prepare their dishes, beginning at 1 p.m. on the day of the competition, and finish in time to serve their creations to customers for dinner in Marquis Hall that evening.
According to James McFarland, the assistant director and executive chef for U of S Culinary Services, last year’s first place winners made a pulled pork sandwich and macaroni and cheese, which shows that judges aren’t necessarily looking for complicated dishes.
“It’s just as much about presentation — it’s flavour obviously — but you have to look at some of the presentation,” McFarland said.
In addition to presentation and flavour, teams are judged based on texture and the nutritional value of the meal — judges look at everything from portion size to the balance of proteins and vegetables.
McFarland also notes that the competition is an opportunity for students to prepare some of their favourite and traditional foods.
“We’ve had a lot of things from simply pasta dishes to a lot of ethnic food. We find a lot of people that compete are actually international students and they like to prepare some of their national or traditional ethnic dishes,” McFarland said.
One team competing this year is Team Noodle Dynasty, made up of U of S students Mark Tan — the team’s head chef — Emmanauel Barker, Connor Moen and Kehan Fu. Their main dishes are Szechuan-style spicy noodles and cumin stir-fried lamb with glazed nuts.
Each team member has varying levels of expertise in the kitchen, and they recognize that there may be difficulties once the competition gets underway.
In an email to the Sheaf, Fu explained the most challenging aspects of the competition his team will face.
The “timing of all the intricate parts. But in all honesty, the real challenge is always hard to visualize until you’re in kitchen. Everything before that is just speculation,” he said.
Team Noodle Dynasty is also looking forward to serving their dishes in a competitive environment and being able to see students’ first reactions to tasting their food.
There are usually 10 to 12 teams competing for a first prize of $400, with prizes of $200 and $100 awarded to second and third place, respectively. There is also a $100 people’s choice award that is up for grabs.
Regardless of the cash prize, McFarland notes that he especially enjoys seeing students’ pride in what they’ve created.
“My favourite part of the competition is seeing the teams present, with the amount of pride they come out with, especially if sometimes it is an international dish. Sometimes students get really creative with what they present to the judges — one year [a group] even had a story that went along with it. I think some of the creativity that comes out of the students is my favourite part of it,” he said.
Each team must cook enough of their dishes so that it can be served to customers in Marquis Hall, and students, staff and faculty are all invited to come watch and taste the food creations that evening.
For McFarland, the Iron Chef Competition is also a chance to work with students and create some campus community.
“It’s an opportunity to engage with students on common ground, where food brings everyone together and it’s sort of an opportunity for Culinary Services to be able to provide that and engage with the groups.”
Naomi Zurevinski / Editor-in-Chief
Photos: U of S Culinary Services / Supplied