On March 21, the University of Saskatchewan Culinary Services will hold the finale of the Student Iron Chef competition in Marquis Culinary Centre, where the campus community and public will watch the cook-off and sample dishes from each team.
Student Iron Chef is back for its fifth year, giving students the opportunity to showcase their culinary skills in teams of up to four people. Each team is mentored by a Marquis Culinary chef, who guides them in preparing and serving their menu. In the finale, the top three teams battle for the best dish to take away a prize valued at $1,000.
Mark Tan, a fourth-year food sciences student and the Food Centre co-ordinator, is captain of team What’s Our Name? He explains that the charity aspect of the event and his interest in food prompted him to register for the competition.
“In previous years, the Culinary Services have been donating one pound of food for every person that goes in for the dinner. And so, I think that it’s important for me, as part of my job, to support events like that — so that I can stir up publicity for other people to come [to the event] to indirectly … support the Food Centre. Another reason is just ’cause I like cooking and I like food,” Tan said.
This year, the Student Iron Chef competition included mini challenges to determine two of the top three teams that will compete against one another in the final battle. The third team will be selected based on public opinion, through a vote on the U of S Culinary Services web page. Tickets for the finale are $12.95, which includes the opportunity to sample the competition dishes.
Shiney Choudhary, a fourth-year psychology student, is a participant from team Cumin Get It. She discusses how her team had a recipe selected for the first mini competition but then had to switch to a meatless recipe because of limited time.
“Because we only had one hour, … we had to change [the dish],” Choudhary said. “So, initially, the dish — the one we submitted — was a lamb and beetroot curry with a bread at the bottom… But then, we had to cook it in an hour, and you can’t really cook a lamb in an hour.”
Choudhary says that her friends signed up for the competition as a team, as a way to have fun during a stressful time in the academic term. She believes that her team members have grown closer to one another during the experience.
While Tan’s team won first place in both technical challenges and second place in the signature challenge, he explains that he has faced hurdles when planning dishes that are innovative and well-liked.
“You have to push the envelope and push the boundaries but still make people want to try it,” Tan said. “Last year when we did fish, a lot of people here don’t like fish… We had to make it in a way so that people will still want to try it.”
Both Choudhary and Tan say that their teams have not decided on their final dishes yet. When asked about what strategies his team would use in the finale, Tan explains that his focus has been to impress the judges and the crowd by focusing on the visual presentation of the dish.
Choudhary shares that her team will prepare a meatless, protein-enriched dish if they get to the finale.
“Everyone else is cooking pretty complex dishes, and they all were using meats and proteins,” Choudhary said. “So, we might have to figure out a way that we can make our dish [into] something that can be eaten by everyone.”
Photo: Gabbie Torries