Knives flashed and pots boiled furiously. The Hiram dining hall took on a festival atmosphere with a live band, food sellers hawking their wares, and hungry students chowing down at their evening meal, and when the last celebrity judge’s palate had been cleansed for the last time, the Champs emerged victorious once again against four rivals in the Third Annual Hiram College AVI Fresh “Platinum Chef Hiram” competition.
The team of Zareek Ahmed, ’13 Zach Fincham, ’13, Zoe Aspisdorf, ’12 and sisters Jamie ’12 and Roseann Zychowski ’13 fought back challenges from four other five-member teams of Hiram students to take their third Platinum Chef title. It is essentially the same team that won the Platinum Chef Ohio title last year against teams from four other in Ohio Colleges and they will move on to defend that title in this year’s intercollegiate culinary throw-down April 19 at the University of Mount Union. But just getting to the larger competition at Mount Union next month wasn’t easy for the champs. This year’s competition marked the first time they had faced internal challenger teams from their schoolmates.
“We’re confident, but it’s tough waiting like this,” said Apisdorf, the only newcomer to the team, said as they waited as the judges sampled each of their dishes. “You never know.”
Modeled after the Food Network’s “Iron Chef” TV show, the Platinum Chef contest required each five-member team to prepare an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert for the judges from scratch. Each course additionally had to use a “mystery ingredient” (goat cheese) , which was announced only minutes before the start of competition.
Judges included Rocco Whalen, chef/owner of Fahrenheit Restaurant and several other Cleveland eateries, Steve Jones, Chief Financial officer, Vice President for Business and Finance for Hiram, Dan Remark, Executive Chef for AVI Fresh, Lisa Schneider, Manager, Institutional Advancement program, and Elizabeth Okuma, Associate Dean of Students.
The members of other teams presented their fare with confidence as well, and the Judges had kind words for all of them, but that didn’t keep some of the contestants from being tense during the judging.
“I’m looking at their faces to figure out what they think,” said Susanna Wong, leader of Team 1., during the time the judges were sipping the team’s tomato-based soup and shrimp appetizer. “We think it might be too spicy for them.”
But for Ciara Delahunty, ’15, one of the hundreds of students who got to witness the competition as they ate their regular dinner in the dining hall, the competition, food fare and festival atmosphere spiced up the dinner hour.
“It’s great having music,” she said. “It would be nice to have music all the time in the dining hall. She also said she was going to sample the free tidbits at the food fair who used the competition to show off their products, including ice cream, cheese, and other snacks.
When asked how the winning team put together their winning menu, team leader Roseann Zychowski said planning started some time ago.
“We got together and started throwing out ideas,” she said. “And then we put some things together for what we wanted to do for each dish. It’s definitely a team effort, some of us are good at some things and some are good at others, and then somebody else will come in and add the right touch. Zareek came in and said we needed a little mint on the appetizer at the last minute, for instance .” We all contributed to everything.
The teamwork paid off. Now they have to prepare to defend their title in the intercollegiate competition against teams from the University of Mount Union, Kenyon, Malone, and Tiffin University in April.
The Winning Menu
Appetizer: Spring roll with goat cheese and arugula, with lime and garlic-ginger sauce with crushed almonds.
Entree: Pan-seared chicken breast stuffed with roasted red peppers, goat cheese on a bed of kale with tomatoes and fresh basil; sweet potato risotto, with white truffle pate
Dessert: Deep fried mini-doughnut with goat cheese, lemon and honey.