The sign in the Hiram dining hall said “let the battle begin,” and when the grill smoke cleared hours later, Hiram’s team of sometime chefs vanquished four other college teams in the first Platinum Chef Ohio cooking competition March 28.
Hiram’s team of Jamie Zychowski, ’12, Rose Zychowski, ’13, Zachary Fincham, ’13, Matt Geraldi, ’13, and Zeerak Ahmed, ’13, scored a narrow 1.5-point victory (out of a possible 300 points) over Kenyon College’s after a five-hour marathon of frantic chopping, baking, searing and reducing that saw a barrage of four-star restaurant fare offered up for the judges.
|Hiram’s winning menu
Appetizer “platter”: Roasted red pepper hummus with a Parmesan cheese bowl
“Capri” mixed green salad with deep-fried basil and caramelized cashews
Sauteed shrimp with miso, skewered on a rosemary twig
Poached Asian pear
Dressing: White miso balsamic vinaigrette
Entree: Seared salmon fillet, with white miso balsamic glaze on a brick of black sesame-crusted white rice
Dessert: White citrus cake with oranges, and lime juice, vanilla ice cream and almond-miso brittle
The effort was well worth it, as the amateur Hiram food divas took away the $2,500 cash top prize in the culinary competition modeled after the Food Network’s “Iron Chef” franchise. Hiram’s rivals included five-member teams of amateur student chefs from Malone University, Kenyon College, the University of Mt. Union, Tiffin University. None of the schools has a culinary studies program. The competition was sponsored by AVI Fresh, the company that provides food services to all five colleges, and each team was “coached” by the AVI chef from its school.
Each team prepared three courses, featuring a “mystery” ingredient that was not announced until moments before the competition began, and presented their masterpieces to a panel of Judges that included celebrity chef and author Hiroko Shimbo, John Coker, Executive vice president of AVI Fresh, Steve Jones, Vice President for business and Finance at Hiram, Chef Guilio Frattore, and Pat Heddleston, Vice president of Business Affairs for the University of Mount Union. Contestants were told beforehand that the secret ingredient would be one of four selected by the judges, and turned out to be miso, the Japanese fermented seasoning paste made of rice, barley or soybeans.
The judges raved about Hiram’s plate presentation, on its three courses – an appetizer platter, featuring a “Capri” salad with caramelized cashews, a poached Asian pear, roasted red pepper hummus, and sauteed shrimp skewered on a rosemary twig, an entree of seared salmon on a brick of black sesame-crusted white rice, and a white citrus cake with almond-miso brittle. Most of all the judges praised the Hiram team’s piece de resistance, an original recipe miso-infused balsamic vinaigrette dressing that graced all two of the three courses.
“It was sort of an Italian/Japanese-inspired effort,” said Rose Zychowski. “We were trying to figure out what the secret ingredient would be, and we thought it might be balsamic, but when it wasn’t, it worked out just as well.”
Hail to the chefs!