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Students cross knives at first inter-university Iron Chef competition

Four teams take part in inaugural culinary cook-off hosted by McGill.

BY CASSANDRA HENDRY | FEB 26 2014

It was a battleground in the kitchen of a McGill University dining hall as four teams from Canada and the United States faced off at the inaugural extracurricular, inter-university Iron Chef competition Feb. 8.

Teams from McGill, the University of Ottawa, the University of Toronto and the University of Massachusetts Amherst competed to impress the judges and win the coveted bragging rights that come with being named culinary champions.

UMass tied with McGill at the event, but was then declared the winner after the McGill team was docked marks for being 40 seconds late in plating their dishes.

“I told people we were doing an Iron Chef and that it won’t be as exciting as you see on TV. But I have to say the first 15 minutes were almost exactly like television, just with students who knew a little bit less about what they were doing,” says chef Oliver de Volpi, who created and organized the event.

The idea was born out of two previous Iron Chef competitions held internally at McGill. After seeing the hard work of those winning teams, Mr. de Volpi says he wanted to give the students the opportunity to go up against other schools.

At the inter-university competition, teams had to create separate vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals, including a starter, main and dessert, in two hours. Mr. De Volpi threw a curveball at the teams when he announced at the start that five mystery ingredients must be worked into the recipes.

“We expected that, because before we had an inter-residence competition with similar rules. So we got to experience the difficulty of coming up with the dishes really quickly,” says Priscilla Wang, a first-year biology student and member of the McGill team. “We kind of just made it work.”
Teams were judged based on presentation, portion sizes, creativity and taste. Organization, cleanliness and technique were taken into account as well.

Mr. De Volpi says both he and the other teams didn’t feel comfortable penalizing the McGill team for their late delivery, but agreed the team would lose points in the case of a tie, which was the case. Ms. Wang says despite their narrow defeat, her team enjoyed every minute of the competition.

“It was really, really fun. … We learned a lot of things and got to work with amazing chefs,” she says.

This isn’t the end for the competition, says Mr. de Volpi. Both UMass and U of T indicated they’d like to host the tournament next year and Mr. de Volpi says he sees it expanding to more than four teams.

The UMass team’s gold-winning menu

  • A Pearl Jade Rice “Croquette” with Apple Mango Slaw, Fair Trade Black Pepper Sour Cream Emulsion, and Chive Oil vegetarian starter;
  • An entrée of Puffed Quinoa Crusted du Breton Natural Pork Loin with Maple Balsamic Gastrique, Spiced Sweet Potato Hash and Grilled Asparagus; and
  • A Garden Vegetable Tofu Strudel with Charred Tomato Coulis dessert
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