Master Chef, Top Chef, Iron Chef, Hell’s Kitchen … I’m all for over-the-top food TV if these kinds of shows inspire people to spend more time in the kitchen being creative.
My friend Dawn was inspired to organize and host Chopped Challenge by her son Ben, who cut his culinary teeth in his family’s kitchen and now cooks meals that people pay for at The Busy Bee.
The Chopped Challenge was meant to pitch Ben in a friendly competition with a certain few of his friends. It didn’t quite work out that way, and some invitees who thought they’d come to simply eat and judge were talked into competing instead. (Your friendly Tarheel taster claimed exemption as a member of the press.)
Similar to the Food Network’s Chopped show, contestants had an array of pantry, refrigerated and fresh foods to supplement what was in their must-use mystery ingredient bags. And they all had to produce their courses within an allotted amount of time.
We judges awarded scores for presentation, taste and texture, and creativity and originality. And we of course offered plenty of comments — written and verbal, serious and silly.
Team Jessa (Jesse and Chessa) were up first with the appetizer. Their ingredients: turkey legs, pine nuts, spinach and cream cheese.
The result: fun Thanksgiving Crostini. (Turkey and a pink sauce made from cream cheese and cranberries inspired the name.)
Chef Ben graciously volunteered to take on the more substantial entree course without a partner. His mystery bag contained flounder, brussels sprouts, smoked paprika and — much to everyone’s amusement — Cheez-Its.
It’s obvious that Ben knows his way around a kitchen …
His Lost and Flounder featured cubed potatoes and pan-sauteed fish on top of smoked paprika-spiked rice and a Cheez-Its bechamel, flanked by sauteed brussels sprouts that even haters liked.
Their warm-and-creamy rice pudding concoction also included Greek yogurt, lemon curd and zest and a crunchy pecan-Cheerio topping.
The guest-donated prizes were divvied up between all the competitors, but, as Iron Chef’s chairman used to say, challenge winners Ann and Connor walked away with “the people’s ovation and fame forever.” And the rest of us left with bellies full of good food and beer and hearts full of friendship and camaraderie.