As a senior, I’ve seen my fair share of wild things happen in the various dining halls around campus. I must say, none come close to being as crazy as the scene that lay before me October 8th in the Allen/LAR Dining Hall. A woman was shouting excitedly on a microphone, chefs were frantically cooking, there were ingredients being thrown into pans that could not possibly have been edible (turns out they were, joke's on me), flames blazing outside of the kitchen (in a controlled fashion, of course) and a crowd was watching the events unfold. I was looking at the first rendition of Chopped, the Sustainability Living-Learning Community’s marquee event of Fall 2014, a play off of the Food Network’s cooking competition where teams of two showcased their cooking prowess to avoid being "chopped." This particular challenge was based around healthy vegetarian options, trying to make them tasty, edible and appealing enough to eat, which is a tall order in my opinion. Bacon was strictly exiled from making an appearance.
We had four teams at the start of the first round and only one made it out alive. I was partnered with cooking novice Kevin Bakker, one of the top Resident Advisors that Lincoln Hall has ever seen. Between the two of us, we had zero years of culinary experience. Kevin’s bio consisted of his stated mastery of the world famous microwavable mac and cheese and my fan base raved of my perfected recipe of frozen pizza. Needless to say, we were worried about our chances.
The three courses on the slate for the evening were an appetizer, a main dish and a dessert. The twist came in when each team had to open up a secret bag of ingredients, each containing things that I’ve never seen before. The biggest challenge was during the main course; we pulled out a box of polenta and sat and read the entire set of directions to try to figure out what the heck it was. There were times we resorted to simply distracting other competitors because of our inability to come up with original ideas of our own. Despite our lack of expertise, by the grace of a higher being Kevin and I advanced to the final round where we ultimately met our match. Despite our best efforts to stop fate, the best team won and we were left in second place.
This event could not have happened without the effort, execution and planning by Jennifer Bechtel, the LLC’s Program Director, University Dining’s fantastic staff team (especially Chef Beth Partenheimer and LAR/Allen Food Service Supervisor Pennie Speckman), and LAR’s Library Supervisor, Jessica Tieman. They all worked together to bring about the largest and most impressive and enjoyable event I’ve experienced during my four years inside of a University dining hall. Despite the fact that my team ultimately got chopped, I learned that vegetarian food isn’t nearly as impossible to make as I had once thought. Although I am still madly in love with steak and bacon, perhaps I’ll give eggplant and tofu a shot every now and then when I’m cooking at home.