Friends and family who came to West Orange High School Wednesday night were treated to the Fifth Annual Iron Chef Competition held at Jerry Tarnoff Cafeteria, where the term “fast food” took on a whole new meaning.
Given only a narrow amount of time to prepare three courses, four teams—made up of a total of eight Sodexo executive chefs, West Orange High School students and administrators—whisked and sautéed their ways to success with secret ingredients like quinoa, Portobello mushrooms and macadamia nuts.
All proceeds from ticket sales and raffles went towards West Orange Elementary Schools to buy children’s books for classrooms.
In collaboration with West Orange school official Terry Granato, Katherine Major, regional executive chef and regional manager for Sodexo, said the idea for the event presents itself as a way of preserving the spirit when cooking in the hustle and bustle of the kitchen.
“When you’re working in a school environment, you miss the adrenaline that you get working in hotels and restaurants and the excitement,” said Major. “We did this to help motivate our chefs and to keep them interested.”
Each chef was handpicked by their regional managers across New Jersey, with one chef traveling two and a half hours from Vineland. Cipheor Williams, a senior at WOHS and one of the featured student chefs, commented on the experience,“Since I’m going into this field next year, this [competition] is preparing me for it."
In the midst of each team slicing fruits and the loud hammer of tenderizing meats, guests were treated to a large buffet which included personal dishes created by the chefs, including shrimp rolled in prosciutto and a pulled pork empanada. High School students and faculty also provided music and dance.
After the allotted time ran out, judges Eric Levine and Al Soto, both of whom were featured on Food Network’s “Chopped,” along with Andre James, head chef for Orange Schools Services and Iron Chef reigning champion, chose Team 1 as the winners.
The team won with their eclectic menu of: Asian Shrimp Cake with Sriracha, pasta with a boursin cheese sauce paired with Portobello mushrooms and vegetables, and a coconut quinoa pudding with grilled mango and toasted macadamia and cinnamon agave whipped cream.
“I look forward to the creative aspect of the [competition] and seeing how the chefs pull it together,” said Levine, who has been cooking for 32 years. “To me, it’s cool to see something outside the box that’s not boring, basic and normal.”
Superintendent Dr. Anthony Cavanna, who was a guest chef on Team 1, admitted “he made a lot of mistakes” and joked it was “basically my job to distract the other teams.” He added that he couldn’t have done it without the tremendous help of the students.