PISCATAWAY, NJ – The Commons Cafeteria at Piscataway High School was filled with students, parents, principals, township officials, and community members for the 2016 Iron Chef Piscataway Challenge on Monday evening.
In a friendly rivalry of students vs. principals, each team of four was made up of students from Conackamack, Quibbletown and Schor Middle schools. The three middle school principals formed their own team to take on the student competitors.
The four teams had just over an hour to prepare a three course meal that would be judged on taste, presentation and cleanliness. In keeping with the Iron Chef tradition, cranberry sauce with whole cranberries was the secret ingredient revealed at the start of the cooking battle.
A faculty member from each school joined the teams, as did professional chefs from Sodexo Food Service, to provide cooking and presentation assistance. Simona Alomary, a past Piscataway Chopped Junior winner offered support to the Iron Chef competitors.
The judges were members of the Board of Education and the Town Council. And the high school’s PWay TV production crew provided video services so guests could watch each team up close on monitors strategically positioned throughout the Commons.
“This is amazing,” said Superintendent Teresa Rafferty who was one of the judges. “I think that the talent and the interest that the children are exhibiting is wonderful, especially the culinary skills that they have. The creativity is impressive, especially to see what they can do with just a few ingredients and on very short notice.”
While the young chefs and principals prepared their dishes, guests were served a Colonial Buffet dinner with a menu that commemorated Piscataway’s founding 350 years ago. Traditional Thanksgiving favorites were featured including roasted turkey and stuffing, sweet potatoes, corn, green beans, a tossed salad and dinner roles, apple cider, and apple and cherry pies for dessert.
Each participant received a medal and was thrilled to learn that they could keep their Iron Chef jacket. Then, after each judge thanked everyone and noted how tough it was for them to pick a winner, Team Red from Conackamack Middle School was crowned Piscataway’s 2016 Iron Chef Champion.
“They worked hard,” said Dolores Taylor, the Red Team’s faculty advisor. “They followed directions, they had ideas, they enjoyed every minute of it. I think the team work is what actually showed.”
Student Chef Maiya Dabare presented the team’s winning dishes to the judges, serving “sautéed shrimp cocktail with cranberry sauce for the first course; pasta tostada with vegetables and chicken with a cranberry vinaigrette sauce; and for dessert a parfait with a raspberry-strawberry-apple compote and a dollop of whipped cream.”
Sponsored by, and benefitting the Piscataway Education Foundation, this was the second year the Iron Chef competition was held in the school district. Sodexo Food Service generously donated the food, materials, and prizes for the event, which was a major undertaking to organize.
“It took the work of three additional outside chefs from different school districts, and our own culinary chefs that are in-district, working the stations and roving around, as well as our in-house chefs preparing the buffet and preparing the pantry,” said the event organizer, Jim Giannakis, Sodexo’s General Manager for Piscataway Schools.
Giannakis said work has already begun to prepare for next year’s Piscataway Iron Chef. “We plan on making it an annual event,” he said.