WEST ORANGE, NJ — Daughters of Israel (DOI) in West Orange held its first-ever “Chopped” competition on Thursday as part of the nursing home’s weeklong celebration of the skilled nursing care facility professionals who care for nearly 300 residents who currently call DOI home.

Throughout National Skilled Nursing Care Week (NSNCW)—a national celebration of skilled nursing care facilities created by the American Health Care Association (AHCA)—DOI residents and staff from all disciplines participated in a series of events that featured this year’s NSNCW theme of “living soulfully.”

“This year, we actually took it a step further and did an entire integrated program with residents and staff doing all the programing and activities together,” said DOI Executive Director Susan Grosser, who also elaborated on some of the week’s events.

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On Monday, residents and staff worked together to plant herbs in the garden; on Tuesday, they relaxed with a spa day; Wednesday featured yoga and meditation; Thursday focused on eating mindfully and healthfully; and Friday ended the week with creature comforts, complete with a petting farm and a resident barbeque.

Grosser conceded that these activities, including the “Chopped” competition, fall in line with the AHCA’s motto associated with this year’s theme, which is to “achieve happy minds and healthy souls.”

This year’s competition, hosted by DOI’s head dietician Raul Campiz, was meant to emulate the popular televised cooking competition on Food Network, but also resembled “Beat Bobby Flay,” another televised cooking competition where chefs compete against each other to face off with the renowned Iron Chef.

According to Campiz, this is because the competition was made up of two five-membered teams, one of which consisted of new Dining Services Director and experienced chef, William Popov. The five-membered teams, who came from different disciplines including maintenance, social services, occupational therapy, and nursing, also possessed different levels of cooking experience, but were confident in their team’s ability to work together.

Campiz explained that DOI’s first “Chopped” competition consisted of only one round, where one winner was crowned after the competitors’ dishes were successfully plated and served to the resident judges.

“The rules are a little different for this event because it is our first one,” said Campiz. “We want to see how it goes and sort of build on it as we go forward.”

The competitors were given a pantry of items to choose from such as fresh fruit; sliced vegetables (including celery and cherry tomatoes, julienned peppers, spring mix salad and baby spinach); a variety of whole grains (including couscous, farro, and quinoa); dried spices, apple cider and balsamic vinegar; and grilled chicken that was marinated overnight and seared on the morning of the competition.

The competitors were free to concoct anything they wanted with those ingredients, but were required to use five vegetables, a maximum of three fruits and a whole grain. The chefs were also required to complete their dish, plate it for presentation and serve it to 30 resident judges all within the span of 25 minutes.

Midway through the competition, competition co-host and fellow head dietician Elena Mills introduced the mystery basket that the flagship competition is known for.

“So, we have a bit of a trick to the competition going on here,” she said. “We have a mystery basket of four items, and we are going to read off trivia questions and the first team to answer the trivia question gets to choose their mystery item first.”

The four items that the basket included were a bag of potato chips, maple syrup, sardines and champagne.

The first team to pick their mystery item was the blue team, which chose the bottle of champagne. The green team then chose the bag of potato chips, and Chef Popov, who made up the red team, chose the can of sardines.

Popov revealed his intention to use the sardines in a vinaigrette for his version of a Mediterranean salad, the salt of which would be balanced with the sweetness of mandarin oranges. The green team decided to use the potato chips as croutons on top of a salad, and the blue team decided to keep their use of champagne a secret until the dish was served.

The first team to complete their dish was the green team, which served a grilled chicken salad with quinoa that was dressed with a mixture of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and apple cider vinegar. The blue team finished next with another grilled chicken salad that was topped with mandarin oranges and sliced strawberries tossed in a balsamic and champagne dressing. It was also served with wild rice, sliced vegetables and a piece of bread.

By the time the other two teams were done plating and serving, Popov said that he was feeling the pressure since he was not done plating his dish. He was ultimately chopped from the competition for failing to serve his dish to the judges in the allotted time.

Popov was ambitious in the competition, making two salads using grilled chicken: a Mediterranean salad served with couscous, mandarin oranges and cherry tomatoes as well as a twist on a cucumber salad with green peppers and red onions along with the sardines used as part of the salad dressing.

After the tasting portion of the competition, the winner was selected based on the volume of the residents’ cheers for their preferred dish. The green team emerged victorious, with the blue team as the runner up. The winners of the competition received a certificate and a $25 gift card to ShopRite.

Grosser thanked Campiz and Mills for being “so involved in the planning process” and thanked the staff members for their help in planning the week’s activities.

“It was really a mixture of all the departments getting involved and working on this program and making different programs so our residents and our staff can work on together,” she said. “I thank everybody for getting involved, putting their minds together, putting their hands together, and everybody doing everything together. It’s been a lot of fun and congratulations to everybody for your great dishes.”

Listed below are the teams who participated in the Chopped competition, what department they come from and their dishes:

Green Team – 1st place

Carla Woodard - Activities

Donna O’Brien - Accounting

Treana Goodman - Activities

Raymond Pagan - maintenance

Rachel Freilich - occupational therapy

Dish: Quinoa chicken salad with garden mix, spinach, cherry tomatoes, green peppers, red onion, and strawberries, dressed in olive oil, balsamic and apple cider vinegar, and seasoned with garlic salt and pepper.

Blue Team – 2nd place

Alan Word – maintenance

Joanne Levy – social services

Adrianne Coppola – social services

Dee Lawson – Certified nursing assistant (CNA)

Reizy Raven – occupational

Dish: Grilled chicken topped with mandarin orange, strawberry and champagne puree. Spring mix side salad with tomatoes dressed in balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Served on top of wild rice with zucchini, and bold colored peppers covered in olive oil, seasoned with garlic, onion power, pepper and served with a side of bread. 

Red Team – Eliminated

William Popov – Dining Services Director

Dish: Mediterranean-style salad with couscous, mandarin oranges and cherry tomatoes. Also created a twist on a Cucumber salad with green peppers and red onions dressed in a vinaigrette using sardines. Served on top of grilled chicken.