November 8, 2012
Tuesday evening featured a potent blend of politics and frenzied students. Yet even as anxious undergraduates piled into Sadove, a secret ingredient promised to spice up the already-pungent election night.
Hamilton’s most ravenous and distinguished chefs were vying in their own race that Tuesday: the Culinary Society’s Quickfire Challenge. Organized by club president Mary Rice ’15, this week’s cook-off promised to be the most competitive yet.
“Stakes were higher this week,” observed judge Spencer Livingstone ’16.
Indeed, the Quickfire Challenge devises the perfect recipe for anxiety: one hour, one secret ingredient and one winner.
As the clock struck 5:30 p.m., the highly anticipated ingredient was declared to be Pillsbury Crescent Dough. Chefs separated into teams of two, rushing to assemble supplies before time slipped away.
Competitors then piled into Commons, scavenging cooking necessities and last-minute fixings. President Mary Rice was paired with chef Erin Bernard ’16. The two scrambled to appropriate an assortment of herbs from the pasta bar, while simultaneously stowing chocolate chips and grated coconut in paper cups. A number of teams circled Commons, eyeing their opposition and exchanging brief formalities with fellow chefs.
After accumulating a stack of ingredients, as well as gleaning a few appraising looks from the cafeteria staff, Rice and Bernard bustled to the South common room, where they began to prepare their dish. Bernard enlisted her 9-year-old sidekick, Kyle, to grate cheese, while she and Rice chopped carrots, crushed garlic, and melted butter.
The team began to lather Pillsbury dough with an impromptu garlic sauce. The air was heady with the scent of garlic and sautéed vegetables—several witnesses pressed their faces to the window, remarking on the aroma. The minutes ticked by, and soon President Rice was rushing to retrieve the golden, garlic bread loaves from the oven, aligning them on a plate and ushering Bernard and Kyle out into the cold, autumn night.
Moments later, they returned to the Azel Backus House, where teams were already assembled. Following Rice’s arrival, the judges appeared, orbiting the table, inspecting the evening’s submissions.
The tasting began. Judges sampled a fresh garden salad, complete with grilled crescent roll, fresh apples, and granola courtesy of nature valley; a “half-baked” apple pie with ample shakes of cinnamon sugar and a few dollops of butter; another apple dish—“Apple Dish Number Two,”—seasoned with crushed snicker doodle and honey; as well as a potpie-esque dish, complete with sautéed mushrooms, carrots, minced grilled chicken, finished with a balsamic vinaigrette and sugar sauce.
Judges Livingstone and Kathleen Buckley ’16 invited the contestants to dine while they deliberated. The chefs descended on the foodstuff, muttering compliments and critiques between bites.
Finally the judges returned, hastily announcing that they had “decided on Apple Dish Number Two.” The winning team accepted a spattering of applause.
Apple Dish Number Two”was inspired, in large part, by the momentous elections occurring simultaneously. “Crescent roll dough is like pie dough,” explained winning chef Ryan Sutyla ’16, “because of the election tonight, we were going with an all-American theme.”
Sutyla, who will judge the next Quickfire Challenge, notes that this is not his first cook-off; he has been an avid participant in the Quickfire Challenge since its debut earlier this year.
Livingstone is also a cook-off veteran. He reflects on the past few weeks, and why he keeps coming back: ‘Getting to eat the delicious food,’ is only a part of why Livingstone returns; he explains that “seeing what the talented chefs of culinary support create,” is a thrill. At the very least, it spices up his Hamilton experience, especially on an cold November night.