A beef dish inspired by classical French cuisine conferred “Iron Chef” status on a Kids Unlimited Academy team of cooking competitors.
KUA eighth grader Andre Alcocer said he has loved the steak tartare since hearing about it from his older sister, who attended culinary school in Austin. The dish of finely chopped raw meat, topped with a raw quail egg yolk, anchored the menu he presented with sixth grader Alexis Williams in the third annual KUA “Iron Chef” competition.
Shiitake mushrooms were the “secret ingredient” that each team was challenged to prepare at the June 8 event. Dishes were prepared from entirely fresh foods — more than 15 types of produce, as well as dairy, coconut milk, pasta, rice and chicken or beef. In 45 minutes, each team produced a dish for KUA Principal Jani Hale, KU board member Rocio Mendoza and chef Mario Chavez, who served as judges.
“I’m so proud of the way they totally bring this aura of professionalism,” said Hale.
Other students who competed were eighth grader Romeo Nunez with seventh grader Janice Mata, who presented Thai chicken curry with rice; seventh grader Danny Carlos and Kaylee Cannon, who served chicken with asparagus and a mushroom cream sauce; and sixth graders Hannah Lusk and Charlie Walker, who offered judges a creamy tomato pasta with fresh basil and feta.
Ingredients were sourced through a partnership with Rogue Valley Farm to School, and the shiitakes were locally grown. The event — modeled after the popular Food Network show “Iron Chef America” and its Japanese predecessor — was a collaboration between 4-H and SNAP-Ed, said Ellen Radcliffe, nutrition education assistant for Oregon State University Extension. Dubbed “Iron Chef in the Nutrition Kitchen,” the program promotes culinary creativity and working with foods already on hand, said Radcliffe.
“So many of these kids are also caregivers of their younger siblings,” said Radcliffe, adding that kitchen skills help to promote independence and can be improved and enhanced through high school, college and beyond.
All participants in KUA’s afterschool enrichment program, participants had worked for eight weeks in preparation for the event, researching and practicing recipes and also earning their food handler cards. The live-action showcase filled KUA’s gym with fellow afterschool student spectators, who cheered on their peers.
“It was just amazing to see how well you work under pressure, under stress,” said Mendoza, who complimented the curry’s “kick at the end.”
Also praising each dish as “absolutely delicious,” Hale revealed the final scores were “so, so close,” with Andre and Alexis winning by just four points.
Chavez, who heads up dining services at Twin Creeks Retirement in Central Point, said he employs cooks who couldn’t match the expertise of KUA’s culinary teams.
“I’d hire you all on the spot if I could.”