Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
On February 25th, four teams gathered in Sharples Dining Hall to compete in the Trial By Fire cooking competition. The competition, organized by Dakota Pekerti ’16, challenged the participants to create an appetizer and an entree out of a limited number of ingredients in only 90 minutes. The finished meals were evaluated for presentation, texture, and taste by a panel of judges. The winners received a bucket of cooking supplies and a packet of biscotti.
Pekerti was inspired by the original Japanese version of Iron Chef, a culinary game show in which participants compete against a resident chef to create an inventive meal out of limited ingredients. While Pekerti has watched many cooking shows, Iron Chef Japan is still his favorite. “There is no equal for that level of culinary insanity,” he said. Having always wanted to recreate this insanity, Pekerti worked with Linda McDougall of Dining Services and Mike Elias at the Student Activities Center to bring Trial By Fire to Swarthmore.
In the Swarthmore version, each team was given a heated stir-fry machine, cutting boards, and knives. They were also permitted to use three outside ingredients, which they had to declare to the judges before the competition commenced.
The first team was comprised of seniors Jackson Weiner, Sam Cleaves, and Joe Keedy. Named Vi elsker at lave mad, or “We like to cook” in Danish, the team strategically kept their cooking plans secret until they presented their meal to the judges.
The second team, or Team Italian Ice, was made up of freshmen Jerry Qin, Raffaella Luzi-Stoutland, and Chiara Kruger. Qin signed the group up “on a whim” but they all cook frequently. “I cook Italian food a lot and Jerry does Asian food,” Luzi-Stoutland said. According to Qin, when they saw that “everyone else was going Oriental,” they “went western” and opted for a traditional Italian pasta recipe and a salad.
Next was Alexander Valera ’16, Thomas Ruan ’16, and Daniel Lai ’17, who together made up Team Men at Wok. The group was organized by Valera, who had participated in last year’s student cooking competition, Epic Ramen. For this years competition, the team prepared a ramen dish with a homemade stock. Their appetizer was a deep-fried tofu dish. “The ante has been upped significantly this year by the large array of ingredients,” Valera said.
The final team, Team Kitchen Stadium, was comprised of sophomores Nicholas Madan, Andrew Pak, and Daniel Redelmeier. Redelmeier said they were inspired to join the competition by their love of Iron Chef. “I’m a long time fan of Iron Chef, both the Japanese and the American version. I’m just excited to have lived the dream for an hour and a half,” he said. The team made scallion pancakes and chicken.
Ultimately, team Kitchen Stadium won, with teams Vi elsker at lave mad and Team Men at Wok tied for second place. When asked about losing the competition, Qin from Team Italian Ice said, “I guess Swarthmore’s judges’ tastes lean more Asian.” But despite their loss, they were happy to participate and for having the chance to use free ingredients. The winning team, Kitchen Stadium, was bouncing around excitedly, as they cleaned up their station. “We’re just really happy and having an awesome time,” Redelmeier said.
The competition was a celebration of cooking, an activity students rarely have time for at Swarthmore. Pekerti lamented the difficulty of cooking on campus. “ I really think that the amount of time that students need to pour into their studies is what’s really holding us back from having more culinary events,” Pekerti said. “It’s just a fact that no one has time to spend gathering ingredients that are not readily accessible around Swarthmore, preparing them at length, and then having to cook it themselves.”
Kruger, from Team Italian Ice, said that she wished the college had “a student co-op for students who would rather make their own food and work directly with farmers. It would mean that not everyone would have to eat at the dining hall.”
In general, there was a consensus among the participants that food options could be expanded on campus; Pekerti suggested “student-led cooking exhibitions or monthly food truck visits to campus,” and urged students to take the initiative to improve the food offerings on campus.
Featured image by Martin Froger Silva ’16/The Daily Gazette.