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Thriving on Competition: Meet the 2019 Iron Chef + Bake-Off Contestants

JWU culinary contestants post with Chef Jet Tila.

It’s not every day that Food Network star Chef Jet makes a guest appearance at JWU Providence’s College of Culinary Arts, but last Friday was a special occasion — the annual Johnson & Wales University and Chartwells Iron Chef and Bake-Off Competition. The proceedings were streamed live on Facebook and Chef Jet served as the unflappable MC.

IRON CHEF
Blake Heckman PROVIDENCE, WINNER
Antonio Gonzalez NORTH MIAMI
Trinity Gooden DENVER
Josh Vasquez CHARLOTTE

BAKE-OFF
Alina Young PROVIDENCE
Darius Campbell NORTH MIAMI
Zoe Hohman DENVER, WINNER
Nate Williams CHARLOTTE

The 8 finalists had each won the semifinals at their respective campuses. But here in Providence, the slate was wiped clean. They would be making all-new dishes, and with the following limitations: the Iron Chefs had to incorporate peaches and pork tenderloin, while the Bake-Off contestants had to highlight at least one ingredient (if not more) from Rich’s. On top of that, they had to get to know the layout of an unfamiliar kitchen, and figure out what would be feasible to make given the time allotted (1 hour from start to plating). The grand prize in their sights? A $2500 scholarship for the winner of each competition.

Once the countdown started, Chef Jet was adept at encouraging the contestants without distracting them. He also brought in commentators, like Associate Professor Ray McCue '01, '11 M.Ed., who also served as one of the judges.

The most important thing is how you handle adversity. Not every day in the kitchen is going to go your way.”

Chef Jet: “Most people think a chef’s job is just to make delicious food, but that’s just the end product. Give us some of the hallmarks of technique that you’re specifically looking for.” Chef McCue: “[That they’re following] the basics, the fundamentals of cooking, but also their sanitation and mise en place ... And that they come in with a great attitude.”

Kevin Blaney '79, Chartwells’ regional executive chef for the Northeast and also a judge, weighed in on the Bake-Off: “Baking is more of a formula than a recipe, so it’s going to be important for them to be accurate in their ingredient measurements. It’s going to be tight, because they’re going to have to get their ingredients mixed and decide how to garnish and decorate and pull it all off in an hour.”

For the final Iron Chef dishes, the judges assessed taste, appearance, creativity and overall technical skills. In the end, Blake’s Korean bulgogi tacos with peach chutney and sesame rice won over the judges. Summing up the range of dishes, Chef Jet commented, “I have to say, it’s nice to see your personalities come out through this. Two of the same ingredients, four totally different interpretations, mindsets, life experiences, what brought you guys here. I’ve been on both sides and it’s not easy.”

True to Chef Blaney’s prediction, the Bake-Off came down to the wire. Alina, in particular, struggled to get her elements finished in time. But she rallied and pulled together a dish that aligned with her original flavor concept. “It was supposed to be a lemon mousse cake with whipped cream topping and berries with an outer shell of white chocolate,” she told Chef Jet. “As you can see, that did not happen, so we’re gonna improvise!” Chef Jet praised Alina’s calm under pressure and offered up her experience as a good lesson: “The most important thing is how you handle adversity. Not every day in the kitchen is going to go your way. You didn’t freak out, you didn’t quit, you still powered through and plated what you had. And that’s what a chef does — congratulations.” (It should be noted here that Alina is a first-year student, as is Nate.)

Zoe’s Baked Alaska with chocolate-rum ice cream took the Bake-Off win. Congrats to all the contestants for their poise, prep and great work. Kudos as well to Chef Jet and the Chartwells team for organizing another intense competition!

RELATED READING
Meet the Winners of the 2017 Iron Chef + Bake-Off Competition

ABOVE: THE CONTESTANTS POSE WITH CHEF JET TILA OF THE FOOD NETWORK. BELOW: THE FINAL IRON CHEF DISHES. / IRON CHEF WINNER BLAKE WITH CHEF JET. / NATE’S CHOCOLATE CAKE WITH STRAWBERRY SAUCE. / ALINA AND ZOE. / ZOE’S RECIPE NOTES FOR BAKED ALASKA. / DARIUS, NATE, ZOE AND ALINA.

The final plates of the 2019 Iron Chef Competition at JWU

Iron Chef winner Blake Heckman with Chef Jet

Nate’s chocolate cake with strawberry sauce

Alina Young and Zoe Hohman

Zoe’s recipe notes for Baked Alaska

The 2019 Bake-Off contestants, left-right: Darius Campbell, Nate Williams, Zoe Hohman and Alina Young.

Topics: Competitions Culinary Arts