Team Sweet and Sour wins Mac’s annual Iron Chef cook-off

This past Saturday, 29 students competed in Chinese Culture Club’s Iron Chef cook-off, preparing around 25 dishes in under two hours, with self-named team “Sweet and Sour” taking home the prize.

The competition, aimed at promoting cultural exchange through food culture, especially Chinese food, challenged teams of participating students to create dishes incorporating a secret ingredient: dried tofu.

“We actually debated the secret ingredient for a long time,” Chinese Culture Club co-event planner Zora Yezi Yang’16 said, “Last year we did cloud ear mushrooms and no one knew how to cook it so this year we wanted something familiar, but will still give us surprises.”

The competing teams of three to five students received fifty dollars to shop for groceries before the big event. The teams then gathered at the Smail Gallery to receive the secret ingredient before heading off to various kitchens around campus.

After around two hours of cooking, the teams met up again at the Gallery, presenting their dishes to the judges—a group of professors, students, and language lab instructors asked to participate by the CCC.

“I was so impressed by all the teams’ efforts to make so much food in so few hours,” Japanese professor and iron chef judge Ritsuko Narita said, “I think everyone [who participated] could open up their own Asian Café Mac.”

The dishes ranged from elaborate foods like Bai Chicken (while bai translates to “white” most commonly, the bai also refers to the hundred slices it takes to finely shred the chicken) to home-style cooking like egg and tomato scramble, a popular Chinese comfort food that three out of six teams put out.

Judges scored the food in categories such as taste, presentation, and relation to Chinese culture.

Scoring the highest in almost all the categories, iron chef team “Sweet and Sour,” who took their name from a text used in a Mac first year Chinese course, brought home the win.

“We went in just wanting to produce delicious foods that we find homey and comforting,” Sweet and Sour team member Annabelle Nichols’15 says, “and a few of the judges mentioned that our dishes reminded them of being home in China or their mom’s cooking, and that felt pretty great.”

The team put out a total of five dishes, earning special praise for their dumplings and scallion pancakes.

“It ended up being a lot of cooking,” Nichols says, “but I think that having a wider variety of dishes really helped us show off our cooking and take the win.”

Sweet and Sour’s team came into the competition as a slight underdog. While each group was only allowed to have two international Chinese students, Sweet and Sour had none.

The team also ran into some setbacks during cooking and presenting.

“The cooking time was a very stressful two hours in which we misplaced some critical ingredients a few times, but we pulled through,” Ashley Hung’16 says. “When we went to present our food to the judges, we [also] forgot one of our dishes that we had left in the oven to keep warm. A mad sprint back to the Chinese house ensued and it was well worth it.”

Each member of the winning team received a teacup, but for Hung, that wasn’t the most exciting reward.

“One thing that I am really excited about from winning Iron Chef is the glory and bragging rights,” she said, “I could have lived without the tea cup.”