There were no Gordon Ramsey blowups, but things did get semi-competitive at the United Way kickoff party and fundraiser Thursday, which featured a cooking competition that blends elements of shows like “Chopped” and “Cutthroat Kitchen.”
Six volunteer “celebrity” chefs from the area were given a set of 12 ingredients that were identified as common items in last month’s food boxes from Coastal Harvest, which provides food to dozens of food banks in Western Washington. Participants had to use at least eight of those ingredients in original dishes they cooked. The event was held at the Aberdeen High School Commons and school kitchen facilities were used.
There were four judges — determined by whoever won the most tickets in games set up at the event by local non profit groups.
The chefs were competing for the Golden Spatula award.
Contestants included Martha Boyer, the only professional chef, from the Quinault Beach Resort and Casino, and Brittany Case, a baker and owner of the CaKecaKes shop in Aberdeen. She filled in for Rediviva chef Andy Bickar who dropped out. A couple of the cooks said they were most intimidated by Boyer and Case, but the Golden Spatula went to The Daily World city editor Dave Haerle.
“That was fun. Back in the day, I was a young single parent cooking out of food bank boxes, I would use the food bank a couple times a month,” Haerle said during his award speech. “My kids ate from the food bank, and it’s a great organization.”
Each chef was cooking for a charity. Haerle chose the Aberdeen High Food Ball collection, which will receive $500 from United Way. The event’s proceeds will go to that $500 for Food Ball, and any money raised past that will go to the United Way of Grays Harbor.
What’s in the box?
The assigned ingredients list included things like canned pear slices, Honey Nut Cheerios, pasta, M&M’s, spinach, and chicken legs. Cooks were given an hour and 15 minutes to cook, before getting judged.
The meal had to serve four or five people.
For Haerle, his winning plate included chicken cooked in a red sauce with diced tomatoes, dried chili mangoes, and the M&M’s, which he melted into the red sauce. (Haerle’s column, which begins on Page A1, explains how he put the meal together).
It was a modest turnout to the event, as around 40 people showed up the fundraiser. Tickets were $5 each, which included food. Some attendees got a front row seat in the school’s kitchen, and watched as the cooks playfully bantered and joked about the competition.
Judy Bowen, from Aberdeen, said she wanted to check out the event because she used to use the food bank, and noted that the food contestants received seemed much more luxurious than what she used to get in her boxes.
“It’s totally different. … We never would’ve had chicken back then,” said Bowen. “We might’ve been blessed with a dozen eggs, but never the actual chicken.”
Some of the dishes on Thursday evening included chicken pupusas by Case, and a few desserts, such as a cobbler made out of Cheerios and pears, covered in a sugary glaze made by deejay Phil Luce from Kix 95.3. Bowen and others said they enjoyed seeing the unique dishes each contestant came up with.
“There are a lot of very creative people back there,” said Bowen. “We’re always ready for new ideas, because there’s only so much you can do with hamburgers. It’s nice to have something new to go with it.”
Boyer, who cooks regularly at the Quinault Beach Resort in Ocean Shores, said she always wanted to be in a cooking competition like this.
“Chopped is one of my favorite shows, and I watch it all the time, so it’s something I always wanted to do,” said Boyer, who made potato pancakes with corn and spinach as one of her dishes.
Some twists to the competition may have thrown off the cooks’ dishes a bit. Throughout the evening, United Way Executive Director Kelley McDonald would raffle off the chance to “sabotage” a cook of their choice, with attendees bidding higher and higher amounts to do so.
The sabotages included taking away pasta for Luce’s dish, and requiring Case to hold a baby doll for a few minutes while she cooked.
It was a narrow win for Haerle, who got two of the four votes, with two other cooks getting one vote each.
McDonald said she intends for this to become a yearly event, and hopes to perhaps have a different event next year where the mayors of cities around Grays Harbor County compete in a cooking challenge.