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For tweens, a real-life Iron Chef experience

by Brian Clarey

 editor@yesweekly.com

With just 15 minutes to go before judging, the four teams competing in the Edible Schoolyard’s Iron Chef Camp finale began plating up their dishes and finishing cleanup. All that was left was the tasting.

Those duties fell to me and my fellow judges — Cecilia Thompson, director of projects at Action Greensboro, food writer and proprietor of the Mod Meals on Mendenhall food blog; and Chef Michael Harkenreader of Undercurrent restaurant. I recently watched Harkenreader lose a similar competition, Fire in the Triad, in the first round to Chef Wes Patterson of Southern Roots in Jamestown.

Harkenreader remembered the secret ingredient that night — chicken — was galling.

“We were thinking of the chicken and waffles thing with the brioche,” he recalled. “By then we were just wiped out.”

The kids from the camp, ages 11-13, who make up the teams for today’s competition have it a little easier: Their secret ingredient is local honey. Team Toe-Ma-Toes has brushed it on the inside of their “zucchini boats.” The Orange Donuts folded it into their Swiss chard hash. Team Strawberries slipped it into the dip that accompanies their “gardenstyle potato chips.” Another team used it in their pizza sauce.

Use of the featured ingredient is one of the factors we adjudicated, along with taste, presentation and creativity. The whole week has been leading up to this.

On the first day of camp, the kids learned to make dressing and use it on raw foods. They took field trips to Deep Roots Market and the Greensboro Farmers Curb Market to help them understand the concept of seasonal food and spice blends. They harvested ingredients from the schoolyard’s garden and tried them all. Each day, said Jennifer Bedrosian, the head chef/counselor, the kids incorporated a secret ingredient into their dishes.

“Yesterday it was goat cheese,” she said.

And then we moved through the stations and tried the food. The pizza was a natural, with a homemade crust, slices of blue potato on top of the cheese and fresh sprigs of basil. More counterintuitive were the squash boats, which mixed the raw vegetable with a cooked chiffonade and fresh grated Parmesan cheese. Each chef on the team knew they had prepared a chiffonade, though none admitted to being able to spell it.

I found the garden potato chips — three varieties of potato sliced thick and paired with a fresh dill dip — to be delicious, and something my own kids, all of the same age as the contestants, would definitely eat. But the Orange Donuts came to win.

Their dish was but a simple mashed-potato preparation, made with good, fresh potatoes, yes, and in a chunky style. But the kids paired it with that Swiss chard hash and plated each double scoop with a baked Swiss chard chip.

“Two of Jay Pierce’s kids are on that team,” someone in the audience told me, and it clicked. Pierce, chef at Lucky 32, knows as much about local food as anybody.

And then there’s Jay, standing at his kids’ table sampling the wares. “They wanted to use kale chips,” he told me, “but there wasn’t any kale.”

A last-minute substitution like that is a professional-level chef move. Though judging was close, the Orange Donuts won the day with their dish, but each child was presented with a congratulatory wooden spoon, way more practical than any trophy.

And, it should be noted, all of them ate their vegetables that day.

WANNA go?

Edible Schoolyard at the Greensboro Children’s Museum; 220 N. Church St., Greensboro; 336.574.2898; gcmuseum.com

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