With just one point separating each team’s final results, Team Rational, lead by Green Sage Cafe chef Christopher Cox, came out victorious in the second annual WHACKED! cooking competition on May 13.
FRS, a restaurant supply store located in Asheville, again hosted the competition, but this year, each of the three culinary teams lead by a chef from a local restaurant was made up of culinary students from two local programs, the Eliada School of Trade Arts and the Green Opportunities Kitchen Ready program. In addition to the students, FRS also enlisted lunchroom staff workers from Buncombe, Henderson and Haywood counties, who were invited to close the bridge between the foodie restaurant community and lunchroom staffers.
“They’re all looking for ways to be creative in their lunchroom programs and still meet all the federal and state guidelines and getting food in students bellies and not in the trash cans,” said Sheila Bivins, the FRS store manager who helped organize the competition.
“You find out that what’s perceived to be little, sweet ladies, are actually quite adept at being creative and doing a whole lot with just a little,” Bivins says. “It’s cool to be able to listen to these ladies because they’ve got the experience. It’s not from the textbooks or the culinary education, necessarily.”
The WHACKED! cooking competition also chose to highlight several students from GO Kitchen Ready and Eliada, to raise awareness about these programs for at-risk youths and adults. Green Opportunities helps individuals work against both personal and systemic barriers to employment by providing them with job training in the culinary field, while Eliada focuses on youths outgrowing their foster care programs.
Eliada students “have seen more than the average 17- or 18-year-old,” Bivins says. “But they need life skills, and that’s what this program is doing for them.”
And students of the GO Kitchen-Ready program “have hit rough spots in their lives,” says Bivins. “Many are homeless or close to it. Many are on their last leg. Mark’s [Rosenstein, the Kitchen-Ready training manager] program gives them a viable, marketable skill.”
The competition featured three rounds: the appetizer, the entree and the dessert. In front of a crowd of several dozen people in the hot store room of FRS in downtown Asheville, the chefs and students hurried around their work stations, quietly brainstorming amongst each other. Each of the three teams, lead by Cox, Jason Roy of Biscuit Head and Bobby Lang, who was standing in for Andy Favilla of Favilla’s New York Pizza, received baskets of secret ingredients for each round. The ingredients featured some unusual items, including Spam, beef heart, doughnuts and Buchi kombucha.
“When we handed them their baskets, that’s the first they knew of [what they would make],” Bivins says. “We stretched the chefs and their teams to their limits.”