Bon Appétit Holds Sustainable Iron Chef Competition at Carleton College

Sous Chef Vale Rigg (right) and his Top Chef team

As a Carleton College alumna (’09), I know that the student body is filled with revolutionary and creative spirits who really care about their food and where it comes from. With such student organizations as Farm Club, a brand-new cooking student organization headed by young Swedish chef Vayu Maini Rekdal, and Food Truth, considered the most active group on campus, it’s no wonder students flocked to compete in the campus’s first annual Sustainable Iron Chef Competition, hosted by Bon Appétit Management Company in honor of the first national annual Food Day.

Cooked up by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Day is a movement for “real food” across the country. Its a campaign includes such nationwide initiatives as reforming factory farming and promoting health foods to kids, sustainable agriculture practices, and fair conditions for food and farm workers.

For the competition, Executive Sous Chef Dan Watrin and Sous Chefs Vale Riggs and Gibson Price each led a team of students. They first shared with the audience one of the ways Bon Appétit helps contribute to the creation of a more sustainable agricultural system: using our purchasing dollars to support small-scale, sustainable agricultural practices. The would-be Sustainable Iron Chefs had to source at least of 75% of each menu locally (which Bon Appétit defines as within 150 miles) and 100% of their ingredients had to follow Bon Appétit’s sustainability commitments, as is the practice in all of our cafés. (This, for example, means that milk is always rGBH-free, hamburger beef raised without hormones and routine antibiotic use, seafood sustainable, and so on.)

Finally, the secret ingredient, Farm to Fork partner Ferndale Farm’s pasture-raised, antibiotic-free turkey, had be featured in at least the main entrée. And with Thanksgiving right around the corner, if you’re local to Southeast Minnesota, check out Ferndale Market for your Thanksgiving needs. Otherwise, consider EcoCentric’s guide to finding a sustainably raised turkey.

The teams were competing for medals, cash, and the chance to design a Bon Appétit café meal. All three menus were phenomenally delicious and impressively creative. So impressive that, perhaps greater than the challenge of the competition itself was the challenge faced by the judges – Ferndale Farms farmer John Peterson, Pura Vida farmer and former Bon Appétit Foundation Fellow Dayna Burtness, Carleton College Vice President Fred Rogers, and Director of College Relations Kerry Raadt!

The judges: Carleton Vice President Fred Rogers, Ferndale Farm's John Peterson, PuraVida Farm's Dayna Burtness, Carleton Director of Relations Kerry Raadt

The team led by Dan, who followed in his grandmother’s footsteps in East Central Minnesota to become a chef, took eaters on a small-trip plate around the world. The first stop was India, where with the help of junior Alexandra Price, freshman Tori Ostenso, and freshman Vayu Maini Rekdal, the team cooked a delicious turkey papad: garlic chutney turkey tenderloin, papadam, chaat masala with salsa (made with heirloom tomatoes from the  Carleton Student Farm) and toasted coconut. Traveling next to Spain, Dan’s team made garlic-oregano grilled turkey skewers with Stickney Hills goat cheese brule,  Hidden Streams roasted shallot and fig gastrique, fire-roasted red pepper, and an olive tapenade grilled tortilla. And finally, to bring eaters back to the good ol’ Midwest, the worldwide chefs’ finale was an American turkey dinner: roast turkey, Hidden Streams frontier russet mashed potato, Carleton Student Farm pumpkin, and cranberry preserve. Outstanding!

Vale, meanwhile, is the former executive sous chef for the NHL’s Minnesota Wild MN lacrosse team, The Swarm, so he didn’t need much help tapping his inner Iron Chef. His team put together a brilliant Japanese-Brazilian menu. Alongside junior Nicole Hamilton and freshman Kelsey Moede, Team Top Chef cooked Ferndale turkey and Fireside Orchards apple kebabs yakitori style on flatbread baiano (made with Whole Grain Milling Company flour) with avocado-wasabi puree, Riverside Farms chimichurri slaw of cabbage, Hidden Streams carrots and golden beets, angu frites with Carleton Student Farm heirloom tomato and miso ketchup, gingered Carleton Student Farm pumpkin and agripreneur Maria Sosa’s black beans with chipotle pepper and Simple Harvest Farms (run by Carleton College alumnus) honey. Divine!

Leading the third team was Gibson, a native Minnesotan and Minneapolis Community and Technical College graduate who helped win the college competition medals in Culinary Arts, surpassing Le Cordon Bleu and Art Institutes. Team Minnesota Grown went above and beyond competition rules and sourced their entire menu (excluding salt) from within 150 miles, a exercise that’s familiar to Bon Appétit chefs from the company’s nationwide Eat Local Challenge. Freshman Laurel Goldner, who headed up the first course, made Ferndale turkey braised tenderloin with Fireside Orchards apple cider, Hidden Streams farm Chioggia beets, Future Farm bib lettuce, Stickney Hills goat cheese, and Simple Harvest Farm Organic Honey Comb. Sophomore Chavonn Williams took the lead making Hidden Streams frontier russet potato sliders with Ferndale barbeque turkey, Hidden Streams Farm crispy fried onions, Whole Grain Milling polenta fries, and a roasted Hidden Streams garlic chive aioli. Finally, Gibson and Junior Studio Art major Kelson Bain teamed up to tackle the third course: seared Ferndale Turkey tenderloin with Carleton Student Farm pumpkins, KC’s Best wild rice, Stickney Hills goat cheese risotto, and ginger Hidden Streams Farm roasted beet chutney. Delicious!

Not only were the flavors exquisite and ingredients thoughtfully sourced, but the presentations were also gorgeous. After a long debate, what was the judges’ verdict? Gibson’s Team Minnesota Grown came out on top!

“It was a pleasure to work side by side with Laurel, Kelson, and Chavonn to craft a menu that honors our local farmers,” said Gibson.

I can’t wait to see what meals the winning team members design for Carleton’s Bon Appétit cafes. The Sustainable Iron Chef competition was a fun way to bring farmers, chefs, and eaters together and get to know where their food came from and the people behind food a bit better. I’m already looking forward to the second annual competition at Carleton and to Food Day 2012!

To see more photos from the competition, check out Bon Appétit at Carleton’s Facebook page

Retail Supervisor Ricardo Lopez Jr. holding up competition medals