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Sunday, March 21, 2010

'Kids Iron Chef' cookoff a blast

Assemblywoman Connie Wagner emceed the Kids Iron Chef event,
seen here chatting with Councilor Adrian Mapp.

Youngsters from Bergen, Passaic, Essex and Union counties gathered at the home base of the Plainfield feeding program Grace's Kitchen, housed at Grace Episcopal Church, Saturday afternoon in a cookoff to combat childhood obesity.

Titled 'Kids Iron Chef', the afternoon saw three teams, each with a celebrity chef coordinator in pitched battle to cook up a scrumptious -- and nutritious -- main dish and dessert for a demanding team of judges aged 9-11. (See slideshow at bottom of post.)

Each of the teams -- Red, Blue and Orange, coached by chefs Pearl, Christopher and Ed -- chose from a large selection of fresh organic vegetables and fruits, spices and other ingredients to whip up their creations.

With a digital clock just like in the real show, the contestants worked against a deadline to decide on their recipes, prep and then cook their ingredients, and finally plate and garnish their creations for an attractive presentation to the -- dare I say 'demanding' -- panel of judges.

Once the teams got under way, the staid audience-vs-contestants seating arrangement totally dissolved as onlookers, family members, friends, Junior League members and kibitzers crowded forward, moving from station to station to observe the contestants close up.

When the burners finally fired up, the whole room began to fill with enticing aromas, making the audience even more interested in what was being done by the young contestants.

The poor judges were practically overwhelmed with each team's offerings, presented on colored plates identifying which team had prepared the delectables.

(The judging was spirited, and I was so busy trying to get some photos I wasn't able to make notes on what exactly the offerings were, though I saw one Junior Leaguer busily scribbling down the comments and votes tallied from numbered cards the judges held up for each dish.)

Team Orange won first place, followed by Team Blue and Team Red. Each winning contestant and the celebrity chefs got a hand-decorated plate commemorating the event and
a goodies bag.

Assemblywoman Connie Wagner (D-Paramus) was an inspired choice for master of ceremonies. A warm and gregarious presence, she made instant connections with contestants, chefs and judges, eliciting frank -- and sometimes hilarious -- comments from participants.

State Senator Tom Kean, Jr., spoke to everyone before the contest got under way, engaging kids in a back-and-forth about just how important good nutrition is.

Throughout the event, there were informational tables at the back of the hall which folks constantly browsed. These included flyers for upcoming health-related events, as well as a 'wheel of fortune' type contest with a food choices theme, and plenty of tasty and healthy snacks supplied the major event sponsor Whole Food Markets -- including a mountain of fresh bananas which pretty much melted away throughout the event. Everyone had to take a hand at mixing their own Granola from sacks of crunchy oats, cranberries and raisins.

Local officials on hand included Councilor Adrian Mapp who eagerly took part in the entire event and Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, who came in time for the judging and awards photos.

Thanks were also expressed to Sherrie Russell-Brown, who coordinated the event on behalf of Grace Church's feeding program, Grace's Kitchen; Elsie Jenkins, health coordinator of the Plainfield Area YMCA, who organized games and activities for non-contestant youngsters; and the Rev. Carolyn Eklund, rector of Grace Church, for offering the church as the site of the cookoff.

More information about the programs of the Junior Leagues of New Jersey can be found on their website (here). Grace Church's feeding program, Grace's Kitchen, can be found at Grace Church's website (here).

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Anonymous said...
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Dan said...
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Rob said...
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Dan said...

Company manners rule. Since we'll have a lot of out-of-town guests reading this post and some of our boys and girls have been naughty (not you, Rob!), I'm not posting any comments on this story.

Too bad, when childhood obesity is an epidemic, there are some knucklehead readers who have to snark while the kids are exposed to danger.

'nuf said.

Anonymous said...

Too bad we don't have a PR person to promote such wonderful activities that go on in Plainfield.