Video by Anna Compagno
A sizzling noise fills the air as a slice of persimmon meets the hot oil of a heated pan. Once golden brown and caramelized, the slice accompanies breaded mozzarella, a balsamic reduction and a basil leaf.
The chefs crafting this unique culinary masterpiece are students in Sustainable Agriculture (Sust. Ag.) participating in the “Iron Chef America” competition, which takes place twice a semester. This competition—a tradition in the class since 2013—challenges Sust. Ag. students to cook meals comprising of the most sustainable ingredients possible.
“The goal is that every ingredient will be from the school farm, but that is hard during the winter because there is not as much growing,” Sust. Ag teacher and supervisor of the competition Joe Stewart.
Along with sustainability, each team’s dish is judged on three other categories: taste, presentation and clean up.
“If students don’t really think about where one of their ingredients comes from, they may lose points for that,” Stewart said.
Students had to craft something that fit all categories in under one hour, which meant the competition was fast-paced and competitive, just like Iron Chef America.
Lauren Bell, a senior whose group challenged themselves to combining two
separate dishes—an omelette and hash browns—explained that along with winning came “extra credit and lots of street creds, so the stakes were pretty high.”
Because it is hard to source each ingredient from Redwood’s farm alone, many students improvised by bringing in ingredients from other local, sustainable sources, such as a neighbor’s yard or a chicken coop. A team in the fourth period Sust. Ag. class gathered eggs from a friend’s chicken coop to make their omelette.
The competition on Wednesday Nov. 29 saw unique dishes from each period: omelettes with hash browns, pesto grilled cheese and fried persimmons with panko-crusted mozzarella were among this creative mixture.
In fourth period, a group of seniors and juniors prevailed as the winners for their unique dish, “The Real Deal Basil Meal,” which consisted of local persimmons, fried buffalo mozzarella and pungent basil.
Sam Jackson, a junior who helped create “The Real Deal Basil Meal,” reflected on why his team’s dish pulled off the win.
“Our dish won because it was tasty, crafty and presented well,” Jackson said.
Not only did the dish look and taste good, but it was also sustainable. The team used organic mozzarella, basil from the class garden and persimmons picked from a neighbor’s yard.
In fifth period, a team of senior chefs won with a pesto grilled cheese and a salad. Carson Gilley attributed their win to the resourcefulness of the school garden.
“Everything that we used besides the cheese and bread came from our garden, and how can you go wrong with a grilled cheese?” Gilley said.
Students in Sust. Ag. are able to look forward to the competition as a fun way to get outside of a traditional school activity and combine what they know about sustainability with cooking.
“This competition is great because it combines everything we learn with a fun, unique and team-building activity,” Jackson said.