When it came to fungi, students didn’t have to forage farther than Arrillaga Family Dining Commons recently. A trove of exotic mushrooms - including orange cloud, abalone, yellow foot and black trumpets - awaited Stanford undergrad and graduate students at R&DE Stanford Dining’s Cardinal Cook-Off competition on Jan. 24.
The Iron Chef-style event, now in its 16th year, is hosted as a way for students to demonstrate their knowledge of food and to encourage healthy eating habits. During the week leading to the competition, contestants concoct their original recipes with guidance and mentorship from an R&DE professional chef. Using locally sourced and sustainable ingredients, students this year were challenged to create a dish that featured heirloom mushrooms and pork chops.
On competition night, four teams of two students had 45 minutes to prepare their recipes before a room full of diners and a panel of judges.
Team One consisted of grad students Vince Pane, chemistry, and Scott Zhang, mathematics. Working under the mentorship of Chef Erica Holland-Toll, the students prepared “crispy porkobello” — Katsu-style minced pork and mushroom cutlets.
Pane said his time spent working in a lab helped prepare him for the kitchen. “We were spit-balling all these weird ratios, trying to flesh out ingredient quantities for our crispy porkobello, but luckily, after measuring out milligrams on a balance, I’m used to eyeballing,” he said, adding that Chef Holland-Toll’s guidance came in handy. “She was really enthusiastic and generous of her time and even though she’s so busy, she anticipated our every question.”
Team Two consisted of undergrad economics majors Marco Lorenzan, ’20, and Christopher Lu, ’20. Working with Chef Tami Lin, the students prepared “seared pork chop with parmigiano mushroom risotto.” And on Team Three, undergrads Ruben Sanchez, ’22, management science and engineering, and Kevin Guo, ’22, computer science, worked under the mentorship of Chef Joe Guinto. Their dish “ooo-baby pork chops” included a creamy risotto studded with sautéed portabellas and chanterelles, then topped with a dusting of knobby fungi, also known as shaved truffles.
Undeclared undergrad Alp Akis ’21, returned to the Cook-Off with his Team Four partner, Ricky Young ‘21, engineering physics, after placing second last year. Working with Chef Daniel Donguines, they drew inspiration from Young’s hometown, Tokyo, for their ambitious dish, “tonkotsu ramen.” Tucking thinly sliced chashu pork into a bowl of ramen noodles made from scratch, they topped their creation with an exquisite sous-vide mirin-infused egg yolk. Young called the culinary oeuvre “a happy accident” when a poached egg proved too runny.
“What definitely motivates me to cook is creating a dish that puts smiles on other people's faces,” he said.
Each completed dish put a smile on the judges’ faces but only one team could win. Or could it? In a surprise twist, two teams – Three and Four – tied for first place and each contestant won a set of quality chef knives and $100 in Cardinal Dollars. Each winner also received a free class at The Teaching Kitchen@Stanford, an R&DE program for Stanford students, faculty and staff to learn valuable culinary skills.
As Akis, who is from Turkey, basked in his glory, he recalled how his mother had once disowned him. He was accepted to but turned down Stanford during his senior year of high school. Instead, he headed to Barcelona to cook in a restaurant. After a year, however, Akis realized cooking would always be there but not so a Stanford education so off he flew to Palo Alto.
Surely, that night he made his mother proud.
Thank you to our judges: Shirley Everett, R&DE senior associate vice provost; Elizabeth Zacharias, vice president for human resources; Chris Bright, director of Stanford Redwood City Campus; Jeanette Smith Laws, director of Student Unions; Jan Barker-Alexander, assistant vice provost for student affairs; Fred Alexander, an RF at Lagunita; and Rosie Nelson, vice president of ASSU.