Competition Heats up at Sixth Annual Toro Iron Chef

The weather may have been chilly, but the competition was red hot during the California State University, Dominguez Hills’ Toro Iron Chef VI as teams cooked up delectable dishes, which included a secret ingredient that was revealed to the culinary crafters just moments before the action began.


Dishes from soups to entrées were plated and poised for presentation before a panel of particular judges.

“The most challenging part was the beginning, trying to figure out what we were going to prepare once we found out the secret ingredient—smoked turkey leg—and figuring out who’s going to do what. But once we got that all figured out, it was smooth sailing for us,” Geoffrey Cruz, a graduate assistant in the Multicultural Center (MCC), said of his teammates who are also his officemates. “I think it was a reflection of how we work in the office, too.”

Cruz, along with MCC student programmers Jessica Rodriguez (business) and Manuel Pelayo (criminal justice, senior), formed the team, JGMMMM, which prepared turkey sandwiches with bacon and cranberry mustard on ciabatta bread, and turkey soup, earning them third place in the Nov. 21 competition.

During the event, held in the Palm Courtyard of the Loker Student Union, JGMMMM and three other teams scrambled to combine and perfectly render ingredients as they raced the one-hour countdown clock before presenting their dishes to the judges.

First Place were The Literals chefs Sara Cristin, Amanda Reyes, Ronald Farol, and Melissa Williams.

The Literals chefs Sara Cristin, Amanda Reyes, Ronald Farol, and Melissa Williams earn first place.

Taking home top team honors, and the accompanying $100 cash prize, were English graduate students Sara Cristin, Melissa Williams, Ronald Farol, and Amanda Reyes. Their team, The Literals, covering breakfast, lunch and dinner, served up a scrumptious smoked turkey, mushroom, and caper frittata with a potato bell pepper hash; a Southwestern smoked turkey wrap with sweet potatoes fries and a garlic herb aioli; and a smoked turkey chili verde con arroz with freshly made corn tortilla chips.

“I really like the simplicity, I liked the presentation. It’s wonderful,” Hamoud Salhi, associate professor of political science and acting associate dean of the College of Natural and Behavioral Sciences, said of the frittata—although he was a judge with a particularly critical palette. “There is one thing; it’s a little bit salty. But it’s very, very good. I enjoyed it.”

Teamwork seemed to be a common factor for all of the Iron Chef VI contenders, but The Literals carried it out to the nth degree.

“I think we all felt pretty confident because of how much time we have spent with each other throughout our time at Dominguez. We have had multiple classes with one another, we work with each other, we started up the EGA (English Graduate Association) with a few other grads, and we are all friends.” Reyes said. “Plus, we dedicated the Sunday before the Iron Chef event to practice dishes and strategies on how to manage time and preparation. Practicing with liver was quite the experience, to say the least, but after getting through that tough ingredient and actually making some decent dishes, we felt capable of tackling anything.”

With an impressive four dishes, ranging from a soup to an entrée, The Bracholis chefs Tasia Vlahakis (digital animation, freshman), Noraim Nunez (Early Start Program, freshman), Mary Thon (health science, freshman), and English instructor Eric Brach, garnered oohs, aahs and mmms, as well as fourth place. Los Chidos chefs Sandra Morelos, Henry Sariana (criminal justice, sophomore), and Stephen Harbor (art and design, junior) earned second place with a palette-pleasing pasta with turkey sauce.

Competition judges Brian Lacey, Hamoud Salhi, Johna Taylor, and William Franklin.

Competition judges Brian Lacey, Hamoud Salhi, Johna Taylor, and William Franklin prepare to dine.

Dishing out almost equal parts compliments and criticisms, along with Salhi were competition judges Brian Lacey, director of the University Bookstore; Johna Taylor, administrative support coordinator for the University Library; and William Franklin, vice president of Enrollment Management and Student Affairs, who said of one of the competition’s last dishes to be tasted, “The turkey got lost, but I’ve been eating turkey for the last 30 minutes so it was good to lose it in the sauce. It was really very flavorful.”

Keeping spectators entertained while the chefs concentrated over fired burners, pots and pans, Iron Chef VI emcees Marco Dowell, director of the Office of Student Life, and Mary Au, lecturer of music, reported via microphone as the action progressed. Dr. Sophia Momand, staff physician for Student Health and Psychological Services, also delivered a “Healthy Eating on a Budget” presentation.

The event was organized by Dowell; Carole Desgroppes, Loker Student Union manager of programs, marketing and assessments; and Richard Chester, director of Campus Dining Services.

To view more photos from Toro Iron Chef VI, click here.

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