Two University cooks travelled to Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I. this January to compete in the first annual Bon Appétit Chopped Competition. Based on the popular Food Network program, the competition featured eight teams of two, facing off elimination-style. The University sent Bous Qued, Usdan’s First Kosher Cook, and Nick Doty, First Vegan Cook. The first dish of the competition was scallops. Scallops are neither vegan nor kosher. Despite their inexperience with shellfish, Qued and Doty won.
“We won’t be serving sliced, fried scallops at Usdan,” Doty said. “Not on the Kosher side.”
The competition was the brainchild of Chef Jim Lachange from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Teams from MIT, St. Joseph’s College, Emmanuel College, Lesley University, Roger Williams University, St. Joseph’s College, the University of Pennsylvania, and Wesleyan University participated in the event.
Judged by two administrators from Roger Williams and the East Coast Vice President of Bon Appétit Food Services, the competition consisted of three timed rounds. Before each round, the teams were given baskets of secret ingredients. After each round, two teams were ‘chopped,’ or eliminated.
The University’s victory was especially triumphant because it seemed so unlikely. Qued and Doty are both experienced cooks, and both worked their way up through the ranks of the University’s dining service, but neither received the formal culinary training of a chef.
“My guys were the underdogs,” said Michael Strumpf, Bon Appetit Resident District Manager. “Everyone should be aware of the caliber of the people we have working here, which was proven in this competition.”
For Qued, the competition presented an unprecedented challenge.
“We did way better than expected,” he said. “We had four ingredients, twenty-five minutes to make an appetizer, no time for strategy. We just had to go with the flow. It was very interesting to see what people came up with.”
Appetizer baskets contained scallops, garbanzo beans, wasabi oil, and Australian finger limes. Entrée ingredients were tenderloin, cactus pads, cipolini onions, and fennel pollen. Finally, the contestants had to whip up a dessert using Oreos, puff pastry, goji berries, and mascarpone cheese.
While cooking Scallops for the first dish, the Wesleyan team’s inexperience with seafood led them toward wild innovation.
“All the other teams pan-seared them,” Qued said. “We were the only team to cut them into thirds and deep-fry them.”
Later in the evening, Doty and Qued found another unusual ingredient in their basket: a whole cactus pad.
“I had never cooked with a cactus pad,” Qued said. “So I made a dressing out of it. And I put some of it in the salad.”
As a reward for their victory, Qued and Doty received gift certificates to Ruth Chris Steakhouse.
“The best part was the relief of hearing our names at the end,” Qued said. “We went with no expectations. I just wanted to see who I could meet and what I could learn.”
After their victorious Wednesday, Qued and Doty returned to Usdan on Thursday to cook their vegan and kosher favorites with an extra spring in their step.
“It was a great experience overall,” Qued said. “I enjoyed the whole thing immensely. I wish there was time to taste the food, but there wasn’t. I think we chopped ’em…It was the most intense cooking I’ve ever done. And I’ve done a lot of cooking.”