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Chefs enter culinary combat in today's Samurai showdown

By Cindy Dinh     2/18/10 6:00pm

Three top chefs from North, South and West Serveries will duke it out today in a cooking competition complete with sugar, spices, flames and knives. The Servery Samurai showdown, which begins at 3 p.m. in West Servery, gives chefs two hours to prepare a nutritiously balanced entrée using all of the ingredients from a five-ingredient mystery basket. The winner will possess the title of Culinary Shogun 2010.

Chef Edward Castillo represents North Servery under the moniker "The North Ninja." He said his cooking influences come from Spanish and Italian cuisine.

"I have a few tricks up my sleeve," Castillo said. "We'll see if it makes a difference or not."



South Servery Chef Kyle Hardwick, known as "The South Slicer," said he comes to the table with an open mind.

"It's all dependent on the ingredients in the basket," Hardwick said. "We'll each lean on our individual strengths in style and flavoring."

West Servery Chef Derrix Norman, who rounds out the competitors as "The West Warrior," agrees that the mystery basket's items will determine the flow of the competition.

"I hope there's some sort of fish as the protein so I can do a seafood and crawfish dish," Norman said.

Executive Chef Roger Elkhouri, who will chair Servery Samurai and works at West Servery, wrote the rules and judging criteria, chose the location and prepared the mystery basket.

Each of the contestants will prepare six identical dishes for a panel of judges: Elkhouri, Dean of Undergraduates Robin Forman, dietitian Brandi Powell, Jones College Master Rudy Guerra, Lovett College Master Matteo Pasquali and Baker President Kathy Kellert.

The judges will evaluate the plates based on taste, texture, presentation and nutritional value.

According to Elkhouri, a nutritionally balanced plate consists of at least two vegetables (including starchy vegetables), five or six ounces of protein and sparing use of fat in sauces.

He said the competition aims to produce a professional and nutritious dish without scrimping on taste.

"You don't have to use butter and cream all the time to create a good dish," Elkhouri said. "You can depend on your herb, on your citrus, on your vegetable."

Powell said she hopes this competition will help students realize the importance of a well-balanced diet.

"People get so excited about eating salads without dressing, but you know, you need a little bit of fat in your diet," she said. "It happens everywhere, but especially at Rice there's this whole culture of perfectionism, of straight A's and while you're at that, you might as well look perfect, eat perfect. A lot of times diet takes an abuse."

For Kellert, presentation will be key in her evaluations.

"[The chefs will] get to show their more professional side you don't get to see often in the servery," Kellert said. "Here we get to see the skills they learned in culinary school. I hope to see some of their personality and how they make their decisions in their cooking."

Servery Samurai, complete with a live student audience, will be aired on RTV5 as part of the show "Strapped for Rice." The production team has been working with Elkhouri since last December to develop the format of the show, which mirrors cooking shows like the Food Network's "Iron Chef," Baker College junior Ruby Li, said.

Students will have the opportunity to snag front-row seats and cheer on their favorite chef as part of the live audience. RTV5 will also provide refreshments, though students will not be able to sample the chefs' dishes.

Certain students see this as an opportunity to watch the chefs be more creative with cuisine.

"I think it'll be better than servery food," Will Rice sophomore Georgene Jalbuena said. "They'll have the freedom to focus on their specialty because they're not limited by the restrictions of serving thousands of people."

All competitors and judges will receive certificates of appreciation; the Culinary Shogun will receive a plaque and his photo will be on display in his servery for the next year.

"There's a lot of honor in this competition," Elkhouri said.



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