It was a happy day for Delta Chi members Joseph Raff and Justin Shannin, as their team Delta-Chitessen won Northwestern Dining’s second-ever Meal Madness challenge to take home a gift set of kitchen tools and utensils on Thursday, Jan. 21.
Delta-Chitessen won the final round of the culinary challenge in Norris University Center, beating the other finalist, Team Froomies. Both teams won against two other teams in their initial rounds on Tuesday, Jan. 19 and Wednesday, Jan. 20.
School of Communication senior Justin Shannin and McCormick junior Joseph Raff won the competition with a filet mignon stuffed with a mixture of croutons, figs and raisins rehydrated in Coca-Cola. The dish was topped with a Coca-Cola chili chocolate sauce and served with an Israeli salad on the side.
They had secured their position in the final round on Wednesday with a seared pork chop flavored with butter, thyme and root beer cranberry sauce, accompanied with potato and carrot hash topped with asparagus.
Team Froomies, composed of Weinberg juniors Julie Kelman and Kelsey Christensen, took second place. On Tuesday, they had impressed the judges with their pan-seared chicken breast with apple and caramelized onion chutney. This was served with quinoa cooked in ginger ale with cranberries and a bed of spinach.
However, their dish for the final round, a filet mignon topped with brown sugar bacon and a mole sauce made of Coca-Cola, bittersweet chocolate and pepper along with a side of asparagus, failed to secure first place.
The format for Meal Madness this year was based off the Food Network TV show called “Chopped”. The teams were required to create a dish from at least two mystery ingredients that were not known until the beginning of the round.
The Coca-Cola Company sponsored the event this year, and at least one of the mystery ingredients selected for each day of the three-day competition was a Coca-Cola product. During the final round, students in Norris were also able to pick up free cans of Coca-Cola products.
All of the mystery ingredients were selected by Chris Studtmann, district executive chef for Northwestern Dining. Studtmann said he selected the ingredients for each round because they would go well together but allowed opportunity for students to demonstrate their culinary potential.
The mystery ingredients for Tuesday’s initial round were Sprite, ginger ale and chicken. On Wednesday, contestants needed to create a dish containing root beer and pork.
Thursday’s final round required the two teams to utilize fillet mignon and Coca-Cola. In addition to the required mystery ingredients, the teams on Thursday could choose to utilize additional ingredients for bonus points. Both teams chose to use the bittersweet chocolate and dried black mission figs, while Delta-Chitessen also utilized the peppers.
Despite their use of all three of the bonus ingredients, Delta-Chitessen were not awarded bonus points for the bittersweet chocolate because the flavor was not clearly present, according to the judges.
The format differs from last year’s Meal Madness, where teams were able to submit their recipes beforehand and prepare them in the competition.
While the students were expected to come up with their recipes and dishes by themselves, several Northwestern Dining chefs were available for assistance during the cooking process. The chefs monitored teams to ensure safety and provided cookware and additional ingredients not readily available from the pantry.
Studtmann also served on the three-person judging panel for each day of the competition. The other two judges differed from day to day. For the final, McCormick senior Kai Huang, the Cookology NU president, and Rachel Hamil, a marketing manager-in-training at Northwestern Dining, served as the other two judges.
“I think they’re using the ingredients really well,” Huang said. “The one thing I’m worried about is that they both seem to be going for the same mole sauce. I would have probably gone a little more Asian with the flavors, but I’m not sure all the ingredients are available here.”
Studtmann said that he would have probably created something very similar to what Team Froomies made in the final, but Huang had other ideas.
“With chocolate mole sauces, normally you’re just pairing the chocolate with peppers for a kind of smoky flavor, but you can actually also augment that with the umami that Asian flavors have, meaning fish sauce, Thai chillis, that sort of thing,” Huang said. “I think it’s a matter of their ability to tweak it into a flavor profile that’s different from what we’re expecting.”
When it came to the judging in the final, Studtmann said that Team Froomies had an elegant dish but faced technical difficulties, whereas Delta-Chitessen had great technique but a couple of plating issues.
“I think they gave me a run for my money to try and judge and separate who was the actual winner,” Studtmann said after the final round. “It ended up being plating against technique today.”
Hosted by Northwestern Dining, the event was meant to allow students to demonstrate their culinary capability and potential.
“It’s really to give students an opportunity to showcase their cooking skills,” said Jenny Phan, a marketing photographer and manager-in-training at Northwestern Dining. She also was a contestant representing Cookology NU last year.
Northwestern Dining was pleased with the student turnout at Norris on Thursday.
“I’m glad so many people have turned out, and they’re bringing their friends out to support them," said Sean Hyland, marketing manager at Northwestern Dining. “It went well this year, so maybe we’ll bring it back next year.”
Both Team Froomies and Delta-Chitessen said that they had a good time and would compete again.
In addition to the teams that competed in Thursday’s final round, four more teams competed in Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s initial rounds at the Allison Dining Hall but did not proceed to the finOn Tuesday, the Cookology team, from the on-campus cooking and culinary club, were represented by School of Communication freshman Huy Do and Weinberg freshman Victoria Cabales. Team Grilled Chicken Pecs, composed of Yulun Wu and Andre Ramirez-Cedeno, both McCormick juniors, also competed on Tuesday.
Wednesday’s team, Casual Cooks, composed of McCormick senior Samuel Kim and Bienen freshman Johnathan Orr, competed against Weinberg freshman Mark Scovic and Weinberg freshman Jackson Lehmar, who were from Team Steady Eatin’.