In the final week of the Farm Food Educators training series, Green City Force (GCF) AmeriCorps members came together for a competitive cook off. The challenge required GCF students to harvest produce from the Red Hook Houses Farm, clean, prep, and plate an individual salad in only 45 minutes. In addition, they were judged on their newly-acquired knife skills and culinary technique by creating an emulsified, well-blended salad dressing.
Community Chef Instructor Sam strongly suggested utilizing mise en place to organize their ingredients under the tent at the farm, and to think about which flavors to highlight in their dressings. At the very start of the competition, Justin, Lisa, and Steve ran to harvest a bounty of greens — including lettuce, mustard greens, and swiss chard. Britney and Thomas were late to the competition but quickly caught up. After washing their greens, the challengers returned to their stations to set up and chop their selected bounty of vegetables.
Our GCF contestants strengths stood out in different ways. Lisa diced her carrots and cucumbers into perfect bite sizes. Justin used various knife techniques, including the chiffonade, where he stacked his lettuces, rolled his stack, and then sliced down. Steven concentrated on his presentation and created a very colorful salad. Britney was the only one who chose to include jalapeños in her salad. Thomas shined with confidence as he exclaimed, “I had such a good teacher that I think I’ll do just fine,” while he picked red and green tomatoes from the farm to add color to his salad.
The clock ticked down and the pressure was on when it came to creating a flavorful, well-balanced dressing. Despite it being the first time the students were not working together as a team to create a dish, they helped one another to succeed and enjoyed a sense of comradery during the cook off.
Once the timer stopped and salads were plated, our four judges did a blind testing to choose the top salad based on a rubric of overall presentation, taste, and skills. All the salads were impressive in presentation and flavor, but two salads stood above the rest. Britney made a basil tomato salad with cucumber and onion dressed with lime juice. It was made with a few, simple ingredients, but was very tasty and the judges couldn’t help taking another bite. However, the dish that won the hearts of the judges was Thomas’s wholesome salad with carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, onion, and tomatoes. His secret weapon was his onions, which he took to another level by quick pickling them with salt and sugar.
Our GCF students took ownership of their tools, and applied the skills and knowledge they learned from each class, to the final showdown. These young adults had fun with the food, but most importantly, they are now more confident doing fresh and tasty farm food demonstrations at Green City Force’s urban farms across the city.