Chefs do battle in kitchen

By Helena Rodriguez, PNT Staff Writer

Reality TV came to Eastern New Mexico University on Thursday night in the form of an Iron Chef competition. It was a survival of the fittest — in the kitchen, that is.

Six teams, made up mostly of Family and Consumer Science majors from around the state, had to endure a chef’s worst nightmare of a challenge. They had to create an impressive menu with ingredients assigned to them at random, mystery ingredients which they learned about only minutes before having to cook, then present the food to a panel of judges.

“Let’s go get ‘em!” LaTrenda Wheeler of Clovis said as teams were instructed and then finally led into their kitchens to let the cooking competition begin. Besides running around, making sure all of her teammates had the right ingredients, she did the cutting, slicing and dicing.
Wheeler described herself as the “runner” for the Peach Team, which, after several minutes of discussing their grocery list and collaborating, came up with a menu of green chile spinach pasta with veggies, fresh spinach salad with fruit, and for dessert, banana peanut butter pie.

“Preheat the oven,” Laura Robbins of Portales immediately instructed one of her teammates as she began looking for a glass pie plate.

“Where are the pie plates,” Robbins nervously asked, thinking about the clock ticking away.

“The pie plates are in the drawer labeled pie plates,” responded Lanell Leatherwood, a retired food service teacher and principal who helped coordinate the culinary affair which is one of the final events being held in conjunction with the ongoing “Key Ingredients: America by Food” Smithsonian exhibit” at ENMU’s Golden Library. The exhibit, which ends on Monday, was one of the drawing points which has brought the New Mexico Association of Family and Consumer Sciences’ annual meeting to the Portales campus for the first time. Conference attendees made up many of the Iron Chef competitors.

“This will help us learn to be versatile in the kitchen and to learn to work with what we have” Wheeler said. “The exciting part is working with each other because everybody has their own way of making things.”

When asked, prior to the competition, what was the worst thing that could happen, Wheeler said, “We could burn something” and another teammate, Calla Wimberly of New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, said, “If it doesn’t taste good!”

That put some pressure on teams because Leatherwood said all of the judges were food professionals in some way or another, whether it was working in the Department of Agriculture, being a Family and Consumer science teacher or retired teacher or food service or product manager.

Food was judged on taste, presentation and teams were also judged on the presentation of their tables they decorated.

Among the other dishes teams cooked up were vegetarian nachos, hot fruit combo, vegetable medley pasta, pasta salad with saut