It started out as a simple contest, but with a sizzle of a fry pan, the competition heated up Wednesday night.
Executives and local chefs came together last night for the second annual Top Chef and Exec, a friendly cooking competition to help raise money for United Way’s campaign against local hunger. Celebrity chef Tom Douglas moderated and hosted the event in his restaurant, The Palace.
The event attracted dozens of people who came to root on their executive and donate money to the cause. By the end of the night, donors gave more than $80,000 to support local food banks and hunger initiatives.
For United Way, this event not only helps generate much needed money, it also increases awareness for the growing problem of hunger in the community, said the nonprofit’s spokesman Jared Erlandson.
“It really gets people thinking about their relationship with food,” he said. “It also gets them thinking about the importance of nourishing food.”
During the competition, contestants were given 30 minutes to create a meal creative and tasty enough to impress a panel of esteemed local chefs. But, there was a twist. Teams were given ingredients most frequently found at food banks. Processed foods, like Ramen noodle soup and Spam, are commonly found, while fresh vegetables, dairy and herbs are rare. Contestants were given the chance to earn these luxuries – fresh herbs, chicken breast, fresh vegetables, and Beecher’s cheese – during a preliminary cupcake decorating competition. The cooking teams were allowed to use these ingredients to elevate their basket of food bank items.
While all the contestant chefs brought proven culinary expertise, their exec partners’ experience varied. KOMO’s own Eric Johnson admitted he was bringing very little skills to the table.
“I’ve never cooked a single meal,” he said. “I’m generally pretty lucky. If my wife left for a month, I would starve.”
Others brought experience gleaned from early food industry experience. AT&T’s Fred Devereux, who won the cooking competition, admitted he had worked in a restaurant as a teenager.
“I have used this much oil since I was a fry cook,” he said, as he fried up potato and oatmeal latkes.
As the competition wrapped up, competitors reflected on the difficulty of creating nutritious meals with limited resources and options.
“With limited fresh foods, it’s difficult to understand what a lot of families are dealing with in a daily basis,” Johnson said.