By: Jonah Lewis, Contributing Writer
Towson University’s Student Government Association and Dining Services hosted its first cooking competition on Wednesday at Glen Dining Hall.
The competition, TU Chopped, which is based on the Food Network’s program of the same name, drew in about 40 people, including contestants and judges. Twelve teams of two competed. Executive chefs from each of the dining halls around campus joined the teams in an advisory role.
The faceoff consisted of three rounds: appetizer, entree and dessert. Four teams competed per round. Teams had 30 minutes to make their appetizers and entrees and 40 minutes to create their desserts.
Interim President Melanie Perrault, Assistant Vice Presidents for Student Affairs Kelly Hoover and Matt Lenno, and Chartwells Division President Nelson DeFigueiredo sat as judges. SGA Vice President Damon Edwards II handled emcee and timekeeper duties.
Each round had three mystery ingredients which competitors were required to incorporate into their dish and make it as appetizing as possible.
The teams used the Family Meal and Grille stations of the dining hall. Contestants had a wide range of cooking utensils and heating vessels to work with, including the deep fryers in the Grille area and one gas burner supplied to each team.
The appetizer round saw sushi-grade tuna, coconut milk and Funny Bones pastries as the mystery ingredients. The four teams rushed to brainstorm how to blend these three conflicting pieces together to make a delectable offering quickly.
“We’ve been looking forward to this event for a long time,” freshman Ben Tarnosky said. “Felix is competing, and we’re here to root him on.”
He is referring to Felix Angelastro, a freshman who was cooking under the banner of the Sausage Party alongside his friend and fellow freshman Ian Lathrop.
The two chefs devised an appetizer they described as “ahi tuna with sesame seeds, peanut butter and coconut sauce, served with a tomato and mango micro bean salad.” The judges were impressed with the Sausage Party’s plate, and it became clear in the first round that they would be contenders for the top spot in the final rankings.
The second round proved to be more generous to the contestants than the first. The mystery ingredients were Chick-fil-a waffle fries, beef tenderloin and horseradish root, leading each team to think along the lines of steak and potatoes.
Lisa Fleet rooted on Team Wonder Bread in the entree round, which was composed of her friend and boyfriend.
“Both of them have culinary experience, and they’re really going all in here,” she said. “I think it’ll be interesting to see what they come up with.”
To the judges, Jordan Wilhelm and Tyler Spear’s entree stood out the most. The pair, who competed under the name Ice Veins, served up a jerk seasoned steak with a horseradish mash.
As the dessert round began, only the contestants and their closest friends remained. The crowd had diminished from around 40 to about 25.
The last set of mystery ingredients were Rice Krispies, conversation hearts and ricotta cheese.
The contestants had a more diverse sense of where these ingredients could go as opposed to the previous round. One team served up Rice Krispie treats covered with a white chocolate glaze and fried cinnamon empanadas with an orange zest dip.
The judges convened after the dessert round to determine the grand winner of TU Chopped. With a total of 56 points, Sausage Party was declared the winner.
The judges took notice of the professional quality of Angelastro and Lathrop’s work, with multiple judges agreeing that it was restaurant quality.
Upon hearing that he was a culinary champ on campus, Angelastro proclaimed that he was “invigorated and possessed by flavor!”
Lathrop was excited by his partner’s dedication to the craft.
“Felix and I are both freshmen, so we haven’t known each other all that long,” he said. “I knew he loved cooking, but I’ve never seen him in action before, and it was inspiring to see him doing what he loves.”