Cooking, Kind of

My prior experience with Guilford’s fabled yachting club is almost non-existent. I don’t know anything about World of Warcraft, I have never been a Dungeon Master and if you asked me “nijas or pirates?” I would say dinosaurs.But I have shown flashes of an inner yachter throughout my life. When I was little I was obsessed with Legos. I own every copy of the “Batman: Hush” comic book series and I have Jim Lee’s autograph – name drop! I think Empire Strikes Back is the best Starwars film. In Super Smash Bros. Melee my character of choice is Jigglypuff (watch out for my deadly aim with the sleep). And that’s about where my yachting club resume would end.

For my column this week I decided to try my hand at the Yachting Club’s Annual What The Hell Con[?] Iron Chef tournament.* With no idea what to expect I showed-up apron in hand ready to give it my best shot.

Entering Duke Hall that Saturday afternoon was like stepping into another world. I guess the armor-clad warriors in the grass out front were fair warning. But nothing could have prepped me for my first encounter with WTHCon. There people in pirate and wizard attire (but alas, no dinosaurs). There were light-sabers. There was talk of other dimensions and superheroes and zombies. But enough about the wizard people, dear reader. There was a task at hand.

I had two opponents in the cook-off; a girl who was overtly insecure with her cooking knowledge and technique (I could only assume it was a bluff – good tactic, sister) and tall guy with an intimidating knowledge of the standard microwave. After an impressive introduction and emphatic display of the foods at our disposal (tons of ramen noodles, a box of easy-mac packets and a plethora of assorted sauces), our host revealed the secret ingredient, which was mandatory that we all incorporate into our meal: Broccoli. The tall guy smiled sinisterly. The nervous girl laughed nervously. I planned to myself. We had 30 minutes to create a dish that would be judged based on “arbitrary” criterion by a panel of four brave students.

I got to work microwaving a packet of ramen and surveying the numerous sauces on the table. Ketchup? Too risky. Salad dressing? Too flavor-specific. I needed something more dynamic, something less intense. I reached for a dark brown substance that my opponents seemed to ignore. This was it. Maple syrup. It was unconventional, it was dangerous, it didn’t make sense. But I was going to need something sensational to impress these tough judges.

I added a generous amount to my noodles and tested the water. It tasted a lot like pancakes to me. I could pull this off. Next I decided to focus on the broccoli. The others were already cutting and cooking theirs. I threw some in the microwave and turned my attention to the presentation of my dish, an aspect I thought could set me apart in the judging. I grabbed a light blue plate to match the bowl in which my syrup ramen sat fermenting. Drizzling syrup and honey in a star pattern around the edges of the plate I channeled my inner Martha Stewart. I arranged the bowl in the center of the plate with the broccoli stems coming out from the center. It was looking great, but I needed more. I added peanut butter to the rim of the bowl, just for effect. Then I had a thought. I dabbed blogs of peanut butter onto the broccoli heads. I didn’t taste this time. This interesting combo was going to set off fireworks for the palates of those daring judges, or it was going to send my entry down in a fiery tailspin. Time expired. The competition was out of my hands now. Stick in a spork in me, I’m done.

My opponents both created more conventional, or at least more approachable, dishes. The tall guy artfully combined ramen and cheese with the broccoli and some Pringles for texture. The girl used the chicken flavoring from the ramen on her broccoli, a well-received move. The judges liked the attractive display and unusual flavor combinations my meal showcased, but the strength of the syrup in the ramen was a noticeable weakness. After a serious, and seriously comical tasting by each judge, they went into the hall to delegate. There was no clear favorite.

They returned and the room fell silent. “The winner,” our host exclaimed, “is Max.” The room erupted in chatter. I had done it. And that, dear reader, is a happy ending. Say hello to Guilford’s 2008 What The Hell Con Iron Chef.

*unofficial title intended to heighten self-esteem and possibly attract a mate.