The Hippo


May 28, 2020








Courtesy photo.

Fire and Fusion: An Executive Chef Competition

When: Wednesday, May 4, from 6 to 9 p.m.
Where: Alpine Grove Banquet Facility, 19 S. Depot Road, Hollis
Tickets: $35 per person (waiting list)

Skills showcase
Chefs compete in annual cookoff

By Allie Ginwala

 With two large screens set at either side of the room showing a live feed of the chefs in action, this year’s Fire and Fusion: An Executive Chef Competition will give guests an experience akin to watching their favorite Food Network cooking show.

“People can see the chefs prep … zoom in and see what they're doing with the mystery ingredients. It was something we’re going for so people get a closer view of ‘What can the chef do with that?’” said Judy Porter, development manager at the Nashua Senior Activity Center and Fire and Fusion event coordinator. 
For the fourth year, chefs from area health care and assisted living communities will compete in front of a live audience to benefit the Nashua Senior Activity Center.
“People don’t think their chefs are of the same caliber as restaurant chefs when the truth is many of the head chefs have transferred from restaurants to health care because the hours are better or they've gone from health care to restaurants and back to health care,” Porter said. “You’re looking at chefs of the same caliber.”
The evening begins with an hour of appetizers — each of the eight participating chefs and their teams will prepare 200 hot and 200 cold appetizers — and the chance for guests to chat and sample before selecting their choice for best appetizer and best display booth. Then the chefs get ready to make culinary magic using four mystery ingredients.
“There is a parade of seniors and chefs carrying baskets of four mystery ingredients. The chefs find out the mystery ingredients at the same time as the audience and they have half an hour to come up with a culinary masterpiece,” Porter said.
The mystery ingredients are diverse (last year it was peach ring candies, edamame, hanger steak and celery root) and are selected by the evening’s host, Mike Morin, and a knowledgeable mystery person “well connected in the industry,” Porter said. 
Samantha Lavoie, dining services director at Nashua Crossings and reigning Fire and Fusion top chef, said a common game plan is to go in with a dish in mind and make it work with the mystery ingredients so you don’t fall prey to spending the entire time dish-planning.
Coming into the competition last year, she knew she wanted to make a potato hash and was happy to find roasted edamame and celery root were required ingredients. The peach ring candies presented more of an odd challenge, ultimately inspiring Lavoie to melt them down with heavy cream and roasted red peppers for a red pepper peach sauce.
With an extensive background in regard to competitions, Lavoie said she’s excited to have a solid team working alongside her, not to mention the chance to chat with her fellow competitors. 
“I look forward to being able to talk to other people in the same position as me for other companies,” she said in a phone interview. “And it's neat to see how you have those four ingredients, but everyone makes something completely different. It’s neat to see their take.”
Judges Nicole Barreira, corporate chef and marketing manager for Great NH Restaurants, Kathleen Palmer, food editor for the Nashua Telegraph, and George Russell from WSMN 1590 — he fills the “everyman slot,” of “being able to say ‘wow, this is weird, but they were able to make it taste really good,’” Porter said — will score the chefs based on texture, taste and creativity in order to name a winner. 
The event features both the appetizer sampling and chef competition, Porter said, because the dual atmospheres bring out a unique setting in which to view the chefs.
“We wanted to … really highlight the culinary experience and there is nothing that does that more than seeing someone in action and seeing the diversity of the ingredients,” Porter said. “I don’t think that just chatting with someone is going to highlight that level of experience.” 

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