Food pantry ingredients were turned into gourmet meals Saturday evening at the first annual "" cooking contest held by West Valley Community Services, as four chefs presented a four-course dinner with ingredients all from the agency's food pantry.
The chefs are Nanci Wokas, chef/proprietor of Cooking with Class; Chris Schloss, executive chef of Cin-Cin Wine Bar; Carlos Sanchez, executive chef of Parcel 104; and Jay Essadki, executive chef of Morocco's Restaurant. Each of them prepared one of the four courses to serve more than 200 attendees.
The first course by Wokas was a ground turkey ratatouille (French-style stew) topped with a potato bread pudding, adorned with smoked eggplant and caramelized onions. It melted in the mouth with a rich flavor.
Wokas said the biggest challenge she saw in the WVCS food pantry was a shortage of fresh produce. But she found eggplants and onions for her fancy appetizer.
A short film of each chef's search in the WVCS food pantry was played at the cooking contest right before each dish was served.
In the film about Schloss, he picked canned pumpkin from the food pantry to make a pumpkin potato pancake, and topped it with turkey sausage he had spiced up. The second course was meant to be seasonal, according to Schloss. It came with smoked creme fraiche pepperade argodolce (an Italian sweet and sour sauce) and charred tomato salsa.
"I make food that will cross over to everyone," said Schloss, bringing up his international cooking experiences.
Following the second course with its exotic kind of spiciness was the main course, a ground beef patty topped with diced tomatoes and shredded onions, served with two sausage-shaped potatoes and a slice of boiled egg. Sanchez called his creation "Breakfast for Dinner, " which tasted mild but flavorful.
The portion of the main course left just enough room for dessert, which is the national dessert of Morocco, according to Essadki.
The dessert making process looked quite simple in the short film played right after the end of the main course. Essadki started with peeling and slicing an orange into a few petal-shaped pieces. Then he drizzled some honey, poured a little coconut juice, and sprinkled cinnamon to make the so-called "orange cinnamon blossom."
Essadki also tossed in blueberry muffin crumbles derived from the blueberry muffins he obtained from the WVCS pantry.
As the crumbles were moist and the spiced-up orange slices juicy, the dessert didn't need coffee or tea to go along with it, and it left a refreshingly succulent aftertaste in the mouth.
At the end of dinner, judges and attendees voted separately on their favorite course.
Wokas won the popularity contest. She said excitedly, "This is my first food Oscar!"
Carolyn Jung, writer and editor of FoodGal, represented the judge panel to announce the judges' choice of Sanchez.
Master of ceremonies Mike Inouye said it's worth mentioning that Sanchez participated in the cooking competition despite the 10th anniversary celebration of his restaurant taking place on the same night.
Sanchez humbly said he was lucky for getting to cook the main dish and that was probably what made him stand out. He also said he enjoyed applying his passion for cooking to the great cause of WVCS.
"I hope next year we will prepare food for not just 200 people, but maybe 400 people," he said.
Naomi Nakano-Matsumoto, executive director of WVCS, said in her speech at the cooking competition that WVCS needs a lot of support, as more people are seeking help in the slow economy.
"I know many people are already waiting in line at 7:30 am, though our food pantry opens at 10 a.m.," she said.