Sometimes the very best meals happen with zero planning. I’ll get home from a long day and grab whatever is in my pantry and fridge, and see what I can come up with. But my confidence wasn’t always so strong. After years of cooking, I’ve come to believe that the possibilities are endless with a counter of fresh ingredients, a pair of hands, and a stove.
A Taste of African Heritage Instructor, Jin Galvez proved this point publicly by launching Brooklyn’s first ever Brooklyn Chef’s Battle, staged for the Bedstuy neighborhood a few Saturdays ago. Jin recruited three teams of two – one adult and one youth – to go stove to stove in a battle of skillets, with improv ingredients. The only criterion was that none of the teammates could be professional chefs—food lovers only!
Oldways was so fortunate and excited to sponsor Edna Nixon, 34, and Tianna Wallace, 14, of the non-profit Tomorrow’s Leaders NYC, an outstanding organization dedicated to helping over-age middle school students succeed in school, graduate from high school, positively impact their communities, and much, much more.
Each team was given a mystery basket of ingredients at the beginning of the battle, and asked to come up with three different dishes. The ingredient list was entirely vegetarian (no meat at all) and included mushrooms, asparagus, sweet potatoes, blueberries, lemons, apples, cilantro, thyme, leafy greens, penne pasta, couscous, cornmeal, oils, vinegars, and more. The audience of community members acted as the judges, tasting nine courses total, and voting on their favorites.
The coolest part? Team Oldways/Tomorrow’s Leaders NYC won the battle!
Edna Nixon shared about her experience as an on-the-spot, winning chef:
“Chef Jin's Brooklyn Iron Chef Battle was a memorable experience that I only daydreamed about prior. I was nervous because it was the first chef competition I had ever been in and some ingredients I cooked with were unfamiliar to my taste buds. The winning dishes are a few of my amazing new recipes.
The most memorable part of the competition is when I found out the ingredients and realized most of everything I expected to be there wasn't and my mind went blank for a few minutes. My young teammate spoke encouraging words into my ear, we both prayed and left it in God's hands.
As I began to cook the challenge became fun. The competing teams were both good sports and I enjoyed every moment. The whole crew of helper and all of the guests were amazing and supportive of everybody and that relaxed me even more. I’m still in disbelief I actually won. I look forward to next year's competition.”
So, what were the delicious winning dishes?
COUSCOUS SALAD: Cooked couscous (cooked in vegetable stock) mixed with a sauté medley of onions, green peppers, garlic, ginger, cilantro, asparagus, carrots, and zucchini. Served over a bed of spinach drizzled with homemade dressing.
HASHBROWNS: Diced blanched sweet potatoes, pan fried in olive oil and butter, with onions, peppers, garlic, and sliced apples. Seasoned lightly with sugar and cinnamon.
BLUEBERRY PARFAIT: Whipped heavy cream and sugar mixed with blueberries tossed in honey and lemon, topped with a sprinkle of cinnamon.
Jin has already been asked to replicate the event in other NYC locations. We are so happy that this will be a continuing event, and we hope it can be replicated in other neighborhoods far and wide.
Seeing friends, family, and fellow community members prepare delicious dishes with ease and enjoyment is one of the most empowering teaching moments for public health, showing us that we can all be chefs. We know that the Chef Battle attendees will be impacted by this event, and we hope that they are inspired to try their own hands at making beautiful, joyful dishes that celebrate food, health, culture, community, and the planet.