Chopped Cooking Party -11yr- Team Cookoff
Lisa in San Diego, CA USA
March 2012 Winner
My daughter, who was turning 11, loves the Food Network, and especially the show Chopped" where contestants get a basket of mystery ingredients and must make a dish that is tasty uses the ingredients creatively and is presented beautifully. For her birthday we decided to throw a friendly cooking competition party in the spirit of the show.
INVITATION: We invited 9 preteen girls (plus my daughter) using an online invitation service. We used a dinner party template that featured kitchen utensils and we referred to my daughter as "Chef <Her name>." Response categories were: "Bring it On! I Might be Up For It.. And "Can't Handle the Heat…" and the location was Chez <Her Name>.
DECORATIONS: We did very little decorating but as is clear below the kitchen was well-stocked and organized. The judges' table featured a flower arrangement and a sign stating "CHOPPED Judges with placemats and napkins for each judge, along with their score sheets.
ACTIVITIES / GAMES: When the girls arrived, each was given a Self-Evaluation form, created by my daughter, to rate her abilities in the kitchen. Example Level 1&2 item: I can be alone in the kitchen for 10 minutes without setting anything on fire." Example Level 5+ item: "I can chop hard foods such as carrots." The adults sorted the girls into 3 teams using the Self-Evaluations to balance the teams in terms of skill. We then all sat down to watch a taped episode of "Chopped" to get excited and prepare for the competition. When it was time to start the competition a representative of each team drew the team's color out of a hat.
Team members were then given aprons (ordered off the internet) that matched the color of their team (pink blue or yellow). Our kitchen is not big enough to accommodate 3 teams at a time so we decided to have three rounds (appetizer entrée and dessert) with two teams going head to head for each round. So each team drew 2 slips of paper to determine which two rounds they would be cooking. I then explained the rules of game: The two teams would have 30 minutes to cook a dish that would please the judges and that incorporated all of the mystery ingredients. Four portions (one for each adult judge) would be prepared and the dishes would be rated on taste presentation creativity and use of the required ingredients. It was not necessary to use the entire quantity of any of the mystery items. Additional ingredients that were laid out on the counter or available in the refrigerator as specified by a note on the door could also be used. I then gave the girls some safety reminders: wash hands before and during the competition put hair back in a ponytail don't walk with knives - bring the food to the knife share counter space and utensils with the other team tidy up as you go ask for adult help with turning on burners and ovens announce when you are removing hot food from the oven or stovetop and always use an oven mitt. In advance of the party I had prepared the mystery ingredients and stocked up on basic pantry and cold items that I thought would complement these. For the mystery ingredients I wanted items that were somewhat unusual but also didn't need any fancy cooking to make them edible.
After consultation with lots of friends on Facebook and in person I settled on these combinations: Appetizer - a whole salami a can of cheddar Easy Cheese and half a bag of pre-washed arugula; Entrée - a package of pre-cooked unseasoned chicken breast strips a bag of Lays Chipotle BBQ chips and a jar of fig butter (from Trader Joes); Dessert - 10 chocolate-covered Peeps a jar of caramel sauce and half a container of kumquats. Since there were two teams for each round I bought two of each thing or divided into two portions and labeled in plastic zipper bag. The extra ingredients that I had available for use were: fresh basil parsley chives and rosemary dried spices from my cupboard (savory and sweet) salt pepper an onion a jar of chopped garlic mustard two lemons two limes vegetable and olive oil balsamic vinegar Bisquik batter granulated and confectioners sugar a box of shortbread cookies a baguette rice and dried penne and bowtie pasta. In the fridge I had two packages of crescent roll dough milk heavy whipping cream butter margarine and some salad greens. The mystery ingredients were hidden inside bags and before each round I went to another room and transferred them into two lidded woven baskets that we bought to be similar to the ones used on "Chopped." I also set out two stacks of 4 appropriately-sized plates for the contestants to use for plating the final product. Each round began with a "Ready Set Go" and the teams opened their baskets and set to work. I wasn't too strict with the timing because I didn't want them rushing so much that there were kitchen accidents. When it became clear that both teams were about finished I gave them a 5 minute warning and then counted down the last 10 seconds ending with "Step back Chefs!"
The first team placed their plates in front of each of the adult judges and explained their dish. We tasted and commented (like on the show) and rated from 1-10 in each category on a score sheet that my daughter had made on the computer. Then it was the second team's turn to present and explain their dish. The judges only ate a few bites from each plate so there was generally a little left over for the girls to try each other's concoctions. In case you're curious, for the appetizer round we ended up with a arugula cheese and salami sandwich on toasted baguette versus an arugula salad with bits of salami and lemon zest on top, and Easy Cheese swirled on the plate and a slice of baguette with olive oil. For the entrée, round one team made rosemary vinaigrette chicken with a side of crumbled BBQ chips and bowtie pasta, and the other team put the chips on top of the chicken along with parsley basil lime and chopped onion; both teams presented a baguette slice topped with fig butter but one team added sauteed onions to this. For the dessert round, the dishes were a chocolate-covered Peep stuffed with kumquat pieces topped with swirled caramel and garnished with pieces of shortbread cookies versus a crescent roll wrapped around a chocolate-covered Peep and baked with sugared kumquat pieces, and caramel as garnish, and a glass of kumquat juice on the side. The crescent roll Peep was a huge hit! The judges were pleasantly surprised at the tastiness of all the dishes. At the end of the dessert round the ratings were tallied and the Pink team was announced as the winner with Blue then Yellow close behind. I had been a little worried that the team not participating in a given round would be bored but they spent their time decorating their aprons using paint pens and fabric paints and advising the other teams on strategy. The cooking competition took about 3.5 hours total.
PARTY SNACKS: We all took a break between the entrée and dessert rounds to feed the competitors. We had a veggie tray, chips, and slider sandwiches (with slices of pre-cooked tri-tip and pork tenderloin that we re-heated on the grill outside so we didn't get in the way of the contestants). The adults helped clean the dishes and wipe down the counters after each round to get ready for the next one but between the competition and feeding everyone we still ended up having a lot of dirty dishes and utensils to clean at the end of the party!
PRIZES/FAVORS: All the members of the winning team got ceramic measuring spoons plus first choice of a small kitchen gadget from the prize basket. The second place team got their turn at the prize basket and then the third place team. Gift bags adorned with the Chopped logo were given to each guest for carrying home the prizes and the personalized aprons.
CAKE: After we opened presents and sang Happy Birthday we enjoyed two store-bought pies (my daughter's favorite dessert). My daughter and her guests really enjoyed themselves and loved the uniqueness of the theme and the chance to challenge themselves in the kitchen. If your child loves to cook I encourage you to try this theme -- with the right preparation it will be a big hit!"