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The Black Sheep College Chopped Championship

Posted: 07/20/2012 3:58 pm

You! You there! College student! Quick, open up your wallet. How much do you have in there? Less than five bucks? So, stereotypes really do exist for a reason.

Thing is, the broke college student stereotype makes sense. The average college student gets by on a few bucks garnered from a demoralizing part-time job, crippling student loans and whatever mommy and daddy are willing to dole out. In turn, that money is spent on liquor, beer, and wine, in that order. Again, this makes sense, as beer is the currency of the common college student. If a guy gives a girl a dollar to talk to him for five minutes, he's engaging in some entry-level prostitution, but if he presents her with a couple lukewarm Keystone Lights be hid behind the oven (total cost: about 60 cents), he's a modern-day knight in beer box armor. Peoples gotsta get laid, son.

Sadly, this leaves little money for food. What pittance that remains is quickly turned into cheap bang-for-your-buck calories that are flavored with such delightful ingredients as disodium inosinate and powdered cooked chicken. Nothing says, "tastes just like mom used to make it," quite like powdered cooked chicken.

Knowing this, The Black Sheep set out to find a solution -- a way to eat like a daddy's girl on a crack whore's dime. We found our inspiration in a Food Network TV show, Chopped. In it, trained chefs are forced to present a panel of judges with dishes created from ingredients revealed to them only moments prior to cooking. The chefs must use all ingredients provided to them, and they have 20 minutes to prepare their plates.

This seemed like a reasonable facsimile of the college cooking experience, only the constraints imposed on the college student happen by circumstance, not by choice. The time crunch exists because of abject laziness. Ingredients are limited because, well, there was a great deal on minced beef heart and you really thought you'd grow to like it. And there's no one judging you except for yourself, but Jesus, man, you have to eat something eventually -- you almost mowed down the old burrito your neighbor uses as a doorstop.

So the adventure began. With four chefs, three judges and an emcee, we set out to form the whitest rap group of all time. Failing that, we were exerted ourselves to prove that it's possible to get good grub for less.

The Rules:

- Four cooks will compete in three heats, vying to be crowned the College Chopped Champion.

- Heat one and heat two will each have two chefs competing against one another using the same ingredients. The winner of heat one and heat two will move onto the championship heat. The winner of the championship heat, uh...wins.

- Each heat will be 30 minutes long. The first five minutes of each heat can be used to plan that heat's dish. No cooking or preparation can be done in the first five minutes. After five minutes, both chefs have 25 minutes to cook and plate their food.

- In each round both cooks will be provided with the same five ingredients. Each cook must present one dish for tasting.

- Cooks may include any spices, seasonings or condiments found in a standard kitchen, but cooks cannot introduce new food elements to the cooking.

- Cooks have access to one pot, one pan, knives, a cutting board, a sink, a microwave, an oven, a blender and two stovetop burners.

-At the end of each heat three judges will rate each dish on a one-through-five scale for flavor, appearance and creativity.

The Food:

- Prior to the event The Black Sheep purchased all ingredients used in this contest from a chain grocery store in a Chicago neighborhood.

- Each cook will be provided with one protein and four other items that they must utilize during their heat.

- In the spirit of financial difficulty faced by many college students, each protein will cost less than $3. The total cost of the other four items will be under $5.

- No cooks had any prior knowledge of the foods they would be working with.

The Judges:

Molly: Once cooked an eight-course African meal in five hours. Will text her boyfriend, letting him know the food she made was "so good," but will deride anything she cooks for him.

Mike: (Per Mike) "I want it all. I want to explore new taste sensations that you just cannot get at Wendy's. I try to immerse myself in local culinary delicacies, like when I went to Detroit and got coneys from American and Lafayette, and got Detroit-style pizza from Buddy's. But also, I want to savor new culinary creations so that when I tell people 'I ate X' and they say 'Sounds kinda nuts!' then I can say 'Mmm, but you should definitely try it.'"

Greg: A culinary school graduate and a salumaria shop owner. Can identify most spices and seasonings used in a dish without asking the chef. Basically, Greg knows his shit.

Note: Scores that follow will be presented in the above order.

The Contestants:

Dave: An Eagle Scout who is used to cooking in a spartan environment, like the wilderness, or a college apartment that hasn't had the dishes washed in three months.

Joelle: Smarter than your average chef. Understands what ingredients work well together. Is married, so has a lot of practice with cooking.

Nate: A man who enjoys weird food as long as he doesn't have to make it. Once purchased squid jerky at an Asian market; it was so bad the dog wouldn't eat it.

Josh: A fairly talented cook who can prepare a variety of food, from breads to casseroles to slightly more exotic dishes. Josh is well-traveled, and well-versed in different cuisines.

Round One: Dave vs. Joelle
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Protein: Tilapia

Required Ingredients: Lemon, black beans, Fritos, cilantro

Total Price: $4.40

The Process: It quickly became evident that both Joelle and Dave were going to present a Frito-crusted tilapia with a black bean side dish. While boring, it also meant that whoever best prepared the food would win. Joelle, living in her present, decides to make a cilantro-lemon butter, while Dave, harkening back to his college days, chooses to batter his with Busch Light. Ten minutes into the round Dave screamed "Fuck me," which is bad in all instances, save one. Sadly, he had burnt the oil he intended to cook with, forcing him to start more or less from scratch. With three minutes remaining Dave rushed around the kitchen like a madman, pouring sweat and trying to plate on time. On the other hand, Joelle calmly wrapped her food up with 90 seconds to spare.
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