Iron Chef: Competition Confirms That Healthy Tastes Delicious
Eat your colors!
This command -- the watchwords of MooreFit Challenge -- was obeyed on Tuesday at Sandhills Community College when chefs from Southern Pines restaurants LobSteer Inn and Beefeater's competed in a format based loosely on Food Network's "The Iron Chef": Create original entrees, side dishes and desserts from specific ingredients.
The glorious early-summer meal starred a rainbow of healthy fruits and vegetables incorporated in recipes. And although LobSteer received the most votes, participants were the real winners.
The concept began last fall as the Workplace Wellness Challenge where partners FirstHealth of the Carolinas, The Pilot, Moore County Schools, the Village of Pinehurst, Sandhills Community College and Pinehurst Resort invited businesses to mobilize employees to exercise more and eat better. About two dozen businesses responded. First came a walking challenge, where participants wore pedometers and charted results. Then, a push to include (and list) a variety of produce in everyday meals.
"The eating part was more difficult," said Clark Smearman, a Union Pines math teacher. "It was easier to log steps than food. But the food thing made you more aware of what you eat." The committee invited restaurants to create one or more "healthy" entres which were analyzed by registered dietitian Kathy Hefner. Eight restaurants responded.
The criteria: a complete entre containing no more than 1,000 calories, 1,000 milligrams sodium, 30 percent calories from fat (10 percent from saturated fat). Side dishes must include two fruits and vegetables from two color categories and one serving of whole grains. The items appeared on menus at a special price during April.
"I hoped people who might not ordinarily choose a healthy item would discover that healthy can be tasty," Hefner said.
Committee members ordered the entrees anonymously and selected two finalists who, on Tuesday, created an appetizer, main dish and dessert (two out of three) based on colorful fruits and vegetables plus last-minute mystery ingredients: eggplant and green apples.
Chef teams began prepping long before participants arrived.
Jim Jones of Beefeater's, stuffing chicken breasts with broccoli, bleu cheese, apples and thyme, said, "We're basically a steak house but we want to show people we can do other things."
He proved this with an unusual vegetable Napoleon: sweet potato, eggplant, roasted red pepper and onion slices stacked and held together with hummus. His dessert concoction was a quinoa (Peruvian super-grain) pudding with berries and a sugar cookie made without eggs or butter.
"You'd probably enjoy it better if I didn't tell you what's in it," Jones confided to a guest.
At a nearby stove, chef Alonso Santos and LobSteer owner Michael Gibson were also stuffing chicken breasts with feta, broccoli, onions and red pepper, rolling and coating the rolls with breadcrumbs. The stuffed breasts were baked, sliced, topped with pesto and arranged over angel hair pasta smothered in a multi-vegetable marinara. Gibson's second offering was a summer salad with avocado, green apple matchsticks and sliced almonds.
Raw ingredients for the competition were purchased through a grant from the North Carolina Department of Public Health Childhood Obesity Prevention. In North Carolina, childhood obesity ranges from 14 to 27 percent, with teens at the higher level.
"In order to address childhood obesity we have to convince the adults first," said Susan Purser, superintendant of Moore County Schools who, with FirstHealth CEO Charles Frock, conceived the "Iron Chef" tie-in.
About 100 MooreFit participants attended this final (and free) event held at Little Hall. S.C.C. president John Dempsey welcomed them, saying he had never seen a competition like this except on television. Aromatic platters were paraded out, and the restless crowd made a genteel stampede to the buffet and back to tables strewn with take-home recipe cards for veggie couscous, chicken and pasta, fiber muffins and fruit desserts.
"'Eat your colors' influenced how I chose my vegetables," said Karen Lewis. "Prior to this most of my vegetables were green. Now I'm branching out to yellow and purple." For the first time, her husband, Rick Lewis, tried and liked julienne beets in salad.
Eleven-year-old Savannah Stewart said she's not into vegetables but, "The way they cooked these is good. I can't really taste them."
Betty Jones, who has diabetes, said she eats more vegetables and less meat and cooks better for her family since participating in the program.
The dinner was well-timed, coinciding with the locally grown produce season. The committee was thrilled with the turnout but aware that raising consciousness is just the first step.
"We're hoping to teach small changes that have long-range impacts," Hefner said.
Contact Deborah Salomon at email@example.com.
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