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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

Cooking showdown: Four students compete in a cooking competition 

Kathy Wang
Sophomores Sunny Cao, Emma Fung, Saachi Jain and Kathy Wang work hard in the kitchen to prepare a feast.

In a battle of culinary creativity, four ambitious young chefs, split into teams of two, competed in an ultimate cooking showdown recently. In a span of two hours, and with a $40 budget, the chefs — sophomores Sunny Cao, Emma Fung, Saachi Jain and Kathy Wang — managed to whip up exemplary three course meals including an appetizer, the main course and dessert. 

Although not an easy journey, with dedication and help from Kathy’s home kitchen, we were able to put together two hearty meals for the judges — fellow sophomores Nicole Lee, Amy Luo and Isabelle Wang — to evaluate and enjoy.

Team No. 1: Emma and Kathy

Appetizer: miso soup, $8

Main dish: zha jiang mian, $31

Dessert: ice cream sandwich, $11

Inspired by our cultural backgrounds, we decided to prepare two Asian dishes. We served the classic miso soup, a traditional Japanese soup with miso paste, soft tofu and seaweed, as our appetizer. For our main course, we prepared one of our all time favorite traditional Chinese dishes: zha jiang mian, a dish consisting of wheat noodles coated in a savory black bean sauce. To finish it off with dessert, we decided to go for a common American comfort food: an ice cream sandwich with creamy vanilla ice cream stuffed between two soft, mega-sized chocolate chip cookies.

To our surprise, everything went smoothly, considering that we were inexperienced in the field of culinary arts. Starting off with the cookies, we stirred up a $5 cookie mix into a buttery, doughy concoction. However, due to our general lack of experience, we overestimated the amount of dough needed and ended up baking six very large cookies. Fortunately, the cookies still turned into a mouthwatering delight, and with $6 vanilla ice cream sandwiched in between, it was pure perfection. 

While the cookies were baking, we started making our blackbean sauce for our zha jiang mian. To make the sauce, we started chopping our $4 dou fu gan (a type of firm, dry tofu) and $5 pork sausages into tiny cubes. After stir frying them in a giant pan, we added our $9 black bean paste along with water to de-thicken the sauce. Finally, we topped the sauce onto our $7 boiled wheat noodles and mixed it to fully coat the noodles. We also added a side of $5 sliced cucumbers and $3 chili oil.

Saving the best for last, we finalized our cooking expedition with our hearty appetizer: miso soup. The miso soup was relatively simple to make. We added $5 miso paste to boiling water and allowed it to simmer with leftover tofu and $3 seaweed. Finally, our three-course meal was ready for the judges to score.

Team No. 2: Sunny and Saachi

Appetizer: bruschetta, $7

Main course: miyeok guk soup, $20

Dessert: mango sticky rice, $12

Spanning many cuisines and textures, we opted for a flexible meal that  included a classic Italian bruschetta appetizer, followed by a Korean-inspired miyeok guk soup and ending with a Thai dessert of mango sticky rice. 

Between figuring out recipes, staying under the budget, coordinating ingredients and bringing pots and pans, spices, measuring cups and tools, it was a lot. But everything came together last-minute and the cooking process was pulled off mostly without a hitch.

The preparation for bruschetta was simple enough: chopping up a $7 bunch of tomatoes proved little trouble, and after that, it was simply a matter of getting the ratio of balsamic vinegar to olive oil right, which were both ingredients we already had at home. The bright red of the tomatoes paired excellently with the mild beige baguette, and accompanied with the perfect crunch, it tasted great as well. 

As for the miyeok soup, we split the work between cutting $8 veggies, soaking the $12 dried seaweed (a high cost as we purchased it in bulk) and watching the soup. 

This dish was slightly more challenging. The broth to water ratio had to be precise; the dried seaweed had to be soaked with warm water before being put into the soup; the tofu had to be put in at the right time and with the right temperature to avoid it breaking apart; and the miso (which we borrowed from the other team) also had to be right, or else it would be too salty. Nevertheless, with it being neither of our first times cooking, we breezed through our dishes with ease. 

Dessert was simple enough. We made some rice in a rice cooker, heated up sugar and two cans of coconut milk for $10 each, waited for it all to cool, poured it over the rice and topped it with some $2 fresh mango. 

We all felt the anticipation bubbling as the time limit crept closer and the dishes came together. As each team started putting the finishing touches on their dishes and setting the tables, the judges arrived.


Our judges arrived two hours after we started the cooking process. They were presented with a table full of food, six dishes in total per person, and were quite overwhelmed by the amount of food presented to them. The four chefs observed with anticipation as the judges tasted the food one by one, offering their reviews of each dish. 

To summarize the details, Luo’s favorite dish ended up being the bruschetta from Team No. 2, Wang’s favorite was the zha jiang mian by Team No. 1, and Team No. 2’s sweet sticky rice with mango won Lee’s heart. (She devoured the whole plate.) Each dish was rated out of 10, and the judges gave their opinions on taste, texture and presentation. 

In the end, the totals were super close, with Saachi and Sunny earning a total of 80.5/90 points, and Emma and Kathy obtaining 79/90 points. The 1.5 point difference in win by Saachi and Sunny meant that everyone did an amazing job.
Given the limited time and budget, both teams came up with impressive dishes. And, of course, the full table of delicious food was the best part of the process. After the judges had given their shared opinions, the competition was cast aside as everyone sat down and tried each other’s dishes. Next step: Hell’s Kitchen.

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