DALLAS TWP. — Looking much like a chef in a white chef’s hat and coat, Margie O’Bell spread the chopped garlic in the melted butter in the sauté pan.
Working over the portable stove in the kitchen of The Meadows Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, she added kale and stirred it around as, nearby, cook supervisor Christine Reed stirred tomato concassé, tomatoes that were peeled, seeded and roughly chopped. She was making the base for her homemade fettuccine, which, with the sautéed kale, would be side dishes for the roasted pork loin.
O’Bell, 66, an independent-living resident at The Meadows, and Reed worked well together, but this was only a demonstration, a practice session, of sorts. The two will compete on opposite teams in the center’s first “Iron-Style” Chefs Challenge this afternoon.
The competition is based on the Food Network’s “Iron Chef” show. Each team of chefs and residents will have 90 minutes to prepare a plated appetizer and a main entrée using a secret ingredient that will be revealed at the beginning of the 2:30 p.m. show, which is free and open to the public.
“The secret ingredient will be announced that day,” Arnie Black, The Meadows’ director of dining services, said during the demonstration last week.
He said the mystery ingredient would be kale, 72 percent dark chocolate or pomegranate. Rebecca Sims, dietitian at The Meadows, said kale is known as a powerhouse of nutrition, with beta-carotene, antioxidants, potassium, twice the daily recommended intake of vitamin A, a day’s worth of vitamin C and almost seven times the recommended amount of vitamin K, plus fiber, iron and calcium.
With the competition, the residents also are helping to celebrate National Nursing Home Week’s 2014 focus on team building by competing with the chefs from Cura Hospitality, which operates the dining service at the facility. Grace Zarnas-Hoyer, spokeswoman for Eat’n Park Hospitality Group, Cura’s parent company, said the competition also demonstrates Cura’s commitment to nourishing the bodies and spirits of its seniors.
Participants also can bring one secret ingredient and one tool, Black said. He pointed out Reed’s pasta machine and said she would bring that.
Sims said Cura has done chef challenges at other facilities.
“This is the first time here,” she said, noting some initial hesitancy among the staff.
But then interest grew among staff and residents.
“We had so many who wanted to (participate), we had to draw names,” Sims said.
A panel of judges — WBRE and WYOU news reporter and anchor Brittany Sweeney, Paul Reinert, principal of Wycallis Elementary School in the Dallas School District, David Pembleton, a certified executive chef and culinary educator with Luzerne County Community College, and special resident judge Phyllis Blockus — will judge the two teams’ appetizers and entrées.
“If there is a tie, they have to do a dessert,” Sims said.
The residents of The Meadows, which includes a nursing home, assisted living and independent living, will get to enjoy the winning dish as an alternative to one of their meals, she added.
O’Bell is looking forward to the competition. The Buffalo, New York, native and graduate of The Cleveland Institute of Art loves to draw and paint landscapes, but she also loves to cook, especially fresh vegetables.
“I’ll steam the cauliflower and the broccoli, then I’ll throw some cheese on them,” she said.
Black said a stage would be set up in the therapy room to accommodate the steel chef’s table, portable stoves and display of fruits and vegetables. He said the contestants would work with the portable burners, but an oven would be available and he’ll have a grill outside in case either is needed.
The teams for the competition are:
Team Armadillos — Josh Ford, a dietary aide and prep cook; Derrick Ellard, cook supervisor; Margie O’Bell, special resident chef; and Leon Anton, special guest executive chef from Peter Becker Community in Harleysville.
Team Chris Squared —Christine Reed, cook supervisor; Christine Simon, day cook; Irene Mike, special resident chef, and Eileen Goos, special guest chef and director of dining services from Phoebe Richland, Richlandtown.