2012 Ronald McDonald House Iron Chef Challenge Recap

By Candace Nelson - 8:00 AM

This past Sunday was finally the Iron Chef challenge at the Ronald McDonald House. I've been building this event up for quite some time mostly because I'm excited, but also because I was a celebrity judge. Honestly, this had me really nervous because I'm just a college kid giving my (sometimes unwanted) opinion on area restaurants. Was I qualified? In their eyes, yes. One day, I received an email from MaChal Forbes asking if I would be interested in being a celebrity judge for this event, I said yes, and here we are.

The challenge began at 2 p.m. I arrived around 1:15 p.m. to get situated. I hadn't met anyone, and I wanted to make sure I was in the right spot. I arrived just fine. Steve De Jesus, executive director and CEO of Morgantown's Ronald McDonald House Charities as well as another judge, gave me a tour of the house as soon as I got in. The other judges were Nikki Bowman, editor of WV Living Magazine, WV Weddings, and Morgantown Magazine; Cheryl Jones, director of WVU Children's hospital and  Jeff Hostetler, a former WVU football player and NFL quarterback.

The Ronald McDonald House is a wonderful charity. When children have an injury or illness, the families can come stay at this house. Since the house is just across the parking lot from the hospital, it's a convenient place for families to get some rest (they have 16 bedrooms), have a meal (two kitchen areas), and just relax. For families that aren't staying long term, they have day guest services so they can have a shower, get a meal and rest. They're usually always full, I believe at 99.5% capacity. That's pretty full. So the money from the purchased tickets went back to the charity. In fact, they sold about 55 tickets, when they originally only set aside 30. This was a great way to get the community involved and be able to see the great things the charity offers.

That kitchen, though, made a perfect set for an Iron Chef competition. They were able to face off. The judges table was at the very front, and the audience was behind us. The chefs had 45 minutes to create a dish of their choice - both said that these dishes in particular are specialties. Chef McDonald of Stefano's created a shrimp and grits meal, while Chef Bruner from the Waterfront created a surf and turf dish. They didn't have a surprise ingredient thrown in. Maybe next year! They began cooking, and the moderator, Lauren Saffron, a RMHC board member, entertained the audience. She asked the cooks various questions while they were preparing. She asked us judges a few questions, and we were able to hear more about what the charity does. The chefs weren't really sweating until the very end. Chef McDonald barely finished on time.

But we were served with two delicious plates. Chef McDonald has prepared his version of shrimp and grits. He made a brie & smoked cheddar polenta (essentially Italian grits/cornmeal), topped with a roasted pepper cream sauce, with a large shrimp on top and a locally produce Italian sausage on the side. This is a dish he plans to offer in the summer at Stefano's. This dish was superb! The grits were the perfect texture, the sauce was creamy, and the shrimp was large and fresh.

Che Bruner's surf and turf had some more elements. He plated a seared filet and scallop over top of a sweet corn puree, with a wild mushroom hash and a port wine reduction. This dish, too, was fantastic. perfectly. The filet was a perfect medium-rare, the corn puree was deliciously sweet and complemented the other flavors, and the scallop was perfectly cooked.

We judged based on taste (10 points), presentation (5 points), and originality (5 points). Both were fantastic, but I gave Chef McDonald one point more than Chef Bruner simply because the wine and corn together were a little too sweet at times. But really, it was so fantastic. Chef McDonald won overall and was awarded a RMHC chef's jacket. The audience was also able to get samples of the meal, and they can vote for their favorite. The winner will be announced via the RMHC's twitter and Facebook pages.

I had an amazing time judging and mingling with the audience about their favorite dishes. I talked with one family who has a daughter with a blog. It's really interesting to see how this fun hobby has turned into this. The RMHC was so kind to give us mugs just for being judges. I can't wait to see what else they have planned, since this competition went so well!

Did anyone else go to the competition? I'd love to hear some others' feedback about the event.

To donate to the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Morgantown, click here.

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