Chef Aaron McMahon is interviewed by fellow chef Robert Lewis as he shaves lemon rind for his competitive dish Aug. 2 in Bettendorf. Mr. McMahon, executive chef at the Outing Club, went head-to-head with Faithful Pilot chef Robert Cook at the Trinity Farmers Market Iron Chef Showdown. Both chefs were given the surprise ingredient of conch to use in their dishes. More photos from this shoot
Faithful Pilot chef Robert Cook at the Trinity Farmers Market Iron Chef Showdown. Both chefs were given the surprise ingredient of conch to use in their dishes.
It began in July. Two by two, area chefs arrived at the Trinity Farmers' Market in Bettendorf on Monday afternoons to throw down in the Home Grown Iron Chef competition sponsored by Scott Community College.
The chefs -- Rory Bancroft of Aramark at i wireless; Matt Mulder of Amber Ridge/Arbor Village Clubhouse; Aman Razdan of Red Crow Grille; Sean Dittmer of Oakwood Country Club; Brandon Zawada of Aramark at John Deere World Headquarters; Dustin Head of Biaggi's Ristorante Italiano; Robert Cook of the Faithful Pilot, and Aaron McMahon of the Outing Club -- had come to compete.
But really, said Scott's Lysa Hegland, they began lining up for the competition immediately after the end of last year's Home Grown Iron Chef. "We had a dozen chefs calling us, asking how they could participate."
To compete, the chefs had to agree not only to abide by the rules of the competition, but to provide a dish for spectators to sample. They also had to contribute a raffle item to the Scott Community College fundraising effort.
As for the rules, the chefs were allowed to bring their own cooking equipment. But the food they were to prepare? That was a mystery. The chefs would have to use whatever protein was provided to them by Home Grown Iron Chef organizers. The vegetables and herbs would be what was fresh at the market that week, donated by the vendors.
In fact, event organizers were so intent on preserving the mystery of the meat the chefs would have to prepare that employees at Great Midwest Seafood Company and Johnnie's Market, where the meat for the competition was purchased, were sworn to secrecy.
After the meat of the week was revealed, the chefs had one hour to prepare three dishes, though ultimately only one could be submitted for judging.
Over four weeks, the chefs were faced with squab, with emu, with elk and with conch.
They were also faced with crowds who watched every flick of the knife and sizzle of the saute pan. Market-goers filled three rows of folding chairs lined in front of the chefs' work station. When those filled up, spectators set up their own folding chairs.
"It is very energizing to sit right up where the chefs are at and watch them at work," said Ms. Hegland. "In a lot of ways, these spectators at the market have gotten a taste of what it will be like to sit in the 'hot seats' at the final competition."
And now? Four of the chefs have been eliminated from the competition. Four remain: Chefs Bancroft, Razdan, Zawanda and McMahon.
They will face off in the final showdown from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. this Sunday, Aug. 15, at the Isle Center of the Isle of Capri, Bettendorf. One of them will be named Home Grown Iron Chef 2010.
For those wishing to attend the final showdown, tickets are available for $25, $40 and $50. The highest-price tickets secure a "hot seat" location closest to the chefs.
Two local judges will be joined by visiting chef Paul Virant to determine the winner of the final showdown. Mr. Virant is executive chef and owner of Vie Restaurant in Western Springs, Ill., recently rated as one of the top 40 restaurants in the United States.
Chef Virant is no stranger to high-intensity cooking competitions. In fact, he was himself a contestant last year on the television show Iron Chef America.
In addition to judging the dishes prepared by the final four Home Grown Iron Chef contestants, Chef Virant will offer a cooking demonstration at the showdown. Students from the Scott Community College culinary-arts program will work with him to prepare a caramel mousse with candied almonds and fresh market vegetables ahead of the event. Attendees of the final showdown will have a chance to enjoy the dish.
Those who attend will have a rare treat, Ms. Hegland said. "We will have food you wouldn't be able to try except at an exquisite restaurant."
In addition to sampling Chef Virant's mousse, watching the competition and taking in the cooking demonstration, attendees of the final showdown will be able to participate in raffles and bid on items in a silent auction.
All proceeds from the Home Grown Iron Chef competition support Scott Community College programs and scholarships. For more information or to reserve a spot at the final showdown, call (563) 441-4063.