A taste of success

Chefs from five Wes­ley En­hanced Liv­ing fa­cil­it­ies com­peted for top hon­ors last month in a ba­con-themed cook-off.  

  • Smells like bacon: Residents wait to sample the food, all of which was bacon-themed. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

  • Smells like bacon: AJoaquin “Wok” Suarez hosts a chef competition at Wesley Enhanced Living’s Pennypack facility on Roosevelt Boulevard on July 23. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

  • Smells like bacon: Bacon-flavored vodka was used in martinis and Bloody Marys. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

  • A savory scene: Chefs from the Wesley retirement facilities in Germantown prepare their bacon creations. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

  • A savory scene: Above, chefs Ron Tommassello (left) and William Evans (right) grill bacon during the chef competition at Wesley Enhanced Living. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

There were flam­ing pans, en­thu­si­ast­ic fans and enough but­ter to raise Ju­lia Child from the dead. In a large room at Wes­ley En­hanced Liv­ing’s Pennypack fa­cil­ity on Roosevelt Boulevard, mas­ter chefs from five Wes­ley fa­cil­it­ies last month com­peted for top hon­ors.

There also was ba­con galore — sliced, slabbed and smoked. The sound of it crack­ling and the aroma of it fry­ing filled the air. Ba­con syr­up and ba­con-flavored vodka were used to pre­pare three-course meals for judges to chew on as they rated the dishes pre­pared by Wes­ley’s own chefs.

Teams from Wes­ley re­tire­ment fa­cil­it­ies in Burholme, Pennypack, Ger­man­town, Up­per Mo­re­land and Doylestown gathered Ju­ly 23 to “iron” out whose kit­chen mas­ters were the best and most in­vent­ive. Res­id­ents of all the fa­cil­it­ies were there to wave their col­ors and cheer on their teams while they munched on snacks those same teams had pre­pared for them. 

Food was rated on a point sys­tem, with 30 the max­im­um score each team could re­ceive.

The judges — COO Ken Fra­niak, Pennypack hu­man re­sources man­ager Ren­ee Alexy and Lucy Azzo­lini, a chef from Wes­ley’s Po­conos fa­cil­ity — gave the Doylestown fa­cil­ity top Iron Chef: WEL hon­ors in Wes­ley’s third an­nu­al con­test. Up­per Mo­re­land and Ger­man­town showed and placed. 

Des­pite their well-presen­ted dishes that in­cluded spin­ach-stuffed and ba­con wrapped chick­en and seared scal­lops, the two North­east home teams — Burholme and Pennypack Park — got skunked.

The Up­per Mo­re­land team, dressed all in red, by ac­clam­a­tion won the “People’s Choice” award for the del­ic­acies its mem­bers pre­pared for the crowd. 

That didn’t sur­prise any­one. Up­per Mo­re­land’s stoked par­tis­ans came with their own signs to wave in front of the judges, and they were ready to make some noise when asked to ap­plaud for their team.

Wes­ley res­id­ents iden­ti­fied their teams’ ed­ibles by the dishes — they were col­or-coded. Up­per Mo­re­land’s red was the most vis­ible. The team’s en­tour­age used the col­or to make the event in­to a kind of Let’s Make a Deal meets Iron Chef. Two of the team’s serv­ers were dressed in red tights and red cow­girl hats; one was dressed as a bottle of ketch­up; an­oth­er was a red cray­on.

After all, it was touted as a fun event, said Joa­quin “Wok” Suarez, Wes­ley’s head chef, who em­ceed the com­pet­i­tion in a bal­loon-fes­tooned party at­mo­sphere. It was just that for the en­thu­si­ast­ic on­look­ers, but five three-per­son teams were vy­ing for brag­ging rights, too, so, for them, the com­pet­i­tion was ser­i­ous. The people who were pre­par­ing the food worked furi­ously dur­ing the hour each was al­lot­ted to come up with ap­pet­izers, en­trees and desserts. The only re­quire­ment was ba­con had to be an in­gredi­ent in each course.

Doylestown’s win­ning Iron Chef menu was a shrimp and ba­con sushi ap­pet­izer fol­lowed by a 12-ounce pork chop on a bed of ba­con and car­a­mel­ized onion com­pote and fin­ished off with a dessert of a ba­con-chocol­ate chip waffle that was topped with can­died ba­con and car­a­mel sauce.

Two teams in­cluded the ba­con-flavored vodka in their of­fer­ings — in mar­tinis (Ger­man­town) and Bloody Marys (Up­per Mo­re­land).

Noth­ing like keep­ing the judges happy, though Wok put the strategy plainly: “They’re try­ing to get them drunk.”

Every year, there is that one in­gredi­ent that has to be in every dish. The first year, it was cof­fee; the second year, it was figs.

But why ba­con this year? 

“I love ba­con!” Suarez de­clared. ••

Ba­con, ba­con, ba­con

Wes­ley En­hanced Liv­ing’s Doylestown fa­cil­ity’s team of chefs on Ju­ly 23 beat teams from the com­pany’s four oth­er com­munit­ies to win the third an­nu­al in-house Iron Chef con­test. Every dish had to con­tain ba­con. Here are the de­tails of Doylestown’s win­ning menu:

Shrimp and ba­con sushi ap­pet­izer

Sushi rice layered with a seared slab of ap­ple­wood smoked ba­con, and a smoked ba­con and roas­ted to­mato jam, topped with a but­ter­flied shrimp and drizzled with a brown sug­ar soy re­duc­tion.

Twelve-ounce bone-in French-cut pork chop en­tree

The chop was seasoned with garden-fresh herbs, and grilled and pan-seared with ba­con fat. It was served on a bed of a ba­con and car­a­mel­ized onion com­pote and topped with a bour­bon apple. The meat was paired with smoky ba­con potato hash and spin­ach that was saut&ea­cute;ed in rendered ba­con fat.

Ba­con-chocol­ate chip waffle dessert

The fresh-made waffle was topped with can­died ba­con and homemade car­a­mel sauce and ac­cen­ted with fresh hand-whipped maple-ba­con whipped cream.

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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