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 sautéed 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.