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The kitchen reality TV hit series “Chopped” has aired on cable’s Food Network since 2009 and the show loves to toss around surprise ingredients for frazzled gourmets to have to incorporate into dreamed-up creative recipes, as a time clock ticks away the minutes. Sardines, ice cream and watermelon are just a few of the favorite “ingredient zingers” producers have added to contestants’ pantry lists for mandatory use to incorporate into dishes.
Registered Dietitian Michele Murphy Wise, vice president for nutrition services and community education at Pines Village Retirement Communities in Valparaiso, is a fan of “Chopped,” and so, she decided to design her own afternoon re-creation of the show for 75 minutes of food and fun entertainment for residents at the property.
Last Thursday, June 24, I donated my time and talents, not as a contestant, but to assist with emcee and hosting duties with Pines Village’s new CEO Martin Sonnenberg.
The culinary contest event called “Sliced” featured Chef Francesco D’Agostino, who has been executive chef at Pines Village Retirement Communities since 2019, challenging the kitchen talents of James Fares, who works for Gordon Food Services specializing in healthcare property food sales, and also the recipe know-how of former CEO of The Caring Place Mary Beth Schultz, the 2006 national finalist for the Pillsbury Bake-Off.
The trio had 75 minutes to whip together a complete plated meal of their own design with each required to use all the same ingredients provided in small wooden crates packed with their ingredient staples, including assorted fresh chicken on the bone, broccolini, diced cauliflower, rounds of pizza crust dough, fresh apricot halves and vegetarian sliced Italian sausage. The “surprise” oddity ingredient was a bag of fresh popped Orville Redenbacher Popcorn, in salute to Valparaiso’s annual Popcorn Festival and the kernel king claim-to-fame associated with Indiana.
While contestants could opt to eliminate ONE ingredient from their crate to NOT include in their dish, all were required to work in the popcorn as a mandatory ingredient. Each of the contestants also had access to a “shared pantry work area” of assorted other items such as fresh produce, from dried cherries, peppers, berries and tomatoes, to shelf stable key ingredients like butter, oil, vinegar, various spices and interesting options like Smucker’s apricot preserves.
The longtime TV host of “Chopped” is Indiana’s own Ted Allen, 56, who graduated from Carmel High School and earned his degree from Purdue University in 1987 before moving to Chicago for his journalism and broadcasting career. Throughout the many seasons and aired episodes, “Chopped” has had a rotating cast of regular judges, with Martha Stewart and Chef Marcus Samuelsson most often side-be-side, joined by various culinary luminaries on the judging panel such as food journalist Mark Bittman, and chefs Rocco DiSpirto, Bobby Flay and Stephanie Izard, among others.
For the “Sliced” Valparaiso variation, the celebrity judging panel consisted of Pines Community residents Eleanor Hawkins and Lila Cohen, joined by Pines staff member Regina Lewis.
Dodging a few raindrops, eager-to-be-entertained residents gathered in a seating area under tents to watch the afternoon action unfold, and eventually applauded when Schultz was crowned as the winner with her whipped-together jerk chicken with mushroom and vegetarian Italian sausage alfredo sauce served on a bead of cauliflower mash with grilled broccolini and a light side salad with apricot dressing paired with focaccia bread (made from the pizza crust dough) with a cheesy popcorn garnish.
“I liked Mary Beth’s best because I could chew her chicken, even though I’m missing teeth,” said resident-turned-event judge Eleanor Hawkins.
Columnist Philip Potempa has published four cookbooks and is the director of marketing at Theatre at the Center. He can be reached at email@example.com or mail your questions: From the Farm, P.O. Box 68, San Pierre, IN 46374.
Mary Beth’s “Sliced” Vegetarian Italian Sausage and Mushroom Alfredo Sauce
1 pound fresh sliced mushrooms
1/8 pound vegetarian Italian sausage, cut into small pieces
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
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1. In a medium sauté pan, add 1 pound button mushrooms seasoned with salt and pepper and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Cook until soft and tender.
2. Add 1/8 pound ground vegetarian Italian sausage and toss with mushrooms until coated and well combined and set aside.
3. To make the cream sauce, add 1/4 cup butter to a small sauce pan and melt over medium heat. Add 1 cup Parmesan cheese to the pan along with 1/2 cup light cream or crème fraiche and cook, stirring until blended and smooth.
4. Add cream mixture to the mushroom mixture. Serve over cooked chicken or buttered noodles if desired.