Officials become Iron Chefs for a day

Government, health, farming, schools teams compete in Farm-City Celebration cook-off

August 12, 2007|By Jessica Dexheimer | Jessica Dexheimer,Sun reporter

The family-friendly barbecue was supposed to be a showcase of Howard County's best produce, but it had some of the county's top officials nervous.

It was the Howard County Fair's version of television's popular Iron Chef competition, but the head chefs were no professionals. Behind the grills were County Executive Ken Ulman, school Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin, Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, the county heath officer, and Tim Dowd of Circle D Farms and the Farm Bureau.

Each contestant was trying hard to outdo his competition in the third annual cook-off, which took place Thursday evening.

Each chef was allowed to assemble a team of two assistants and select from a bevy of locally grown fresh produce. Safeway provided the beef for the competition.

As the chefs waited for their meat to marinate, the crowd was entertained with food trivia, barbecue safety tips and an appearance by Laura Bradley, the recently crowned Miss Howard County Farm Bureau 2007. The contest was sponsored by organizers of the Farm-City Celebration, an annual fall event in Howard County.

Though each team had essentially the same ingredients to choose from, there was plenty of room for individuality.

The Ulman team topped a steak with a rich tomato sauce and also was the only team to prepare a dessert. The team glazed fresh peaches with a cinnamon-sugar butter sauce before grilling the fruit and topping it with chopped chocolate and nuts.

Dowd and his assistants incorporated local flavor by topping their steak with lump crab meat. Beilenson's Healthy Howard team prepared a cold marinated mozzarella salad and a nine-vegetable risotto. Cousin's team used a special marinade on the beef and prepared a vegetable salsa. Each group let audience members sample the dishes.

After an hour of preparation, the food was ready for the four judges. They deliberated, judging dishes on taste, appearance, marinade and teamwork. Audience members were urged to support favorite entries.

In the end, the Howard County school system team was declared the winner. Judges and audience members named Cousin the best chef of the evening.

Ulman and the Howard County government team came in second, followed by Dowd's Farm Bureau team and the Healthy Howard team.

"It was fun to do," Cousin said. "It was nice to win, but all the credit should go to the kids."

The "kids" who helped Cousin win were Ryan Meliker, 17, a rising senior at Centennial High School, and Daniel Adams, 18, who attends Anne Arundel Community College. Both have ranked high in culinary competitions against other students across the nation.

"It's really rewarding," said Adams, who was part of an award-winning culinary team at River Hill High School in 2004. "All the planning and hard work paid off."

Meliker said he enjoyed working with Cousin. "He's a real nice guy, really easygoing," he said. "He let us decide what to make."

Not only did the team win a year's worth of bragging rights, but the Farm-City Celebration also provided it with a basket of produce from Howard County farmers.

Thursday's cook-off was the unofficial kickoff for this fall's Farm-City Celebration, a series of family oriented events scheduled to run Sept. 25 to Oct. 6. Farm visits, fall festivals, and farmers' markets are some of the events planned for this year's celebration.

More information on the Farm-City Celebration can be found at

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