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UCI Illuminations Hosts “UCI Chopped”

UCI Illuminations held their own virtual version of the Food Network original, “Chopped,” on Nov. 17. 

During the event, participants’ dishes were displayed anonymously and were judged live based on presentation, creativity and perceived taste. Each category had a maximum of five points possible, adding to a total of 15 points possible. 

Faculty Advisor for the International Student Excellence Programs Dr. Yong Chen, Director of Culinary Education Jessica VanRoo and Program Coordinator for the International Peer Group Scholars Stefani Tran starred as the three judges of the contest. Counselor and Coordinator for the International Student Excellence Programs Sei Lee moderated the event.

Participants consisted of staff, faculty and students. Once registered, participants were given the list of the four ingredients that must be included in the dish. They were given five days to create a dish and were told to take three photos of the dish. 

The four key ingredients chosen by judge VanRoo and moderator Lee were scallions, cinnamon, tofu and pasta. 

“Scallions have a mild taste and are easier to prepare. Cinnamon is a diverse spice and I have a strong sweet tooth and I love when it’s in baked goods so I’m excited to see what combinations they can come up with these ingredients,” Tran said. 

Judge Chen also spoke on his personal connection with the ingredients.

“I grew up with tofu and it is used in many cultures and dishes. These ingredients encompass a lot of global connections. I am interested to see how the participants can integrate all of these ingredients,” Chen said. 

Out of 23 total submissions, three winners were chosen, one from faculty, staff and students. Each winner was awarded a $75 gift certificate. 

Staff member Adeeva Myers, who is a counselor and coordinator in the Department of Student Success Initiative, won with her cinnamon spice tofu tacos with a side of Mexican street corn pasta salad.

“I’m native to Los Angeles so tacos are my thing,” Myres said. 

“I wasn’t expecting tacos, but those look really good!” Tran said when judging Myres’ dish.

Faculty member Jonathan Alexander, who is a professor of English, Education, and Gender & Sexuality studies, won with his cinnamon dusted tofu in a peanut sauce with scallions. 

“The thing that came to mind was a peanut sauce that peanut and cinnamon might actually go well together and I love Thai food. I realized I had some edamame pasta so I could make a modified peanut-y Pad Thai dish,” Alexander said in an interview with UCI Illuminations. 

“I would most definitely order that at a restaurant,” judge Tran said while judging Alexander’s dish.

Biomedical engineering graduate student Salla Kim won with her pasta in a dairy free tofu “ricotta.” 

“I wanted to do something a little bit different with the tofu. I know you can fry it, but I was thinking more on the lines of putting it into a sauce or in my case I made a sort of ricotta with the tofu,” Kim said in an interview with UCI Illuminations. 

“That egg looks so good!” judge VanRoo said while judging Kim’s dish.

The event lasted about an hour and was a success with a turnout of over 50 people.  

“This was an amazing event. The audience was loving it. I’m really excited that we had it live and hopefully we can do it next quarter as well,” Director of UCI Illuminations Julia Lupton said. 

Ashley Shah is a Campus News Intern for the Fall 2020 Quarter. She can be reached at