Helena gets cooking with Iron Chef contest

Published 4:48 pm Monday, August 17, 2009

Even though the morning sun beat down on the Boy Scouts at the Helena Farmers Market, the boys rushed around, frying up sausages, seasoning tortilla soup and baking fresh peach cobbler.

On Aug. 15, market organizers hosted the first Helena Farmers Market Iron Chef competition. Competitors came from Boy Scout Troops 2 and 532.

The troops didn’t know what ingredients would be available beforehand; they were given ground beef and sausage, plus $15 to buy whatever fresh produce they wanted from the farmers market. They could also purchase or bring more ingredients.

Troop 532 Scoutmaster Louis Vildibill said the troops were willing to rise to the challenge.

“Cooking’s a big thing in Scouting. Usually the meals turn out pretty good,” he said. “On the Food Network, they have the Iron Chef, so we thought, ‘This will be fun.’ They can do it there, we can do it here.”

Contest organizer Mary Perko said the idea was an innovative way to bring people to the farmers market.

“People tend to think the farmers market is kind of highbrow. I want to show people the farmers market is for everybody,” she said. “How do you draw attention? How do you get people to come here? That’s the question.”

As the contest neared its close, the frenzy began. Scouts rushed everywhere, plating the food and making last-minute preparations. Troop 532 prepared tortilla soup, roasted corn on the cob and peach cobbler, while Troop 2 prepared a stir-fry of sausage, bacon and veggies, pasta with a mushroom sauce and peach cobbler.

Organizers had called in some local food elite to be judges, including Little Savannah restaurant owners Maureen and Clifton Holt, The Birmingham News food writer Bob Carlton, Jason Roland of Something Different Catering and Etricia Williams of 122 Tree Lane.

After the judges sampled the meals, they offered up compliments to the chefs.

“I’m a big fan of tortilla soup, and I think you did it just right,” said Clifton Holt to Troop 532.

“I really liked the stir-fry. The stir-fry was really good, and I liked how you used the sausage,” Roland said to the members of Troop 2.

Troop 2 ended up winning the contest by nine points, taking home the Iron Chef cast-iron pan that doubled as a trophy.

For next year’s contest, the boys will battle an even greater foe: the Girl Scouts.