“Who takes it? Whose cuisine reigns supreme?” I know many libraries all over the country have done variations of Iron Chef at their library. It’s a fantastic program that can really draw a crowd. Plus, it involves food and anything involving teens and food is almost sure to be a hit. The first time I did Teen Iron Chef, I was a Teen Librarian at Cape May County’s main branch in Cape May Court House, NJ. We had about 15 teens in teams of three register in the battle of the Twinkies. The only problem? My library had a tiny tiny kitchen.
Down in the basement was a kitchen for staff use, with a microwave and stove, but there was no way I was going to be able to fit 15 teens in there, even on a rotation. So, I made the decision to make Teen Iron Chef more of a mash up of the Iron Chef you see on TV and Chopped. The big difference? No oven, no microwave, just creativity and what they have in front of them. We kept the secret ingredient that was reviled the day of the competition and a table of other ingredients that teams could use to create dishes. Each team of three had 1 hour to create 3 identical dishes for the judges to taste. Bonus, it allowed teens with various experiences to compete and they had to think outside the box to come up with what they were going to create.
The first summer it was Twinkies, the next summer was pretzels, and the third summer it was Oreos. Each dish was judged on creativity (5 points), platting (5 points), and taste (10 points). Judges were given score sheets to mark down their points and allowed to talk to the teams about their dish. Teams also had to describe their dish and their inspiration to the judges. The program fared well every summer, but I worried that without any actual cooking, teens weren’t going to want to come. However, participants seemed to love it!
My budget was $150 and this included prizes. Prizes varied every year but always had a cookbook and the secret ingredient to take home. As far as supplies, I highly recommend getting disposable aprons, more disposable gloves than you think you’ll need, and paper chef hats (because they look super awesome and it makes teens feel official!).
As far as the judges, I was able to convince staff members to open their palette and stomachs with the promise of copious amounts of Tums. Our library also had a contract with a local chef who taught cooking classes for adults and I was able to talk him into being our third judge.
This past winter, I tried Iron Chef again but this time at my new library. We have a very small kitchen next to our auditorium where we hold our large programs but navigating into that kitchen would still be difficult so I used the same style as I did in New Jersey. Bonus though, I was able to have two local chefs and a student in culinary school come be our judges. All three were super excited to be a part of the program but one chef wants to help me take it to the next level this year. Hopefully (if I can get it approved) we’ll have blenders, microwaves, maybe even a toaster oven to make Teen Iron Chef amazing.
We want to hear from you! Have you ever run a Teen Iron Chef program? What have your secret ingredients been? Any major success or major fails? Let us know in the comments! “Allez cuisine!”
Recommendations for Teen Iron Chef:
- Tons of disposable gloves
- Large garbage cans
- Plenty of Clorox wipes for cleaning up
- Registration for the event
- Set up for an audience (the one teen program you can let parents in to watch!)
- A microphone or voice amplifier to give commentary and to give to teens when describing their dish
- Paper Chef Hats
- “An open heart and an empty stomach.”