Orange community leaders get ‘Chopped’ in the kitchen

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ORANGE, NJ — The popular saying ‘The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach’ rang true on June 9 when three Orange community leaders competed in the culinary cooking challenge “Chopped Style” during Orange Week 2021. Held at Orange High School and sponsored by Chartwells school dining services, the virtual cooking competition saw Superintendent of Schools Gerald Fitzhugh II, Orange High School Principal Jason Belton and Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren face off against one another.

Judging their dishes were Chartwells chef Gaetano Mastrangelo, Food Network’s two-time “Chopped” champion chef Darius Peacock, and SNAP Education nutritionist and educator Candace Carter. The competitors each had to make three plates of food — one for each judge.

“We have two mystery baskets for our contestants to use all the ingredients that are in each basket,” event host and OHS Assistant Principal Anthony Frantantoni said. “Our first round will be an entree round. Contestants will have 45 minutes — five minutes to plan and 40 minutes to come up with a meal using all of the ingredients that are found in their basket. After a short intermission, we’ll get into our dessert round, which will be 35 minutes — five minutes for planning and 30 minutes for cooking. Based on the contestants’ abilities, our judges will rate and score. Then, we will find out who will be chopped.”

Each contestant was paired with a student chef: Warren with Elijah Harris, Fitzhugh with Melissa Augustin and Belton with Soigne Messiah. Each group was first given a mystery basket containing chicken breast, zucchini, squash, quinoa and rice; all ingredients had to be used, except contestants could choose either quinoa or rice. In addition to the ingredients found in the baskets, other ingredients that were available included fresh vegetables, mushrooms, onions, butter, condiments, spices, chicken stock, flour and more.

Beginning with the entree round and commenting on the Belton team’s dish of chicken, rice and vegetables, Peacock was impressed.

“The rice and the chicken were very well seasoned,” Peacock said. “The vegetables were actually really good. I’m really impressed with what they’ve done.”

Next up was Fitzhugh’s team, which served a dish consisting of fried chicken breast, spinach and a vegetable medley of tomatoes, mushrooms, onions and peppers on a bed of rice.

“I like the vegetable medley. It’s not too soggy, and it’s just right,” Carter said.

Causing a stir with their entree, Warren’s team served the judges multiple plates of food — salad and a main course of rice, chicken, zucchini, onions and peppers. All three judges commented about how flavorful their dish was.

Kicking off the dessert round, Warren’s team made puff pastries filled with strawberry, yogurt, blueberry and cream cheese. All judges commented on how spot-on and balanced this dish was, and Peacock took the time to tell students to appreciate this event.

“People take this competition for granted,” Peacock said. “You have three black men in this kitchen cooking for you guys. I wish I had this when I was in high school.”

Fitzhugh’s team made mouths water with their dessert as they presented platters of strawberries, yogurt and stuffed pastries, together with guava paste. The judges complimented the team for using the guava paste as a dipping sauce.

Belton’s team ended the round with decorated pastries filled with chocolate chips, blueberries and strawberries, accompanied by a freshly made strawberry jam. The judges loved everything about the dish and spoke of how well everything went together.

The judges applauded each team, commenting that love was clearly present in each dish. Warren and Harris won the entree round, and Belton and Messiah won the dessert round.

The overall winners, with a combined score of the entree and dessert rounds, were Belton and Messiah. The participating students were each awarded a complete cookware set, donated by Chartwells.

Photos Courtesy of Orange Public School District