John Galati, in chef whites and a tall, white hat, kneaded a ball of ravioli dough Saturday afternoon in Purdue Memorial Union.
The smell of basil and tomatoes wafted throughout the ballrooms, where a crowd was gathering to watch Galati, a Purdue University senior, and the rest of Team Spice Boys compete in the Boiler Culinary Throwdown, an annual cooking challenge.
Behind him, teammates worked on their mise en place— squeezing lemons, chopping carrots and prepping the rest of the ingredients that the Spice Boys would need to make an appetizer, entrée and dessert in a matter of 90 minutes.
Professional chefs and instructors would judge them.
“From what I've tasted, they've got a really good chance of winning,” said Robby Parish, a friend who came to cheer for Galati and the Spice Boys. “They've been practicing what they're cooking now for weeks. They're pretty prepared for this.”
The Boiler Culinary Throwdown, hosted Saturday by Purdue Student Union Board and open to the public, was an opportunity for students to enhance their cooking chops and celebrate the culinary craft. The event also served as a food drive for Food Finders Food Bank.
The students were judged on presentation, appearance, taste, technique, teamwork and originality.
Of course, like any “Iron Chef”-inspired competition, the teams were graded on the effective use of a secret ingredient. Saturday's was molasses, which was worked into some recipes as a glaze and starred in others as a main flavor.
“There is definitely a lot of talent from the students who are showing their cooking skills here today,” said Leanne Chen, who heads up fine arts planning for the Purdue Student Union Board. “It's really incredible to see how talented they are in cooking, even though it might not necessarily be part of their major.”
The event featured Katie Payne, a Sullivan University's National Center for Hospitality Studies chef instructor, who gave a presentation after the competition. Payne is known for her Southern flair.