American Food Fights

by Jeanne

Cookoff_1 Every year, thousands of amateur cooks enter their masterpieces in hundreds of cooking competitions across America. In food journalist Amy Sutherland’s 2004-IACP nominated Cookoff: Recipe Fever in America, this sub-culture is avidly explored to the point where the author gets the competition bug herself.

In the world of competitive cooking there are hundreds of contests. There are cook-offs for everything from chili, barbecue, and cornbread to mustard, oysters, and mandarin oranges. According to Sutherland, “the triple crown” is the National Chicken Cooking Contest, The National Beef Cook Off and the grandma of them all, The Pillsbury Bake-off.

Cookoffs typically have commercial sponsors that require contestants to use one or more of their products. In other words they are marketing outreach effort. However, more than anything these contests reveal who we are, how we cook and how far we’ll take our hobbies. If you read enough of the recipe submissions some similarities start to appear—recipes are simple using everyday ingredients, are convenient and have a definite orientation toward the home cook.

Last year Sutherland was asked in a Salon interview what makes these contests so particularly American.  She replied, "We think of competition as a good thing and also a very democratic way to test yourself, to prove yourself by your own wit."  She later added, "It also encourages our faith in the ordinary man or in this case, the ordinary cook.  They affirm our general faith that an everyday person can be just as creative as an expert."

The National Chicken Contest was first held in 1949 and is sponsored by the National Chicken Council and the U.S. Poultry and & Egg Association. according to the official website, the objective of the competition is in “uncovering new trends in chicken cookery and encouraging the development of new recipes for chicken.”

Held ever other year the rules for the competition require the use of chicken in any form—whole, part, ground; the recipe must be original and take no longer than 1 ½ hours to prepare.

The most recent chicken champ in 2003, Kristine Snyder, of Hawaii won $25,000 for her Pacific Rim Chicken Burgers with ginger mayonnaise. The Maui resident and wedding harpist by day was also a finalist at the 2000 Pillsbury competition, and was the winner in the 2003 One-Dish category at the National Beef Cook Off.

Chicken is an incredibly adaptable and easy dinner. It can get dull quick. The competition submissions are varied and include, Moroccan Chicken and Squash Tagine, Maple-Encrusted Chicken with Creamy Nectarine-Brandy Sauce, Chicken Tikka Strips with Ginger Plum Sauce and Honey Mango Relish and Pulled Jerk Chicken Thighs on Sweet Potato Pancake Stacks. Every two years finalist recipes are collected into The Chicken Cookbook, and is published and sold for a mere $2.95 postage paid.

Pacific Rim Chicken Burgers with Ginger Mayonnaise

2003 First Place Winning Recipe, 45th National Chicken Cooking Contest

Kristine Snyder, Kihel, HI

Serves 4

1 1/4 pounds ground chicken

2/3 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)

1 egg, lightly beaten

2 green onions, thinly sliced

3 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon Asian hot chili sauce

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1/2 cup bottled teriyaki glaze

4 teaspoons honey

4 sesame buns, split and toasted

4 leaves red lettuce

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, halved and thinly sliced lengthwise

Ginger Mayonnaise

Cilantro sprigs

In large bowl, mix together chicken, panko, egg, onions, cilantro, garlic, chili sauce and salt. With oiled hands, form into 4 patties. In small bowl, mix together teriyaki glaze and honey.

In large nonstick pan over medium high heat, place oil. Add chicken and cook, turning and brushing with teriyaki glaze, about 10 minutes or until done.

Place burgers on toasted buns and top with lettuce, cucumber and Ginger Mayonnaise. Garnish with additional cilantro and cucumber slices. Makes 4 servings.

Ginger Mayonnaise: In small bowl, mix together 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 2 teaspoons sweet pickle relish, 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger, 2 teaspoons lime juice, 1 clove garlic (minced) and 1/4 teaspoon salt.