The annual Atria Corn Cook-off, in honor of National Culinary Arts month in July. (By Diego Cagara/ Spotlight News)
By DIEGO CAGARA
DELMAR — If one thinks that cooking showdowns have become corny, this is at least one case in which that could be considered a good thing.
Corn was the one required ingredient in a cooking competition that pitted four teams of two against one another at Atria Senior Living at Delmar Place. Starting at 2 p.m. on July 20, the scorching weather of that Thursday afternoon certainly intensified the cook-off, held on the driveway of the property. A chef from each Capital District Atria community—Crossgates, Guilderland, Delmar Place and Shaker—represented one half of each team, making it a friendly and local competition.
After 40 minutes during which each team prepared their dish, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan arrived to announce the winning team: Atria Shaker Chef Shane Perry and Albany firefighter Francisco Almonte. They created a hummus-like falafel kebab and served petite taste samples to the crowd (mainly Atria Senior Living residents).
Ana-Alysse Russo, an Atria Delmar Place chef, and Gerald Young, a Bethlehem police detective, made up the second team and crafted a scrumptious dish of sautéed shrimp in curry sauce served over risotto and corn chowder. Its Eastern-inspired taste made a visible impression on the audience.
The third team consisted of Steve Barnes, a restaurant critic from the Times Union, and Atria Crossgate Chef Kevin Hitchcock. Together, they fashioned a chicken, sausage and vegetable skewer with rosemary stems, corn, tomatoes, onions, avocado and relish underneath, making for an enriching multi-layered flavor experience.
The fourth and last team was Atria Guilderland Chef David Peralta and Lt. Anthony Geraci of the Albany Police Department. They created stuffed chicken breast with peppers, mushroom, basil, garlic and cheese as well as couscous with corn, chives and rosemary tomatoes.
“They’re torturing us,” quipped one of the audience members who
anxiously watched as the teams were still making their dishes. “With the smell of the food and them cooking right in front of us, it’s like torture.”
A panel of judges, including Divisional Director of Culinary Services Scott Weaver and Steve Heider, a retired Chief of Police of Colonie, judged the dishes on three categories: taste, presentation and originality. As they tried each of the dishes, they filled out forms which ultimately led to deciding who the winner of the competition was.
Prior to the actual competition, a wide array of ingredients was visible on an elongated table to the side, including tomatoes, red peppers, vegetables, sausage, garlic, shrimp, eggs, garlic and of course, corn. It was comical to watch as the four teams of grown adults rushed to the table to yank all the ingredients they each wanted for their anticipated dishes.
“Everybody is winging it,” said one of the event hosts after asking each team what they were planning on making when the competition kicked off. Having no idea at first, the chefs’ concentration was evident as they gathered all their preferred ingredients and pondered for a few moments what they could create.
Barnes even openly asked the residents what they wanted and some notably replied, “Corn fritters!” while someone else requested, “Please no onions!”
Trash talk, albeit all in good fun, sometimes permeated the competition with the teams reminded that “two chefs here are armed” and that “everyone has knives,” garnering laughter from the crowd.
David Peralta jokingly underestimated the other teams by saying that “they don’t know to cook.”
“Don’t overcook your shrimp, it’ll get too dry,” Kevin Hitchcock also passively remarked to Ana-Alysse Russo who in turn, shook her head and declared, “I’m no amateur!” Hearing the audience fake gasp made this local family-friendly event even more enjoyable, one onlooker even calling out in support of Russo, “Good for you!”
Each team insisted that its dishes were original and from brand new recipes, spicing up the competition even more. It was an intimate event as the teams catered to the judges and the Atria Senior Living residents, ensuring everyone felt involved by providing taste samples and listening to people’s cuisine preferences.