When Bibi Kasrai first wanted to start teaching her own healthy cooking classes, some local cooking schools told her that she wasn’t qualified. Three years later, she is owner of one of the most successful and innovative cooking schools in San Diego County, and she is determined to keep bringing the heat. In January, Harvard Cookin’ Girl started Iron Chef Competitions, pitting everyday cooks against each other in the kitchen—with a twist.
The first event, which took place on Jan. 16, brought big name chefs Bertrand Hug of Mr. A’s and Mille Fleurs, and George Hauer from George’s to judge the culinary skills of Marko Dedic, maitre d’ at Rancho Santa Fe’s Mille Fleurs and popular food blogger Renata Meretskaya. Dedic was the winner of the sold out event that had attendees begging for more.
“Everyone loved it. They thought the idea was great, the food was awesome, and it was a really fun social environment,” store manager, Branko Fernandez.
Kasrai, who is always looking to keep things fresh and entertaining in her kitchen, first thought of the idea to host Iron Chef Competitions while brainstorming ideas for the New Year. She put out the word to the community for anyone who felt their cooking skills were up to par to come in an audition. While about 20 people answered the call, Kasrai and her team narrowed the competitors down to eight.
“They cook for us, we eat a meal and we get to know them,” Kasrai said. “We want them to be able to be story tellers and entertain the guests, but still cook a good meal, just as they would in their own kitchen.”
Competitors are judged by the celebrity judges and the audience on skills such as presentation, taste, and how they connect and educate. The judges’ scores outweigh the audiences' scores by three, to ensure that the results aren’t rigged. The winner of the competition progresses to the next round, while the runner up receives a gift card.
Kasrai plans to keep each event new and exciting by adding a different twist to each competition, such as requiring specific ingredients, or preparing a specific type of cuisine. Having Hug and Hauer as guest judges during the first event is a foreshadowing of the caliber of the events to come, she says.
“For George and Bertrand to come out of their restaurant during restaurant week to come here, that is a big deal,” Kasrai said.
Kasrai promises more excitement in the coming weeks. And although she isn’t naming names, guests can expect to see everyone from a celebrity who recently won a Golden Globe Award, to an award-winning jazz singer to more top area chefs, make an appearance at Harvard Cookin’ Girl’s Iron Chef Competition.
The next event takes places on Feb. 28 at 6pm and will be a pasta versus pasta showdown with competitors Jill Drouin and Jennifer Hamilton. Tickets can be purchased either online or over the phone for $75.