Iron Chef takes on Northampton

By Andrew Sheridan

Courtesy Food Network

This Friday, Iron Chef Michael Symon will be coming to Northampton for a unique event. Several of the Pioneer Valley’s greatest culinary minds will assemble at the Calvin Theatre to face off against the Mediterranean master, and attempt to answer life’s most savory question: whose cuisine reins supreme?

Cleveland native Michael Symon is the owner of five critically-acclaimed restaurants across Ohio and Illinois. After winning Food Network’s “The Next Iron Chef” competition, he became the fifth permanent member of Iron Chef America’s culinary pantheon. Focusing on Greek and Mediterranean cooking, Symon has been a successful addition and boasts an impressive 79 percent winning percentage in Kitchen Stadium. The home-town cooks to take on the Iron Chef will be Chef Maggie Zaccara of Hope & Olive, Chef Greg Monette of Chandler’s and Chef Michaelangelo Wescott of Gypsy Apple. These three were chosen out of dozens of talented local chefs by an online voting process.

After the introduction of their cooking styles and credentials, Symon will select one challenger to be his opponent for the evening, and the battle will be underway. Much like the television program upon which it is based, this event will have the two chefs preparing five courses each, all based around a secret theme ingredient.

This evening’s event is a charity fundraiser in support of the Friends of Children, a small local child advocacy group. The organization deals with at-risk children in the state foster care system. “We work to make sure that the best interests of the kids in the system are met,” says Jane Lyons, executive director of the Friends of Children. “We want to be the squeaky wheel, because often they have no one to advocate for them.”

One of their programs, entitled “Foster Dignity,” is aimed at providing recently uprooted children with brand-new backpacks, school supplies, and other basic need. Other programs match emancipated foster kids with mentors, raise community awareness for their needs, and train volunteers to advocate for the children in the often-overburdened legal system.

This will be the fifth meeting of the copyright-skirting “Iron Cook” competition, but the first in four years. Prior years have featured such top-name talent as Rachael Ray, Martin Yan and Bobby Flay, all thanks to the support of Lou and Lesley Ekus. These two former cooks are the owners of “Air Thyme,” a company which trains would-be celebrity chefs to be TV-ready. They have become un-official sponsors of Friends of Children, creating contacts and finding headliners for their tasty competitions.

Lea Auto and Yankee Candle are the premiere donors for the event, helping to construct two fully-stocked stage kitchens for the challengers to compete in. “We are so lucky to have such great corporate underwriting this year,” said Lyons.

Judges include Mayor Clare Higgins of Northampton and Senator Stanley Rosenberg. Bidding will be held before the start of the competition to determine the third and final judge, and the lucky winner will take their seat on stage and enjoy all of the challengers’ offerings.

“The event starts at 7 p.m., and if you don’t plan on being the highest bidder, you should have dinner ahead of time” said Lyons. No food will be served to the majority of the attendees, and the aromas from the stage are guaranteed to stir up an appetite.

Tickets range from $25-$75, and are still available from the Iron Horse Entertainment Group website.

Andrew Sheridan can be reached at [email protected]