I had the unique opportunity last week to participate in a chef’s competition hosted by ARAMARK in Douglass. For all of the uninitiated, ARAMARK is the company that provides you with your college meal plan, which is an invention that magically makes food more expensive.

The newfound intimacy I share with ARAMARK dates back nearly 5 weeks when I, fulfilling my unspoken responsibilities as CT Jackass, entered a pie-eating contest held in Danforth on the eve of Halloween. Despite arriving hyped in a mesh jersey and headband, I soon discovered that my svelte figure and fickle stomach had conspired against me, and when the whipped cream had settled, I had consumed only one and three-forths pies – roughly half of which was in my hair following a crust-cracking headbutt. Victory was indeed far from mine.

Fortunately, my pastry plunge did endear me to ARAMARK, and the invitation to judge fine food was extended to me eagerly. I approached the competition enthusiastically, eager to diversify my UR dining portfolio, which consisted solely of chicken finger subs. Lacking a meal plan, I was also looking forward to eating at all.

I arrived early, sporting scrubby “battle gear” attire in case another head butt was required during my judging. I quickly realized that this would not be the case when my judging associates, both ARAMARK corporate folk – as well as very nice ladies – arrived in business suits. Assessing my own garb, I suddenly felt offensively underdressed. Somewhere, Mom grimaced.

The rules were announced soon thereafter – the chefs would assemble five plates a piece, to be judged by yours truly and company based on presentation, creativity, taste and use of the mystery ingredient, which was then revealed to be ‘ostrich.’ At the judges table, intrigued eyebrows were raised. Meanwhile, Gracie Klingler, the Meliora’s October Employee of the Month, and arguably the most jovial woman alive, fetched me a Coke from Douglass – a Coke which, ironically, was flat.

So the whistle blew and the duel began. Watching the showdown was like watching an intense game of Risk being played before you, except that it was actually interesting.

Does anyone actually just watch Risk? I submit, is there anything more un-enthralling than when player 1, who has 97 armies on one unpronounceable Asian country, decides to attack player 2, who has 74 of his own armies defending a second unpronounceable Asian country? But I digress.

The air was rife with tactical maneuvers, as well as cinnamon pears simmering in a sweet red wine sauce, as the battle raged. The culinary combatants dashed about behind their stations, mixing in vegetables with invectives – “Hey Ken,” taunted Vinnie Schaefer, of the team Bain-and-Schaefer, “your take-out is here.” The gloves, it seemed, had come off.

On one side, Randy – the eventual victor – employed the classic “olfactory onslaught” tactic by rushing over to the judges booth – read, “cafeteria table with a nice tablecloth” – and waving a steaming frying pan of something in our faces. Ken remained in his corner, announcing calmly that he was simmering away at a scintillating chipotle-Bourbon BBQ sauce.

A certain shabbily-clad judge was seen shortly thereafter covertly approaching Ken, unsuccessfully soliciting Bourbon for points.

When the plates were finally served, it was a sensory overload like never before. Conditioned to a diet of Fruit Roll-Ups and Keystone Light, actual gourmet food – healthy, cooked and full of extravagant vegetables – nearly sent me into a seizure, while eliciting rumbling cheers from my relieved gastrointestinal tract.

Regaining my composure, I realized that I had passd a point of no return. I had a newfound compulsion to channel all of my focus, to abolish the Fanta and Fun-Dip in my diet and dedicate myself complete to a strict diet of nutritious and delicious gourmet food.

That is, as long as it’s free.

Janowitz can be reached at njanowitz@campustimes.org.

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