Staff Writer Alyse Rovner attended Columbia University’s Battle of the Dining Halls Food Fight with celebrity chef Robert Irvine and experienced what was quite possibly the best day of her life.
The line for the 2020 Battle of the Dining Halls Food Fight ran all the way down Broadway, with students eagerly awaiting celebrity judge Robert Irvine’s appearance. The Restaurant: Impossible star was invited to judge elaborate versions of dining hall food and determine, once-and-for-all, which dining hall takes the crown. Students were also excited, of course, to receive free T-shirts from their favorite dining halls.
The auditorium was transformed into an amazing event space, with each dining hall — Team Ferris Forever, Team JJ’s Fam, and Team John Jay — occupying a section of the room. Each respective dining hall created elevated and unique dishes reflecting their family/childhood favorites, which is the theme of Chef Irvine’s cookbook.
Ferris Forever served Arroz con Pollo with fried plantains, a vegan version of this dish with mushrooms, and an orange creamsicle inspired drink. Chef Irvine described the “chicken, rice, plantains, and broth as a 10/10,” exclaiming that the salad, however, “had no place here on the plate.” Chef Irvine called Sandy, the Ferris Forever Chef, to the table and had her try the salad she made just to prove this point. Chef Irvine then judged the vegan version of the dish, saying that it tasted good and even remarking that he could taste the love. He decided that the vegan dish deserved 8/10 points. The other judges agreed with Chef Irvine’s analysis, claiming that the chicken was spectacular and that the side salad was a “no.” Additionally, another judge called the presentation “stupendous,” noting that the salad brought it down.
Next, JJ’s Fam served their burger-in-fries (caramelized onion and beef inside a fried potato shell), a vegan version of this dish with Beyond meat, and a cake batter milkshake. Chef Irvine described this concept as amazing and innovative, however, he noted the “execution was off.” He described the outside of the burger-in-fries as being crispy and perfectly seasoned and then broke apart the fritter to show how the filling had been unevenly distributed. Chef Irvine then made sure to note that the queso and ketchup-mayo were great additions to the dish. The other judges noted that the burger-in-fries was a little bland and slightly oily, but that the presentation was nice and evoked the feeling of a “diner” or a “dining hall.”
The final dining hall, John Jay, presented a short-rib and mac-n-cheese pot pie, along with a vegan version of this dish with smoked tofu, and a strawberry lemonade inspired drink. Chef Irvine was impressed with this concept, describing the short rib as “beautiful,” the pastry as “perfectly cooked,” and the mac-n-cheese as “moist.” Chef Irvine remarked that the dish was great, but that the star of the show — what was really “most impressive” — was the vegan dish. Chef Irvine said the smoky tofu had an “incredible texture,” adding that it was “unbelievable and tasted very similar to meat.” The other judges reminisced about the ways in which the dish brought them back to their childhood and how the strawberry lemonade brought them back to a “hot, humid day” to emphasize just how refreshing it tasted.
The judges deliberated. Chef Irvine made sure their mics had been turned off. While they talked, the hosts of the event pulled raffle tickets. This feels noteworthy to describe given the fact that they pulled over 30 tickets, as many people had left early.
After heated debate among the judges, the results were finally in.
The winner was Team Ferris Forever, making them the champions for the second year in a row. Team Ferris Forever secured both the People’s Choice and Judge’s Award. Chef Irvine remarked that Team Ferris Forever won the competition by only half a point and that Team John Jay and Team JJ’s Fam should be impressed by their hard work and dishes.
I personally agree with this win, regardless of how hard that is for me to admit. I have a special place in my heart for John Jay and JJ’s Place, but Team Ferris Forever created a phenomenal dish deserving of victory.
Chef Robert Irvine and Student Judges via excited Bwogger