In 1999, “Iron Chef America” first appeared on the Food Network. Its premise was simple: Pit an unknown chef against a celebrity chef in a one-hour competition in front of a panel of three judges and see who comes up with the most creative and tasty menu based on a theme or secret ingredient. It sparked a boom in TV cooking shows, and today cooking competitions are being waged on a less formal basis in cities across the country as teambuilding opportunities for groups. But unlike on TV, at meetings and events, everyone’s a winner.
The chefs at Four Seasons Seattle, located down the street from world-famous Pike Place Market, created a variation on the “Iron Chef” concept. It’s called “Market to Art” and calls upon teams to work together to challenge the hotel restaurant’s chefs to come up with a meal based on whatever they bring back from the market. “We wanted our guests to participate in the construction of a meal but still give them the freedom from having to be responsible for the actual cooking,” says Chef Jelle Vandenbroucke. “We meet in the lobby, and the group gets broken up into teams of three or four. Each team is assigned a course, given a set amount of money to spend at the market, and then sent off to shop for whatever ingredients they want.
“There are no recipes provided, and no set menu. I’ll usually tell them what protein I plan to serve, but everything else is decided back in the kitchen once I receive the ingredients from each team. It’s a great teambuilding event for groups of 12 to 20, but it’s also a lot of fun for the chefs because it forces us to be creative.”
Woodmark Hotel, a waterfront property on Lake Washington in nearby Kirkland, Wash., offers a similar experience for groups called “Sea to Table,” developed by Chef de Cuisine Dylan Giordan. “Groups can organize a competition to see who comes back with the catch of the day and then work with Chef Dylan to create a personalized menu around it,” says Howard Jacobs, general manager. “Our real advantage is being on the water, because we’re actually able to fish out on the lake. We’re blessed with a location that’s ideal for food-based teambuilding events,” he adds.