Months ago, a friend asked, and I agreed to judge a local Iron Chef competition supporting The Children’s Relief Nursery.

The day of the event, April 20, I found myself in full panic mode.

I hadn’t watched an actual “Iron Chef” show in years and couldn’t remember what was expected from the judges. Arriving at the Portland Art Museum, I grabbed a glass of wine and wandered around like a middle school kid unprepared to give a speech in class that day.

About the time I was considering a second glass of wine, I was whisked up to the stage. From the judges’ table, I looked down at Kitchen Stadium. Ingredients were piled in the middle, flanked by two cooking areas. Mirrors hung to the sides with cameramen stationed underneath. My scorecard lay in front of me, and my heart pounded in my ears.

The emcee introduced the competing chefs. Defending champion, Adam Sappington, of The Country Cat Dinner House in SE Portland, skipped on-stage waving. Next, the challenger Adam Higgs, of Acadia Restaurant in NE Portland, lumbered up and raised his palm.

The secret ingredients were unveiled: rhubarb, coffee and ramps. The whole place erupted in a flurry of activity as the chefs raced to prepare three dishes–each incorporating the secret ingredients–in less than forty minutes.

Right away, the emcee put a microphone in my face and said something I couldn’t hear. I replied with my loud laugh, “Well, Chloe, I’m thinkin’ breakfast! Sautéed ramps with scrambled eggs, rhubarb compote with scones and, of course, coffee.”

She looked at me blankly and went on to the next judge.

While she was preoccupied, I glanced down at the chefs and noticed a faint shaking of Adam Higgs’ hands. Something took hold of me. I pulled it together and paid attention.

At the end of forty minutes, I found Adam Higgs’ refined dishes on my left: rhubarb and fennel salad, coffee/spice rubbed pork tenderloin, sautéed potatoes and ramps with a coffee gastrique. To the right were Adam Sappington’s down-home plates of coffee-infused crêpes, topped with rhubarb compote and fried chicken on a creamy bed of garlic, leeks and ramps.

I was impressed. The food was amazing. I felt that I couldn’t have come up with those dishes if I had a month, let alone forty minutes in front of a live audience.

In the end, the fried chicken was just a bit more pleasing than the pork tenderloin, and Adam Sappington kept his title.

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