Contra Costa County mayors and chefs are facing tough judges in the fourth annual Mayors' Healthy Cook-off hosted by Concord and Mayor Rob Leone at the city's historic Todos Santos Plaza.
"This year an additional panel of student judges, as well as a representative from school food service ... will prove students want and like real food," said Cindy Gershen, founder of the Wellness City Challenge, one of the cook-off sponsors and force behind the event.
"From my experience at Mt. Diablo High School and schools across Contra Costa County, if students are given the chance, they want to eat what the adults eat; and want real food," she said. "We are going to give them this opportunity and we will see what happens."
Leone agreed. "It's good to have students participate, It's good for them to taste good healthy food."
Gershen said the student judges include two each from an elementary school, junior high school and high school. These young judges, as well as the adult judges, will get a quick training in tasting by health care experts before judging begins.
Martinez Mayor Rob Schroder and former Concord Mayor Laura Hoffmeister concocted the "Iron Chef" style event in 2009 as a way to celebrate healthy eating and bring communities together in the festivities. Hoffmeister won the trophy for her city the inaugural year and again last year. Walnut Creek took it home the second year.
The Mayors Healthy Cook-off invites mayors
Adding young palates to the judging table is only one new twist. This year's competition is expanding on the popular "Iron Chef" television program cook-off theme by borrowing a component from another popular cooking show, "Chopped."
Competitors will be given a mystery box or, in this case, a grab bag, of produce from the Pacific Coast Farmers' Market Association and the Mt. Diablo High School Garden selected by Gershen that they must use in their dishes.
Gershen says chefs want their food to look fantastic, but she wants it to also be healthy, as 70 percent of people are eating out at least once a week. Therefore, using the mystery ingredients will add to the difficulty of meeting the judges' expectations for creativity, presentation and taste.
Last year, Concord took home the perpetual trophy and the grand prize of a Master Gardener to expand the small vegetable plot Mt. Diablo High School students were cultivating. The school's Serendipity restaurant program uses the crops.
Gershen says ingredients in the surprise bag meet the new USDA school meal guidelines and must be used in preparation of the team's dish.
The new guidelines assure kids are offered both fruits and vegetables each day, more whole grains, with portion sizes and calorie counts designed to maintain a healthy weight, says Gershen.
Contestants also will be provided whole grains and protein from the Grocery Outlet of Concord. Chefs must prepare their meals from the food available at the farmers market, and use only those herbs and spices available on the communal table. They may bring two burners and their own kitchen equipment.
The public is encouraged to show up and watch professional chefs in action, shop at the Pacific Coast Farmers' Market for fresh fruits and vegetables -- and following the judging and announcement of winners -- sit back and enjoy the music program.
As of press time, the lineup was not yet set, with RSVPs from eight mayors, including Pleasant Hill, Moraga, Orinda, Brentwood, Hercules, Oakley, Pinole and San Pablo still outstanding. If a mayor is unavailable to participate, the vice mayor or a council member may stand in.
The city of Concord; the Wellness City Challenge, a nonprofit grass roots organization; the Pacific Coast Farmers' Market Association; and the American Heart Association, again sponsor this year's event.
Who: Wellness City Challenge
What: Fourth annual Mayors' Healthy Cook-off
When: 4 p.m. Thursday,
Where: Todos Santos Plaza at Willow Pass Road and Grant Street, downtown Concord