UC Berkeley News
Press Release

UC Berkeley Press Release

Cal-Stanford rivalry moves to the kitchen

– A month before the 109th Big Game, the age-old Cal-Stanford rivalry moves to the kitchen, with top student chefs competing this Sunday (Nov. 5) not for the Axe, but for the Cleaver in the first-ever "Big Cook-off."

The contest will take place at 2 p.m. in the Pauley Ballroom of the University of California, Berkeley's Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union.

Once the secret ingredient is unveiled, each five-member crew will have 30 minutes to come up with a menu and another 30 minutes to prepare a three-course meal, with each course featuring the secret ingredient, which will be one of the following: bread, eggs, tomatoes, apple sauce or tofu.

Karen Rogers, president of the less-than-year-old Cal Cooking Club and a sophomore majoring in international business, determines what the secret ingredient will be, along with the cooking club's vice president, Angela Ni. But they're not telling either side. Indeed, they recently changed the secret ingredient because they were worried that word had gotten out.

Judges include Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, Palo Alto Mayor Judy Kleinberg, and Cheryl Koehler, editor and publisher of the quarterly magazine Edible East Bay. Each dish will be judged on taste, presentation, difficulty and creativity.

Cindy Deetz, chef and owner of the city of Berkeley's popular Caffé Venezia, came up with the idea for an "Iron Chef"-style cook-off like the one on TV's Food Network, but suggested it be between UC campuses. Rogers had a better idea: She boldly called members of Stanford University's three-year-old cooking club and threw down the gauntlet.

Stanford's response? "Bring it on!"

Their opponents will do just that. For weeks, members of the Cal Cooking Club team -Alexandra Altman, Ryan Hatcher, Bryce Kelford, Rhoda Piland and Sergio Gonzalez - have been practicing dishes using each of the possible secret ingredients.

With eggs, they made jalapeno frittatas, fresh salsa and custard. With tofu, they threw together a green curry tofu stir-fry, pan-fried tofu with sautéed watercress, sesame seeds with soy orange sauce and strawberry tofu ice cream.

And on applesauce night, they cooked up a roasted pork loin with white polenta and three varieties of apple; corned beef, potato and apple hash; Crepes Suzette and an apple-blackberry galette.

Altman, a UC Berkeley junior majoring in math and business, treasurer of the cooking club and an intern at Chez Panisse, hopes the secret ingredient won't be eggs.

"They're too difficult to work with in that time frame," she said.

Cooking clubs have been sprouting at college campuses around the nation in recent years. Rogers, a native of Pennsylvania, said she was "aghast" when she entered UC Berkeley in fall 2005 and discovered that the campus had no cooking club while her boyfriend was enjoying the epicurean bonuses of attending Princeton University, with its long tradition of cooking and eating clubs.

In response, she started an informal cooking club in the Unit 2 student housing complex at Haste Street and College Avenue. It was so popular that the following semester, she registered the club as an official student organization. The Cal Cooking Club currently has around 300 active members, and 600 people have signed on to the club's listserv.

The club offers monthly meetings, cooking clinics and guest chef presentations, among other services. Cal Dining Services and Caffé Venezia are supportive of the club and are providing ingredients, except meat, for the cook-off.

Altman, who is from Santa Rosa and got interested in cooking during her high school sophomore year, will most likely be sharpening her German knife collection the night before the big cook-off. Her worst nightmare? "Dull knives that can't cut through anything," she said.

Ultimately, though, Altman is confident she's on the winning team. "We're absolutely amazing at playing off each other," she said. "We're not afraid to criticize each other. And we have a lot of energy."