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University of Iowa News Release


March 24, 2008

UI hosts April 4 'Iron Chef' cookoff and food symposium

Armed with fundamental kitchen utensils, butane burners and a pantry stocked with basic ingredients and locally produced foods, three teams of local chefs will face off in an "Iron Chef" competition from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Friday, April 4 in the Main Ballroom of the University of Iowa's Iowa Memorial Union (IMU).

The free, public event is sponsored by the UI Center for Ethnic Studies and the Arts (CESA) as part of the "Food, Ethnic Identities and Memory" symposium, which includes four food-themed lectures from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. that day. Co-sponsors of the cookoff are IMU Food Services, Iowa Cultural Corridor Alliance, and Edible Iowa River Valley magazine. Funding was provided by the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Harry Oster Folklore and Folk Music Memorial Fund, the Graduate College and the Office of the Provost.

Teams of three chefs from the Iowa Memorial Union, Zins restaurant in Cedar Rapids, and the New Pioneer Co-op will be presented with a handful of surprise ingredients and will have 15 minutes to whip up a recipe. They then have one hour to prepare a main dish, and side dishes if they wish. During the competition, four cameras will broadcast live shots of the chefs in action -- along with "play by play" commentary and interviews -- onto a projection screen.

The five judges are: UI President Sally Mason and her husband, UI Lecturer Ken Mason; Joe Jennison, executive director of Iowa Cultural Corridor Alliance; Beth Bewley, executive director of the Englert Theatre and president of the Iowa Cultural Corridor Alliance; and Wendy Wasserman, publisher of Edible Iowa River Valley. The winning team will receive a plaque and be featured in the magazine, alongside each team's recipes from the competition.

Marcia Hughes, vice president of the Iowa Cultural Corridor Alliance and a local actress, will serve as emcee. Floyd Akins, senior director for development at the UI Foundation; Rikki Saltzman, folklorist for the state of Iowa; and Michael Knock, food critic for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, will be commentators.

During the competition, the public can sample free food from the "Food in America" cookbook, created by UI honors students in American Studies Professor Lauren Rabinovitz's Food and American Culture course last semester.

The $15 cookbook features more than 200 recipes submitted by UI students, alumni, faculty and staff, with recipes from a nearly dozen ethnic origins. As part of their research for the course, students also selected recipes from historic cookbooks. They wrote fun facts to accompany the recipes, ranging from the history of the meatpacking industry in Dubuque to how and why the recipe for plum butter evolved from 1850 to 1950 to today. Proceeds from the cookbook support student research and public events through CESA.

"The cookbook has practical applications for people who want to cook, but it's also full of tidbits about how food is part of American history," said CESA Director Rabinovitz, who co-organized the events with IMU Head Chef Barry Greenberg. "We also dispel a few myths in the cookbook. Apple pie is known an American tradition, but it's originally British, and it didn't used to be sweet. And, while Johnny Appleseed is known for wandering around planting apple trees as a philanthropic gesture, he was actually out to make a buck, and the kind of apples he planted were only suitable for making hard cider -- not for eating."

The symposium schedule is as follows, with all events listed below taking place Friday, April 4 in the Illinois Room at the IMU:

--9 a.m. welcome, Rabinovitz; 9:15 a.m. welcome, Dean Linda Maxson, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

--9:30 a.m. Lisa Heldke, a philosopher from Gustavus Adolphus who is examining the movement toward locally sourced foods in a global economy, will present "Staying Home for Dinner: Ruminations on Local Foods in Cosmopolitan Society."

--10:30 a.m., Jeffrey Pilcher, a historian from the University of Minnesota who is working on a book called "Planet Taco" about the history of Mexican food as an international ethnic food, will present "Who Chased Out the Chili 'Queens'? Food, Race and Gender in San Antonio, Texas 1880-1943."

--1 p.m. Riki Saltzman, the state folklorist whose work involves researching Iowans' food customs, will present "Pork, Place and Praxis: Foodways in Iowa."

--2 p.m. Psyche Williams Forson, a professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland who studies African-American cookery, will present "Culinary Polygamy: Food, Place and Memory in an African and African American Household."

"The event is designed to bring people together to develop a deeper understanding of relationships between ethnicities and food, and to help them see food as an art form and an important part of our culture," Rabinovitz said. "We also plan to prove that we can have fun, eat and learn at the same time."

Visit for more information on CESA and the food symposium, or to order the cookbook.

STORY SOURCE: University News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Lauren Rabinovitz, Center for Ethnic Studies and the Arts, 319-335-0315;; Nicole Riehl, University News Services, 319-384-0070,