Most likely your town’s mayor is not a gourmet chef. But would he or she be willing to be put to the test – if it meant demonstrating the value to the community of healthy, local eating? We had a chance to ask that question recently while serving as a judge of a mayoral cook-off sponsored by the Blue Zones Project of the Beach Cities.
The cook-off was part of a larger (friendly) competition that began last fall to see who could get the most residents of their town to take the Blue Zones pledge for healthy living. For the cook-off, each of the mayors from Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, and Redondo Beach was paired with a professional chef from a restaurant in that town. Then the mayors were put through the rigors of an Iron Chef-type competition – 30 minutes to create a delicious, beautiful, raw, vegetable-based dish, using a secret ingredient (green lentils) unveiled right before the timer went off. Keeping up the pressure was the glare of spotlights and cameras; a lively, standing-room-only crowd; and the relentless scrutiny of the judges’ panel.
So – how well do those mayors cook? Let’s put it this way: Hermosa Beach Mayor Jeff Duclos was introduced as having a “41 – and -2 record: Married for 41 years, only cooked 2 meals” (his wife was on hand in the audience waiting to taste his creation). Neither Manhattan Beach Mayor Wayne Powell or Redondo Beach Mayor Mike Gin had much more experience than that. But with sure-footed professional chefs calling the shots, the mayors went straight to work on grabbing ingredients, prepping, chopping, slicing, and plating.
And in the end, the food was…incredible. The Manhattan Beach team of Mayor Powell and Chef Chris Garasic of Zinc at Shade Hotel designed a “cannoli” made of thinly sliced jicama, filled with coconut and raw almond cheese, served with a lentil puree and cilantro pesto, topped with shredded cabbage.
Hermosa Beach Mayor Duclos and Chef Tin Vuong of Abigaile Restaurant created a raw jicama ravioli with a lentil filling, served over thinly sliced marinated mushrooms and garnished with radishes.
And the Redondo Beach team of Mayor Gin and Chef Bert Agor of Kincaid’s came up with king oyster mushrooms, cut to resemble scallops (“forest scallops”) served with lentil tabouli and avocado-chocolate mousse.
The winner? The Manhattan Beach team’s incredibly delicious jicama cannolis. But, truly, all three of these dishes were winners in accomplishing what they were supposed to do: inspire the crowds of community members that it’s possible to cook something healthful and delicious in under 30 minutes. Kudos to the mayors and chefs for putting themselves out there in a public forum – and for doing their part to promote healthy eating in our communities.