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Things are heating up in the kitchen

The kitchen at the Pruden Center for Industry and Technology was filled with the sounds of knives hitting cutting boards, meat sizzling in frying pans and students rushing to and fro as the smell of a “secret” ingredient permeated the air.

Six seniors spent much of their afternoon Monday preparing three dishes in little more than an hour in an “Iron Chef” cook off. The assignment was based on “Iron Chef America: The Series,” a cooking game show on the Food Network. In the show, a resident chef battles a new, challenger chef in a cook off by producing five dishes based on a secret ingredient.

The secret ingredient for the students: venison they had to butcher themselves.

That made some of the judges a little nervous. Corey McCray, director of the center, had never had venison before. Anne Hudson, in the veterinary science department, wondered if it was safe to eat raw, as Matthew Wenrich prepared it for his carpaccio.

Culinary Arts teacher Faith Amroune said the students watch “Iron Chef” often, and each nine weeks she tries to have some sort of event or project for them. It made sense to combine the two. This was

the first of what she plans to make an annual event, though only seniors who are second-year students will participate, she said. It is a demanding activity that requires greater knowledge of the foods, as well as the herbs and spices that complement them.

Amroune selected venison as the secret ingredient because a fellow teacher, Tom Shirk, donated the meat, and because it provided a greater challenge for the students than chicken or beef.

The students spent last week researching venison and discussing the types of herbs and spices that go with it. They also took two days to butcher the meat, removing the fat and gristle, Amroune said.

The students were judged on taste, presentation and originality. The winners received a certificate to put in their portfolio, but more importantly, “They get bragging rights,” Amroune said.

And brag they did. Wenrich and LaVaughn Holloman had talked trash to one another leading up to the event and made a pact that the loser would declare the winner the best chef ever.

In the show, each chef is allowed two assistants, or a sous chef. In the classroom, each of the three chefs had one sous chef.

Judges McCray, Hudson, Shirk and John Thompson sampled bits of each plate, finally declaring Team 1 n Wenrich and Smith n the winner. Along with carpaccio, Wenrich created venison roasted with apples, blueberries and raisins with a side of sweet potato puree, as well as rosemary-skewered venison.

Holloman’s spinach and chopped venison, venison and shrimp kabobs with rice, and spinach Alfredo with venison came in a close second. Robinson got high points for originality with her dessert, which was made of cinnamon-seared venison in a pastry cup drizzled with raspberry sauce. She also prepared venison sauteed with white wine and vegetables, and Italian venison with rice noodles and marinara.

“It was definitely a new experience, but a pleasant one,” said McCray of his first taste of venison prepared by the students. The work they put into the presentation of the dishes was particularly impressive, he added.