4 Tips to Host a Successful Quarantine Cook-Off

Recently some friends and I, at the end of our seemingly endless quarantine boredom, decided to host a “Quarantine Cook-Off,” in the style of the Food Network television show “Chopped.”

Luckily, these friends also happened to be my roommates and thus, we had the advantage of actually being able to compete and taste each other’s food in person.

But a cook-off can be an enjoyable activity for friends near or far; whether your pantry is fully stocked, or you’re coasting by on a gallon of milk, some stale eggs and a bottle of ketchup. All that matters is committing to the competition and having a functional kitchen.

Here are some tips for hosting your own quarantine cook-off, either safely with a group of friends or roommates, or over Zoom.

1. Choose your fighters.

First, decide who you want to compete in your cook-off. You can compete in teams or alone, in person or virtually (thought it’s best that you don’t do a combination of the two).

For our cook-off, we had two teams of two competing, plus one judge. The pairings added a nice level of teamwork to the competition—and was certainly a blessing for those of us who consider ourselves a little more challenged in the way of culinary arts.

The sky’s the limit with how many people you have competing. Just remember that if you are all in the same place, you’re going to have to use the same kitchen, clean up all the dishes, and somebody’s going to have to eat all the food!

2. Choose your judge.

The role of the judge will vary greatly depending on whether you’re hosting your cook-off in person or virtually.

For the former, the judge can evaluate your dishes based on taste, presentation and creativity. But for the latter, they might have to go on looks alone.

We had the advantage of having another roommate who was willing to taste our interesting creations. But even if you don’t, you can have other contestants judge each other’s food.

Or if you’re on Zoom, have each contestant find a judge that they live with who can taste their food, and give a score based on that. Not that judging is the most important part of the competition. Get creative!

3. Choose your ingredients.

Here’s where the fun part starts. My roommates and I styled our cook-off after the Food Network show “Chopped,” in which contestants are given a basket of unique ingredients that they must incorporate into their dishes.

Though we didn’t follow the traditional three-course layout of the show, we still liked the idea of everyone having to use a few of the same ingredients. And the fact that we had some random items in our communal pantry lying around made it a perfect fit.

Our judge chose the ingredients: flour, brown sugar, and instant pink lemonade powder. It was up to us to figure out the rest. Since we weren’t following the show’s exact structure, we were allowed to make any type of dish: breakfast or dessert, lunch or dinner, sweet or savory.

If you’re hosting your cook-off virtually, feel free to choose some ingredients that everyone has in their house to add to the competition.

4. Cook!

Finally, prepare your dishes. For our cook-off, one team used the flour, sugar and pink lemonade mix, along with some fresh berries, to make a lemonade fruit tart.

My partner and I went a little more avant-garde, incorporating the flour and pink lemonade into a breading for chicken tenders, then using the brown sugar to make a barbecue sauce for dipping. Clearly, this is the part you can have the most fun with.

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When you’re finished, have the judge evaluate the dishes and crown a winner. Or don’t and just enjoy your creations! Either way, a quarantine cook-off is a fun, cheap and safe way to spend a weeknight, that isn’t just watching Netflix or having another Zoom hangout.

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