Vegetarian Chef Challenge
By TIFFANY REPECKI
Four chefs from Lee Health are testing out their skills this week in concocting vegetarian dishes.
In recognition of National Vegetarian Awareness Month, the health system is hosting the fourth annual Vegetarian Chef Challenge at Cape Coral Hospital and three of its other facilities. Each day, the chefs will set up at one location and serve up samples of plant-based recipes they created for the competition.
Today, they will be located in the cafe at the Cape hospital from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“The whole idea behind it is to educate individuals that eating plant-based items can taste good and they’re very healthy for you,” Kathy Moore, food services director at Gulf Coast Medical Center, said.
On Thursday – the final day – the chefs will be set up at Gulf Coast.
“They travel all week to the different facilities showcasing their product,” she said.
The public is invited to come and taste the recipes, then vote on their favorite.
“They will just check which one they prefer,” Moore said of a form.
After being chosen by popular vote, the two top chefs will advance to the finals. The grand champion cook-off will take place Nov. 1 at 1 p.m. in the atrium at the HealthPark Medical Center in Fort Myers.
“They have 30 minutes to cook in front of the whole audience,” she said.
A panel of four guest judges will select the winner.
Last year, HealthPark’s Chef Jack Brown won with his California roll with asparagus, pickled vegetable roll and roasted eggplant. The final showdown is free and open to the community.
Chef Mark Benenati is representing the Cape hospital this year.
“This is his first time in this challenge,” Moore said.
His recipes are coconut oil fudge and lemon blueberry fudge, with fresh berries and mint, and the ultimate vegan breakfast burrito. Each chef entered a hot breakfast item and a chilled dessert.
Moore explained that the chefs featured their breakfast items on Monday and Tuesday.
Today and Thursday, the chefs will have samples of their dessert available to taste.
The other breakfast submissions included the Southwest breakfast burrito, all-American vegan breakfast, and breakfast tacos with mango pineapple salsa and cilantro lime dipping sauce.
Benenati’s dessert will go up against no bake blueberry cheesecake, blueberry blintzes, and toasted coconut, peanut butter and strawberry quinoa balls. There were guidelines for the competition.
“It had to feature one nut or nut butter item, one non-dairy item and one fruit – mango, blueberry or strawberry,” she said, adding that the non-dairy item could be soy milk, almond milk and such. “It gets them to be creative and look at how to make these items favorable without an animal-based product.”
The finalists are given more leeway for the champion cook-off.
“We don’t limit them, so they can be a little more creative,” Moore said.
Officials welcomed to the public to stop by and sample the creations.
“We usually have about 300 people who participate at each site,” she said of voting.
HealthPark Medical Center is at 9981 S. HealthPark Drive.