Atria in Portsmouth hosts 2nd annual ‘Chef Showdown’

Secret ingredient? Watermelon

Jim McGaw
Posted 7/14/16

PORTSMOUTH — When Atria Aquidneck debuted its first kitchen throwdown last year, a local firefighter went up against the assisted living facility’s top chef to see who made the best …

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Atria in Portsmouth hosts 2nd annual ‘Chef Showdown’

Secret ingredient? Watermelon

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — When Atria Aquidneck debuted its first kitchen throwdown last year, a local firefighter went up against the assisted living facility’s top chef to see who made the best East-West Chicken.

The “Chef Showdown” was so popular that corporate decided to “step it up a notch,” said Jacqui Emrich, Atria’s engaged life director.

So this year, similar to TV cooking shows such as “Chopped” and “Iron Chef,” a secret ingredient was added to the mix: watermelon. 

In fact, Atria celebrated watermelons all week, with samplings, sculpting — even a seed-spitting contest.

“But it was hard for them to find a seed with today’s seedless watermelons,” said Ms. Emrich of the residents.

The event was part of National Culinary Arts Month. “Food is really important to our industry; one of life’s simple pleasures that residents have is being able to eat,” said Ms. Emrich. “It’s just part of your social environment growing up — there are memories tied into it — so we kind of make a big deal about it.” 

There were two different opponents this year: Lt. Steve Hoetzel of the Portsmouth Police Department and Atria Chef Alisa Onorato, who’s worked at Atria for 12 years.

“Today I’m making a grilled, marinated shrimp and watermelon skewer with a citrus sauce, and fried watermelon covered in chocolate and confectionary sauce,” said Lt. Hoetzel.

Fried watermelon?

“We had to incorporate watermelon in this challenge and I just started going online and getting ideas. And here I am today,” said Lt. Hoetzel, who normally cooks a lot of Italian food at home.

Working in the kitchen beside him was his opponent, Ms. Onorato. “I made codfish tacos with a watermelon, mango and cucumber salsa,” she said.

This year’s judges were Fire Chief Michael Cranson, Bobb Angel of WADK and Neil Andrews, a chef from Clements’ Marketplace.

Fourteen others, mostly Atria residents, also sampled the dishes. (“We should have skipped lunch,” one of the residents quipped.)

Joining them was Police Chief Thomas Lee, a judge last year. He was sitting next to Ron and Mary Grant, Atria residents who have been married for 43 years. (Mr. Grant is a retired Portsmouth police officer.)

Mrs. Grant was bowled over by the fried watermelon, while Chief Lee was equally impressed by both dishes.

“It’s going to be a tough one,” he said as the judges tallied their scores.

Close contest

He was right. Gordon Silvia, director of culinary services at Atria and a contestant last year, announced the winner: Lt. Hoetzel by a nose.

“It was very close — by one point,” said Mr. Silvia.

All judges and participants received an Atria glass mug, a cooking utensil and a cookbook filled with recipes from Atria residents around the country.

Atria Aquidneck Place is already anticipating next year’s contest with fervor. 

“Next year the competition is going to get severe,” said Pam Kopplin, Atria’s community sales director.

Chief Lee nodded. “We’re taking on the Fire Department,” he said. 

Who knows? Ms. Kopplin added. Perhaps Atria will drum up a cops-vs.-firefighters bocce game, too.

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