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Everyone's a winner at the Ultimate Chef

Created date

September 20th, 2010

[caption id="attachment_14634" align="alignright" width="280" caption="Maris Grove s Ultimate Chef teams. Front row (left to right): Terry Sokoloff, A.J. Coccia, and Toni Kaufman. Back row (left to right): Jennifer Kier, Scott Cave, Jarrett Carroll, Steve Ruiz, Chris Pringle, and Courtney Lonabaugh."][/caption] [caption id="attachment_14630" align="alignright" width="280" caption="Maris Grove s Toni Kaufman and Chef Steve Ruiz prepare the puff pastry for the three dishes. Kaufman brought her very own chef s hat to the competition."][/caption] What do Maris Grove residents A.J. Coccia, Terry Sokoloff, and Toni Kaufman have in common? They all love to cook and recently participated in the Ultimate Chef Competition where they were paired with Maris Grove chefs and sous chefs in a culinary duel to the finish. What was at stake? Ribbons and bragging rights, of course. Executive Chef Marvin Wilson proposed the competition to further connect staff and residents. Though the campus is already run like a close family unit, the residents had never been behind the scenes in the kitchen, and the kitchen is traditionally known as the heart of the home, a place where everyone inevitably ends up gathering. Why should Maris Grove be any different? Community members were paired with chefs and sous chefs from each restaurant, and aside from never working together before, they had another challenge to prepare an appetizer, an entr e, and a dessert all centered around asecret ingredient, which wouldn t be revealed until just before the competition started. The secret ingredient? Puff pastry. And all three dishes from all three teams had to be made in one hour. Knives were sharpened, pots and pans eagerly awaited usage, appliances waited at the ready, and the three-piece teams had to work as one in order to meet their goal.

Third place Mildly Seasoned

Team members: Toni Kaufman, Jarrett Carroll, Steve Ruiz

Toni Kaufman has loved to cook since she was a little girl. Being the youngest in her family (her oldest brother was 15 years older), the kitchen was the place where she had her mother all to herself. While Kaufman liked to measure, her mother was an intuitive cook. And like different ingredients that complement each other, she and her mother blended while experimenting. In the kitchen, her mother s love was hers and hers alone, and it was through cooking that her mother taught Kaufman to put love into every dish she made. Kaufman s husband, John, has a typical response to her cooking: Oh, my God, this is wonderful! As long as he says that, I ll make him anything, she says. When Wilson announced he was looking for one more resident sous chef to participate in the Ultimate Chef Competition, her hand was raised before he even finished his sentence. Though she brought her own knives and chef s hat to the competition, Kaufman also brought an open mind. There were things she says she learned that were as foreign to her as a dull knife. She had never deep fried anything with an industrial fryer. She had never cut an avocado before an essential ingredient for the mango salad. But after the dishes were presented, tasted, judged, and awarded, she had a newfound appreciation for the chefs and what they do on a daily basis, and she says she had a lot of fun learning along the way.

Second place Shake and Bake

Team members: Terry Sokoloff, Jennifer Kier, Scott Cave

Terry Sokoloff s background is filled with fragrant and tasty ingredients. She s been everything from a student with culinary ambitions to a sous chef at cooking schools in Philadelphia to a food columnist. She wrote regularly for the Jewish Voice, a local monthly paper, where she penned Love at First Bite. Though Sokoloff s ambitions have shifted she s been a licensed professional therapist for the last 13 years at Child Inc., a center that caters to victims of domestic violence she still loves all things culinary. Over the last few years, Sokoloff has worked on transforming gourmet dishes into healthy foods without compromising taste. Her favorites are mac & cheese and spanakopita. She s also experimented with ethnic cuisine, so finding healthy alternatives to her favorite dishes was just another challenge she knew she could face. And her husband has been her volunteer guinea pig all along. The Sokoloffs diet has changed so much over the years that eating healthy has become second nature. So when the opportunity arose to compete in the Ultimate Chef cook-off, she couldn t pass it up. Sokoloff says the competition was a great way to bring fellow residents into the Maris Grove commercial kitchen, so they could both see and appreciate what the chefs do on a daily basis. She also learned that a commercial kitchen is a lot different from a home kitchen. And while handling sharp knives, hot ovens, and boiling water is serious business, the competitors and chefs had serious fun. I know I grinned the whole time, Sokoloff says. I d love to do it again.

The Blue Ribbon goes to Sweet and Spicy

Team members: A.J. Coccia, Christopher Pringle, Courtney Lonabaugh

A.J. Coccia is no stranger in the kitchen, though it didn t start out that way. Back when he and his brother opened Pompeii, the family-owned and -operated Italian restaurant, it was his mother who was in the kitchen preparing the homemade pastas and sauces. My mother was really the cook. I just picked up a few things here and there, Coccia says. Cooking is one of those passions that gets in the blood, and in Coccia s case, it naturally runs in the family. His grandson, for example, is a professional chef in New York City at Hyde Park Culinary Institute. Coccia felt right at home in the competition. I felt really good getting my hands in there because I was back in my element. I enjoyed the heat from the range on my face, he says. The dishes for the blueribbon team consisted of an appetizer stuffed with Italian sausage; an entr e with salmon and asparagus; and a dessert of puff pastry layered with bananas, whipped cream, and peanut butter. Can anyone say yum?!

Everyone is a winner!

Resident judge Bette Alburger, Executive Director Maureen Heckler, and General Services Director Erik Jost all enjoyed watching and tasting. Alburger liked seeing how the resident sous chefs worked so well with the Maris Grove chefs. They really threw themselves into it. The knives were going, the pots were steaming. It was as if they had all worked together for years, she says. Though Alburger is a writer, not a cook, and spends her time in front of her computer, not in the kitchen, she knows a good meal when she sees one. Many residents looked on as each team sweated to make the dishes in the hour time limit, and the onlookers had just as much fun as the competitors. This is a tradition Maris Grove hopes to continue long after the burners and lights are turned off and the pots are scrubbed and put away.