Iron Chef Fail: The End of Dole Summit Weekend
November 22, 2010

When we left off, I mentioned that my last night at the Dole Summit culminated in an Iron Chef cook’s challenge. What did this mean, exactly? It meant that we bloggers were divided into six teams, one for three courses of a meal: salad, entree, and dessert. For each of these courses, two teams were cooking off against each other for fifty minutes, using only the five ingredients in a mystery bag, and a number of condiments and foods laid out on a communal table. As the rules were being explained, I raised my hand to ask whether or not we’d have to work with animal proteins. Thankfully, the answer was no: vegans had been put on vegan-friendly ingredient teams. For me, this was dessert team B:

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My teammates were—lucky me!—Lori from A Cowboy’s Wife and Rachael from La Fuji Mama. I love that our team included three women with totally different foodie perspectives, from all-American to international to raw vegan! I was representing in my OLD t-shirt:

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Eat raw, live long, right Sarma?

We were dying to know what was in our mystery bag, of course. When we emptied it out, we found:

  • Fresh pineapple
  • Canned pineapple chunks
  • Frozen mango chunks
  • French baguette
  • 70% dark chocolate

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The obvious thing to do, we knew, was to make some sort of dessert bruschetta, slicing the bread and topping it with chocolate and pineapple. As Rachael pointed out, the judges were awarding points for creativity, and so it seemed like a bad move to give them a predictable dish.

Instead, she suggested, why not try to process the bread with some nuts, and turn it into a tart crust, which we could then top with chocolate and pineapple? It seemed like a genius idea to me, and Rachael rolled up her sleeves like a woman on a mission. I was lucky to be working with her, because lord knows I know little about baking and dessert making that doesn’t come from a cookbook. When it came time to make our mango-pineapple “coulis,” however—and by the way, that’s just what we decided to call our blended mango and pineapple drizzle on the tart—I assured my teammates, “I got this.” If there’s one thing I CAN do, it’s show a Vita-Mix who’s boss.

I wish I could say that all of our good intentions resulted in an incredible dessert. In the end, what we produced was…well, let me get to that in a moment.

First, our team took a break for a one hour nutrition lecture with Erika Wong, MS RD. After that morning’s nutrition talk, I was a little wary, but I was happily surprised. Ms. Wong was assertive, knowledgeable, friendly, and balanced. During the lecture, I raised my hand often to ask about nutrition topics that were specifically relevant to vegan diets, such as “what’s your take on the saturated fat in coconut oil” (her response: fine if you’re not consuming much saturated fat elsewhere) to “how do you feel about soy isolates”? (her response: acceptable 2-3x weekly; I’d actually say less than that is better, or none at all). Oftentimes the frustrating part of speaking with non-vegan RDs is that they simply don’t know anything about a balanced vegan diet. A non-vegan RD who’s knowledgeable about veganism is always a welcome surprise—even if we have different world views.

Erika gave us her top ten health tips:

  • Eat more fruits and veggies
  • Eat less red meat (no more than 2x weekly)
  • Use healthy fats in cooking (mono and polyunsaturated)
  • Eat less processed food
  • Eat more nuts
  • Add a vegetarian protein to your diet at least a few times weekly
  • Increase fiber
  • Eliminate soda
  • Reduce alcohol consumption to one drink nightly (for women)
  • Eat more fish(3-4x weekly)

All of these tips were ones I might give to any client of mine, with the exception of the last. I asked Ms. Wong, “is it truly fair to categorize fish consumption as a mandatory health tip?” She immediately shot back that, if one takes a vegan DHA-supplement—algae derived, naturally—that’s equally acceptable. I do know many people–vegans and omnis alike–who thrive without DHA supplementation. However, it’s not a bad move to try a supplement or supplementary food if you’re interested in getting more DHAs than you do. I love the Vega EFA oil blend and Udo’s Choice DHA blend, both of which I’ve mentioned in this post on Omega-3s in vegan diets. I’d also recommend a vegan DHA pill supplement for pregnant women—Kristen can tell you more if you’re curious!

I appreciate that Ms. Wong clarified that it’s not fish, per se, that’s mandatory for health, but rather the DHA in fish; oftentimes consumers mistake injunctions to eat more Omega-3 and Omega-6 acids with injunctions to eat fish. Fish are one very efficient source of these fatty acids, but not the only source, and certainly not a magic food in other ways. In fact, eating fish 3-4x weekly may put you at a higher risk for mercury problems, depending on what fish you select, and it may also contribute to the eradication of various fish populations in our oceans.

What do you think of the top ten tips above? Agree? Disagree?

After our lecture, we returned to the kitchen for judge’s table. First up were entrees, and I enjoyed watching  Anne present her (winning!) entree, a salmon dish:

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Someone went home with a new whisk and potholder!

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I was designated to present our dessert for the judges. I did my best, delivering a 80 mph catalog of the dish’s health benefits: vitamin E and healthy fats from the almonds, antioxidants from the fruit, reduced sugar, vitamin A from the mango and C from both mango and pineapple; bromelain from pineapple.

No amount of persuasive nutrition talk, however, could have persuaded me that what I was selling tasted good. I couldn’t try the dish for myself, since Smart Balance had been used and I wasn’t sure if the bread was vegan, but my teammates reported that it tasted awful. And in truth, it looked kind of awful. Like, so awful that I didn’t take a photo. THAT awful.

As the judges bit in and made faces of stifled revulsion, I watched Rachael and Lori lose their cool in peals of laughter:

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I was losing it, too. The judges were so obviously fighting the urge to spit our dessert out that I wanted to offer them a napkin myself. Needless to say, the other team won.

Note to us: creativity doesn’t always trump common sense. Baguette tarte crust?!

After the iron chef challenge, we were all hangry. Fortunately, soup was on the way, courtesy of chef Matt:

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Who set aside vegan portions for me and Kathy:

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Terrific! Cauliflower puree with truffle oil. There were also several salads, roast veggies, and a risotto. I just went for a giant plate of veg:

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Seconds came later. I loved my last dinner with Kathy and Anne—what fun to spend two days with these ladies!

On Friday morning, I woke up sorry to be leaving the luxury of the Four Seasons Westlake Village. After a final gym visit, I gave Anne a giant hug goodbye (till December in DC, Anne!), and made my way to the buffet breakfast offered:

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Obviously the pastries didn’t appeal, so I settled for coffee, delicious berries, and a Vega bar (love!) I’d brought from home. Incidentally, Brendan and I had been planning on breakfast that day, but there wasn’t time in the end. Till January, my friend!

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Dole had served some pineapple blueberry juice with breakfast, which I tried and absolutely loved. M and I have to make this at home:

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A few hours later, Kathy and I were at the airport. As she snacked on a soy chai, I made a little health drink. I’m typically no fan of Naked or Odwalla smoothies—I’m fairly sensitive to sugar, and find them too concentrated in sweetness for me—but they’re good for travel emergencies. I mixed about half of a green Naked smoothie with a packet of Vega Smoothie Infusion I had in my bag:

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I promise that Brendan does not pay me to endorse his products. I just really like them. (Though if you’d like to send me a tub of whole foods optimizer and a crate of bars, Brendan, that would be swell. I’m running low. Thanks.)

It looked like sludge, but tasted good:

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And with that, it was back to my beloved city. Looking back on these three days, I feel so lucky to have been a part of the Dole Nutrition and Wellness Summit! It was truly an honor. When I was first invited to the event, I didn’t realize that it would be so heavily focused on health and wellness; I imagined more of a “foodie” event. I was delighted to find that the true interest was in nutrition science.

A couple of you have asked me about Dole’s labor practices and/or Montsanto. Truthfully, not much was said about either of these things, and perhaps the omission was deliberate. But the stated purpose of the event was to talk about food and health, and in that regard I think the Dole representatives were very thorough. I left with a much better sense of Dole’s attitude toward spreading nutrition awareness—even through packaged foodstuffs—than I had before.

Most of all, I made new friends! Kathy and Anne were the only two bloggers I knew before I arrived in Westlake; now, I have a whole new branch of my food blogger family tree. So that you can get to know these wonderful women, too, I’ve included their blogs and twitter handles:

What a talented group! Big thank you to Chris, Marty, Jennifer, and everyone at the Dole Nutrition Institute and the California Health and Longevity Institute for such a special trip. Hope it won’t be the last!

I leave you with some final photo images, courtesy of Kathy:

Anne and Gena, kitchen queens:

Vegan salad attack:

Me and Jennifer from Savoring The Thyme–love her!

Kathy and I at the welcome cocktail party:

The lovely Kathy:

Me, Ann-Marie, Jacquie from Dole, and the fabulous Brooke–Brooke is ridiculously fun!:

Back tomorrow with a round up of my favorite Thanksgiving or Thanksgiving-friendly fare—semi-raw, all vegan!


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  1. The story about your dessert MADE. MY. DAY.

    I’m disappointed that you didn’t take a photo, but thoroughly impressed with the photo of the girls laughing!

  2. I agree on the essential fatty acids, but I’d argue that sardines taste a lot better than that Vega oil 🙂

  3. what about the synergistic cofactors that you lose by taking an isolated vitamin? there must be some sort of reason why nature packaged a fish the way it did with DHA and packed fruit without DHA, no? I don’t know. It’s so hard to sift through all the information on you know things like whether or not D2 or D3 are the same, equal, or one is better. or even figure out exactly what vitamins are synthetic and which come from food sources.

  4. I agree with the list of health recommendations but the more I learn, the more I agree more with the semi-vegan lifestyle. While I could never go completely vegan, I do feel it is SO wise to cut back substantially, especially with the diets most Westerners follow!

  5. awwww…hahaha…i guess not all attempts at creativity result in the brilliant recipes we see on tv huh? ah well, at least it was humorous?!?

    love the shirt too 😉

    i can appreciate that the response to the fish question was at least knowledgeable with a vegan alternative…which is more than the first Dole presenter offered…all in all it looks like a fun weekend. naturally, it wouldve been way better with a visit to santa monica, but theres always spring…

  6. Great recap of the conference. It’s easy to vilify corporations like Dole (I personally avoid the brand), but I do think it’s important to keep a two-way conversation going, and I am glad to hear how receptive the corporate reps were. I also think, for better or worse, companies like Dole have a lot of leverage and hence they have the power to shift the industry (reducing pesticide dependence is just one example). I would have accepted the invitation to such a conference in a heartbeat.

    The ten tips are pretty good considering the source. I don’t cook often, but when I do, I prefer saturated fats (coconut oil or butter). I use olive and nut/seed oils (or the Udo’s oil) in raw dishes and on salads. I completely disagree with the last tip (eat MORE fish!), for health and environmental reasons. Even at present rates of consumption, we’re vastly depleting fish stocks. And the deep water fish I prefer (like halibut and tuna) are just too contaminated to eat safely.

    I think supplementing is a fine idea, as long as it’s an already healthy diet one is supplementing. I agree with you that our primary source of nutrients should be whole foods.

  7. Gena my dear, may I say that you look more and more radiant in each post? I absolutely loved seeing your glowing smiles on this post! And lol!!! I wish, oh I wish you had taken a pic of that atrocious dessert. I can’t believe you and your teammates sent it to the judges, but hahaha! I’ll bet the faces were worth it!

    Hm. I have been craving fish a lot these past weeks, so I can’t make a fair judgment on the ten tips, and your rebuttal to the last one. :-p

  8. Do you think that you could post an emergency thanksgiving post, ie one that offers suggestions for dishes to bring to thanksgiving dinner

  9. I love how you report how the dessert was more of a flop rather than a success. Those pictures of the giggling girls are hysterical. Seems like everyone had a really good time

  10. What a great wrap up post! Hey dessert flops happen 🙂 I would have loved to see the pic…even tho you say it was a flop, you could call it Choosing Raw Bloopers 🙂

    Seriously though, great post, Gena. DHA supplementation…for a few years of life I’ve taken DHA supplements, i.e. when pregnant, but not now. I just figure that my overall diet is “fine” and I’m getting what I need. Glad you addressed the fish point with the presenter and enjoyed her response.

    As for the whisk that Anne won…I bought that whisk from the grocery store! It’s great. I bought it 1 week before Foodbuzz(after my 10 yr old whisk bit the dust) only to be gifted another kickin’ whisk. lol

    Glad you’re back safe and sound and hope you spent time with Marla..she’s a (local) friend of mine here!

  11. Loved the dessert story! Too funny. And I also love that you emphasized that meeting new lovely people was the key piece of it – that’s such a precious realization.

    Glad that they’re talking about fiber, veggies, nuts. ‘Eat more fruit’ and ‘eat more fish’ – and even for that matter, ‘eat more nuts’ are dangerous to make as blanket statements. What about fructose overload from fruit, omega-6 overload from nuts and mercury overload from fish? But it sounds like they’re trying, anyway.

    I’m about to review those vibrancy bars on my blog in the next few days! Brendan is so awesome.

    Hope you’re having a great time back home and enjoying thanksgiving prep.


  12. ok so maybe chocolate and pineapple doesn’t always work. sorry about the fail! we’ve all been there.

    of course i disagree on the nutritionist’s suggestions and i am glad you pointed out the facts about fish. from what i’ve read, and blogged about a bit (from reading Becoming Raw) we are ok if we eat hemp and chia and flax and don’t necessarily need to supplement, but some pregnant women and people with health concerns may want to.

    i am glad at least that they are talking about reducing meat and increasing veggies. then our meal choices are at least less foreign to people.

  13. Looks like a great time, and sorry about that dessert experience! I don’t see how chocolate and pineapple can ever go together, what on earth did the other team make??

  14. I am still so impressed by how amazingly epic you made your iron chef challenge dish sound when you presented it! Died laughing when you told us how nasty it really tasted, lol. Gotta love book editors/PR people, they can make anything sound good 😉

    xoxo Can’t wait for our dinner in DC!

    • I’m psyched for our dinner too!

      And yes, gotta love editorial careers. For the rest of my life, I’ll be able to make anything sound great, including myself.

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