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Pawcatuck church hosting first ‘Almost Iron Chef’

STONINGTON — Bacon will be on the menu at the United Congregational Church in Pawcatuck when local chefs and cooking show fans showcase their culinary talents in the first-ever “Almost Iron Chef” competition and fundraiser on Feb. 1.

Inspired by the popular Japanese cooking show “Iron Chef,” and its American adaptation, “Iron Chef America,” the church invites local cooks to enter an appetizer, entree, side dish or dessert to be tasted and judged by event visitors. In keeping with the TV show, one ingredient is required in all dishes. For this event, it’s bacon.

“Bacon’s a favorite of mine,” said Linda Evans, a Pawcatuck resident and church member who has already signed up to compete. “I think it will be a lot of fun.”

Generating interest and excitement in the church is exactly what the Rev. Ruth Hainsworth said she hoped for with this event, which replaces the chili cook-off the church has hosted in previous years.

“There’s been a lot of energy within the church about it,” she said. “It’s something unique and different, and it taps into an interest in the church that’s been growing.”

The idea was first suggested to the congregation in December, and went through several internal committee reviews before becoming official, Hainsworth said.

The church’s membership includes several talented chefs in its midst, as well as many cooking show fans, making this the perfect event to showcase their culinary talents.

Evans described herself as one such Food Network watcher, naming “Chopped” and “Sweet Genius” as two of her favorite programs.

“I love to cook,” Evans said, adding that she has entered the chili cook-off in years past. “I just joined Weight Watchers, so that’s going to put a little crimp in my style, but I’ll work it out.”

Hainsworth’s husband Peter, the winner of last year’s chili cook-off, will also be entering the competition. He said he plans to prepare a soup with a bacon garnish.

“I think it’s going to be interesting and challenging,” he said. “And I happen to like bacon. It could have been something like kale.”

The key ingredient was chosen based on suggestions by church members, said Rev. Hainsworth. All suggestions were written on individual pieces of paper. During Sunday services, one child selected a piece of paper at random, revealing bacon as the star of this cook-off.

Hainsworth said several of the other ingredients, particularly those suggested by children, could have been more difficult to incorporate. Among the youth suggestions were rainbow sprinkles and mint chocolate chip ice cream.

“Bacon’s not as unusual as some,” she said. “Plus, there’s a fair amount of desserts including bacon that are popular now.”

Event attendees will each receive a ballot when they purchase tickets, allowing them to vote for a favorite dish in each of the four categories, as well as a best overall. Votes will be tabulated and winners announced the same night.

While this is the first official cooking competition the church has held, Peter described its potluck suppers as “a kind of unofficial iron chef thing.

“There’s always an element of unspoken competition between the cooks of the church,” he said. “We have a lot of great chefs ... real foodies.”

While the competition will also serve as a fundraiser for the church’s general fund based on ticket and registration costs, Hainsworth said the amount of money raised is not her first priority.

“I always think of these kinds of things more in terms of the people who come than the money we raise,” she said. “The goal is to involve the church, and the surrounding community.”

Interested competitors can register by calling 860-599-1226. Registration costs $5, and the competition will be capped at 30 chefs. Chefs should bring their dishes, to be prepared at home, to the church by 5:15 p.m., and the tasting will begin at 5:30 p.m. Taste-testers can purchase tickets — $10 for adults and $5 for children 2 to 12— in advance or at the door.

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