It’s taken six tries for the Bay Area Iron Chef competition to invite a woman to participate, but they’re making up for it in a hurry.
This year, there will be two.
Meet chefs Tara Pryor and Lacey Rice.
While the two share a similar background, they are also very, very different.
Both women graduated from the Oregon Coast Culinary Institute programs, Pryor in 2008 and Rice in 2007. And outside of being nervous about competing and agreeing that it will be fun because it’s for a good cause, that’s about where the similarities end.
This year’s Bay Area Iron Chef event has a Hawaiian theme and is scheduled for Feb. 23 at the Red Lion Hotel in Coos Bay. The event starts at noon — with former Bay Area Iron Chef Larry Moore as the master of ceremonies — and will end sometime after 5 p.m.
The cooking and plating will end around 4:45 p.m. with a fabulous meal to follow.
This year’s secret ingredient is ...
Oh, come on now, you don’t think Lynda Kristoffersen of the Rotary Club would trust me with that kind of information, do you?
She’s way, way too smart for that.
And the reason you’re getting two new competitors for Bay Area Iron Chef this year is that last year’s champion, Chef Kevin Linde of Porta in North Bend, relocated to the Bend area — thus leaving the competition with no defending champion.
While both of this year’s competitors have worked their way into outstanding careers, they have taken different paths.
Pryor has been the assistant to the director of OCCI, Chef Shawn Hanlin, for the past three years.
“I don’t get to be in the kitchen all the time,” Pryor said. “I get to tell other people what to do.”
It’s her lack of kitchen time, which pushed Pryor to compete in the 2011 “So Chopped” competition here in Coos Bay and to recently do the rigorous Chef de Cuisine test in Portland. That includes a practical test and a written test for judges of the American Culinary Federation.
“I do these challenges because I sit behind a desk,” Pryor explained. “I want to know ‘Do I still have it.’”
She does, she passed the test — and she also won the So Chopped event.
But, events like So Chopped and Bay Area Iron Chef can make even the best chefs anxious.
“It was scary, very intense,” she said. “You look into the Mystery Basket and wonder ‘How do you make anything out of that?’ I’m shocked I won.”
While Pryor has stayed at OCCI, Chef Rice has pursed a private-sector career. After graduating from OCCI, she did her externship at Lord Bennett’s in Bandon. She liked it so much, she’s been with them ever since — almost.
Lord Bennett’s had a fire several years ago. During the rebuilding, Rice went to work at Oyster Cove in Charleston. But as soon as Lord Bennett’s was back in business, Rice returned.
“With Rich (owner/chef Rich Iverson), I’ve learned so much from him,” Rice said. “Rich is amazing to work for. He built that restaurant. He’s willing to mentor you. Everyone there is great — we’re like a family.”
What restaurant skills does she think might help her in the competition?
“Thinking on the fly, and dealing with chaos,” she said. “Being actually in the line and learning from Rich, it’s a whole different experience,” she said. “In culinary school, you learn the basics. Here, you learn the things that school can’t teach. It gets crazy.
“I’m competitive in general — I feel like I thrive in that environment.”
She’ll need to. You know this if you’ve been to any of the previous five Bay Area Iron Chef events.
Tickets for the event go fast, so find a Rotarian and get in on the fun.