When local chefs take the stage during United Way of Clatsop County’s Iron Chef Goes Coastal event, they’re not only competing for the title and bragging rights, but also channeling their culinary skills into an event that raises funds for numerous agencies that impact local residents in a consequential way.
The annual fundraiser harnesses the skills of local culinary professionals to raise money for over a dozen organizations throughout the county.
As opposed to supporting hefty overhead costs or salaries of upper management, as is typical in the restaurant business, “so much of [the money] actually trickles down and is dollars within our local Clatsop County community that feed, house and care for people in need,” said Josh Archibald, executive chef at The Wayfarer Restaurant in Cannon Beach and one of four individuals who will team up for a competition fashioned after the popular American cooking show.
The 12th annual Iron Chef Goes Coastal will take place Tuesday, Nov. 5, at the Seaside Civic and Convention Center. As the United Way of Clatsop County’s signature fundraiser, the event’s profits are channeled through the organization to the diverse agencies it supports including the Clatsop CASA Program, Clatsop Community Action, The Harbor and 11 others.
“We’re fighting for improving lives in Clatsop County,” Jennifer Holen, the event’s executive director, said, “and it works.”
Pulling off the event requires the involvement of about two dozen local restaurants, chefs and hospitality partners. Year after year, many of the same ones return, bringing enough food for hundreds of people to sample. Even this year, with the capacity of the event increasing from 600 to 700, the restaurants were amenable and will bring larger portions of their dish.
“It’s really not a hard sell to them,” Holen said, “because they know the funding that goes through United Way to these partners really makes a difference.”
A premier culinary event
Iron Chef Goes Coastal is comprised of two competitive elements. During the first part of the evening, guests can sample savory and sweet dishes provided by local restaurants and then vote for their favorite.
“It’s like dining out at 17 restaurants with your ticket,” Holen said.
The top two People’s Choice winners in the savory division earn a spot in the live competition for the following year, where they face off with the current title-holders. The winners of the 2018 Iron Chef – Jeff Martin of the Silver Salmon Grille in Astoria and Brad Dodson of Maggie’s on the Prom in Seaside – will participate in the live competition again this year, along with Archibald and Indus Johnston, executive chef at The Cove Restaurant in Long Beach.
The twist is that none of the chefs know who their partner is until the knife draw right before the one-hour cook-off. They also don’t know which secret ingredient they must incorporate into their three-course meal. The only things the competitors can bring with them are their knives and knowledge.
Preparing food on the fly is a skill Johnston practices daily, as he is tasked with developing menu specials based on what’s on hand in the kitchen. He looks forward to bringing that flexibility and creativity to the competition. The difference will be working alongside another head chef, but Johnston views that as an opportunity for teamwork.
“I create that culture in our kitchen,” he said, “so I hope I can adapt to that there.”
Archibald, who will also participate in the live event for the first time, agreed it’s difficult to prepare much in advance because of the variables.
“I’ve kind of been working through a couple staple things I can make in that setting,” he said. “You want to have four or five things in your head that you know you can do.”
Using limited equipment, the competing teams create dishes to share with the guest judges, which this year includes chef, restaurateur and Iron Chef America winner Vitaly Paley; State Sen. Betsy Johnson; regional president of U.S. Bank Kevin LaCoste; and philanthropist Jordan Schnitzer. One seat on the judge’s panel is left open and available to the highest bidder.
Those in attendance can also participate in the event through various raffles and the silent auction, which features items, vouchers and gift certificates donated by local businesses. New this year, the auction items will be posted online ahead of time so people can show up ready to bid.