The competition started promptly at 11:30 a.m., on Tuesday, Oct. 8, at the Market Café in our Global Headquarters. The event was part of McCormick’s annual campaign to promote giving and volunteering, which is known as “Charity Day.” As part of the campaign, employees are assigned to a team – teams blue, red, and white represent McCormick colors, of course. For several weeks, teams engage in a friendly competition to raise dollars for charity through a variety of activities including “penny wars,” bake sales, an auction, and a United Way pledge drive. And for the first time this year, the Executive Cooking Challenge was added to the list of creative ways in which McCormick raises funds for charity.
Team Blue contestants Lawrence Kurzius, Nneka Rimmer, and Jen Lowry (competing for Malcolm Swift) were coached by Chef Gary Patterson. Team Red contestants Brendan Foley, Lisa Manzone, and Jim Radin, were coached by Chef Rachel Gooding. And Team White contestants Mike Smith, Jeff Schwartz, and Larry Lichter (competing for Andy Bennett) were coached by Chef Trip Kadey.
Armed with ingredients and cooking tools, contestants gathered at their respective stations to begin preparing their assigned recipes. It wasn’t long before the Blue station went into high gear with some vigorous pounding by Lawrence, whose first job was to prepare chicken breasts for sautéing. His team’s recipe was chicken picatta with cauliflower quinoa risotto.
Meanwhile at the White station the team busily worked on a skillet chicken (deftly handled by Larry) cooked with tomatoes and a side of crispy smashed potatoes. And at the Red station the team went to work on a chicken pasta primavera, whose al dente doneness was certified by Brendan.
All three teams had to contend with a secret ingredient: McCormick’s Everything Bagel Seasoning, a recent launch from our Consumer Products Division.
Team Blue integrated the seasoning into the flour coating for the chicken. Team Red used the ingredient in a cream sauce for the pasta and tomato topping, and Team White used it in the smashed potatoes, the chicken, and the sour cream sauce.
As the teams prepared their dishes, representatives for each team solicited the audience for donations, as the teams would eventually be judged not only on their culinary skills, but also on their fundraising prowess.
The judges, Nikki Bertelli, Laurie Harrsen, and Ramesh Moorthy, were sequestered during the competition to avoid favoritism, yet they shamelessly declared they would accept bribes as soon as they arrived on the scene near the end of the competition. (Bribes, of course, would add to the fundraising goal for the event, whose proceeds were designated to support Flavor for Life, a McCormick initiative to educate families on using herbs and spices to prepare healthy meals.)
In the end, one thing that didn’t seem to weigh too heavily in the judging process was station décor, which was unfortunate for Team Blue and its very well executed Halloween theme, complete with witch hats, cobwebs, and a skull. Strong decorations notwithstanding, and despite the fact that all dishes were worthy contenders according to the judges, the top prize went to Team Red.
Upon hearing the news, Lisa Manzone thanked members of the jury and mentioned, in passing, that she “taught chef Rachel everything she knows.”
The event generated $1,300 in donations, which McCormick will match.