Mel’s Kitchen takes top prize in local Chopped Challenge

If someone asked you to make a dessert using marshmallow Peeps, instant coffee, carrots and rice cakes, could you? How about an appetizer with peanut butter, Cheerios and an avocado?

On Friday, 10 chefs from the Roxborough, Manayunk and East Falls neighborhoods did just that for the East River Bank’s “Chopped Challenge,” a spin-off of the Food Network’s show.

Chefs from Down Home Diner, Fall’s Taproom, Slice’s, Cafe at the Mills, Franco’s, Jack’s Firehouse, Mel’s Kitchen, Jake’s, Soul II Sole, CJ & Eck’s, McGillicuddy’s and Roma’s participated in the late morning challenge.

The event was part of community banking month and was designed to put the spotlight on local restaurants by testing the chef’s creativity in developing plates with some key ingredients.

Dorrian McGill, director of human resources at East River Bank, said in order to have growth and stability in the community, you have to support local businesses. 

The official chopped challenge champion judging took place at the corporate office in East Falls where guest judges ranked the food on taste, creativity, presentation and incorporation of the required ingredients. The guest judges were Danya Henninger from Drink Philly, Sam Fran Scavuzzo from Roxborough Patch and Mark Gisi from Tabula Creative Communications.

Seated in a conference room with a smorgasbord of food in front of them, the judges quickly jumped in trying the presenting chefs’ dishes first, which included Mel’s Kitchen chef Michael Hannon’s winning dish of “Cheerio Encrusted Avocado Tempura Skewers with Peanut Butter Chili Sauce.”

While there were many favorites, such as variations of carrot cakes, tiramisu and even chicken wings, the judges chose the skewers for the unique incorporation of the ingredients.

“They tasted fantastic and it was an innovative use of the ingredients,” said Henninger. “It didn’t feel forced.”

Hannon learned about the competition a week earlier, but forgot about it until someone from the bank called him. With only one day to prepare, he and his wife Melanie began cooking their version of one of their favorite dishes. He said it only took five minutes to complete as they quickly received approval from their lunch customers.

He said they were thrilled to learn they won especially given the caliber of competition and the fact that their Umbria Street restaurant has only been open for a year.

“It was great opportunity and we are really happy with the outcome because we were up against some big names,” said Hannon. 

East River Bank customers also took part in the fun. They were given the opportunity to try out some of the creations and vote for their favorites. For the Roxborough branch, the people’s choice award went to Mel’s Kitchen. The winner for the the East Falls branch was Down Home Diner.

The winners received gift cards from the East River Bank.

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