Germantown retirement community’s kitchen crew attempts to defend ‘Iron Chef’ crown

Sandy Bailey, who works at Wesley Enhanced Living retirement community, was among 20 yellow-clad, noisemaker-wielding supporters who traveled from the Germantown facility to a sister location at Pennypack Park on Tuesday to root for kitchen staffers in the “Iron Chef WEL” competition.

“Oh wow, look at Stapeley’s station,” she said at the competition pitting staffers from five WEL sites against one another in the cook-off. “They’ve got a huge fire going!”

By Stapeley, she meant the Germantown site’s former name, and huge fire referred to flames stoked by a team seeking a repeat victory in the competition created by Joaquin Suarez, WEL’s director of dining services, more than four years ago.

“No one ever recognizes the guys working in our Wesley kitchens,” Suarez said, “so I wanted to bring all the Wesley communities together to showcase the creativity of the chefs to the residents.”

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How it worked

With Suarez picking a “secret ingredient” — this year’s was bacon — competitors prepared an appetizer, entrée and dessert in 60 minutes.

Then, the creations were presented to judges Ken Franiak, WEL’s chief operating officer; Renee Alexy, human resources manager; and Lucy Azzolini, head chef at WEL’s facility in the Poconos.

How they did

There were high hopes for Stapeley’s team since Greg Brown, Norm Nelson and Frantzy Elmine took home last year’s first-place trophy and People’s Choice Award (voted on before the competition by WEL residents).

The trio went with bacon crabcakes with a fresh spinach and feta cheese salad with bacon bits and bacon vinaigrette for the appetizer, a rosemary bacon lamb in a cream bacon sauce with bacon-wrapped asparagus and lobster bacon risotto for the entrée and a bacon-infused grilled pineapple and chocolate-covered bacon dessert.

“It looks like Stapeley has stepped up and made martinis for the judges as well!” announced Suarez.

“Shaken,” Brown eagerly retorted, “not stirred.”

Azzolini’s beverage review? “It’s all bacon and vodka.”

Judging the judges

Measured responses like those were a running thread to the point that Stapeley resident Wayne Higley said, “They’re so stingy with their words. They have no concept of describing anything.”

“Each judge should comment on each dish,” added attendee Estelle Kameika while the audience sat patiently waiting for more fruitful reactions to the 18 dishes and two alcoholic-bacon concoctions.

In the end, it was not meant to be for the team from Germantown, as rivals from Doylestown took top honors.

“We’re still just happy to be here,” the trio agreed. “We are thankful to [WEL food-service general manager] Ken Strausser for giving us that hunger and thirst to win.”

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