LACONIA — In just over a week one of Taylor's own will be hundreds of miles away embroiled in a fight. Luckily Amanda Cobern will enter that confrontation armed with an arsenal. Her executive chef background will serve her well as she takes on "The Food Fight." Sponsored by Kraft Foods and Morrison Food Services, the competition pits two East Coast chefs against two West Coast chefs.
Amanda was recently chosen to represent her region – consisting of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island – in the upcoming challenge.
In order to win the semi-finals, Taylor's Director of Dining Services was tasked with taking three Kraft products along with a "mystery basket" of other foods and preparing two dishes within 70 minutes. Amanda knew ahead of time the three products would be A-1 Steak Sauce, Philadelphia Cream Cheese and Gray Poupon Mustard.
"The cream cheese was the hardest thing to work with," she said. She tried to think about different applications she could tweak when the time came.
"Seventy minutes seems like a lot of time, but once you get working, it goes pretty fast," she said. She finished with just 34 seconds to spare. Amanda's first creation was Beet Napoleon. She sliced and seasoned beets, layering them with cream cheese, herbs and crispy bacon over an arugula salad with Grey Poupon vinaigrette.
The second round of fare was roasted pork tenderloin with A-1 seasoning. The pork was sliced thin with an A-1 barbecue and placed over risotto made with coconut milk, cream cheese and ginger over wilted spinach with mustard vinaigrette.
"I couldn't believe it when they called my name," she said happily. Amanda heads to San Diego to compete in the March 19 finals. "We know we'll be using the same three Kraft products for the finals, but we have no idea what the other components will be."
Having never been to California, she's excited to be visiting the West Coast and plans to take a few extra days to meet up with family members. The competition will take place in the Sony Building, part of the Compass Group, which owns Morrison.
Asked if she had a "food philosophy," Amanda said, "When you like to cook, you have a style you tend to revert to. I enjoy Asian food, so I go to that."
Her children, 11-year-old Robbie and 8-year-old Pearl, are opposites when it comes to their food tastes. "Pearl likes mac and cheese and simple things," she said. "Robbie is more of a food critic and enjoys the occasional foie gras."
Amanda said the finals will be streamed on the Web so her family, friends, staff and Taylor residents can watch. "My staff is a huge part of what I do. Each one of the 24 people is different and unique and all combine to make a winning team," she said.