Residents at Applewood, a continuing care retirement / life plan community in Freehold, NJ, recently participated in a Food Network-style “Chopped” competition that concluded the community’s yearlong Culinary Institute of Applewood program.

In the month-long event, residents were challenged to create their own custom recipes based on an eclectic assortment of surprise ingredients: avocados, Peruvian potatoes, chicken breasts and fennel.

The competition was judged by Heath Braunstein, the community’s director of dining, and the executive chef.

“Let’s face it, we Americans are all foodies, in one way or another,” he said. “Our goal is to keep residents engaged in culinary pursuits through a variety of lively and thought-provoking interactive special events like ‘Chopped.’ ”

At the competition’s finale, a large audience of residents, competitors and staff convened to hear the professional chefs critique each team’s entree.

Teams were judged on:

  • Use of all of the required ingredients,
  • Culinary creativity and
  • Completeness and documentation of culinary technique.

Ultimately, the six-chef team of Pat O’Brien, Jean Luiken-Golden, Jean Glass, Ellen Meriney, Gloria Schiller and Betty McKennon won with a recipe of chicken rollatini, avocado salad and slow-roasted vegetable recipes.

The competition had an added, social benefit.

“I got to know many new people during the course of the competition,” Luiken-Golden said. “I was fortunate to be part of a very talented team. I had no idea what to do with the fennel, but one of the other ladies was very familiar with it, thankfully.”

Each champion received an inscribed crystal trophy, CIA chef hat and apron, and a personalized certificate of culinary excellence.

“Even if you don’t cook often, you can still participate,” Meriney said. “Everyone loves food, and it’s fun to compete as a group.”

The community plans to expand its CIA program offerings this year by introducing a “culinary passport,” which will track resident participation and qualify them for “culinary diplomas” and prizes. The 2016 core program will be refreshed for new residents, supported by new content and workshop activities.

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