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San Juan Teen's Latin Touch Brings Win to Iron Chef Team

Doug Admin
January 4, 2010
San Juan Teen's Latin Touch Brings Win to Iron Chef Team
By Barbara Sofer

Monique Benzaquen of San Juan, Puerto Rico wants to be a pastry chef when she grows up. So she combined her love of Israel with her love of cooking and signed up for the Culinary Track of Hadassah's Young Judaea Year Course. Benzaquen has just finished three months of the year course, and was part of the winning team in the Iron Chef competition in Jerusalem.

The hands-on program challenged each team to produce a gourmet three-course meal for a cook-off.

The cooking school with its teaching kitchen is located in the heart of the city's famed outdoor market Machane Yehudah. Each team was dispatched to select ingredients. But not until they returned with their purchases and began cooking did they hear what the secret ingredient they needed was .

Benzaquen and two fellow-Judaeans minded their peas and cucumbers, selected fresh chicken to roast, and filled their baskets with luscious fruit. Then the secret ingredient was announced: chocolate chips.

"Chocolate is easy in desert, but we needed to use it in every course, "said Benzaquen "How do you combine chocolate and asparagus?"

Making use of her experience with South American food, she suggested that they sprinkle the asparagus with coarse salt and then dribble chocolate on it.

For a main course, they roasted chicken in lemon juice and fresh thyme.

The piece de resistance turned out to be the dessert, which won them enough points to clinch the championship. They filled crepes with mango, strawberries, bananas, and chocolate chips, and served a refreshing smoothie from the same ingredients.

"What a great way to get to learn to cook and get to know Jerusalem at the same time," said Benzaquen.

She and her fellow chefs have spent three months in Israel's capital, and will spend three months each now in the coastal city of Bat Yam, south of Tel Aviv, and last in the desert town of Arad.

The students recently had a tutorial in wine and the Torah, understanding the Biblical and Talmudic sources of making and drinking wine. The opening activity in Tel Aviv will be a scavenger hunt in the city's many coffee shops, many of them key sites of historical events. Benzaquen is hoping to do an internship with a top pastry chef.

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