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Jason Balogh, from Denver, CO, searched amidst the fresh parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme of Jerusalem's famed Machane Yehudah outdoor market for the winning spice that would make his team champions in the Iron Chef competition. The Coloradan teen is among the 300 high school graduates, mostly from the US and England, who are taking part in Hadassah's Young Judaea Year Course, a year of study and volunteer work. Balogh elected to take the Culinary Course which includes studying and learning to cook Israeli food as a means of understanding local culture. The hands-on program features an Iron Chef competition where students produce cook-off meal.
The cooking school with its teaching kitchen is located in the heart of the market. They dispatched to select ingredients to make a gourmet three-course meal. But not until they returned with their purchases and had begun cooking did they hear what was the secret ingredient they needed.
Balogh and two fellow-Judaeans minded their peas and cucumbers, selected fresh chicken to roast, and filled their basket with luscious fruit. Then the secret ingredient was announced: chocolate chips.
"We had to think fast," said Balogh. "How do you combine chocolate and asparagus?"
They sprinkled the asparagus with coarse salt and then dribbled chocolate on it for a South American effect.
They found the main course the hardest part of the task. "Frankly, we don't have experience in choosing chicken or cuts of meat, particularly in an outdoor market." They roasted the chicken and dressed it with lemon 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 Balogh. He has 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 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. The students recently had a tutorial in wine and the Torah, understanding the Biblical and Talmudic sources of making and drinking wine.