From: The Park Slope Courier
By: Mathew Moll
While millions around the country are focused on a game to decide football supremacy, the local squash world will be lining its stomachs, preparing to crown its own champion.
Twenty contestants are slated to compete in The Great Squash Cook-Off, a community-based “Iron Chef” inspired contest, on Feb. 4 at the V-Spot – a vegan restaurant – located at 156 Fifth Avenue in Park Slope.
“This is a chance to bring people in the community together and support seasonal eating,” said Ameet Maturu, whose company The Intuitive Cook organized the event. “We hope people will more become aware of what is available naturally this time of year.”
On the Food Network’s “Iron Chef,” the contestants are assigned one ingredient from which to cook a gourmet meal. Maturu’s version is to take one seasonal ingredient, make one dish, keep it local and keep it vegan. Which according to the American Vegan Society, means only products from the plant kingdom are allowed. No meat. No dairy.
Maturu, 28, described seasonal eating as people incorporating the season’s natural harvest into their diets. This, according to Maturu, supports local farms, benefits the body, and helps consumers connect with the origins of food.
About 30 contestants submitted recipes and short anecdotes describing how they created their dishes. Judges selected the 20 contestants who were chosen on how interesting the stories were and the simplicity of the dish.
Members of the public will also be able to attend and vote on their favorite dish. The V-Spot is scheduled to open its doors at 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 4 to the public. Admission to the cook-off is $15.
The winner will be awarded $200 cash prize and the dish will be featured on the V-Spot’s menu where it will remain for at least the winter, but with the possibility of becoming a permanent item.
They’ll compete in one of three categories: soups/stews/chilis, entrees and sides, and desserts.
“Winter squash is available naturally this time of year and provides many of the vitamins the body needs to survive the winter,” said Maturu.
Danny Carabano, owner of the V-Spot, saw the contest as a chance to have a new event at his nine-month-old restaurant.
When Maturu and Carabano met through a mutual acquaintance their interests complemented each other like tempeh and tofu.
The V-Spot is in its nascent state searching for new ways to reach what Carabano called a growing vegetarian population in Park Slope.
“When Ameet and I met he already had the cook-off in mind,” said Carabano who worked for six years as a teacher while he saved to open his restaurant. “After we spoke it just made sense.”
Carabano, who has a palate for cooking, and wears faded jeans and a T-shirt is a restaurateur, sous chef, promoter and waiter.
Carabano said limited dining options motivated him to open a vegan restaurant, and Maturu’s idea seemed like fun, even if he has only made squash soup.
“Yeah, I generally don’t make squash,” said Carabano. “So I am interested in trying new dishes.”
Maturu moved to New York City from San Francisco to study at the Institute of Interactive Nutrition, where he became a holistic health counselor. At Maturu’s new business, The Intuitive Cook, he advises his clients on diet, nutrition, and lifestyle. The idea to combine one of Maturu’s favorite shows, “The Iron Chef,” with his professional career was an ideal way for Maturu to meet members of the community and cook with them.
But culinary combat with dishes with names such as Three Sisters Chili and Three Sisters Stew, the event may prove to be more about camaraderie than clashing; more about the history of dishes than the histrionics the Food Network’s reality show provides.
The same panel of six judges, Carabano, Maturu, Kala Lea, co-owner of Smooch, an organic restaurant in Fort Green; Vikas Khanna, a restaurant consultant and owner; Anna Lappe, the author of Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic; and Isa Chandra Moskowitz, author of Vegan with a Vengeance will judge the dishes based on taste, presentation, and ease of preparation.
“We want something other people in the community can make,” said Carabano.
“The idea of this event is to help people get more connected with their food, and to others who enjoy cooking,” said Maturu.