Have you ever watched Chopped, Iron Chef, or Great British Baking Show and thought, “I could do that!”? Or at the very least thought the idea of a cooking competition looked fun? Well we sure did, and decided to battle it out in the kitchen with our very own date night cooking competition! We did a few challenges over the week with some different variations on approach, each with varying degrees of success. So if you’re interested in hosting your own date night food competition and not sure where to start, we’ve got you covered!
The good news is, you don’t need a massive kitchen with multiple cooking stations to pull this off. We completed our challenges in our standard home kitchen simply by taking turns. We’ll talk more about rules in a bit, but for now let’s talk big picture. To prepare for an at home competition, you may want some inspiration. We suggest watching some cooking competition shows leading up to your event. There are a million, billion different cooking challenge shows at this point, so any one will suffice. Pay attention to how certain flavors are used and to the cooking methods. Take special note of the unique ways they incorporate special or secret ingredients. Once you feel like you have a basic understanding, it’s time to coordinate your competition.
Before running to the turn on the oven, take some time to decide on your cooking competition’s format. There are a lot of different ways to go about this, but each include the same 3 pillars:
- How are you selecting ingredients?
- How are you orchestrating the competition?
- How are you scoring and determining a winner?
One of the first rules we decided was that we could use any ingredients that we currently had in our kitchen as helper ingredients. These ingredients are meant to help whatever meal you’re creating, but not be a prominent or featured taste. These are basics like spices, sauces, oils, and condiments – basically anything you’d use in everyday meal prep could be added to the meal. But be careful – if you don’t have it in the house, you can’t go out and add it, so take a few minutes to check your shared stock.
Choosing Featured Ingredients
Again, there are numerous ways you can approach this, but the key is to agree ahead of time how you’ll structure your competition. Regardless of whatever method you choose, we recommend you use a minimum of 4-5 ingredients each and suggest using at least one protein, vegetable, starch and spices/sauces (remember any allergies, we want this to be a clean competition after all!).
- Hat Trick – Write down a bunch of food items and ingredients on paper and toss it in a hat (or bag, or box..we assume you get the idea). Take turns picking out 4-5 ingredients each.
- Roll the Dice – We assume you’re like us and have food dice lying around, I mean, who doesn’t?! We used this method multiple times and this works really well. Take turns rolling the dice, and boom, you’ve got your ingredients.
- Digitize It – If you’re tech saavy, use a computer to randomly assign ingredients. You can use Excel or any number of programs to list ingredients and then have them sorted randomly, or find a random ingredient generator online.
- Supermarket Sweep – Go shopping for each other and select a protein, vegetable, starch, and sauce/oil. Set some ground rules, but remember whatever you give your partner you will have to eat as well!
- Stay at Home – Use only ingredients you have in the house. Choose 4-5 ingredients each either yourself or choose for each other.
If you’re looking for extra unique ingredients to include, check out our post on Unique Ingredients For Your Cooking Challenge.
One of the best things about so many food competition shows is the element of surprise. We wanted to incorporate the mystery and twist elements we see on so many shows, and went about it a few different ways:
- Each chef selects a random secret ingredient for the other that has to be used in the meal.
- Select a secret ingredient together from a hat
- Choose a specific store that all ingredients have to come from.
- Choose one helper ingredient for your meals
(For more on unique ingredients, check our our post
Ready, Set, Cook!
Now that you’ve got your ingredients chosen and purchased, it’s time to get cooking! Just like selecting your ingredients, you’ll need to decide on a format for your cooking competition. Some things to consider:
- How are you sharing the kitchen? Are you cooking at the same time? This can can get crowded and overwhelming if you have a small space. We suggest taking turns if you can.
- Are you both cooking the same day? This can be done by one person creating a meal for lunch, and the other a meal for dinner.
- Do you both want to create a dinner? Easiest way to solve is to spread the completion over two days.
- What’s included? Are you including a cocktail? A dessert? Do you have to have a certain number of courses? Decide with your fellow chef if you have meal regulations in place or keep it open ended.
- Are you allowed to look up recipes? Personally, we frown on this. Part of the fun of the challenge is not knowing what you’re going to make. But researching quick ways to cook foods (oven temperatures, internal (safe) temperatures of meats, etc) can be allowed. Again – make this food competition your own and agree on a set of rules that work for you.
Lastly, let’s talk numbers. It’s not a competition without a winner! Like we’ve said, how you decide to rate your cooking competition is ultimately up to you, but we broke our scoring down into 3 categories:
- Creativity (C) – How unique was your challenger’s meal? If their ingredients were pasta and sauce, did they just make spaghetti? The more creative and unique the meal, the more points are awarded. Think outside the box, remember this is your time to shine and channel your inner food network star.
- Presentation (P) – This is a challenge after all! You can’t just throw food on the plate and expect 5 points. Practice your instagram skills and make a plate you’re proud to present.
- Taste (T) – Looks and creativity only go so far, in the end, this is a food challenge, and it’s gotta taste great too.
For each category, we awarded a score between 1 (terrible) – 5 (awesome). We then added the total number of points, and ended up with the final score. If you’re not both competing at the same time, it’s important to keep your scores secret. Be fair and honest, after all, it’s the fun that matters.
Mix It Up
If cooking really isn’t your challenge of choice, feel free to put your own spin on it! Here’s a few variations you can try:
- Cocktail Challenge – following the similar methods above for selecting ingredients, you and your partner can select drink ingredients and mixers to create a unique drink. This can be a standalone challenge or incorporated into a food competition. Don’t forget the garnish!
- Sweet Tooth – If you’re like us, you love dessert. Channel your food competition skills into making a dessert masterpiece!
- Tapas – Make a variety of small plates to snack on throughout the day.
So, moment of truth, how did our date night cooking competitions actually go? We think pretty great!
Round 1 – Supermarket Sweep – Results: Tie
In our first competition, we took the Supermarket Sweep approach. We each went to the store and shopped for each other, and bought each other a protein, vegetable, starch, and spice/sauce. Once we saw what we’d each be working with, we were allowed to buy one additional item and decided we could use any other ingredients in the house, but that we couldn’t lookup recipes. We both focused big on presentation this round, and in the end it ended in a tie.
Round 2 – Roll the Dice – Results: Matt Wins
In our second cooking competition, we used our food dice to decide our ingredients and for a fun extra challenge, we decided to make one all vegan. We have to admit, vegan bacon tastes pretty great and actually kind of similar to the real thing (we still love bacon). The color and look of it on the other hand, made us laugh.
Round 3 – Roll the Dice at the Farmer’s Market – Results: Laura Wins
For our final round we stuck with the dice, but added the challenge that everything had to be found (if possible) at our farmer’s market. Amazingly, we got almost everything we needed.
Would we do it again?
Heck yes! We’ve come up with a lot of theme dates but this one has been one of our favorites. It’s a great way to mix up your dinner routine and push your limits in the kitchen. We’ll definitely do more challenges in the future, especially since they’re so easy to do.
We hope these tips help you create your own at home cooking competition. If you try any challenges, let us know how it goes!