Copper Chef

Hey everybody! As you may or may not know, the Hoch-Shanahan (or simply the Hoch), Mudd’s dining hall is generally recognized at being pretty spectacular in comparison to a lot of other college dining halls, with fresh food and lots of options. This week, we even had a visiting Norwegian chef come serve (the lamb shanks were amazing).


One really cool thing that happens at the Hoch Shanahan every year is Copper Chef! Copper Chef is Harvey Mudd’s cooking competition, where representatives of each dorm face off.

Jakim Johnson, one of the winners of the 2015-2016 copper chef, in his prize jacket

Jakim Johnson, one of the winners of the 2015-2016 copper chef, in his prize jacket

Today I sat down with Jakim Johnson, member of Atwood’s winning Copper Chef team last year to hear a little bit more on what Copper Chef is all about, and what his experience with it was like:

Q: So Jakim, what exactly is Copper Chef?

A: Copper Chef is a cooking competition. The idea is that dorm compiles a team of 3 or 4 people, or two, or even 1. Just a team of chefs. And in the hoch they pit 3 dorms against each other at at a time. The dorms compete tournament style, so you end up with only one team standing. Because there are 9 dorms, it’s just 2 brackets. We have the first rounds in the fall, and then in spring we have our final. The idea is you show up, you don’t know what the secret ingredient is, don’t know what you’ll make. Then you have to make an entree and an appetizer to give to a panel of 3 or 4 judges, just chosen from faculty or staff.

Q: What’s the prize?

A: The winning team wins a pizza party for their dorm, so the Hoch buys pizza and ice cream for the dorm. And then, the champions will be made into cardboard cutouts, and put into the Hoch. I haven’t seen that happen yet, but they took pictures of us posing in our- Oh! I haven’t told you about that, they gave us chef’s jackets, like the Hoch employees wear. It’s embroidered with our name, and our dorm, and the Harvey Mudd logo. Pretty cool prizes, good incentive to participate. Also you get free food.

Porter Adams in the 2014-2015 Copper Chef

Porter Adams in the 2014-2015 Copper Chef

Q: How did you end up participating in Copper Chef last year?

A: Wow. So, I lived in Drinkward, and we got emails about it, asking people to come out for the team. I just happened to show up in the Hoch when they were starting, and there were only two people for our Drinkward team, so I said “OK, I’m gonna jump in.” So I jumped in and tried to help, but we ended up losing that round, so Drinkward was out of the ┬ácompetition for the year, so I was sad. But, I think the following month, they were having some other matches, and I walked past the Atwood team, and they only had one person, it was my friend Camille. So I jumped in, and officially became part of Atwood’s team, and we ended up winning. I participated in the spring final round, where we faced off against Linde and East I think. So, of course, I was going to win, and that’s what happened. We won Copper Chef, and we found out the best trick is, the judges come around and try to pick your brain on what you’re doing, and you feed them little bribes, like fried sweets.

Q: How was winning?

A: The first one was a complete surprise, because I just jumped in, and I have 0 culinary background besides watching Food Network. At the final championship I was really surprised to win also, because the other teams… their food looked really good, and ours kind of didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to. We were trying to make some kind of cheese sauce, and it ended up being really thick. So we ended up just making some kind of mac and cheese. I can make some mac and cheese.

Q: You mentioned you have no culinary background, who do you think should participate in Copper Chef?

A: Absolutely everyone. It’s not too difficult as long as you just don’t poison the judges. All you have to do is cook some chicken, season it… That’s the important part, you know. I mean, anyone with any background. I can dice some vegetables. We talked our way through, what does this look like, does this look done, what will happen if we tenderize this- So you can sort of reason your way through it even if you don’t know about cooking. I was lucky I had a partner on my team who knew what they were doing, I knew absolutely nothing, but it was still really fun.

Honestly, after talking to Jakim, and having some cooking experience myself, I’m considering trying to do Copper Chef this year.

For those of you interested, here is some footage of Copper Chef 2010-2011.