10th Annual Women Against Abuse “Dish It Up,”–Philadelphia’s Only Female Chef Competition Features 21 Local Chefs.
Dish It Up is an all-female chef competition on March 28th, 6pm – 9pm at VIE by Cescaphe (600 N. Broad Street, Phila PA 19130). This year will be the 10th anniversary of this popular event with guest host Melissa McGee, 6ABC Meteorologist who is the Honorary Chair of Women Against Abuse, Inc., Philly’s leading domestic violence agency. This event will feature a very eclectic mix of 21 chefs from the area, many sponsors, celebrity judges along with more than 500 community leaders, food enthusiasts (like myself!) and lots of people interested in a great party for a good cause. Proceeds benefits survivors of domestic violence. Today I am spotlighting First Time Competitor Chef Shannon Johnson of Sodexo Catering & Lions Gate CCRC in Voorhees, NJ.
The other day, I had the pleasure of speaking with a few people involved in this year’s event. Here’s a few excerpts from my conversations with Chef Shannon Johnson, a first-time competitor this year, Kris Parsons who is working with Expert Events, the organizers of the event and Sodexo’s General Manager Chef Stephen Davis with Peggy O’Neill who is the Sales & Marketing Director of Lions Gate CCRC.
Shannon, I read that you grew up cooking with your grandmother, another great chef in the family.How has she inspired you?
Shannon: My grandmother was all about family and she was from the Caribbean. We often utilized spices from Trinidad and Tobago in many of our dishes and grilled almost everything. Her influence really inspires me today in much of the menus I prepare here at Lions Gate. We also are a kosher kitchen so it sometimes is very interesting and at times, challenging, to explore cooking from other cultures while we remain committed to kosher food.
I read online Shannon, that as the Chef Manager for Lions Gate, you cook for 300+ people every day. How do you keep it fresh? It sounds really overwhelming.
Shannon: There are challenges, of course, when you are cooking for so many people on a daily basis. You have to plan more but it is really just like when someone is cooking for a big event—keep cool and roll with the punches. Sodexo is a big catering company and they hire only the best teams so we work well together and get it done.
Peggy, Lions Gate is an Adult community—frankly, one would not expect its food service to be “gourmet” or even worthy of being in a competition…what makes it different here?
Peggy: Our food service is provided by Sodexo which was founded in Marseilles, France—where famous chefs and food originated. It is now the worldwide leader for quality of life services—food service being one of them and they are known for providing nutritious meals, creating healthy and productive environments and helping people live healthier lifestyles. When I first started here, all of the staff ate our meals here because the food was so delicious, truly. When we saw this opportunity to participate with Dish It Up to showcase our great food and chefs, we were happy to join in—especially since we already had a female chef! When people think of senior living, they think of boring meals served on old style dinner trays. It’s so not true anymore. It is boutique cooking, restaurant style with lots of variety and choices. One of the things that Shannon and Stephen do for the winter season and all year round, is prepare 60 different soups. They cook everything from scratch. We are excited to showcase Shannon and our kitchen. We put our creations right up there with the fancy, more well-known restaurants and caterers.
So, Stephen, tell us, what will Shannon prepare for this grand evening on March 28 at VIE?
Stephen: Karen, we areexcited with her selections. They are: ANutella Egg Cream, a Plantain Latkes with Avocado Cream and an Israeli Salad Gazpacho. The Plantain Latke is a spinoff of atraditional latke with a bit of a Caribbean flair, courtesy of Shannon—or actually her grandmother! (laughs) We have a little caramelization going on, smoked paprika, a lot a cilantro, lime and a few other secret ingredients.So,it’s a nice crisp, but not heavy, sort of traditional latke. The gazpacho is one of those 60 soups we prepare here. Very good and interesting.
Shannon, have you competed in any other food competitions?
Shannon: I’ve been a chef for over 10 years now, but other that some small events, this is my first big competition and I’ve very, very excited. I’m also honored to be part of a group that recognizes more female chefs. I think they’re not always the first ones considered and there are so many good ones out there.
Shannon. When you’re not busy working in a kitchen, what do you enjoy doing on your down time? If you have any at all (laughs)?
Shannon: Well, I have a two-year-old. So not much down time even at home but she is my joy in life. I do as much as I can with her.
Is it hard to balance your time of being a mother and a full-timechef?
Shannon: Not really, because Sodexo Lions Gate believes a good work /life balance is good for business. I really do have a great team here too who support me being a mom and a chef.
How do all of you feel about being a part of Dish It Up this year?
Shannon:It’s really exciting. When I was told about it, there was no hesitation to join in.
Stephen: As a chef myself with a background of 30 years, I know chefs and most are very caring people. They put their love into the food they prepare and they also love to give back to theircommunities. Whether it’s feeding the hungry, helping the homeless, whatever it is, chefs are always jumping into the mix. This is a great cause to support.
Peggy: Just like a good meal makes you feel good, we feel good about being part of this. We have heard about all the great work Women Against Abuse does for the region and survivors of domestic violence. We are honored to be part of this event and can’t wait to taste all the great dishes!
Kris: And tickets are moving fast so please go online now and get yours now. Visit www.womenagainstabuse.org/events/dish-it-up The event is great fun and very purple!