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The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread
Salads are great and all, but when it’s lunchtime, my mind goes straight to one thing: sandwiches.
BLTs, gyros and banh mi! Chicken biscuits, turkey clubs and lobster rolls! Pork belly buns and croque monsieurs! Reubens! Muffulettas! Heck, give me a good old-fashioned grilled cheese and I’m happy.
So, when I recently had the opportunity to judge a Smith sandwich competition, I was all in.
Sandwich Wars, as the Interterm event was called, challenged Dining Services staff to come up with “the best ideas since sliced bread to update menus across the cafe, catering, Chapin and the cycle menu at large,” as a flyer said. “Our campus sandwiches have stayed the same long enough.”
Each of the seven contestants who signed up was required to create two sandwiches, at least one of them vegetarian, from the ingredients of their choice (no Iron Chef–style secret ingredients here) and to make enough of each sandwich to feed the 15 judges—Smith staff from all corners of the campus—who’d volunteered their palates. Fourteen sandos to sample. That’s a lot of food, but my elastic waist pants and I were up to the task.
In the Chase/Duckett dining room, I sat with three staffers who’d taped the letters “Y,” “U” and “M” to the back of matching Smith sweatshirts in honor of the occasion. All of us had brought our appetites.
The judging was blind, meaning we didn’t know which chef made which sandwich—or even who the chefs were. Each sandwich was assigned a number, and we used our phones to vote electronically, scoring all 14 entries on execution (10%), appearance (25%), taste (40%) and sustainability (25%).
Right away, I gave top marks to a Korean fried chicken sandwich with chile oil and pickled vegetables on a brioche bun. My second favorite meat-based sandwich was the Bombay Royale, with curried chicken, spicy cucumber and sweet-tart pineapple on naan. Both sandwiches used local chicken, among other local ingredients—a big plus for sustainability.
The vegetarian and vegan sandwiches had the best names: Chick Pea of the Sea, Avo-God-Oh, Beets Me, Black-Eyed Sally. My runaway favorite may not have had a clever name, but the Soy Mushroom Wrap was unconventional and surprisingly delicious, with chewy black rice and silky local shiitake mushrooms playing off crunchy cabbage and colorful local greens.
Some judges gamely tried to finish all 14 samples, but most ate a few bites of each and composted the rest. We took our job seriously (“I could see a lot of people liking this sandwich!”) and marveled at our good fortune (“How fun is this?!”).
When the votes were tallied, Andrew Cox, director of dining services, introduced the competitors and announced the winners.
The highest-scoring individual sandwich was the Korean fried chicken sandwich I’d loved at first bite. It turned out to be the creation of Mitchell Daniels, Smith’s lead catering chef. The Soy Mushroom Wrap, by catering cook James Burbidge, earned the second highest score.
Amazon gift cards were awarded to the chefs whose two entries cumulatively earned the most votes. Burbidge came in first with the Soy Mushroom Wrap and a different Korean fried chicken sandwich. (Yes, there were two. Korean fried chicken is having a moment.) Jacob Zucker, a cook at Gillett House, came in second with the Bombay Royale and the Beets Me. And Daniels placed third with the other Korean fried chicken sandwich—my fave—and a tabbouleh and baba ghanoush wrap.
Daniels’ Korean fried chicken and Burbidge’s Soy Mushroom Wrap should debut on Smith menus soon, along with some of the other top vote-getters.
The culinary challenge complete, I hitched up my stretchy pants and headed back to work.