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Cal State Northridge Earns Top Chef Award at ESPN Zone Cooking Challenge


Watch the post-game interview with Top Chefs Bobby Braswell & Jason Flowers on BigWest.TV

Cooking Challenge Feature from the Los Angeles Times
Orange County Register Recap and Photo Gallery
Watch "Cooking With Marcia and Bob" Courtesy of Cal State Fullerton
Watch UCR coaches John Margaritis & Jim Wooldridge and check out the UCR photo gallery.

The Big West Conference and ESPN Zone Anaheim partnered for the second annual southern California Basketball Media Day, featuring a Cooking Challenge that pitted the men's and women's head coaches from Cal State Fullerton, Cal State Northridge, Long Beach State, UC Irvine and UC Riverside in a culinary showdown.

Donning the aprons for the Big West's version of "Iron Chef" were Bob Burton and Marcia Foster (Cal State Fullerton), Bobby Braswell and Jason Flowers (Cal State Northridge), Dan Monson and Jody Wynn (Long Beach State), Russell Turner and Molly Goodenbour (UC Irvine), and Jim Wooldridge and John Margaritis (UC Riverside).

The teams were evaluated by a panel of judges, including Brett Barnes, general manager of Duke's Huntington Beach; Michael Cage, basketball color commentator for Fox Sports; Judge William Bedsworth, California State Court of Appeals; and Marcia Smith, a sports columnist for the Orange County Register.  The judges rated the culinary creations on Best Taste, Best Creativity and Best Presentation.

Tom Keaveny, ESPN Zone head chef, reviewed the rules and unveiled a table filled with spices and various ingredients.  Each team had 15 minutes to prepare a dish using shrimp as the key obligatory ingredient.  Chicken, spaghetti, sausage, potatoes and portobello mushrooms were additional chef options.

Defending Top Chef champion Cal State Fullerton went first, followed by Long Beach State, UC Irvine, Cal State Northridge and UC Riverside.

One of the two newbies in the group, UCI men's coach Russell Turner (CSUN's women's coach Jason Flowers the other), unveiled his strategy prior to the beginning of the festivities.  I'm going to let Molly (Goodenbour) do her thing.  Stand out of the way.  And don't catch on fire," said Turner.

Fiery competition ensued from there, as teams prepared dishes ranging from shrimp tacos to shrimp fajitas to jambalaya.  Shrimp scampi was out of the question when Chef Tom used that dish as his pregame demonstration for the group.

Quips flew from all directions as often as cayenne pepper, onions or parsley hit the pans.  Hoping to avert the "Kitchen Disaster" award for the second straight year, UCR's Wooldridge stirred some rice and tomato sauce as he remarked "We have a strategy, and it's not to finish last.  The strategy is well conceived and well thought out."  Any momentum from that comment was squashed immediately when his partner Margaritis retorted that "I'm not sure we can submit this to the judges.  I don't want to reveal all the problems we have."

CSUN's Braswell confirmed Margaritis' intuition as he walked by the UCR station and uttered "What is that?"

After the judges finished washing down their meals with coke and water, the scores were tallied.

In the end, Cal State Northridge walked off with the Best Presentation and Top Chef awards.  The brainchild of Flowers, the dish "Chicken Shrimp Spaghettini" won the judges over.  Spaghetti with garlic noodles, shrimp with lightly breaded chicken mixed in well with portobello mushrooms and onions over a lemon pepper butter sauce comprised the creation.

For Braswell, it was sweet revenge against his counterpart from Orange County.

"Bob Burton served as a lot of motivation for me this year," said Braswell.  Every time I saw that guy he kept flashing the hardware from last year knowing he really didn't do anything.  We came in here with Jason's recipe and decided we were gonna get it done."

Flowers, basking in the glory of victory, revealed his motivation for the triumph.  "My wife (USA Olympic softball standout Tairia Flowers) gives me a hard time because she has gold and silver medals from the Olympics, but nothing matters anymore," he said, flashing two shiny medals around his neck.

"I watched the BET Hip Hop awards last night.  I've got a lot of bling around my neck and we walked away with the trophy.  I kind of felt like I was at the awards last night."

Behind the veteran leadership of Goodenbour, UC Irvine picked up the award for Best Creativity with its shrimp fajitas.  Turner, serving the role of sous chef for the winners, giddily told the crowd "I'm excited.  I can't wait to get back to campus and tell all of our players."

Cal State Fullerton was not about to be kept out of the medals column.  For the second straight year, Foster and Burton won the honor for Best Taste.  More impressively, the Titan tandem persevered while cooking wounded.  Sporting a walking boot after aggravating an ankle injury, Foster shunned the discomfort and honored her compatriot with the "BB Special," or the "Bob Burton Special."  A succulent combination of rice, onion, cayenne pepper, soy sauce, tomatoes, green peppers and chicken mixed in with the shrimp earned the collective thumbs up of the judges.

The Kitchen Nightmare award followed around the UCR duo of Wooldridge and Margaritis like the scent of burnt toast.  The judges grilled the duo on their jambalaya concoction.  But all was not lost.  As a consolation prize, the two received a book entitled "I Do Too Know How To Boil Water; I Just Don't Know When It's Done."

Margaritis alluded to another one of the awards as he summed up the day, saying "My mother inspired me.  She called me up and said get me a fire extinguisher."

The Madness Begins In Anaheim

The 2011 Big West Basketball Tournament is moving to Honda Center.  Action at Honda Center begins on March 10 with the men's quarterfinal games, and continues with the men's and women's semifinal and championship games on Friday, March 11 and Saturday, March 12.

To purchase tickets, visit the basketball tournament championship page to download a ticket application.  All-session tickets are available now at $64, which includes first round women's games on campus sites.  There are also limited premium seating tickets available (first four rows along the court) for $144.

The 2011 Big West Basketball Tournament is coming to Honda Center, March 10-12, 2010!