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Portland's 2011 Vegan Iron Chef Competition

Vegan Iron Chef 2011

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“For a long time, when you said you were vegan, people would say, ‘you mean vegetarian?’ like they misheard you. But now we’ve moved way past that,” says Isa Chandra Moskowitz, vegan cookbook author and co-host of this year’s Vegan Iron Chef Competition.

The Vegan Iron Chef audience watches the competition at Refuge PDX.

Ifanyi Bell / OPB

This year’s Vegan Iron Chef Competition was held in Portland for the second year in a row and more than 300 people made up the sold-out audience at Refuge PDX, which served as kitchen stadium for the three contestants: Piper Dion of Kitchen Dances, Morgan Grundstein-Helvey of Dovetail Bakery and Jeff Ridabock of Homegrown Smoker.

“Holding events like these is crucial to vegan culture because it gives people an opportunity to see, taste and experience the vegan lifestyle beyond just tofu. It shows that vegan food is just as — if not more — flavorful than what people are used to and also gives them a sense of the community,” says Melissa Chavez, a volunteer for the event.

In addition to a pantry of staple vegan foods including garlic, whole grains and fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, the competing chefs had to incorporate the secret theme ingredient, ginger, into their dishes, as well as use any vegan ingredients they could get their hands on.

Isa Chandra Moskowitz has written several vegan cookbooks.

Ifanyi Bell / OPB

Co-host Moskowitz explains vegan cooking encompasses a variety of ingredients, including milks and cheeses — just different types of milks and cheeses than may first come to mind.

“A lot of what we eat is defined by common, familiar terms. To me, this is cheese,” Moskowitz says, holding a half-pound block of an orange substance wrapped in plastic with a label. “This is what I think of when I think of cheese. It doesn’t come from a cow, but it’s still cheese.” This holds true for a lot of other common foods, like milks and butters made from nuts and soy. 

Vegan Chef Piper Dixon won the 2011 Vegan Iron Chef Competition.

Ifanyi Bell / OPB

In the end it was Piper Dixon’s solid grasp of these ideas that helped him to walk away with the coveted Golden Whisk Trophy. He and his two sous chefs operate Kitchen Dances from a vegan food cart at SE 43rd and Belmont.

“It was fun to be out there cooking and doing what we do. Winning feels good, it’s good for business and getting customers out to the cart. But doing events like these is all about vegan awareness, too.”