Chefs face-off tonight

Thursday, May 27, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:20 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

Though both chefs would like to see victory in “Iron Chef 3: The Final Showdown” tonight at the Holiday Inn Select Expo Center, it is neither victory nor a title that brings them to compete.

The Expo Center will be transformed into “Kitchen Stadium” as Daniel Pliska, executive chef at the University Club, and Mark Prece, corporate chef at the American Italian Pasta Company, battle to see who will be Missouri’s Iron Chef.

Pliska said he hopes that tonight’s events will highlight not only his own culinary skills but the culinary profession as a whole. In the University Club kitchen, Pliska works with culinary students and apprentices.

“There are a lot of people who call themselves chef apprentices,” said Pliska. “These are real apprentices.”

Through his participation in tonight’s competition, he said he hopes to gain exposure for the chefs-in-training. Pliska had a bakery apprenticeship in Dusseldorf, Germany, and on-the-job training in New Orleans and Washington, D.C. With more than 25 years of culinary experience, he has come to realize the value of on-the-job training apprenticeships provide. He started as a dishwasher and moved his way up the kitchen staff ranks.

There will be a cocktail event and silent auction before the main event this evening that will showcase samples of the apprentices’ dishes. Pliska also said he hopes to collect donations tonight that will go to culinary scholarships for the students and apprentices.

“I’m doing it for the staff,” Pliska said. “These guys are great cooks.”

While bringing new interest and promotion to the culinary world is important, Prece said he looks at his participation as an opportunity to share his passion with loved ones. Besides his staff, accompanying him from Kansas City will be his wife, his two sons, mother-in-law, and father-in-law. He said he looks forward to not only having their support in the audience but allowing them a glimpse of the competitive culinary world.

“They usually don’t get to see this,” said Prece. “I’m usually in California or Las Vegas. It will be nice to have this bring them together and as a sort of start-off to the holiday weekend.”

The event, presented by KOMU-TV8 and the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, is modeled after the popular “Iron Chef” series played on the Food Network, where two prominent chefs compete in a one-hour timed cook-off to see who can prepare the best full-course meal using one staple ingredient in each of the dishes. The ingredient is not announced to the chefs until right before the competition begins. For the Missouri contest, the chefs have been told in advance of three possible main ingredients: wasabi, pine nuts or ginger. The contest committee will announce its selection at the beginning of the showdown.

Trattoria Strada Nova Head Chef Peio Aramburu, who will be one of four judges at the challenge tonight, sees participation in cooking competitions as a way to promote culinary enthusiasts.

“I think competitions like Iron Chef are important,” said Aramburu. “Not just to show your cooking skills but to have people interested. It doesn’t always look like it, but a lot of people are interested.”

Aramburu remembers signing autographs after his win in last year’s Iron Chef Challenge.

“It was weird,” Aramburu said.

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