Iron Chef has made us all feel like warriors in the kitchen—but those guys (and gals) work with pretty stocked pantries. There was once a charming public-access TV show in San Francisco called Feast or Famine, in which hipster chefs went to random folks’ homes to prepare dinner for them based only on what was already in their cabinets and fridges. Besides mocking their hosts severely for their food choices, the two chefs would manage to put on some pretty nice spreads with very limited resources—even if they had to occasionally climb through a neighbor’s window to borrow an onion.

Chef Bob Ballantyne knows about challenge cooking. He volunteers at a soup kitchen for the homeless in Colorado, and has to come up with meals that are nutritious and tasty. And he has to do it with donated food.

A couple of months ago, he blogged about making a Saturday lunch based on the 35 pounds of elk meat that came in, while imagining that he was locked in an Iron Chef–style challenge with Cat Cora. Only problem is, elk has a gamy flavor that is hard for a lot of his clientele to appreciate. But with the aid of a gallon can of teriyaki sauce and something called “artificial shallot,” he comes up with a menu that includes elk meatloaf with teriyaki mushroom gravy, sautéed spinach, and roasted root vegetables. “I have learned over the three years of cooking for the Soup Kitchen that anywhere you can put a vegetable or fruit into the diet, you do it,” he notes.

In the end, he writes, it was neither he nor Cat Cora who ultimately won the Iron Chef challenge, but the 167 people who “were able to eat another meal…. and judging from their reaction to it… eat a good meal.”

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