Food, Drink and Scav
Author: Eli Harter
Photographer: Yejie Lee
2019 Scav wrapped up this past Sunday. After holding first place for four years, Snell-Hitchcock tied in first with Breckinridge in what is the first tie in the history of Scav. Some of you may have heard of Scav, some of you may have participated, and a lot of you are either ambivalent or lack knowledge of the competition. There’s a lot to talk about with this event, but I could never explain it in all its grotesque glory. Instead, I’ll talk about a few key components that I had the largest hand in: Scavenfeast and the “Great British Drink”. Scav has a lot of individual events, but the cooking elements are my main interest. The magic of Scav is not in winning the event, but in putting your all into whatever insane item needs to be conjured, fabricated, or found. When it comes to food and drink, the competition is stacked with all the foodies, “gastronovices”, and gourmets who come out of the woodwork to provide delicious and outlandish bites to the judges.
As a participant in this year’s Scav, I only seek to reflect the events I partook in and will avoid any conclusive stances or reviews of the actual dishes and drinks served by other teams. That being said, the competition was steep this year. The flavors were bolder, the personalities were more glamorous, and the creativity was more staggering than anything seen before.
Scavenfeast is the main cooking competition, requiring each participating team to prepare and present three full courses to a panel of judges. This year, the event was structured as a Yu-Gi-Oh card duel—just hear me out, this is serious. Each dish required a unique trick or surprise element so that they constantly changed in appearance or taste. The appetizer needed to display a colorful garnish of edible anime hair. The main course had to mask its true form and flavor only to undergo an explosive transformation into a culinary masterpiece. The dessert was to be assembled randomly from at least five prepared sauces or toppings. Ideally, each pairing would create a radically different edible experience.
After frantically setting up our station, we set out all our ingredients. For our appetizer we had prepared a vegetarian curry that was sweet up front with a spicy aftertaste. I topped it with stir-fried, paprika-dyed ramen to represent the impressive hair that was desired.
For our main course, we made a chicken rice pilaf. While our dish masqueraded as a simple pot full of rice, one magnificent flip revealed the steaming chicken, onions, and carrots lying underneath. Other main courses were equally mystifying. Halal-stand rice and beef, salt-crusted chicken, and curry pot-pie flooded the room with a plethora of aromas and decadence. One group served ramen straight out of a watermelon shell.
Lastly, each judge roamed the tables to randomly “draw” their dessert pairings (custom Yu-Gi-Oh cards for our dishes were required). For our dessert, we picked distinct textures and flavors to top our base cupcakes. Each topping channeled one of the five principle taste sensations. We had a sweet grape-pomegranate jelly, a delicious smooth and airy chilli dark chocolate mousse (our most popular dessert), a crisp and sour lemon curd, a salty and rich almond brittle, and an adventurous savory macaron (rosemary and lemon pepper-goat cheese).
One group did a flight of miniature macarons, another had delicious dips for their homemade churros. Still others toasted a layer of marshmallow with a blowtorch and created jams from balsamic vinegar or mulled wine.
In just a single hour, UChicago’s culinary connoisseurs of varying skill and ingenuity had assembled. The spirit of competition enabled a community to focus their all at producing some really incredible dishes in a little more than 24 hours. I felt a little out of my game, but it was wonderful to be inspired by the other teams. After concluding my first Scavenfeast, I’m excited to come back next year to cook up something even better.
Great British Drink Off
In salute to the TV series, The Great British Bake Off, the Great British Drink Off is a fairly new edition to Scav. Similar to Scavenfeast, the Drink Off brings together all those really passionate about cocktails and spirits. The event is composed of three challenges ripped straight from the television show, each taking 10 minutes to complete. The signature and showstopper challenges were released with the List, while the technical challenge was only declared at the competition. For the signature challenge, we were tasked with creating a mouthwatering mixed drink using mead as the base. The drink itself was inspired by the comedian and host, Sandi Toksvig, in honor of her Danish heritage. I candied rhubarb the night before so that I could present a sweet and strong mead drink with elements of Denmark. We were lucky (or strange) enough to have a few friends who had fermented their own mead a few weeks prior. I have included abridged recipes below this section.
For the technical challenge, we were asked to present a Rattlesnake using the absinthe and egg provided. This complex cocktail is basically a whisky sour with an egg white fizz and an absinthe rinse. We were judged based on the balance between the whisky and the absinthe elements, overall flavor, and the composition of the egg white froth. It was a messy affair, and many groups found they did not possess the proper ingredients. One group even resorted to simply serving the judges a raw egg in defiance, chanting “drink the egg” in comedic irreverence.
The final challenge was the Showstopper, which heavily favored presentation over taste. The requirements were to present a drink within an absurd and eye-catching edible garnish or container. The challenge was in honor of british comedian and host Noel Fielding. For the drink, I created a modified a Sidecar in reference to Fielding’s French heritage. I injected the drink into a hollow ice sphere created from balloons in a similar fashion to the Aviary in Chicago. Taking inspiration from Cocktail Chemistry, I decided to melt the ice sphere using a high proof alcohol. The end effect was a drink that was cold to the taste and warm to the touch, and garish enough to respect Fielding. Other groups had similarly elaborate showstoppers; a delicious chocolate shell cup grabbed the prize with its addictive saccharine flavor. One team brought in a flaming totem pole of fruit, which did not quite work as intended. It was exhilarating, and I highly recommend seeing the event next Scav, for they do set out chairs for an audience.
Scav may be the point in the year when all the nerdiest, dweebiest (and weebiest) UChicagoans come out of their holes and go crazy for a weekend, but it’s also the weekend that drives creativity into the sunlight. Seeing all the insane dishes and drinks made by my fellow students reminded me just how ingenious they truly are. Sometimes I felt I shined, other times I felt like an imposter among far more gifted artists, but mostly I had fun working for hours trying to figure out what was the craziest, tastiest thing I could make. I made, and remade, and re-remade macarons until they were presentable while spending precious time with friends and Scav savants. So make sure you’re having a blast if and when you make these drinks at home--assuming you’re 21 of course.
The Rhubarb-Ginger Meadiary
2 oz mead
1 oz bourbon (I used Buffalo Trace)
1 tsp ginger molasses
1 oz fresh lemon juice
1 Luxardo Maraschino cherry
Combine mead, lemon juice, bourbon, and ginger molasses in a cocktail shaker with ice.
Shake for 15 seconds until chilled.
Add a sugar rim to the top of a wine glass, add in a Luxardo cherry, and pour the drink into the glass.
Garnish with candied rhubarb.
Candied Rhubarb/Rhubarb Syrup
Combine 1 cup sugar, ¾ cup water, and rhubarb slices in a pot and bring to a boil
Boil rhubarb slices in the sugar water until the liquid becomes dark and syrupy
Remove the rhubarb slices and save the thubarb syrup in the refrigerator
Dry the Rhubarb slices in the oven for about 60 minutes at a low temperature
Soak a few slices in an ounce of mead for one minute before garnishing your drink
Candied Ginger/Ginger Molasses
Combine 1 cup agave nectar, ¾ cup water, and 1 cup of peeled fresh ginger cut into slices
Boil the ginger slices in the sugar water until the liquid becomes dark and syrupy
Remove the ginger slices and save the ginger molasses in the refrigerator
Dry the ginger slices in the oven for about 60 minutes at a low temperature
Ice and a Sidecar of Fire
1 oz cognac
1/2 oz Cointreau
1 oz fresh lemon juice
1 oz rhubarb syrup (see above)
1 oz Everclear
Freeze a balloon filled with water for about 5 hours until a thick shell of ice has formed.
Heat a sanitary blade or Exacto-knife over fire until hot enough to melt through the ice.
Melt a small hole and drain the water from the sphere.
Let freeze overnight.
Thin the shell with warm water prior to serving until the ice is completely see-through and thin to the touch.
Add cognac, Cointreau, fresh lemon juice, and rhubarb syrup into a cocktail shaker with ice.
Shake for 20-30 seconds until chilled and diluted.
Pour drink into a glass and set aside.
Use an empty rocks glass with a wide enough rim to suspend the ice sphere.
Use a metal or plastic syringe to inject the sidecar into the ice sphere, then set the ice sphere/sidecar aside.
Place a few pieces of candied ginger and an orange slice into another rocks glass.
Pour Everclear into the rocks glass containing candied ginger and orange slice, and light the Everclear on fire with a lighter or match (be very careful and have a bowl of water on standby).
Place the ice sphere on top of the glass so that the fire melts through the sphere and creates the final beverage.