Why Iron Chef Is Like Life

Medical Center

On November 15, the Asian Health Caucus hosted its annual Iron Chef event, and this year marked the epic Battle of Bean Sprouts. There were five teams representing the various professional schools at UCSF, and I happened to be on the team representing the medical school.

Teams made dishes ranging from salads to sliders, tacos, noodles and smoothies using the versatile mung sprout, and all the teams put forth beautiful and complete meals within the allotted 50-minute cooking period.

Exercises like Iron Chef (and other games requiring a combination of cooperation and competition) are more than just good fun. The way we approach the interactions within our own teams and the competition with other teams illustrates, in an artificial setting, how we function and what our social tendencies are from day to day.

For example, someone from another team, whom I had never met before, allowed me to use his fish sauce. That’s just a generous gesture, and while he may have been giving up a slight competitive advantage during the contest, he and I are much more likely to be friends moving forward.

Likewise, the team’s internal dynamics can be anthropologically interesting. Does one person plan and direct others; does the team have an organic planning process or perhaps something completely free-form? What happens when the results turn out different than planned? What about people’s differing willingness to try something new?

These are all important things from which we can learn something about ourselves, and these tendencies can apply to many life situations. Do people prefer to look up recipes or try to create their own dish? Should recipes be constructed specifically around the mystery ingredient or should old favorites be modified?

I had a great time going through these thought processes with my team and adversaries, and I encourage you all to do the same. Here’s what you can do: pick a night, invite several friends to your house, open a cookbook, point blindly to any ingredient, and prepare a meal using this as your mystery ingredient.

If you’re feeling especially daring, challenge your neighbor to compete against you, and when all the meals are on the table, sit down and eat together and talk about the meals you’ve created and your experiences preparing them. I know you’ll enjoy yourself.