A tasty dozen-year history

By on March 8, 2017

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Sunday’s announcement that the Cocalico Education Foundation might be ending the Cocalico Iron Chef brought extra drama to the annual cooking competition.

Since 2005, chefs have competed furiously for the local cooking title, much to the delight of the hundreds of supporters who flock to the high school cafeteria for samples and the chance to watch chefs from their favorite restaurants in action.

The idea was born at the height of Food Network’s popularity and just after the launch of Iron Chef America.

Such events have become common as school fundraisers. In Cocalico, Iron Chef tickets sales and auction bids have brought in an estimated $150,000 for the foundation, about $20,000 of that this year.

But Cocalico Education Foundation President Jim Weaver said the non-profit organization was having a hard time coordinating the event after so many years.

Lesley Stricker, the district’s assistant business manager, said the foundation sold 200 regular admission tickets and 120 seats at reserved tables for the 2017 event. In 2012, the event’s peak year, the foundation sold 340 regular admission tickets and 136 reserved seats.

It’s not just the crowds that are dwindling.

In 2014, the competition drew 30 vendors, and seven chefs vied for the People’s Choice award. This year, those numbers were down to 25 vendors and four, respectively.

Foundation and school volunteers start planning for the March event each September, and Weaver said it was getting harder to attract folks. But he left the door open, saying the competition could be back but not “as you know it.”

A survey circulated at the event asked attendees what other or additional fundraisers might be of interest. Options listed include dinner and a show; product bingo; a Civil War reenactment; an off-site 50/50 raffle; a golf outing; or a dinner dance.

Iron Chef is the foundation’s biggest single fundraiser, though an annual golf tournament, a 5K race, the ExtraOrdinary Give and yard sales add to the coffers.

Grants from the foundation support classroom activities, student assistance programs, technology initiatives and post-graduate scholarships. The foundation has pledged to support a 2017-18 overhaul of the high school’s library into a more modern, technology-friendly space for students and staff.

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