Tension and excitement were thick in the air at Atria Darien on Thursday, July 18, as judges sampled and scored the dishes of competitors in the fifth annual Chef Showdown.

About 50 people including Atria residents and members of the community looked on intently as the events unfolded.

By three points, 19 to16, Atria’s assistant chef Carden Brodie was declared the winner against Darien Police Sgt. Keri Isaac.

Cardon made stuffed peppers with cream cheese while Isaac’s dish was grilled pepper and red onion pizzas with prosciutto.

The Chef Showdown is a culinary competition that is held at more than 225 Atria communities across the U.S. and Canada. Atria Darien is a 22-year-old independent and assisted living community.

Every year there is one selective ingredient that competitors must use in their dish. This year, it was the pepper.

“It could be any kind of pepper — bell pepper, chili pepper, hot pepper,” said Beth Blake, engaged life director at Atria.

The previous year’s ingredients included corn, watermelon, and tomatoes.

Darien High School students and Darien EMS-Post 53 volunteers Bell Nieve, 16, and George Crull, 17, judged the competition, along with Gus Capadona, president of Atria’s resident council and a resident himself.

Atria residents as well as members of the community were welcome to the free event, and got to taste both dishes and vote for their favorite.

“Each place setting has its own scorecard so the residents can also participate in the action,” Blake said.

The purpose of the competition, according to Blake, is to “show off the culinary talents of Atria chefs. This is a senior living community and the notion here is that food is very important.”

Knowing that they can use only one ingredient in their dish “let’s them be creative,” she said. “This is unlike the show ‘Chopped’ where there is maybe six ingredients.”

The winner gets “bragging rights,” Blake chuckled.

Behind the scenes

In the Atria kitchen prior to the competition, Brodie told The Darien Times his dish was passed down to him from his grandmother.

She told me “don’t give it out,” he joked.

“My grandmother is from Antigua. She gave me cooking tips growing up,” said Brodie, who is from Mount Vernon, N.Y.

Brodie started in the cooking business from “the bottom up.” He washed the floors and dishes over the course of his 20-year cooking career, working under many chefs.

Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the kitchen, Isaac was intently preparing her dish.

She told The Darien Times that she “loves” to cook and often makes pizza at home.

Growing up in Westchester County, N.Y., Isaac, now a Stratford resident, said she cooked with both her mother and grandmother.

Isaac also competed in last year’s cooking challenge, losing by a very small margin, according to Blake.

She had made fish tacos. “The ingredient last year was corn so she made a fish taco and our chef made a corn salsa with a piece of steak alongside it,” Blake said.

Judging

The judges scored the dishes on a scale of 1 to 5 — with five being the best —in three categories: Creativity, presentation, and taste.

The competitors assembled their completed dish on a table in the room where the competition was being held. Staff members cut it up and parsed it out for others to taste

Capadona, 84, told The Darien Times that he was also a judge at the challenge last year.

A retired dentist, Capadona cooked all of his life, for “entertainment” and “enjoyment.”

“When I got married, my wife did most of the cooking but whenever we were having company for dinner, I was the cook,” Capadona said. “When I retired 24 years ago, I ended up doing just about all of the cooking.”

When judging the cooking competitions, he said he looks for “lots of flavor.”

“I like things that are crunchy so if it’s something that I can sink my teeth into, that would be nice,” he said.

Planning for each year’s challenge takes six months.

“The whole culinary department gets behind this event,” Blake said.