OGDEN -- Downtown Ogden looked like a cooking competition from the Food Network Thursday night as three local chefs battled for the best fresh, raw food entree at a fundraiser for Junior League of Ogden.
The event was held at the Oasis Community Garden, 2445 Monroe Blvd., a garden sponsored by the league to give inner-city residents an opportunity to grow fresh fruits and vegetables.
Visitors walked around and talked with chefs as they prepared fresh salsas, vegetable pastas and vegetable tacos. They often expressed their pleasure with the aromas of the fresh vegetable dishes.
A table full of fresh ingredients sat in the middle of the gardens and the chefs walked back and forth, picking out various items to add to their dishes. Once the food was prepared, long lines formed for people to get a taste.
For $1, participants got a sample of the food and then were encouraged to add another dollar to the tip jar of the chef whose food they enjoyed the most.
Each chef was allowed to bring two secret ingredients, as well as knives and preparation tools, but were told to keep things raw and not worry about heat sources at the garden area.
Shalae Larsen, president of the Junior League, said the idea for the fundraiser came after the group sponsored its annual women and children's health clinic. Junior League members came to the conclusion that many in the Ogden area are at risk of health problems such as diabetes and under-nourishment because they lack access or education on how to eat properly. The group started different food events to help spread that knowledge.
"We love being here in central Ogden and being a part of things here," Larsen said.
Chef Steve Ballard, owner of Sonora Grill in Ogden, said he was delighted to compete. His wife has been involved in the Junior League, he lives in downtown Ogden and has had a spot at the Oasis Garden for several years.
"We remember when it was all trees and garbage here," Ballard said of the gardens. "It is really exciting and rewarding to see what it has become."
He prepared a fresh peach salsa with Brigham City peaches as one of his secret ingredients. He loves cooking with raw ingredients and bringing out the best flavors of foods in their natural state.
Another competitor, Melanie Sugimoto, works as a personal chef.
"This is fantastic. I hope we can do it every year," Sugimoto said.
Ryon Bingham, the third chef, said he loves to cook and was asked by acquaintances in the Junior League to participate.
Resident Tina Lopez loved the event. She lives near the Oasis garden and always tries to come over when there is an event. Lopez and her family members were excited to try the fresh food the chefs prepared.
As attendees sampled the food, expressions of "Wow" and "Come try this" were prevalent around the area.
Lisa Nichols said she loved the food and the event.
"It's just really fresh and so unique," she said as she sampled zucchini pasta.
Larsen said Friday the event raised about $700. Ballard's creations won the competition.
She also hoped that people enjoyed the fresh food and the atmosphere.
"I think culturally we have lost the art of cooking. I think we are showing here these are common ingredients we can all use," she said.