fine dining at the circle k

A critic’s mock cooking competition paints convenience stores in a slightly more refined light. (Note the use of the word slightly.)

Are the words “convenience store” and “gourmet foods” mutually exclusive? With a little help, according to one non-scientific “study,” virtually any convenience store can supply the goods for a delightful night of fine dining.

Shreveport Times food writer Tim Greening recently gave birth to a competitive cooking smack-down called “Scrap Iron Chef,” an obvious homage to a popular Samurai-style Food Network show. In its first rendition, he pitted himself against chef David Bridges, head gastronome at one of Shreveport’s most elegant restaurants, Bella Fresca.

“So, where’s the convenience store angle?,” you might wonder. Glad you asked. Using all their skills, creativity and the grand sum of twenty bucks, the rivals were challenged to prepare artistic dishes never tasted before, using only products found in a local Circle K. The point of the tongue-in-cheek competition: If you can make a meal out of stuff found in a c-store, you can make a meal out of anything. The main ingredient in this epic battle: the versatile delicacy otherwise known as bean dip.

The chefs had 10 minutes and a budget of two Andrew Jacksons to analyze the items in the store, determine their creations and scare up the necessary items. Greening scooped up turkey cold cuts; Tabasco; Cool Ranch Doritos; a Ham, Cheddar & Swiss cheese Lunchable; American cheese slices; sour cream; and, of course, bean dip. Total purchase amount: $17.58. Bridges bought a beef-and-cheese burrito; Corn Nuts; frozen macaroni and cheese; a can of tomato soup; two beef-and-cheese Snak Paks; sour cream; and the requisite bean dip—spending just under the $20 limit. With their “artillery” in tow, the opponents raced back to Bella Fresca to begin the culinary tete-a-tete.

Showdown in Shreveport
Bridges microwaved his burrito, butterflied it with a knife, then stuffed in the bean dip and the sausages from the Snak Paks, which he had chopped up and fried. He browned his main dish in the skillet. For his side dishes, he mixed together Corn Nuts with bean dip and mozzarella from the Snak Paks, molded them into croquettes and deep-fried them. He also layered beans, sausage and macaroni cheese in a small cup. Like an artist at his canvas, Bridges glazed all his dishes with a drizzle of sour cream.

Greening, meanwhile, used the cold cuts as tortillas to craft his quesadillas, layering them with bean dip, American cheese and crushed up Cool Ranch Doritos for texture. Each quesadilla was complemented with a side dish of bean-heavy nachos, garnished with a Cheddar slice from the Lunchable. The Lunchable also came with a packet of herb sauce, which the would-be chef added to a Tabasco/sour cream sauce concoction.

So the two combatants squared off—Bridges’ offering of beanand-sausage quesadilla with bean/Corn Nut croquette and bean, mac ‘n cheese timbale against Greening’s Cool Ranch turkey bean quesadilla with herbed Tabasco cream and a Lunchable bean nacho. The “high-noon” cadence from Clint Eastwood’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, punctuated by rolling tumbleweeds, seemed entirely applicable. In the end, a panel of judges scored the one-sided bout (on taste, texture, presentation and originality) in favor of Bridges.

Next time, we suggest upping the ante by selecting pork rinds, beef jerky or Goetze’s Cow Tales as the primary ingredient.

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