Chris Richards selected a grilled flank steak with chimichurri sauce, grit cake with bacon and artichokes and Tomato Capote.
Emica Boutilier held her plate out for a serving of arugula salad topped with orange fennel vinaigrette.
"The salad is wonderful," said Boutilier, as she rustled through the arugula leaves with a fork. "I'm so excited. It wasn't made with iceberg lettuce."
The salad wasn't the only dish that diners were gushing over in the McDaniel College cafeteria last week.
Richards and Boutilier joined hundreds of other people who flooded the Englar Dining Hall during an Iron Chef Competition. The competition is designed to allow chefs to showcase their cooking skills. Some chefs will go on to compete in regional and statewide competitions.
During the competition, which lasted about three hours, diners sampled food from each menu served by the chefs who donned their best cooking attire for the event.
After tasting the food, the diners voted for their favorite meals.
The chefs had certain criteria they had to follow when creating their menus, such as meals that cost less than $2.25 per plate.
But the low cost criterion didn't seem to affect the flavor.
"The meals truly were gourmet," said Robert Kachur, 45, a professor of English literature at the school. "The flank steak and sauce were out of this world. I'm used to the meatloaf they serve in the cafeteria. So this is just fabulous."
Four chefs competed in the event.
The first was David Dunn, a chef at the French International School. Dunn, who placed fourth, received 32 votes for his herb-stuffed cherry tomatoes, portabello strips that had been deep-fried and marinated in beer then served with ranch dressing, roasted fingerling potatoes, sauteed asparagus with roasted red peppers, and a chocolate mousse.
The second was Amy Stouffer, a chef at St. James School. Stouffer placed second with 109 votes for her arugula salad with orange fennel vinaigrette, grilled flank steak with a chimichurri sauce, grit cake with bacon and artichokes, tomato compote, and a chocolate bread pudding.
The third chef was McDaniel College's own Jimmy Waymire. Waymire placed third, with 96 votes. He made a Greek salad, grilled mahi-mahi with citrus salsa, rice pilaf, stir-fried vegetables, and a Black Forest trifle.
The first-place winner was Gregory Davis, chef at Columbia Union College. Davis received 146 votes for his ginger-roasted pineapple with honey dipping sauce, Louisiana chicken and shrimp gumbo, and a peach cobbler parfait.
Competitors were faced with the task of creating recipes that cost less than $2.25 per plate, said Davis. The Brooklyn native said he chose items that were mostly inexpensive.
"My peach cobbler has Amaretto, bourbon and some Peach Schnapps in the cream," he said. "The liquor is about 15 cents per head. The gumbo included chicken breast, sausage and a jalapeno-marinated shrimp."
As for his win at a competitor's school, Davis said that's always special.
"To go to a host school and come out with a victory is a big win," he said. "But winning is all about talking your food up. You have to bring your personality to the competition. The food matters, but the presentation matters just as much."
Around the cafeteria, students visited one food station after another, savoring every bite of the food.
"This is a lot better than what we usually get here," said Randy Neaton, 19, a McDaniel sophomore. "It ranks up there with steak-and-lobster night."
Richards, a junior from Portland, Maine, agreed.
"I love the food tonight," Richards said. "The competition part of this event is less important than the amazing variety of food we are getting. This food puts our cafeteria food to shame."
Whether it was variety or quality, Boutilier agreed.
"We usually get dried chicken and iceberg lettuce," she said. "We have been filling out surveys about dining hall food and asking for variety and better meat. The food we are having today is more like what we want."
Boutilier also said that students are selecting healthier food.
"We don't want pizza and hot dogs every day," she said. "Colleges underestimate how important it is to have a good dining hall."
Boutilier cited the cafeteria at Harvard University as an example of an ideal dining hall. She was impressed with the Harvard menu that included filet mignon and fresh vegetables.
"They had a lot of healthy choices for the students," she said.
"The first thing you notice when you eat here is that the menu never really changes. They offer the same vegetables every day. And I think it would be easy enough to vary the vegetables or add to the stir-fry station, even if it's just a new vegetable in the mix."