Hot-Plate Secrets of the Chefs

From left, Jacques Pepin, Michel Nischan, and Lidia Bastianich.

In an Iron Chef meets Back to School showdown, Connecticut chef Michel Nischan (the Dressing Room) went toque-to-toque last night at WNYC's Green Space with a little-known cook named Jacques Pépin in a timed challenge to create two gourmet dishes apiece on an essential dorm-room utensil: the hot plate. WNYC's Leonard Lopate hosted the event, which included a roster of guest stars like judge Lidia Bastianich and a blind wine-tasting competition with Le Bernardin sommelier Aldo Sohm. Pépin made a classic French presentation of sea scallops and a dessert of banana-topped crêpes, while Nischan created a goat cheese and vegetable frittata and a plate of wild salmon. Here are some tips for the average dormitory gourmand.

Small burners require big attention: Nischan asked for audience help remembering to shift his frittata pan every few minutes, worried that during a talking jag he'd forget and it wouldn't cook evenly.

Skip the first crêpe: According to Pépin, the first round you make on a hot plate should be given to the dog because the pan "has to get in the mood first."

Shop at the bodega. Potatoes take too long to bake on a hot plate, so Nischan whipped out his "secret ingredient" — Kettle Brand Salt and Pepper Chips.

Don’t pass the Poupon. Need a lowbrow and brilliant trick for making a great dressing? Pour olive oil into a nearly empty jar of mustard for delicious Dijon vinaigrette, à la Pépin.

Simmer down. You can cook eggs into a creamy consistency by simmering them to a soft scramble in a saucepan with some cream, as Nischan did for his frittata.

Don't drink all the booze. Adding a few dashes of rum is a tasty Pépin-approved way to help brown bananas that are taking too long to caramelize on the hot plate.