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Hot-Plate Secrets of the Chefs

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

From left, Jacques Pepin, Michel Nischan, and Lidia Bastianich.Photo: Lauren Salazar

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.

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