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Chefs to Demonstrate How to Cook During a Disaster with Ready Houston

The city of Houston discovered fairly quickly after Hurricane Ike hit five years ago that it wasn't adequately prepared for a natural disaster of that magnitude. In the years since, the city has taken steps to make sure it's never caught unprepared again, including creating Ready Houston, an organization designed to help educate Houstonians about disaster preparedness.

On Saturday, September 21, the organization will hosting an event called the Ready Houston Preparedness Kit Chef's Challenge in which local chefs will construct a meal using nothing but nonperishable pantry items and a camping stove. They'll have 20 minutes to make a meal, which will then be assessed by a panel of judges. When it's all over, one chef will claim the best disaster meal award. If it sounds crazy, that's because it kind of is.

"It's definitely going to be super fun and super weird," says the city's spokesperson for the event, Bettie DeBruhl. "But it's also important."

The list of confirmed chefs may change before the event, but as of now the chefs who will be competing include Ruffy Sulaiman of Hilton Americas, Tarsha Gary of Crave Gourmet Bakery and Cafe, David Denis of Le Mistral, Arturo Boada of Arturo Boada Cuisine and José Montoya, the executive chef of the Houston Food Bank.

The chefs will be able to choose ingredients from four categories: proteins, fruits and vegetables, starches, and comfort food. The proteins category will include items such as Spam, bacon bits or peanut butter, while the fruits and veggies will all be canned items, of course, and possibly some jam or jelly. Starches include grains, lentils, ramen or rice, while the less-obvious "comfort foods" category promises things like marshmallows and Nutella. (Note to self: Stock up on Nutella in case of emergency.)

"We're shopping for the ingredients now," says DeBruhl, "and I'm going to try to come up with something myself to see how they work."

DeBruhl notes that every chef will have a station with a mini-pantry stocked with basic dry seasonings, bread crumbs, olive oil, vinegar, flour, white sugar and brown sugar, and condiments like Worcestershire sauce, Sriracha and mustard.

Using these ingredients and the items they chose from the four categories, the chefs will have 20 minutes to create either one main dish or a dish composed of as many as five elements to present to the judges -- which will include local food bloggers, as well as meteorologists (and natural disaster experts) Irene Sans of Telemundo and Caitilin Espinosa of Fox.

In addition to the competition, the event will feature displays of emergency response equipment and plenty of information on disaster preparedness. Gift cards from the featured chefs' restaurants and helpful items such as preparedness kits and camp stoves donated by Walmart will be awarded to lucky attendees.

"During Ike, this city learned a lot about what happens during a major weather-related crisis," DeBruhl says, "so we are probably more prepared than any other city. The city has put together a number of campaigns to encourage people to think about preparedness ahead of time rather than during an emergency."

The event, which is free to the public, will be held at the Discovery Green Anheuser Busch Stage beginning at 11 a.m. For more details on how to prepare for an emergency in Houston, visit the Ready Houston Web site.

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Kaitlin Steinberg