Our ‘Iron Chefs’ Shine

Cooking Competition Helps Safety Experts Focus on Teamwork

Dec 02, 2016

Story by Ron Russell
Photos by Rodney Drewery and Jonathan Powell

“Chefs” from UAW-FCA hard at work preparing a dish for judges to taste.

WARREN, Mich. – Food for thought: What does lemon chicken marsala, served with angel hair pasta, have in common with making auto plants safer places to work?

Well, at the UAW-Chrysler World Class Manufacturing Academy (WCMA) that dish was the winning entrée in a cooking competition for union and management safety specialists, patterned after the “Iron Chef America” TV series.

They learned that the creative process and teamwork required to produce culinary success also applies when it comes to creating safer working conditions at FCA US LLC.

“It was fun, engaging and everybody played a key role in the process – making three dishes in an hour,” said UAW International Representative Mona Copeland. “We walked away feeling like a true team on the same page. That’s exactly what needs to happen to achieve our goals in health and safety.”

The spirited Nov. 29 event set the stage for a workshop designed to help four FCA US plants in North America achieve higher safety standards to protect workers by fully implementing the WCM Safety Pillar.

The contest pitted five teams with names like the French Toast Mafia, Planet of the Grapes and Where’s the Beef? against each other. During the 60-minute culinary showdown, participants applied WCM principles to prepare appetizers, salads and main courses they hoped would titillate the judges’ taste buds.

MC Jeff Kalinowski (center) keeps the competitors motivated.

“It was a unique and exciting event,” said Wendy Santure, WCMA Training and Development Lead. “This was another way the academy provides new and fresh approaches to training that motivates people to work as a team in ways they’d never do at work.

“It’s all about encouraging people to be creative, and help facilitate the journey we are on to become the best company in the auto industry.”

WCMA’s version of “Iron Chef” lacked the glamor of the popular Food Network series that ran from 2005-14, featuring host and master of ceremonies Alton Brown and well-known chefs from around the world.

But it made up for that with the passion, organizational skills and sense of purpose demonstrated by UAW-FCA employees who attended the WCM Score 4 Safety Workshop.

Playing the role popularized by Brown, Jeff Kalinowski, Lead – Manufacturing/WCM Communications, provided spirited color commentary, including interviews with participants, words of encouragement and regular reminders as the time clock counted down to zero.

Cod Fathers' team members Larry Swain (left) and Tom Vallone.
Cod Fathers’ team members Larry Swain (left) and Tom Vallone.

“Team 4 is the team to beat,” Kalinowski said at the midway point of his blow-by-blow commentary.

“We’re in the homestretch now – eight minutes to go,” he announced in a later update. “Teams, how are you feeling? This is definitely a competition.”

When all was said and done, a four-member judging panel awarded culinary bragging rights to Team 3, the Cod Fathers, for their tasty chicken marsala entrée, sautéed mushrooms garnished with bacon appetizer and mixed garden salad topped with a dijon mustard-based dressing.

The team earned a perfect score of 40 points, narrowly defeating Team 2, the Cereal Killers, to win the coveted large wooden spoon as its prize.

“It was a lot of fun after watching the ‘Iron Chef’ on the Food Network – my wife was a big fan of the show,” said Larry Swain, Environmental, Health and Safety Manager at Tipton (Ind.) Transmission and a Cod Fathers team member.

“Teamwork was involved, for sure. We worked together to make an end product, just like we do back at the plant. We applied workplace organization skills needed to make sure all the ingredients were available so that we could work efficiently to meet our deadline and eliminate waste.”

Teammate Tom Vallone, Environmental, Health and Safety Lead at Toledo (Ohio) Assembly, called the cook-off an “enjoyable learning experience that helped to build camaraderie among participants” in the WCM Score 4 Safety Workshop.

“We had to really hustle to get everything done, but it tuned out well. It’s always good to win, even though this wasn’t a high stakes cooking competition like on TV.”

Judges evaluate savory appetizers, salads and entrees.
Judges evaluate savory appetizers, salads and entrees.

Entries were evaluated for taste, presentation, creativity and elegance, drawing such raves from the judges as “impactfully flavored,” “nicely cooked” and “really aggressive –a very nice dish.”

The judges were Shane Dawes, Assistant Director of the UAW Chrysler Department; Nate Martin, UAW WCM Coordnator; Greg Rose, Environmental, Health and Safety Director, FCA US, and Chris Johnson, chef at the Meeting House restaurant in Rochester, Michigan.

Twenty-nine employees participated in the workshop, including Safety Pillar Co-Leads from the UAW and UAW WCM Facilitators. In addition to Tipton Transmission and Toledo Assembly, they came from Dundee (Mich.) Engine and the Saltillo (Mex.) South Engine Plant.

WCMA’s Santure said the “Iron Chef” event drove home a perfect message to workshop participants as they return to their plants and demonstrate the leadership necessary to take safety efforts to the next level.

“At this level, it’s all about effective communication and engaging people on the floor to help achieve higher WCM safety goals,” she said. “Each team in the competition consisted of a cross functional group, and most of the people didn’t know each other.

“To prepare three different dishes in an hour, they had to communicate effectively and do so almost immediately to impress the judges. That’s an important lesson to learn and apply when they get back to work.”

The “chefs” from UAW-FCA couldn’t agree more.