iron confectionery chef
Elaine Chow, with Team Kerry, works on coconut rum balls. 

When Gloria Brandes-Kuptz, head of team Kerry, found out that the secret ingredient in the Iron Confectioner’s Competition was coconut, she did what any enterprising candy maker would do — she went right for the coconut rum.

The competition, which was held on the final night of the AACT National Technical Seminar, Oct. 1-3 at Marriott’s Lincolnshire Resort, Lincolnshire, Ill, pitted two teams of three chefs each against each other.

Both teams had one hour to make three different candies for the judges and each one had to include the evening's mystery ingredient — coconut, which was revealed just before the start of the candy-off.

Set up so that the host, Tom Hinkemeyer, of Knechtel, Inc., as well as the audience, could walk up to the competitors as they worked, it made for a hectic 60 minutes.

Add to that the fact that it took about 25 minutes for anyone to realize that the refrigerator the teams were using to quickly set their candies was not plugged in, and you have at least as much drama as any episode of the original Iron Chef on the Food Network.

Team Blommer was led by Marie Loewen, and her teammates were Melissa Tisoncik and Dan Kazmierczyk.

They focused on a retro theme, presenting marshmallow puffs dipped in chocolate and covered in pink coconut flakes served in a chocolate bowl; a candy made with dark chocolate, butterscotch drops and crushed graham crackers meant to bring to mind Magic Cookie Bars; and soda shop bars featuring a napoleon flavor profile.

Meanwhile, Team Kerry was led by Brandes-Kuptz, and her teammates were Amanda Fontaine and Elaine Chow.

They made a macadamia nut concoction featuring toasted coconut and honey drizzle; white coconut bark made with coconut milk and sea salt almonds and drizzled with dark chocolate; and Hot Lips, dough balls made with unsweetened shredded coconut, coconut sugar and the famous coconut rum.

In the end, the three judges were torn on who presented the very best. So, they named Team Blommer’s Marshmallow Puffs the winner of the best single candy, and Team Kerry as the best overall winner.

“This was great fun! We’re competing, but it’s fun,” says Brandes-Kuptz. “An hour goes by very, very quickly [though]”

And don’t worry, after realizing the mistake with the refrigerator, the teams were allowed to take their trays to a cooler in a back room.