Employees: 650 locally; about 850 nationwide.
On a recent Thursday, Alex Vanjani headed into work with a plan to craft the perfect passion fruit mousse. He also helped his co-workers serve up chicken tacos with a habanero-pineapple cream sauce and grilled chicken with a mango glaze.
But Vanjani isn’t a chef or a line cook. He’s a pricing manager at Bethesda-based technology consulting firm DMI.
So why was he standing behind a grill for the day instead of sitting behind a desk?
Vanjani was participating in the company’s inaugural cooking competition, which has been dubbed “Tech Chef.” The name is a nod to the Food Network show “Iron Chef,” which the contest is modeled after. Workers signed up in teams to prepare an appetizer, an entrée and a dessert. As an added challenge, judges notified contestants on the morning of the event about a “secret ingredient” that they had to incorporate into their pre-planned dishes. The company footed the bill for the groceries.
For the occasion, founder and chief executive Sunny Bajaj purchased four grills for competitors to use. The cooking equipment was set up on the company’s seventh floor balcony, and staffers who weren’t participating in the competition were invited to watch the action and sample the food.
Because of its set-up, the event was “a good opportunity to interact with other members of the company that we don’t see day-to-day,” Vanjani said.
After a judging panel tasted the dishes, members of the winning team got to take home the grills used in the contest.
However, it turned out that the squad that came in first place was comprised mostly of executives. They decided to give their grills away to junior staffers who had participated in the cook-off.
Bajaj said the friendly yet competitive nature of “Tech Chef” is in line with the workplace atmosphere he has long aimed to foster.
“We have such a corporate culture of working hard and playing hard,” he said.
Bajaj said he might try to expand the event to include other companies.
“We’re definitely going to make it an annual thing,” Bajaj said. “They had so much fun with it because it was unconventional.”