Cutting the Mustard…

So, here’s how it all went down today.

6 of us met at 7:30am. We had an hour to set up our stations, check the inventories that had been ordered for us, and generally size each other up. Intimidation factor is pretty high from the get-go for me observing the myriad ingredients being used by my competitors (mirin, truffle oil, some sort of purple garlic) as well as the fact that everyone else seems to have organized their station in some feng-shui, minimalist aesthetic, while I would call my set-up more of a “how I can I keep absolutely everything I need right in front of me while still having room to move plus look organized and ‘work clean'” motif.

As 8:30 approached, we drew numbers to see what order we would present and therefore begin cooking. We were staggered by 10 minutes. Naturally, I drew number 1.

Exhale. So I begin and immediately noticed that I could now and only now appreciate the beauty of having a small kitchen. I did a dress rehearsal of my recipe yesterday, and feel like I well accomplished everything I needed to do in 90 minutes, and even put together a list of things I could do “if I had time.” (*doubles over in hysterical laughter*) Somehow, in the real competition, I got fixated real fast on the fact that 10 points would go for kitchen organization and general sanitation, and kept running across the room to clean something that maybe could have done with just a wipe down. I logged a lot of miles in that big kitchen today. The chef who was observing us in the kitchen, and who would also judge, is Chef James, from “Chopped” fame. (http://www.foodnetwork.com/shows/chopped-competitors-best-of-the-best/index.html) Scroll down to find James. Yeah. No further comment.

89 minutes went by in approximately 89 seconds’ time – replete with variables like not having a flying clue how to operate the “robot coupe” food processor, and ending up with a cod filet that was with its skin and including pin bones. (I am still hoping none of them made it into the dish.) But I somehow managed to get my main event, my salad, and my sauce on the plate in a way that was a step up from “train wreck,” and give a fairly articulate description of what I was trying to do. “Bon Appetite” I told them, and walked away, watching 6 judges (mostly chefs at the school) poke at my creation with tiny little tasting forks. It was all I could do not to steal the bottle of white wine one of my other competitors was using and down the sucker.

The bonus of having gone first was that I got it over with quickly. The drawback was that I was freed up to witness everyone else’s plates as they went out. (Photos soon) I reminded myself of the fact that, on lesson 14 of my program, we haven’t even begun actually cooking yet. There were some works of art out there. Not to be all cliche’, but it was an honor just to be nominated. After 30 minutes of deliberating (seemed like an awfully long time) the judges named the 4 people who would go on to the finals.

I was not one of them. 🙂 I was also not surprised.

I’m not trying to be overly self-deprecating here. If I had been competing against only people at my own level I would have nailed it. But I was like (insert promising rookie or high school star of your favorite sport) in a game with (insert highest earning player of same sport.)

BUT! Honestly, the experience was a great one. And here’s what I did get out of it: 1.) I can put on my resume that I was a semi-finalist in this competition. 2.) I definitely earned respect of several chefs at my school for being ballsy enough to go for it this early on. 3.) As semi-finalists we were all offered an invitation-only opportunity to volunteer at a Food and Wine event next week where we’d be working directly with a handful of chefs who were all named “Best New Chef” in the last 10 years. That’s a big effing deal. 4.) $12 in free mustard.

So yeah. I am pretty proud of myself.

After we cleaned up I went back to eat the lamb chops my class had worked so hard to fabricate while I was across the hall trying to be a culinary hotshot. Chef Herve, one of the judges, came in to tell my class how well I had represented them. And he reiterated to me how difficult the decision was and how he had fought really hard to try to keep me in and that he’d loved the dish.

I thanked him profusely and walked away before he could see me start to get a little teary, since I have not yet cried in culinary school and I want to get a reputation for being badass.

Thanks for all of your well wishes!

Dijon Cod Croquettes with Honey-Mustard Fennel Slaw and Lemon Dijon Yogurt Cream

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7 Responses to Cutting the Mustard…

  1. Brian says:

    I would so hit that.

  2. Pamela says:

    That’s what she said.

  3. Blondie says:

    Next time, they all better watch out! I prefer you as badass.

    There’s not crying in culinary school!

  4. knoxie says:

    Dude, feed me that for dinner ANY DAY. Looks amazing. Mucho congrats to you!!!

  5. Bummer, man! But you are right: you took away a lot of good things from the experience and you were super badass to represent your class. Whoohoo to you!!

  6. Mo says:

    Very impressive, P, nice work!

  7. jen says:

    wow– it sounds really intense, and I am seriously impressed at both the ballsiness of competing in something like this so early in your cooking career, but also at your dish– which looks absolutely beautiful! good for you, and that’s really cool about the F&W volunteer opp too. 🙂

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