After a quick written exam (25 questions) I was anxious to get into the kitchen and see what was in the “mystery basket”, actually a mystery “tray”. I drew the #1 and found the matching tray in the walk-in refrigerator. It had the following items: pork ribs, a beef steak, a chicken leg, shrimp, pork, fingerling potatoes, grits, cabbage, asparagus, snow peas, celery root, buckwheat honey and a mango I didn’t feel too anxious about the items except for the celery root, something I’ve never cooked with. I decided on the following dishes (after looking around at what other things were available in the walk-in and pantry). Chicken spring roll with snow peas, cabbage, scallions, ginger and garlic with a sweet and spicy sauce (apricot preserves, soy, stock, ginger, garlic reduced). I also decided to cook the celery root, puree it and combine it with potatoes to serve alongside the beef with a chimichurri sauce. In the meantime, as I was writing down what I planned to make I did not see that there was a big case with a lot of fresh herbs, fresh fruit and other things we could use. I would have chosen some other preparations had I known, but I still was able to grab some herbs and fruit. I got off to a slow start by worrying too much about what I was going to do with all the items. We were told that students in the other class made 9 or 10 items. It was an hour into the 3 and 1/2 hour time period we had and I had not even plated 1 dish. I had problems with the chicken spring rolls because the deep fryer was the wrong temperature. I looked at the guage and thought it said 350, but it was really at 300.
By the time I figured out what was wrong I had to start over and make more spring rolls.
Although they turned out great I was chastized for making something “in my comfort zone”.
So does that mean if someone who grew up on American food cooked a piece of meat in sauce they would be cooking in their comfort zone? Yes, I’m comfortable with Asian food, but I was also trying to find a use for snow peas and cabbage and that seemed a good way to use those items. After finally getting that dish presented it was 4:45 and I had until 7:00 to make everything else, at least 4 dishes but I wanted to make 5 or 6 more. I tackled the beef next but found it was freezer burnt and smelled bad. I lost a few minutes looking for Chef Kurima to get a new piece and that seemed to throw me off track as well. I did manage to make a nicely cooked steak with chimichurri sauce made of parsley, garlic, wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper.
My celery root and potato puree formed a base for the steak and sauce. It tasted good to me but did not have enough of the celery root flavor for the Chef. While I was making all the other dishes I had made a spicy Korean marinade for the pork ribs and planned to serve them with mango salsa. They were roasting in the convection oven very nicely next to a pan of fingerling potatoes I was roasting with olive oil. I worked on a dish with the pork coated in a herb crust, served with the fingerling potatoes and some sauteed asparagus with lemon. The pork was tender and juicy but the herb crust fell off in some parts when I sliced it. The asparagus was cooked nicely but a little to lemony and the potatoes were underseasoned. I presented the pork rib with the mango salsa next. The rib and sauce looked great together on the plate was tasted wonderful to me–salty, savory, spicy with the sweet sauce. Chef Kurima thought the salsa could use a little more heat. My last dish was shrimp and grits. Time was running out and it was 6:30 when I started making it. I threw together the grits quickly and then seasoned the shrimp, seared it, made a nice creamy spicy sauce like the one I made after watching a Bobby Flay Throwdown and plated it a couple minutes before my time ran out. It looked a little plain on the plate–2 creamy things, not enough contrast, but it was delicious in my opinion and I enjoyed eating a few bites of it at the end. I was so relieved to be done I couldn’t stop smiling.
Overall I did just fine and even if I “only” had 5 dishes, 2 had 3 or more components and people who did 7-9 dishes could have made tasting type dishes with 2 components so I didn’t feel too bad about what I made. I do not like these mystery basket challenges at all or the timed, rushed, stressed feeling that goes along with it. I know this will not be how I cook in the future, but I understand how it is a useful teaching tool. It has really pushed me to remember how to put food together without having to look at a recipe and gotten me out of the habit of relying on recipes. I also feel a lot more confident about plating food and how it should look on the plate.
I now own a big set of plain white plates and try to make some type of sauce with every meal even if it’s just to practice sauce ideas.
Today for Sunday breakfast I’m making Vanilla French toast with my own caramel sauce, apples cooked in brown sugar and butter with toasted walnuts and whipped cream.
I have a week off before I start Pastry Pro I on May 6 but it will be a busy week as I am making all the food for a luncheon for 30-40 people at work. Tonight I will be representing the Culinary School at the Big Taste of Fort Worth at the Hilton Hotel along with my good friend Lisa Wright. We will be sitting at a booth giving out cookies from a cookie waterfall and telling anyone who is interested about the school. Now I’m having fun….
Halfway through Culinary School and I’m ready to use what I’ve learned. I have been asked to judge a chili contest at Saginaw High School on May 5 and I will help Chef Paula Ambrose with a big dinner for the grand opening of the Azle Library in late June.