It’s April 15, 2016… I am packing a container full of kitchen equipment. As I check my list off, I am double checking frantically to ensure I have everything I’ll need for my first mystery basket competition. For months, I have been practicing and preparing, waiting for this moment to represent Chevy Chase Club and make my Chef proud.
This was the first time testing my skills in this category, F-4, which involves making a 4 course menu, 4 portions each, from a mystery basket that could have up to 17 ingredients. Chef Scott and Charles have been testing my skills for the past few months, throwing curve balls, ensuring I would be prepared for anything thrown at me.
On the morning of the 16th, I woke up anxious and excited all at once, as I awaited Artis’ arrival, another cook at Chevy Chase. He competed in a different category. We soon got on the road to Cincinnati, a city neither one of us had ever been to.
As we drove down into the city, we were amazed by all the wall art on the sides of the old brownstone style buildings. We finally arrived at our hotel and began to get settled. When we drew the curtains back in our room, we had an incredible view of the Ohio River that splits Ohio and Kentucky. Over the horizon to the left and right, were the Reds and Bengals stadiums. We also could see this incredible bridge that stretched across the river connecting the two states. It was a beautiful sight to see.
Before we turned in for the evening we needed to get some fava beans for Artis’ dish. While out running around, we found a great burger place to indulge in, the Americano Burger Bar.
The 5am alarm came early and quick. I bounced out of bed and started getting my mind wrapped around the challenge I was about to take on. The months of practice were soon going to be a reality. As we headed over to the school, I was re-playing, over and over, the steps I needed to follow to make the day a success. I knew I wanted to go first, knowing this 4hr mystery basket would take all day.
After unpacking the car and finding out where the staging area was, it was 7:30am, time for the judges meeting. In this meeting, we would have a chance to ask questions, find out our time slot, and as well get our apprentice. I drew second. Reality soon set in as I picked competitor number 1. I quickly realized I needed to have myself ready in 20minutes, get mind straight and walk into the kitchen.
The next 4 hours flew by. I walked into the kitchen with my apprentice, David, and started dissecting my basket. In the basket I had: Arborio rice, honey, fingerling potatoes, Bibb lettuce, arugula, spinach, oranges, quince, oyster mushrooms, prosciutto, pig totters, tenderloin, whole snapper, tamarind paste, white anchovy, clams, shrimp, pine nuts, array of micro greens, and endive. Let me tell you, this was a task in itself planning between the courses. After setting up my station and organizing my ingredients, I started cooking away.
Knowing this was going to be a marathon, and not a sprint, I tried to pace myself for the next 3 1/2 hours. I tried to plan my menu to have flavors that made sense, went together, and developed a nice composed dish. Being this was my fist competition, I want to use all ingredients and finish on time. As each hour passed, I became more nervous hoping I would please the judges and represent my Chef well.
The next 3 1/2 hours flew by and just before I started plating I felt so nervous. I wasn’t sure that I used all ingredients. I cleaned up the station, made it look orderly, and double checked everything. At this point, I felt like a surgeon before an operation. I planned out my dishes to match the plates and started setting them out accordingly. I dove in and started plating my 4 courses, pacing myself so I did not rush the judges. The 40 minutes I had for plating passed with a blink of an eye. I was done. I accomplished my goal of finishing on time, using all the ingredients. The next step was judging and waiting 3 hours for my critique.
The next 3 hours felt like an eternity. My critique was about to begin. I walked in with my plates in hand. As I sat there, and talked about each dish, I realized all the things that I could have done different. We discussed each dish from my thoughts to theirs. I sat there thinking this was going to be really rough, but instead it was very productive. It was a conversation between people who loved food. The conversation was great, as it showed me how I could refine my dishes more for this category. As the conversation ended, I was presented with a Bronze Medal. Although it was not a gold or silver medal, I felt like I represented myself, my club and my chef well. I was happy, and ready for the next competition. I waited for the others to get their critique and we all received a Bonze. Although we all wanted to do better, we all felt we did great.
This was a great experience and I learned a lot about myself. I learned that no matter the challenge, I will give it my all. This honestly has lit a fire inside me, not only to compete but to branch out and put myself out there on a platform. I have always done this with sports growing up, but cooking I have not. I look forward to the next competition as I continue to research locations. Until the next time in competing.