I'm trying to keep my business, my triplets, and my waistline under control. I excel at one of those, fail at another one of those, and one is a work in progress. Which is which is day dependant.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

That's me in the spotlight, losing my religion

Next week - Tuesday at 1pm, on the first day of Passover to be precise - I am taking part in my first ever culinary competition. I originally entered the competition because I thought it would be fun. Hell, I even thought I might win, having seen the way some of my fellow students cook. The competition is a fairly serious one - it's the "Regional Final" for the Victorian Tafe "Chef of the Year" award. If you win or come in second place, you get to do it all over again in the State finals, held in September. Mind you, I don't think there are semi-finals or anything, so who knows why they call it a final in the first place. Any-hoo - I'm in.

I'm terrified.


Originally I just thought it would be fun, but now I know that my scary overachiever girl self will beat herself up for a loooonnnnngggg time if I don't at least place. So it's not really fun per se, now it's just sheer terror and torture and god knows what. I find myself doubting my abilities, doubting my sanity (what posessed me to enter this?!) and doubting, well, just everything. My ego is so bound up in this...on some level it's like if I don't do well in this, I somehow SUCK as a chef. Stupid, illogical, pointless, self-depracating ... yes, all of those plus more big vocabulary words. The thing is, the actual requirements are pretty easy.

Two servings of:
- chicken, with a sauce or jus
- a green vegetable
- a second, non-green vegetable
- a farinaceous (starch based) dish
...and you have to portion a whole raw chicken, cost out the menu to below a specified dollar value, and a bunch of other small things, plus all of this is timed. You get marked on four main areas:

25% methods, technique, level of dificulty
25% workflow, workplace organisation, finishing time
25% working in a clean, safe manner, personal hygiene (what a crock this is)
25% clean, contemporary presentation and taste

Originally I thought I'd cook what I know - namely Eastern European/Meditteranean influenced food. You know, the stuff I would have grown up with if my Mom bothered to cook traditional Israeli/Polish foods. So I had a bit of a menu planned - I was riding high on the wave of culinary clever-ness. Until - I discovered that there are at LEAST two Israeli students participating in the event, and they are planning on cooking classic Mediterranean.


Then I spoke to one of the coordinators, who said that level of difficulty and cutting techniques are going to be the main factors for that first 25%.

Double fuck.

So my really yummy and fab-o menu - which would be fairly simple to execute but divine to eat - has now gotten the ki-bosh on several levels. I am left feeling like I need to make a multi-coloured, multi-layered stuffed chicken breast, home-make some pasta on the day from some hay and a quail egg, and twirl around 17 times in a clockwise direction while serving it all 6.2 inches from the epicenter of the plate. With a swirl of foam, of course.

Triple fuck.

Dh says I should go for a triumph of taste rather than worry about being overly fussy. I say if I'm not at least somewhat fussy, I'll lose, primarily for lack of difficulty and skill. Ideally I need something in the middle, right? Easy enough for me to prepare in the time, difficult enough to have a bit of WOW factor, and it has to taste like the sun shines out of my chicken's ass. Plus it can't cost too much.

Between now and next Tuesday afternoon, I am working 3 shifts, having 25+ people over for Passover seder (and somehow DH and I just keep inviting people), go to the dentist, take my son out for a "DS and Mummy" Day, write the actual menu and workplan, test out all the recipes, decorate a massive Thomas the Tank Engine cake, get my son to a speech therapy appointment, drop off a cheque for the kids holiday camp....

I. Am. Totally. Fucked.

Help?! Ideas for sexy chicken dishes welcome. Hell, ANY ideas welcome at this point. COME ON, people. If you've NEVER commented on this blog before, NOW would be a REALLY, really, REALLY good time. I need you! (And if you can't cook for shit, at least leave a "go emzee go" post. Seriously, I'm feeling really stressed out about this stupid-slash-important comp.)

One wonders WHY I get myself into these fine messes.


Cameron said...

First of all, Go, Emzee, go!

How much time do you have, and how much of the preparation has to be 'live', i.e. - if you need to braise something, can you have a pan braising and then magically pull the finished product out of the oven, like a cooking show? Or does it have to be 100 percent live?

For a Christmas dinner a few years ago, I adapted a northern Italian recipe (from The Splendid Table) for braised rabbit with red wine, onions and chicken broth, subsituting chicken for the rabbit. (not that anyone would have known the difference. :) but my parents claim not to eat mammals)

I served it with rice and green beans cooked in chicken stock with cloves, onions and mortadella (ok, actually turkey bologna...but nobody knew the difference) It worked great because I was able to braise the chicken the day before and then heat it up prior to serving. But it takes a while to braise things if you can't use the 'magic of TV' and have the finished product sitting in the oven while you demo the preparation.

The Green Beans, however, are simple to prepare and taste wonderful.

I don't know if it helps but it's the first thing that came to mind.

Columbus Foodie said...

Have you thought about doing a simple balsamic based prep for the chicken, and some type of Israeli couscous for your starch? Simple to prepare, that's for sure.

Either way, good luck! I have my fingers crossed for you!

emzeegee & the hungry three said...

Hi Cam,

Thanks for the show of support! I expect pom-poms too. :) To answer your question, NO prep can be done ahead of time, except for washing your vegetables. There is 15 minutes set-up time, 90 minutes cooking time, and 15 minutes clean-up time. You lose points for either going to fast or too slow...so while I theoretically COULD braise something in that period of time (given that the cuts of chicken are small anyway). I'm going to think on the whole green beans thing. Originally I was thinking green beans blanched with a 'dressing' of some Persian feta, chopped mint, lemon and seasonings... hmm. You've given me "food for thought" (pun very much intended.)


Columbus foodie-

Thanks for reading and commenting. Couscous was part of my original plan - with raisins, toasted almonds, cinnamon, some fried onions etc, but with the dearth of Israeli competitors, now I'm not so sure!

If this doesn't kill me, I'll update. :)


Weinraub Family said...

Ok, both the grean beans and couscous sound yummy...even if you don't make either, could you pass along the recipes??? Like you need one more thing to do right?

I wish I had some ideas...I will think about it and get back to you.

How I wish I could come watch and cheer you on...I love the cooking competition shows on tv.

You will kick ass...as always