I made it. My dream is coming true before my very eyes. I am deeply touched by love and support that surrounds my experience thus far, and it is only beginning. So after a sleepless first night, I am excited to see what the new day, the first day brings. I enter the hair and makeup trailer, our pictures are posted all over the wall. Those who don’t make it are immediately taken down. A firm reminder of why we are here and that only one will last. It feels as though I am in the hunger games, bizarre but oddly fun. As time passes, the first challenge arrives. Who will go home?
Walking out onto the stage, we take our marks as all 3,000 lights are perfectly positioned to capture our frame. Camera men surround the set, the cameras hang from above and set from below, this is all too cool. An entire crew of nearly 200 people are hear to capture our every move and every word. The magic of being on set has taken a hold and the mentors walk onto stage. Anthony, Marcus, Ludo and Nigella gaze back at the 16 of us. We smile but know that two contestants will be gone shortly. After a brief intro, he announces the challenge. CHILDHOOD. Chef Stephanie Izard walks out to our applause. She is a legendary woman, chef and business person. To cook for her is truly an honor. Knowing her style at the Girl and The Goat in Chicago, my mind beings to to tick. What will I make?
Childhood. How fitting for our first challenge. An opportunity to represent ourselves in whichever light we choose.
Team Challenge - This is the first team challenge. Each team cooks their own version of a dish that their mentor selects. The mentor chooses one team members spoon to represent the team. The guest judge picks the best and worst spoon. The worst spoon goes home. The best wins a class with the guest mentor.
Team Marcus is tasked with making our own version of Chicken Curry. ‘Chicken curry? I love chicken curry’ I think. My mind begins to race, how will mine be different. It is time to follow my instinct, lucky for me curry is familiar.
I decide to go for a vaudovan (like curry on steroids) spiced chicken breast, cooked sous vide, perched over a sweet and spicy red curry with shredded leg meat, crispy chicken skin and a fresh cabbage slaw.
Cooking with Marcus is nothing less than wild. His passion radiates through. He wants to win just as bad as we do. He tastes, he smells, he instructs and yells at times. I take this as a once in a life time learning opportunity. Who knows how long I will be around. He critiques my curry saying that there is too much Kaffir lime leaf in it. We work to balance the flavor. I am confident that I made the right choice. We are working as a team, sharing stocks, sauces, ingredients and garnishes, doing whatever we can to ensure that we go to the end as a unit.
It is amazing how quick the time goes. Really it flies by, so it must mean that I am having fun right? Right. As the time ticks down, Marcus can’t decide if he will choose between Tristen or me. He goes with Tristen.
I am OK with it. It is a team challenge and although I would have liked to represent the team, many of my components were used in Tristen’s dish. My stock, my sauce, it was truly a collaboration.
Judgment has arrived. I am sweating bullets. Although I am not worried about going home at this point, there are weaker cooks on my team, it is always a possibility, not one that I want to dwell on. I see her hand reach for the tile indicating out spoon and my heart beat begins to slow, knowing that I am safe and our team will live another day.
With the first challenge behind me, my perspective has changed. My competitive nature has kicked in. This is something that I want to win. Something that I will need to fight for. Something that can and will change my life.
I retreat back to the hotel with the rest of the cast. The drive is filled with jovial conversation, all of us grateful to still be around. As we make our way back to our new home at an airport hotel, I can only think of one thing. Winning.
I go upstairs, open my notebook, favorite cookbooks and begin studying. The journey has only just begun.
Tomorrow I will be cooking for a legend. I know it. Under The Sea, I hope my dreams tonight take me there.