E3 Happy Holidays - Time to Focus

I started off the competition strong and hope to continue. Today I wake up and continue my routine.

4:20am the alarm goes off.
4:22am get in the shower. 
4:35am get dressed, put coffee on and begin meditation.
4:55am finish meditation and walk downstairs to get on the bus. 

The day begins. It is still dark and and I am unfamiliar with the land. Unsure as to where exactly we are in the city of LA and where we are going this is all still a mystery. We are whisked of to hair and make up and then rushed to wait. 

When the time to cook comes, the theme flashes on the screen 'Happy Holidays' - fitting as it is in the middle of September and we are all sweating balls off.  Chef Naomi Pomeroy walks out on stage. I have to admit that I am not as familiar with her as I would like to be, however, after a quick chat with Tristen and Marcus I am brought up to speed. 

The essence of her cuisine is; Bold, Delicious, Gritty. We are tasked with making a chicken curry, a dish that represents Marcus's holiday experience. He challenges us to cook a 'festive fau.' He demonstrates a chicken curry with chicken oyster and actual oysters. He keeps suggesting that we cook with the humble part of the bird... the dirt, the liver, the heart, the innards.

To be honest, this is something that I am not too familiar with. I don't love innards... I wish I did, it would make me feel cool,  but the reality is that I don't really enjoy the taste. 

Ok, so time goes on and the challenge begins, I am rocking and rolling. Feeling REALLY good about the way things are going. I am making a seared squab breast with a garnish of confit squab, chicken liver, heart, necks, preserved lemon, apple and other wonderful things. 

Time ticks down and Marcus chooses my spoon! I am proud and excited. But horrified as I look to see my spoon is incomplete. I forgot the garnish. Fuck. 

The spoons are being tasted by Chef Pomeroy and the results are close. Ludo's team gets picked first. Anthony team gets picked second. 

Are you kidding? Me vs. Nigella's team? Big shot to the ego. Well... as it turns out everything is OK and we are safe. But this was way too close for comfort. It is a wake up call that I really need focus, dot my i's and cross my t's. 

The individual challenge is now my time to shine. Although my family didn't eat duck often, to me it represents the holidays. I decide to draw from my past experience at Bouley and incorporate an Apple Rosemary puree that is emulsified with brown butter. It rocks and pairs perfectly with the duck. 

Roast duck, apple rosemary puree, ginger emulsion, crispy Brussels sprout. Delicious. 

The comments come in. Anthony Bourdain says 'This is a terrific spoon with a huge chunk of sage that blew out the whole spoon' WHAT!? There was no sage on the dish! #NoSage. 

Marcus compliments my aggressive seasoning. Mission accomplished. 

Fortunately for me the dish earned me one gold star from my mentor Marcus! I can't say how good it feels to get the recognition of my mentor. This means more than a gold star, but safety. As the field narrows, this provides me security if our team falters on a team challenge or if I stumble on an individual challenge. It is a good day. 

I am convinced that my positive energy, focus and love for the food is making a difference in this competition. It is an affirmation that I will continue to do well if I put my heart and soul into every bite.

Unfortunately, my teammate Joe got a few red stars and will be going into the taste off. The taste off is hardcore. It is really intense as everyone is watching you, gazing down at you and yelling. The way that it is edited on TV is far from what it is actually like. The cut out the sound from our mic's. I wish it was uncut. The energy is real. 

In the thunder dome Joe worked hard, but a few missteps made his dish the weakest and unfortunately he will be going home. Joe is a fighter, a great man, father and friend. His energy and enthusiasm is unparalleled and I am happy to have cooked along side him. 

I retreat back to the hotel smiling. However, now there are only two of us on Team Marcus. A drastic change from starting off so strong. Tristen is my biggest competition and now we are going head to head every day. We are a team and will continue to operate that way until it is the finals. But now holding the most gold stars in the competition, I can sleep well tonight. 

Tomorrow it starts all over. 

I walk away from today's challenge

The Taste E1 - Curry Chicken with Marcus

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.