Sunday, 31 July 2011

Temps de concurrence

So for those of you who have deftly avoided my constant barrage of announcements earlier this month (on almost all forms of social media) Victoria Glass and I made the final of the Master Chef style cook-off for bloggers on Sunday 17th of July "Nom Nom Nom 2011".

Seven other cookery pairs were jammed in with us into the small yet efficiently designed upstairs kitchen of the Cookery School on Little Portland Street. We were all prompt and raring to go; freshly prepared breakfast treats in hand eagerly awaiting the announcement of the rules for the day. 
2 hours 15 minutes to cook a three-course office lunch for four. Not too bad we thought, we've planned for this, we've practised! 
I went an administration step too far and threw spreadsheet timetables at the problem so we knew exactly which carrot to chop when - this fell slightly flat when I put my chopping board over said paperwork followed by the realisation that the allocated cooking time was now 15 minutes shorter than we had originally thought. 

Prior to the starting pistol we had one hour allocated for shopping and headed out as fast as we could (which wasn't very fast as Victoria had sprained her knee at a Ceilidh) to the local farmers market, ginger pig butchers and ever faithful Waitrose.
With oh so much more food than we were ever going to need and empty wallets we piled our purchases and adrenaline into the taxi.
Back at HQ we set to work chopping, chopping and more chopping. Deeply focussing on not slicing off chunks of my fingers whilst attempting to blag passable examples of julienne.

The requirement was to make a soup, a main course, 2 salads and a treat. A selection of the most highly favoured dishes are to go on sale at Rosalind’s kitchen (purveyors of fine handmade office lunches) by appointment of Rosalind herself.

When I cook or pull an event together I am a total stickler for a holistic idea. I don’t mean that in an aromatherapy and tie dye way (just to clarify) but more of a clear theme which runs coherently throughout. So we decided that to make our menu a little different and to give it a fusion edge we would sneak a few Japanese influences into each course to excite the palate of the busy suited customer.  Even though it would be likely that even if we won any of the rounds the food would not be served together, we wanted our menu to work harmoniously as a complete meal.

“So what the hell did you make?” I hear you cry.
Well I’m getting to that…
We started with Wild Mushroom Broth.
This involved frying a few finely chopped fresh wild mushrooms and garlic, then adding the liquid from rehydrating some dried wild mushrooms, handfuls of innoki and brown beech mushrooms to simmer in the earthy broth and seasoned with white miso paste. Thankfully the judges gave our soup some serious thumbs up which was a relief; as I had completely left out the integral garnish of a few finely chopped spring onions. This garnish was the one thing my brother (who has recently returned from 3 years living and working in Japan) had advised I include for authenticity.
The main course was a seared steak Sashimi served on a bed of watercress and raw courgette ribbons dressed with lime and black pepper.
This dish was perfect for the competition as all you do is marinade the best piece of beef you can find in lovely things like soy sauce, ginger and chilli then sear it in a pan for 1 minute till it is starting to caramelise on the outside but deliciously raw in the middle. The beauty of this is not just in the flavour and quality of the meat but also in the presentation. The slices of beef are to be baking parchment thin and arranged on the plate in a neat ornamental row tempting the judges to take a second to let out a little admiring sigh at the delicacy placed before them. Only after such a pause would they then be compelled to pick up a fork and devour with lashings of the sticky salty dipping sauce. Unfortunately due to the rushed panic plating-up session at the end of the competition I was forced to hack violently at the huge (and very expensive fillet) with a tiny knife, producing what looked like a meat-flavoured failed attempt at a dry-stone walling NVQ.
For the salads we plumped for a Rainbow ‘slaw which we made from fushcia pink radishes, vivid red cabbage, yellow and red peppers, spring onions and cucumber. Fine matchsticks of each of these luminous veggies were tossed together with more Japanese flavours including mirin and sesame oil. This technicolor accompaniment was contrasted with the deceptively subdued looking partner of yoghurt and wasabi dressed Jersey Royals with Pea shoots. Getting the mixture of Greek yoghurt, brown sugar, lime juice and wasabi powder just right is tricky but the result is a clean taste explosion (which I must stay work pretty snappily with those chunks of beef).
For desert we made Blackcurrant Meringue Pies with Matcha (green tea). These looked like cupcakes but where much more sophisticated darling! I love these; I could eat them all day if they were not so heartstoppingly sugary. Victoria certainly knows what she is doing with pastry and meringue. When I whisk egg whites they seem to take pride in maliciously collapsing just as the last spoonful of sugar is added. For Victoria, egg whites not only stand to stiff- peaked and obedient attention but I think they do her filing, ironing and tax returns for her too – she’s got skills that woman.
When all the chopping, stirring and general blur of freaking out was over the fun really started. We were sent downstairs to feast on the leftovers from every competing team. Quickly all the anxiety and judgement day nerves fell away in place of foodie debates, recipe swapping and belly laughs encouraged by some great wine from Top 100.

A tipsy quiz and raffle followed and just when we least expected it the serious and sober judges entered. They are a clever bunch and had “deliberated, cogitated and digested” our efforts in true Lloyd Grossman style.

Huge congratulations must go to well deserving winners Tete a Tea who whipped up some lovely meatballs, taboule and a cheeky raspberry and amaretto chocolate tart.
Victoria and I were disappointed not to win the judges hearts completely but there were enough shouts of “who made this beef it’s delicious” popping up around the table to satisfy even my inflated ego.
Several tonnes of goodies in hand we made one last push to the pub. I have never been to a piss up with foodies before and for those of you who have not I can highly recommend.  At first we were merrily discussing our food disasters and then culinary triumphs. As the adrenaline in my system from the nerves of the competition was quickly replaced by cocktails I pulled out my iPhone and shared my own photographic history of epic baking projects and mass catering. I continued the showing off by pulling out 2 copies of issue 1 of Cakes and Canap├ęs (both of which I sold in under 3 minutes to the Hirsute Hashtag Slingers). Several cocktails later I was asked about my pin badge. I had decided to plug a good friend’s work during the competition (Emma Bosanko runs Thread or Dead who make wonderful things, mostly using the powers of cross stitch). I was wearing one of her creations, a moustache badge and when quizzed on this accessory I eagerly plunged my hand into my rucksack to proudly present the special edition strawberry brooch designed for issue 2 of our magazine. In doing so, I sent a new, shiny and cellophane wrapped non-applicator tampon flying onto the bench narrowly missing James Whatley’s lap. I jetted out a hand to retrieve the item and swiftly dispatch it back to my bag (trying not to react but keep up the conversation). In my tipsy and over confident state I would have sworn no one saw a thing but in the cold sober light of day I cannot be sure if the sanitary product really went completely unnoticed in its journey through the air.
I think food bloggers make excellent drinking companions as the conversation flowed well into the night, cementing in my mind that the Nom Nom Nom 2011 was brilliant fun and the staff at the cookery school worked thanklessly on our behalf. Money made from the raffle when to the charity Action Against Hunger – please check out their fantastic work here.

Ok, so I botched the beef, missed the first group photo call (because I went for a wee) missed the third photo call (because I went to get my cardigan) and committed a minor indiscretion in the pub… but all in all I think team Nice Glass did bloody well. I love our menu, it was radical, tasty and vibrant - and good laughs were had by all, bring on 2012! xxx

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