Friday, October 2, 2009

Errr... Team Canada anyone?

"So, are you ready for you black box?" said Chef as soon as he laid eyes on me yesterday. I gave a weak smile and a "yeah" but I don't think he even heard me. He must not have been interested in the answer because I noticed he had already turned to the Chef de Partie and said "Go make her a black box. Just go to the fridge and grab whatever, make sure you have two proteins." So as I wait for him to return I stepped outside through a back door on the pretext of having a cigarette (I rarely smoke), but mostly to give Chef time to look at the box that the CDP has prepared so he can add or subtract items without me there. Shortly after stepping out Chef's head popped through the half-open door and called me back in. It was time.

I looked in the box and half-panicked when I saw my protein was two cod tails and four lamb chops. It sounds like a lot of chops but they are small and at our resto we do serve four on a plate for one order. Cod tails and lamb? I was prepared for shrimp, scallops or salmon. Any one of those and I would have made ceviche. I was not even going to attempt turning cod into ceviche. Bleah!

In the bin there was also one leek, 3 peppers (one of each colour), a tub of cottage cheese, a small container of plain yogurt, a head of broccoli, 2 potatoes, four eggs, a liter of heavy cream, a large green zucchini, a carrot, four spears of asparagus and some mushrooms. There was also rosemary and thyme in there, but no parsley or cilantro. I would have liked at least one of those and would have traded the thyme for it. Anyway, I found the box was too generous! There were too many items in there, points would be deducted for wasteage. Very difficult to make three dishes and use this jumble of stuff.

To get an idea of how nerve wrecking these things are I will tell you that another panicked moment was when looking in the box I saw nothing sweet with which to make dessert. No berries, no chocolate, nothing. Sure there were two lemons in there but what dessert am I going to make with two lemons??? I have been talking for two days now about how I was sure there would be lemons in there so I can make cold lemon souffle, yet when I looked in the bin I couldn't think of a dessert. Eventually the fog lifted, my eyes focused on the cream, the eggs and the lemons, and it finally came to me: I would make cold lemon souffle for dessert. Booyah!

As an appetizer I decided, at the last minute, to make mushroom crusted cod tails. I make a mushroom crusted red snapper with tarragon beans at home -- god bless you, Anthony Sedlak! Although I had no tarragon and no beans, I could still do mushroom crusted cod tails and top it with asparagus spears. I also needed a sauce for it but the box contained no liquids with which to make sauce. I came up with a citrus butter drizzle and I rested the whole thing on a southwestern salsa. It sounds like a lot is happening on this plate but I had to use a bit from each ingredient and I already knew the dessert would only use lemon and cream so... I had to make my own croutons for the topping, but that was no biggie, our ovens are so powerful that my croutons were done in under 3 minutes.

The main would be seared lamb chops with potato pancake (to use up the last egg and do sometehing different than boring mash potato). I couldn't come up with a creative veg option and I did not want to pair lamb chops with steamed broccoli -- i don't know about you but broccoli doesn't quite scream fine dining to me. So I decided to make a broccoli and carrot salad with a honey yogurt dressing, thus using the plain yogurt in the box and some of the veg. I put it all in green pepper bowl.

Dessert, we've already discussed. I did do it all in less than three hours. I lined them all up on the chest freezer when I was done. Timing would be my biggest challenge, making sure everything came together at the same time. You don't want some food ready and sitting in the window while you make sauces or other dishes. Since I had lamb and fish I had to be careful, their cooking times are so different. So I seared the lamb nicely on both sides and stuck in the oven. About two minutes in I put the fish in. Lamb should NOT be cooked past medium rare, but how do I tell without cutting into it? I seldom cook lamb in this fashion so I was very nervous about over cooking it. Cutting into it, or even pricking it with a knife would be a huge no no as all the juice would run out of the under-rested meat.

How did I do? Chef first tasted the app (naturally) and asked me what I had prepared, keeping an eye on the written "menu" I gave him before I started cooking. I apologize in advance for using profanities but upon tasting the app Chef stepped away from the plate and did a half turn, not towards anyone in particular, just a half turn and I heard him say something like "taste is f***". With my eyes, large as saucers, I breathed "what? not good?" He looked at me and said "it's tasty as f***. Very tasty, very good!" Dude, I was surprised, I really was. I mean, I was trying to make sure each component was tasty but I was very afraid of how they would all go together. I seasoned well -- chef always tells us we don't season enough -- in fact I probably over-seasoned knowing he likes his salt, I even used some texmex spice combo on the fish so that it would go with the southwestern salsa, but in my wildest dreams I did not expect him to say it was 'tasty as f***'. So that got me an A+ on the app. He said he would have plated a little different. I rested the fish on the salsa and drizzled the citrus butter sauce on top, he would have put the citrus sauce on bottom and cascaded the colourful salsa over top. Makes sense right? It sure does now, in the heat of the moment it just didn't come to me.

The main received a C. I would have given myself a lower grade for presentation for my plate lacked colour huge. I knew it did, I just couldnt' think of a colourful thing to put on there. The potato pancake was nicely browned and well seasoned and cooked, the lamb chop flavourful and cooked to perfection (I had smeared the chops with grainy dijon mustard and dragged them through chopped rosemary and thyme before searing them) but the veg was no good. I was supposed to do a hot veg as it was a hot plate and instead I presented a cold veg in a raw green pepper. The only reason he gave me a C on that dish was because of the perfect flavour and cooking.

My dessert would get a B+, I suspect this is because he had showed it to me just two days before, thus I was not exactly original.

The other judges, non-kitchen staff, enjoyed tasting all of the dishes. They all loved the fish and the dessert, and the one girl who tried the potato pancake liked it. Neither of them eat lamb so they didn't try it. All in all I did good. Chef told me he was impressed, especially since this was my first cooking test ever and I do not have any culinary training.

Since I didn't take my camera with me I had to take the pictures with the phone and the quality is poor. It is however, better than no pictures at all, at least you get a sense of what I am talking about. The photos are disappointing, it does not focus on any of the components so aside from the dessert, you will hardly know what you are looking at. I deeply regret not taking my camera.

As it turns out, there are three of us only completing the black box test, and we are competing against each other. So far I am leading as Lauren failed her first attempt. She is having another go today. I will have my second black box later on. Chef is contemplating taking the winner with him to a competition and possibly entering Team Canada for the Culinary Olympics. I am sure that even if that were true (why would he even joke about something like that?), we would mostly be helping him prep for the competition, but wouldn't it be cool?!? Holy crap!

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