The first thing you realize is that you can’t continue to arrange and organize your mise en place. You can’t stop to fold your side towel, or give your used pots and pans a rinse as a sign of respect toward the dishwasher. There just isn’t any time for it, literally. There's only time to push, head down, with no regard to the mess piling up on your station and everyone else’s. Once you can overcome the embarrassment of working in this tornado of an environment, you’ll realize it’s fun. More importantly, a different type of beauty exists in the world of competitive cookery. Add in a handful of chefs and some cameras and you have a whole new world of inspiration.
If restaurant cooking is a well-rehearsed ballet, then cooking on the clock is a mosh pit. But a dance nonetheless.
A thrill. So much so that I encourage cooking this way. Especially if you’re in the industry. Breaking the standards of how you’re supposed to move in a professional kitchen opens up new avenues and new ideas. The thrust of speed cooking can have mixed results, but more often than not, reveals a new technique to add to your arsenal. You may not win (ahem), but through observation and review, you’ll find out a lot about yourself, your style, flavor, and equipment.
A pressure cooker and microwave are at this point, retro convenience tools used primarily in the home kitchen. And, let’s be honest, shunned in even a remotely serious home kitchen.
However, having no other option, I’d say that my pressure cooker and microwave are now my go-to tools, regardless of time. Never shun technology.
As for my style? Last year I would have said it’s precise. Methodical. Tight. Clichés Chefs Say for one hundred, Alex?
But it’s not. I’ve come to find that my style is a fluid freestyle that hiccups every once in a while, only to catch back up with the pace in time to hit its punch line. It has a bass line steeped in tradition that thumps, and lyrics that some might not fully grasp, but are close to the author. Me.
And when it’s off, it’s too deep and dark. Abstract art is art to some, and messy to others. And punch lines that kill in my bathroom mirror draw dead air with the wrong clientele. Recently, I cooked a charity mystery basket competition where I made a tzatziki sauce using mint toothpaste. It was tasty. A way to get kids to enjoy lamb, while fighting tooth decay. I used a microscopic amount. I thought it was clever. The crowd in Fort Worth? Silence … of the lamb.
This brings us to the revelation of flavor in competitive cooking.
Flavor, of course, should always be aggressive. Even more so than in a restaurant. When you’re competing against other food in different styles, the flavors of finesse and elegance are easily lost to high acidity and spice. Of course there’s a balance. But it makes me think about how flavor composition is applicable in a real-world setting. We don’t cook in restaurants thinking that our guests just dined at a Malaysian curry shop the previous night, or just a few minutes beforehand for that matter. But they might have. And, by competing against other cuisines, it’s pushed my palate toward edgy. I was once a man of the gentle broth. Now, thanks to reality cooking, I am one of roast beef extract.
What have I learned about myself?
I’m a procrastinator. Not due to laziness, but for the eager anticipation of some original inspiration striking like lightning. Sometimes, unfortunately, I’ll wait for it too long, possibly until it’s too late. I push for conceptual perfection, instead of settling for really good food that you just want to eat. And I'm reminded that I’m a grinder. I’m a blue collar, blue apron workhorse. For all the television work behind and ahead, I still know how to put on my jeans and go to work all day long.
Or for 30 minutes.
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