How do I get myself into these things?
I love cooking. I enjoy messing around in the kitchen, dabbling with ingredients, experimenting with flavors and dumping an ass-load of salt on everything. None of that stuff means that I’m a good cook, yet people keep making that mistake. Jeffery Dahmer was a bit of a culinary enthusiast himself, but he had a hard time filling seats during his dinner parties.
Anyway, other than a few years of short order cook experience, I was never really trained in the culinary arts. I just watch hella Food Network. Man, you can pick up a lot of kitchen science just watching Alton Brown do his thing. It seems watching tv is all it takes. I guess that means if I watch enough kung fu movies I’ll learn Cantonese and the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique.
Watching television also introduced me to the wonderful Japanese program “Iron Chef,” which I’ve talked about in an earlier entry. This show inspired me and my friends to try our own Iron Chef competition, two years ago, which has been chronicled in an older Eighty-Four Glyde, (don’t expect to get a link to that. Find it your damn self! It’s got pictures!) wherein I completely trounced my opponent in “Battle Potato.”
The downside of this is that after my victory, the myth of my being a good cook became more concrete. Plus, people felt the need to challenge me (half-heartedly, full of bravado, but lacking any real substance) to cooking competitions all the time.
Fools jump up to get beat down. Sigh.
A few weekends ago, my compadres and I were finally able to coordinate our ever-expanding circle of influence to make another Iron Chef battle happen again. This time, my friend Diddi decided to challenge me in the kitchen. He wrote his own death warrant!*
For those too lazy to read about my previous battle, are who aren’t familiar with the rules, let me give a quick rundown of how our Iron Chef works:
1. There are two competitors and three judges.
2. Each competitor is allowed to cook in their own kitchen. They have two hours in which to prepare at least three dishes utilizing a secret ingredient.
3. One judge will show up at each contestant’s kitchen at an arranged time and reveal the secret ingredient. The judge will spend the two hours making sure the competitors follow cooking rules.
4. The competitors are not allowed to leave the kitchen to purchase ingredients. They have to make due with what they already own. However, they are allowed to look up recipes online, (because really, none of us are really chefs. We don’t have rolodexes of recipes in our brains).
5. At the end of the two-hour cooking time. Both contestants and both judges have an hour to get to the third judge’s kitchen, (which is our designated “Kitchen Stadium”) with their dishes ready for presentation.
6. All dishes are judged based on three criteria: taste, presentation and use of the ingredient. Each judge can award up to 100 points for all three categories.
Once the tasting is over, the judges retire to another room to…judge. Meanwhile, the nervous-as-shit competitors and whomever else came to see the show, get to hang out and enjoy food and good drink.
The knock on my door came a few minutes before 4 p.m., the official starting time. I let the judge in and began to gather all the cook books in my kitchen, in anticipation of the secret ingredient. At 4:02, the judge revealed a big, heavy bag which contained the ingredient. I figured I was ready for most things. I had themes and dishes in my mind based on if it was an herb, a veggie, a starch, a meat, a liquid or whatever else it could be. Turns out I wasn’t as prepared as I thought.
Imagine my surprise when the judge (my boy Big Frizzle, as he likes to call himself) tipped over the bag and dumped many pounds of apples on my floor. Apples! Red apples! Green apples! And hybrid, interracial apples whose parents had jungle fever! My mind reeled. I had no idea what the eff to do with apples. It’s an autumn ingredient during the burgeoning days of spring. The judges were crazy!
I quickly looked through my cookbooks and online, I wrote a hasty menu and proceeded to get to work in the kitchen. Drenched in sweat and paprika, the two hours sped by in a blur. The time was only marked by my occasional break with a glass of apple brandy, (generously donated by the judge, who had a drink and immediately spent the two hours sleeping it off on my couch).
You know what the hardest part of cooking is? It’s not the taste, it’s not how well you follow the ingredient, it’s making sure everything is done in time and that everything is as hot or as cold as it’s supposed to be. In a restaurant, this isn’t a problem because there’s a whole mess of (maybe legal) Mexicans in the kitchen working as a team. One guy working alone has a lot more pots to stir. Literally.
At the end of the allotted time I had created a simple apple and spinach salad, sliders on sourdough with apple and onion topping and an apple and cinnamon pork roast with a sweet apple syrup and garlic and apple mashed potatoes on the side. Thus prepared, I wrapped everything up and made my way to the third judge’s apartment for the tasting.
My opponent was a little late, but still managed to show up without getting points taken away. He walked in with dishes and crock pots and food and my heart sank a little with the realization that I had underestimated Diddi and his culinary skills. He brought his A game, (well, maybe his B, B+ game. But it was still good!)
We heated our dishes and presented them for tasting. Then, we sat and waited, while our fates were decided. Nerves were wracked! Knuckles were white! Nails were bitten! Sweat was flopped! Edges of seats were…sat on.
Somewhere in this favored land, the sun is shinning bright.
The band is playing somewhere. And somewhere hearts are light.
Somewhere men are laughing and somewhere children aren’t deaf.
But there is no joy for Diddi – Josh is still the Iron Chef!**
*not exactly sure what it means, but they use that line in movies all the time and I decided to try it out.
**with apologies to Ernest Lawrence Thayer