DINNER 169: Sunday, June 18, 2006


Chef Doug.What a fun day today was. My buddy, Chef Doug, asked me (last night!) to participate as his apprentice for an American Culinary Federation “One Man Mystery Basket” culinary competition he attempted today. Apparently, the competition was supposed to provide apprentices, but since the competition happened to fall on Father’s Day, most of the apprentices had bailed out. Doug was told to provide his own apprentice or to do without (which is not a good idea on such a competition!). Since Doug was my first culinary instructor and is a good friend of mine, it was my pleasure to work with him today.
The announcement for the competition looked like this:

June 17, 2006 – ACF Greater Cincinnati Chapter
Midwest Culinary Institute
Cincinnati, Ohio
Traditional Cold Food A, B, D categories
Traditional Hot Food F/1 category
Practical & Contemporary Hot Food K/1-K/9 categories
Show Chair: Rick Potter, CEC, AAC

As his apprentice, I was allowed to do certain things during the competition like collect ingredients, peel vegetables, clean up, and wash dishes. However, I was not allowed to cook anything (or to touch the stove), do ‘presentation’ knife cuts, plate dishes for presentation, or anything at the end of the cooking process. Essentially, as an apprentice, everything I did had to go through the Chef’s hands before it was presented for judgement.

I arrived at Cincinnati State around 10:00am, in my chef whites and with my knives over my shoulder. I unloaded the various equipment Doug borrowed from me and waited to begin the competition. Doug arrived shortly thereafter and we unloaded his truck — he brings a lot of equipment with him so he’s ready for anything. The “Mystery Basket” aspect means that in addition to a pantry of staples (flour, sugar, milk, cream, butter, etc), each chef is given a basket of proteins when they begin competing that they have to use. Today’s basket was: 2 whole chickens, 2 veal shanks, bacon, large shrimp, black bass, and mussels. While not required to use all of an ingredient, each ingredient in the mystery basket must be used at least a little bit. So, for example, you could choose to use only a little (not all) the chicken and be fine. But if you don’t use any chicken at all, that’d be bad. Once we saw our basket, Doug had 30 minutes to write a menu, 3 hours to cook it, and a 30 minute ‘window’ to serve four plates and two platters to the judges.

We got to it. I collected ingredients for Doug while he broke down chickens, filleted fish, and sawed (and sawed and sawed) with a hand bone saw through the veal shanks (try cutting veal shanks with a hand saw — not fun). By the time he got through the bones, I had most of the ingredients collected and ready for him. Once he started cooking, I kept the place clean and worked as his right-hand-man to get things ready. The three hours of prep time flew by, and before I knew it we were ready to start plating. Doug did the plating and I cleaned the plates, giving them a final look before they were whisked away to the judges.

After the tasting, we had time to get our kitchen into pretty good shape before the critiques. Doug told me, “the longer they talk, the fewer medals are going to be awarded”, and they talked plenty. I actually had to leave early since I ran out of time, so I didn’t get to hear the critique of our work at all. Only three medals — all bronze — were awarded today out of the 10 or so competitors. The good news is that Doug won one of the bronze medals that were awarded! I’m pleased to have worked with him and proud that our team did well.

I gathered as much stuff as I could, piled into my car, and zipped home just in time to… start cooking for the father’s day cookout we were hosting for my parents, Wendy’s parents, and her brother! It was a very simple layout… Wendy & I provided proteins (burgers, hot dogs, bratts, and metts), each of the mothers brought a salad, and Ted brought dessert. I also made a surprisingly tasty Cruncy Coleslaw that I didn’t think would be as good as it was. We had a nice time together, but by the end of the evening, I was WORN OUT!

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