I’ve previously told you about how lucky I am to work in a restaurant where we get to do some pretty neat things in the kitchen when we’re not busy. Sometimes that comes in the form of challenging Chef to create something on the spot, but sometimes Chef will flip the tables and challenge us instead. Usually that involves Chef telling us to produce a fully plated dish, using whatever we want, in under 30 minutes. This doesn’t sound like it should be a difficult task, but if you’re an indecisive person like myself, it can be 30 minutes of torture.
Cook1's Lamb Dish
The other day I was bugging Chef to make me something wonderful and he decided that I should instead make something for him. I hate when he does that. To buy myself some time, I suggested that one of the other cooks should have to take on the challenge. When Cook1 came back into the kitchen from a trip to the walk in fridge, completely unaware of what was going on, he was told he had 30 minutes to plate two identical dishes and that he’d better hurry up and get started. He began scrambling around to gather ingredients and come up with something to make. As he was doing this, Cook2 who had been observing, was pulled into the game when Chef told him he also had 30 minutes and the same challenge. I escaped being a direct part of the challenge as I actually had some work to get done before service. As Cook1 and Cook2 approached the 30 minute mark, (with Chef counting down in Iron Chef fashion… 10 minutes have elapsed) I suggested they should get 45 minutes instead as it was becoming clear that 30 wouldn’t cut it. I’d fail on the real Iron Chef as I’m all for giving out extra time when needed. Coming up with a dish under pressure is hard enough as it is, I’ll take any bonuses I can get.
Cook2's White Fish Dish
When Cook1 and Cook2 finished their dishes they had to explain what they were before we all gave them a taste and Chef gave his opinion on the outcome. That’s also my opportunity to ask questions like “What part of the dish did you think of first?” I find it interesting to hear how other people conceive of a dish and where their ideas come from. I like answers that tell a story and let me get a little glimpse into their twisted minds, (they work in a kitchen, their minds are inherently twisted… we’re an odd bunch). I dislike answers like “I don’t know.”
Cook1 chose to make a lamb dish with greens beans, rice, walnuts and a pear puree.
Cook2 made a white fish mousse with rice and veg medley.
I love these little challenges because two completely different dishes were made, using different techniques and different trains of thought to lead to a final product. It’s just neat to watch.
The following day Chef told me to make him something amazing. I decided to make donuts since it’s something that allowed me to use the deep fryer. I don’t have a deep fryer at home, especially not an industrial one, so I like any excuse to use it at work, (even though really hot oil kinda scares me). I was also looking for an excuse to try out a recipe I had seen in Giada DeLaurentiis’ most recent book, Giada’s Kitchen. She calls them Zeppole, but they’re basically deep fried pâte à choux. Also, you can call me a cheater if you want, but I used a recipe. It’s much harder to create something pastry related in 30 minutes without some sort of recipe to build on. It’s not nearly as forgiving as cooking. I did, however, create two dipping sauces to go with the zeppole that I made without measuring utensils. The first was an orange caramel and the second a maple blueberry compote. When Chef came to taste them, he asked if they would be super mind blowingly awesome and amazing. Somehow, between the time he asked me if I was making him something and tasting time, his request got a few more adjectives tacked onto it. And while I wouldn’t qualify the zeppole as super mind blowingly awesome and amazing, they were alright but definitely best almost right out of the fryer.
Later that night Chef decided someone should still complete a proper challenge and since a new sous chef just started this week, he was the perfect candidate to choose. To make things more interesting, Chef decided to compete against him and allowed the cooks to choose a mystery ingredient for them to use. There’s nothing like starting a new job and immediately being thrown into competition with your boss… The New Sous handled it a million times better than I would have. And being the generous group that we are, we granted them a fifteen minute preparation period, followed by one hour of cooking to produce an appetizer and main dish in Battle Cream Cheese. I really should have been taking notes as this happened last week, but from what I can recall, this is what they made…
New Sous' Appetizer
Chef’s Appetizer: Bacon wrapped around a cream cheese filling, topped with lobster ceviche and julienned marinated peas, sprinkled with small diced red onion and a reduced lemon liqueur drizzle.
Chef’s Main: Venison chop topped with cream cheese, leek and mushroom, with green beans, candied cherry tomatoes and pine nuts.
New Sous’ Appetizer: Smoked salmon, potato and cream cheese croquette, sitting on top a cream cheese based sauce and topped with orange and onion relish and micro greens, surrounded by a reduced balsamic drizzle.
New Sous’ Main: Chorizo stuffed chicken breast with a mustard and cream cheese sauce, accompanied by grilled portabello mushrooms, orzo and veg.
New Sous' Main
After plating their dishes, both the kitchen team and servers got to taste everything and vote on whose they thought was better. Everyone chose their favourites except me. I gave my opinion on what I liked and disliked about each dish, but refused to say definitively which I liked better. Chef and New Sous are both waiting for this post because they think I’m going to reveal a winner. I keep telling them I love them both equally and refuse to cast a vote. Instead of leaving them completely in limbo however, I’ve decided to let you vote. In the comments section, simply say who you think should win Battle Cream Cheese, based on which dish you think you’d like better. At least this way they’ll be able to sleep at night. Although I don’t know how accurate that decision method is either since Chef has been known to comment on my blog anonymously, using up to four aliases to keep his identity a secret. I might have to start Chef at negative four votes just to give New Sous a fair chance.
Zeppole (from Giada DeLaurentiis’, Giada’s Kitchen)
½ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup sugar
½ cup water
¼ tsp salt
1 cup all purpose flour
1 T grated orange zest
Vegetable oil for frying
Combine the butter, sugar, salt, and ½ cup water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the flour. Return the pan to low heat and cook, stirring continuously, until the mixture forms a ball, about 4 minutes. Transfer the flour mixture to a medium bowl. Using an electric hand mixer on low speed, beat in the eggs, one at a time, incorporating each egg completely before adding the next. Add the orange zest and beat until smooth. Set aside.
Pour enough oil into a large frying pan to reach a depth of 3 inches. Heat the oil over medium heat until a deep fry thermometer registers 350F.
Using a small ice cream scoop or 2 small spoons, carefully drop about a tablespoon of the dough into the hot oil. Make three more zeppole, being careful to not crowd the pan. Turn each zeppole once or twice, cooking until golden and puffed, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and continue frying the remaining batter in batches of 4.