An excerpt from my scribblings on the back of the donation envelope during last night’s dinner:
“these chefs know so much more than me about food but I get to decide what’s good… HAHAHAHAHAHA!, the power!” A tiny bit of influence and a not much red wine are all I require, apparently, to go mildly insane on paper.
Last night Ada and I cleaned up ourselves and cleaned out our wallets to attend round 4 of the WNC Chefs Challenge, where local chefs go head to head with sharp knives and strong language and delicious mastery of the culinary arts. It’s hosted in the swanky depths of the Flying Frog Cafe and last night’s featured challengers were Early Girl Eatery Vs. Movable Feast Catering.
We’re big Early Girl fans and were fully prepared to unfairly lean in their favor given the opportunity. However, as the deepening haze of power-crazed point allotment blended with a fog of gluttonous indulgence, we found ourselves either incapable or uninterested in guessing who cooked what. By course 5 of 6 I was gasping for breath from all the judging and note taking and wineglass emptying and oh yeah, 5 courses of food! Ada said she was grateful for the elastic waist of her flashy new skirt.
Let me back up a bit and explain the ground rules. Here’s the description from the score card:Use a scale of 0-5 (no fractions or decimals), following these rubrics: 0. Weak! (I added the punctuation here for flavor) 1. Acceptable 2. Good, but not as good as some of the others 3. As good as you would expect from a high quality restaurant 4. Exceptional, even in comparison to other high quality restaurants 5. Superior, even in comparison to other high quality restaurants –
To me it seemed a slightly awkward scale. 3 points basically means excellent. 5 points means you nearly climaxed. 0 points you wouldn’t feed it to a starving animal. But nobody had promised us that for our $40 tickets we’d be given great food AND a user-friendly point system.
The five categories were:Presentation- 5 pts Aroma- 5 pts Flavor- with extra weight given to how the SECRET INGREDIENT was incorporated- 10 pts! Sauce/enhancement- 5 pts Vegetables/condiments- 5 pts
TOTAL POINTS possible per course: 30
The chefs and their teams had arrived earlier that day and were deprived of spell books, magical wands and cell phones. It was just them and their knives and whatever creative juices their brains happened to be secreting that afternoon. A SECRET INGREDIENT was revealed, the order of the courses were randomly selected and is was on.
The SECRET INGREDIENT: Sweet Potato!
Let me tell you. I love me some sweet potato. I often buy it and sometimes even get around to cooking it before it goes bad. But six courses of yams… oh no maam. I am officially retired from the sweet potato eating business for an indefinite period.
The first course was fantastic. A single scallop arrived perched atop what looked like salmon on a base of roasted corn with poblano sauce. Turned out the “salmon” was a sort of sweet potato lasagna with a creamy sauce between each delicate sliver. I was pretty hungry and pleased and began dishing out points. Over on Ada’s score card I caught a glimpse of a 1 and launched an immediate and vigorous defense of the dish. It hit me then what a wonderful thing we’d stumbled into. Here was a chance to simultaneously eat and discuss food without ever picking up and worrying over a menu. Our appetites and obsessions were further provoked by the mystery and competitive energy of the evening. SHEBLAM!
After she threw down that 1 so early I figured Ada planned to hold onto as many point as possible and try to cash them in later at the gift shop. Over the course of the night she gave out four more 1’s and one big fat 0 (Weak!). I saw myself as a grand and beneficent points pasha. A review of the stats reveals we both gave out about the same number of points. I never gave less than a 2 but only gave up one 5. Ada handed out more perfect scores, earning the title of grand point poobah.
At this point the post gets a little frantic and unfocused as I strive to capture the evening’s over-fullness of food and judgement and yearning to capture the glory of it all for my unread blog.
A quote from a cutlery collecting bus girl: “I’m about to stab you. Oh, I did stab you. My bad!”
Portraits of a few other judges:
A giant beautiful woman in an ebony cocktail dress with long black hair and black leather boots reaching up to her thighs. She wielded a great laugh that animated heads across the room. Whenever bourbon was announced as an ingredient she heartily cheered “Bourbon!” even louder.
A buddha bellied lady in a slim dress who we couldn’t commit to calling pregnant until we saw her in conversation standing and rubbing her round belly. Only pregnant ladies blatantly and publicly rub their own bellies for luck.
A guy at the table next to us wore a baseball hat throughout the entire white linen and candlelight dinner. I overheard him saying that after a long day of work he just wanted a drink, and that food was just something unimportant to get him through the meal. I’m sure chefs love working their asses off for foodies like that. C’mon! He inspired me to erase some of my lower scores and add more points.
Eventually we made it through all the courses and the chefs were trotted out to moderate fanfare so that the winners could be announced and the $500 prize awarded. The Early Girl guys came out in greasy EG t-shirts and quadrupled the population of ball cap wearers in the room. They seemed timid and looked longingly back towards their fiery stoves and sharp knives. The Movable Feast guys came out in more traditional white chef garb. Why is it that painters and chefs and doctors all wear white? They mock the god of splattery things.
Final score: MF wins with 2005 points. EG a close second with 1928 pts. Ada ended up successfully rooting for EG by awarding them 12 more points than she gave MF. I was more in line with the majority and gave MF a 2 point advantage.
I wandered through today without appetite or interest in things edible but ended up coming home from a the tailgate market with a loaf of sesame crusted semolina that brought my tastebuds back from weary satedness to their usual hunger for taste. I miss my judge powers already. 5! The bread is a 5!