HomeAway Cookoff throwdown

So at work they decided a good team building exercise was to pit our development management team against each other on a head to head cooking throwdown at Central Market. I have to say I was a bit intimidated by the prospect of a cook off, for one reason or another everyone decided I had some sort of advantage whereas, I just wanted to not look bad. We had visiting managers from across the globe and I was certain that there had to be a few ringers in there, besides when does having a blog qualify me to be any sort of cooking expert. There were a large number of us and above you'll see me and my teammates. A motley crew of foodies (as luck would have it) and all very capable and fun to cook with.

We were kept in the dark about the format until we arrived in the kitchen over at Central Market. We were presented with two trays of ingredients a common "shared" ingredients section and an empty kitchen. We were to cook in shifts, the first shift was to create two different types of bruschetta and one salad for all 25 of us (three judges, one presentation plate, and the rest audience), shift two was to do the same with and a minimum of an entree (pork tenderloin was the protein) and choice of starch. We would be judged on taste, presentation, and creativity. The two teams would also be put through a blind ingrediants identification test and a kitchen tools quiz for additional points. The coin toss to determine shift was a trivia question: What plant is the vanilla bean from? Luckily two hands shot up from our side and we provided the answer of Orchid (yes there are three subspecies that produce the bean but let's not get too technical here).

We opted for Entree and starch. Somehow it worked out that our team had one former restauranteur (and excellent cook she taught me Persian cooking), one Culinary academy graduate, two excellent home cooks, four eager do anything folks, and me. Quite the mix and of course potentially too many chefs in one kitchen. It turns out the mix was perfect, we looked over the ingrediants and quickly figured out what we would produce. Everyone's ideas came through in our menu.

Here's where my time on the blog kinda helped me out. I use to be one of those cooks by feel type people, it's great, you get some awesome results tweaking your way to the end dish and it's necessary towards the end to get things just right. But I've learned that consistency and ratios are very important things if you want to get through cooking for a large number of people also organization and having a battle plan makes things go smoothly. I quickly wrote up the battle plan for all of our dishes and everyone signed up for tasks and I handed out loose recipes so that we could get it all coordinated and done in 45 mins. I have to admit it's the first time I've been able to let go of cooking everything in a kitchen and quell my natural instinct to throw everyone out. (That's me with the "what the hell am I in for look" at the beginning.)

The result? A fabulous dish (I'll get into that in a second) and even more important a very fun time had by all. I was in charge of putting together the demiglace, and watched over the coordination in general. (actually two of us were "sweepers" helping where we could). It came out great, everyone had enough guidelines to put together the dish, but each component had the personalizations of tastes that made the concert whole. We even got the plating assembly line with a final plate wipe and service. It was definitely busy (at somepoint there's a video of me tossing and saute-ing one skillet while trying to hold a pot of green beans as someone was trying to make adjustments.) but everyone had a blast.

Ok enough what did we make? Pork Tenderloin crusted in herbed sea salt topped with mushroom red wine demi glace, Creamy polenta with tomatoes tossed in Champagne vinaigrette finished with Himalayan pink salt and finally Green beans sauteed with Pancetta and shallots.

That was definitely a fun time, and a great creative "team builder" exercise that I don't mind doing again. (beats the "trust fall", you know what I'm talking about).Oh yeah did we win? well that's not important, it's having fun.... Ok yeah we won. (go team sparky!) Thanks Alex (one of our French team members) for taking the awesome photos.


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