Thursday, August 5, 2010
MasterChef: After The Final Apron
Previously, in the MasterChef saga: Yup, I'm Going to be on Gordon Ramsay's MasterChef!
Spoiler alert! If you haven't watched the second MasterChef episode yet, you can watch it here in the US and here in Canada.
In March, 2010, Chef Gordon Ramsay hugged me. He not only hugged me but actually picked me up and said he'd been waiting for my dish all his life. Wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. But man, I really needed to see that first line in print.
After months of auditions across the country, the MasterChef folks flew fifty contestants to Los Angeles for the show. Fifty. Out of thousands. I'm not familiar with the intricacies of the casting process but the contestants were fifty of the most well-spoken and diverse people I have ever met in my life. It was both exciting and totally daunting. They put us up in a snazzy hotel and sequestered us until the actual filming. Do you know how hard it is for fifty people who love to talk, cook, and eat to be locked in a hotel room? In an effort to remain sane, people resorted to all sorts of MacGyver tactics like talking to their neighbors through the walls and making grilled cheese with an iron.
And then, one day, they brought all fifty of us to the studio for the first challenge: cook your signature dish for three of the top figures in the culinary world. Chef Gordon Ramsay, of Hell's Kitchen, Kitchen Nightmares, buff arms, and profanity fame, Graham Elliot, the youngest four star chef in America, and Joe Bastianich, restaurateur and winemaker extraordinaire. Oh, and Mario Batali's business partner. No pressure, right? Up for grabs? The coveted MasterChef apron.
I opted to make a chicken biryani, the quintessential Pakistani chicken n' rice dish. I'd grown up eating it and had made a million times. Plus, it had my mom's seal of approval and her dead stare could give Joe Bastianich's a run for his money. Oh, and I'd never cooked a whole lobster or made my own pasta and I was at least smart enough to realize that my first time attempting those things should NOT be on camera. Heck, with my luck, the darn lobster would escape and I'd have to go chasing it around the set. Come to think of it, that would've made for some great teevee.
The set had three cooking stations, all in a row, each equipped with their own stoves and sinks. There was also a giant, drool-worthy supply room stocked with the newest technology in pans (non-stick pans with the power to sear food), all manner of dishes, a whole mess of tagines (and we all know I love me a good tagine), and a sous vide machine. Heck, before this experience, I didn't know what sous vide was. I'd certainly never been in the presence of a sous vide machine.
So, I used the newest, coolest equipment ever to make an old, comforting dish. Then I walked down the longest hallway of my life, pushing my cart with my super clammy hands, and wondering why I didn't stuff kleenex under my clothes to mop up the dripping sweat. TMI? Maybe, but this a behind-the-scenes-look and let's be real, it was sweaty times behind the scenes.
I put my dish on the table and suddenly, there were a million flashes from the cameras and a barrage of questions. As an aside, if you find yourself in such a situation, concentrate on the judges. Don't stare at the camera guy with the mohawk. Do not stare at your sweaty palms. Look at the judges. Because really, it's an awesome experience. When else will you have the opportunity to discuss your cookbook collection with men who have written cookbooks? When will you get to talk about your favorite restaurant with men who own restaurants? Only once my friends, only once.
And the first words Chef Ramsay utters? "Has anyone ever told you that you sound like Minnie Mouse?" No Chef, I wasn't aware of that I sound like a cartoon mouse. I think it's actually closer to a cartoon chipmunk. Graham and Joe tasted the biryani. Graham had two bites which I took to be a good sign. Either he liked it or he was hungry, and I figured both of those things would work in my favor.
And yet, I knew I wasn't in clear. I stood back as Chef Ramsay approached. The man was tall. But then again, when you're 5'2, everyone's tall. And he said, "The last time I made biryani, it was for an Indian prince's wedding. I made it with the best biryani chef in London and it took three days. So, I know biryani. And this had better be good biryani." Gulp. At that moment, I seriously wished I'd gone with the lobster. I would've chased the darn crustacean around the set if I had to.
He took a bite. Contemplated. Then, he came around the table and hugged me and said, "I have been waiting for this my entire life." I assume he meant waiting for this dish and not waiting for a little, brown girl. I mean, let's be real. World class chefs aren't waiting for little, brown girls to roll on by. So, I did what any little, brown girl would do in such a situation. I squealed like a little, brown girl. Then, he picked me up in a ginormous bear hug. 3 judges, 3 yes'es. And that, ladies and gents, was the best (and sweatiest) day of my life.
PS: My giveaway is still going on! You could be $40 richer. What are you waiting for? Go enter!