So the other day when i was "decorating" my blog with my favorite things, I was feeling a bit nostalgic. Espically when listing my favorite chefs. Those chefs are really people that I look up to and admire. There are a couple that I hold a great deal of respect for.
I joke sometimes about my admiration to Paula Deen. I feel drawn to her. partly because she looks so much like my grandma, who I consider to be a great cook too. and well she likes bacon, and bacon can make just about everything better. :)
Back to my point. I'm listing these people that I respect and admire. It gets me thinking about my highschool days. Particularly my junior and seinor years when I competed in young chefs. or more formally, The Young Chefs of Southern California Competition.
What enticed me to give it a try was for very material reasons. Money. They were giving scholarships out to the first, second and third prize winners. Free money for college is always good. And then there was also the pull of getting to skip classes to practice. Yup, I was ALL about that!
The thing is, I never really considered my self a great cook. I never really cooked. I mean come on, I was 16. I was more interested boys, dating, hanging out with my friends. Who wanted to cook?
But I tried out for it. My junior year, Mrs. McGinty was the foods teacher at our school and the "coach" (if you will) of the Young Chef's team for South High school. I was in her foods class, it was an easy "A" and most of the time we just bs'd around in the kitchen. But one day she approached me about trying out for the team. So I did. We had to cook a dish and it was to be judged by various staff members (of the school) & some other people she had come & taste. So I made this really simple dish that I had made before at home, it was just a chicken breast with a rosemary & marsala sauce. I guess it was a big hit because I made the team.
This is when my passion for cooking was cultivated.
& I really didn't realize at the time what a huge deal this was. Or that the professional chefs that came to taste our food, what a big deal he was. It really didn't hit me till my second year in YC. Then I became star-struck.
the team the first year:
Mrs. McGinty, Kurt, myself & Sean. I was the younger, this was my jr. year, Kurt and Sean were Seinors. Sean's dad owned a restruant in the city we lived in. I can't remember the name but they made really good breakfasts! Over Kurt's shoulder you can see Michael Schafer, over Sean's shoulder is Robert Bell. Wow.
We won 2nd place. What we came up with in our menu amazed me. That we, a group of teenagers came up with this sophisticated (well sophisticated for 1994) dishes.
& a picture of me with Michael Franks
at the time I had no idea how huge he was. (not sizewise, but professionally) & what a nice guy he was too. He was great my first year of YC, came to a couple of our practices, was always up for tasting our dishes and providing feedback.
And the second year:
That's me, Gi (who was the Junior) and Simon, who I had been friends with for a while. We had known each other for many years and when he joined YC we were both kinda like, "You cook?!?!" The 3 of us made a great team.
We got second place again. & I was really suprised that we placed at all. We were plagued with problems right from the start.
I did the dessert, which was turning out good in practices. (And I was suprised because I am not a pastry chef!) On this day, well, not so good.
We got there and first thing we did was test the oven temp because the previous year there had been issues with oven temps being WAAAY off. Such was the case this year. Our oven was 150 degrees hotter than it should. Not good. So they brought us another oven, which the oven temp was good, but the burners wouldn't fire. We weren't allowed to have both in our cooking area (saftey reasons) so we opted to keep the oven with the working burners and I would have to hike over to the nearest kitchen (the competition was being held at Knotts Berry Farm) which was a few yards away & use one of the ovens in there. Which proved not good. I had to get back to the competition to prepare my other dish and help with the others, I couldn't babysit my cake. So the dessert suffered because the cake was in the oven for too long & it got too dry. It was a rolled cake so when I tried to roll it, it cracked. I was heart broken, and really on the verge of tears. But luckly I am good at making sauces and I had made this espresso kahula cream sauce to go with the dessert that more than 1 judge told me they really liked. So that lifted my spirits. It's always nice to see a judge dip their finger on the plate to get the last little bit...
To top it all off, when we were presenting our dishes to the judges, which I was nervous about anyway, I had a very intimidating chef standing right behind me...
I could have sworn he could hear my heart beating a mile a minute. Ah! This was my year of being starstruck around these people! Chef Schafer, paid me my first real (what i consider real, family members and teachers don't count!) complement on my food at a practice of ours he came to before the competition. And there he stood, eyes fixed on me the entire time I was talking. Talk about nervous!
The Young Chefs competition was alot like Top Chef on Bravo. Each school that competed had a team, we had to make a salad/appetizer course, a main dish with 3 sides and a dessert, all had to compliment each other, had to be within a budget and we had to incorporiate specific ingredients decided upon by the judges. We did get a couple months to design our dishes, but we only had a set time to prepare them on competition day. We were judged on taste, texture, apperance, presentation, skill work, cleanliness, and of course folowing the criteria. We were also judged on our presentation to the judges. We were expected to explain our dish, how it came to be, what we did, any special prep or skills etc. All this from 16 and 17 year olds!
It is a great program, aimed at getting highschool students interested in the culinary arts. I'd love to get this started in our area. I think it is a great idea.
But out of it I got $800 in scholarship money, 2 cool chef's jackets and one of my prized possessions, my chef's knife.
I love this knife. I can't cook without it.
which brings me to my 2 other prized cooking utensils...
My cutting board and my little whisk, both of them are from Nigella Lawson's line.
first the cutting board is a heavy piece of wood. The tray is genius. I love it. I use it every day. And my little whisk, this is actually my second whisk, i bought my first one about 4 years ago. I love it for just about everything. It works so good at getting chocolate quick to dissolve in cold milk! (for my boys)
I have a couple Wusthof knives, they are excellent. My dream would be a set of JA Henkels knives. I have one & I love it too. I also like those Furi knives that Rachel Ray uses. I have never held one before, but the bright orange handle intrigues me.
Sigh! When I win the lottery! LOL The knives and to completely re-do my kitchen. Make it bigger, I want a Wolf professional oven & cook top. I better stop, cuz i could go on forever about how I would spend a million dollars in my kitchen alone!
thanks for taking a trip down memory lane with me. I'll post more recipies soon!