If you are friends with me in facebook or real life, you already know that this past weekend I competed in the Whole Foods Clash of the Cooks challenge. I was honored to be chosen as one of the top three chefs from the secret ingredient challenges (thank you to everyone who helped me by tweeted, pinning, re-posting and spreading the word!) and so the final challenge was a live cook-off, Iron Chef style. The week before the cook-off I was still getting over a 10 day long cold which left me with almost no appetite and little sense of taste…not the best condition for a chef wannabe like me. Thankfully by Saturday the cold was mostly gone and had been replaced by a case of good ol fashioned nerves.
The challenge went like this: I, along with my two competitors, showed up at Whole Foods in Encinitas ready to cook to the
death win. They had already set up a work area for each of us that included one burner, a cutting board, cooking utensils, mixing bowls, pots, pans and a grill to share. We were allowed to bring any favorite cooking tools we wanted from home so I dragged in a huge bag full of anything I might need as well as my forest green Coleman camping cooking stove. I’m pretty sure I got the stink eye from another contestant from bringing a stove but really…one burner?! This camping lady is always prepared.
Then they gave us each a bag of the secret ingredients: fresh basil, creamed corn, skirt steak and green garbanzo. I had gone into the day with a few go-to dishes in mind — namely I was hoping to find a way to make a fancy stuffed french toast — but when I opened the bag my mind went blank. Like never-cooked-anything-other-than-tacos blank. Green garbanzo beans? What the heck is that? Creamed corn and steak? This would make one awful french toast!
We were allowed one person to pow-wow with in the store about what to make and then an hour to shop and cook. J started out at my idea buddy but quickly got switched out for my friend Steve who is a foodie and I figured would at least think of some interesting ways to combine these crazy ingredients. Steve = good choice. He totally helped me get past my brain fog and start shopping. I was the last one out of the store with still just a loose idea of what I was going to make and a bag full of random items. This was gonna be interesting.
I’ll spare you the play by play of my cooking wizardry; it’s just not that exciting. I ended up making a risotto which is something I’m quite comfortable making, although this time I made it with normal rice since WF seemed to be out of arborio rice. The risotto (or pilaf as the judges called it) was a creamy mixture of leeks, green garbanzo beans and creamed corn. A bit unusual for sure but still tasty. I half hazardly grilled the steak with just salt and pepper and then made a sauce out of soy sauce, maple syrup and apples. The sauce was crazy sweet so I ended up just using the apples in it on top of the steak which seemed to be a big hit.
Let me tell you, I was SHOCKED when they announced that I was the winner! My competitors made delicious looking dishes as well that seemed super complex and interesting. The judges — all chefs from amazing restaurants — critiqued our dishes one by one and I was sure that I didn’t win, so when they called my name I couldn’t believe it! Apparently I cooked the steak perfectly, which is just a miracle since I didn’t even pay attention to how long I cooked it. Pure dumb luck there.
I walked away with a bunch of goodies including a new Vitamix mixer, a gift certificate to Solace restaurant which is just plain yum and several bags FULL of Whole Foods groceries which is such a huge blessing. A HUGE thank you goes to Whole Foods Encinitas for putting on this challenge and for inviting me to be a part of it! And a high five to my fellow cook-off competitors for making such yummy dishes.