Have you ever attended or hosted a Top Chef cookoff? I’m sure different people have their own versions of it, but here’s how mine works: I have people over at my place for a day of board games. All guests bring a secret ingredient that they reveal upon arrival. In the late afternoon, two people must prepare separate meals for the attendees using all of the ingredients they provided (additional ingredients are allowed). Contestants are rated on a 1-10 scale and a winner is determined.
The last time I hosted a Top Chef game day, I faced off against my friend Katy…and I lost. So I wanted a chance to redeem myself, and another friend in my gaming group, Jeff, was up for the challenge.
We each played a few games in the afternoon before excusing ourselves to go cook while the other 14 attendees continued playing. At this point we knew the secret ingredients, and it was time to figure out how to use them. What would you make with the following?
In my previous cookoff, I was criticized for only making an entree, so I decided to make 4 dishes: a drink, an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert. I decided to make and serve each dish one at a time so people weren’t waiting forever to be served. So after some brainstorming, I figured out my dishes, and I went to work creating my appetizer.
I don’t have a photo of that dish, so here’s a photo of me wearing my cookin’ time apron. I can tell you about the dish, though. I created a seasonal vegetarian version of a classic Japanese dish called oyokodonburi. Typically it’s rice, onions, mirin, soy sauce, sake, chicken, and egg, but I used jackfruit instead of chicken, and I added creamed corn, butternut squash, and baby bok choy instead of onions. It may sound odd, but I was legitimately surprised by how good it was. I would make it again.
Next came my drink, which I also don’t have a photo of. I had purchased some pumpkin spice Bailey’s for the occasion (I was going for an autumn theme), so I mixed it with some sweetened condensed milk (which was a bad idea–it’s already sweet enough), the date syrup, some regular milk, and some sumac. It was okay in small doses–it kind of tasted like egg nog or melted ice cream.
I was excited about my entree, as it featured one of my favorite can’t-miss dishes: puff pastries filled with cream cheese, shrimp, and hot sauce. I also added octopus, green pepper, and sriracha, and I sprinkled Red Hot Riplets seasoning on top after brushing them with egg (and cooking it a little longer). I thought this was my best dish. People seemed to like the taste, but most people didn’t like the rubbery texture of the octopus. Perhaps I should have cut it into smaller chunks.
For my dessert, I created a mixture of sweet potatoes, apple cider, pecans, cinnamon, nutmeg, and date syrup, and I folded it inside of potsticker shells before lighting frying them and sprinkling them with powdered sugar. To complement the crispy hotness of the dish, I included a splash of “deconstructed” (i.e., peeled) longan, which are like grapes, next to each serving. They were a little bit like potsticker pecan pies.
Meanwhile, Jeff was also serving some delicious dishes. He often cooks vegetarian food for his wife, so he created a nice autumn dish of butternut squash, sweet potato, and various baked nuts, as well as a nice stir-fry dish. Both were delicious.
After 3 hours in the kitchen, our friends rated our meals on my whiteboard. My final score was 99 and Jeff’s was 90.48.
I was ready to be crowed the winner when someone pointed out that I hadn’t used tomatoes in any of my dishes, so I was eliminated from the competition. Congrats to Jeff on the win!
If you’ve ever participated in or attended something like this, I’d love to hear your experiences. I really enjoy the challenges of using weird combinations of ingredients to (hopefully) make something delicious.