Friday, April 07, 2006

Chef Challenge Melts Iron

Yesterday was a cooking challenge. Iron Chef? Kid’s stuff.

Cooking is not just about ingredients and plating. No, no, no. It’s about timing as well. Making sure that the ingredients are used at the optimal time, and cooked or baked for the optimal time, to maximize flavor and presentation.

Making sure the sponge of yeast and flour and water for the Pita Bread has just the right amount to time to rise, at the right temperature, and then baked for just the right amount of time to ensure proper browning and texture.

And of course, ensuring everything actually gets to an edible state sometime in the early evening so that it can be served for dinner. That takes real timing!

I knew things would be a little hectic yesterday. There were sports events to support (track and soccer – on the same day!). Meetings. Places to be. Things that had to be done before the end of the day (not least of which was posting the blog yesterday).

In my head, I had already formed a rough sketch of a timing outline. Naturally, every thing I had to do was spaced out in four dimensions (space AND time) as far as possible. Nothing overlapped in time exactly – which would give me an excuse to opt out of something. Nothing was spaced so far apart in distance that I could somehow convince people that it just couldn’t be done (everyone has seen me drive).

Even worse, some of the events were spaced such that there was just enough time between them that nothing useful could be done. More time than was necessary to go from one thing to the other, but not enough to do something in between. It’s like someone had tapped into my schedule and is just playing some sort of perverse game with it.

The pita bread just made the timing schedule a little more exciting. Start the sponge between meetings. Add the flour and knead it between deadlines and sports events. Hope the track meet doesn’t last too long so there is time to actually bake everything.

The day, and into the evening, resembled an 18 hour Iron Chef competition. Challenges had to be negotiated at full speed. Just go go go! No allowance for error. Any hesitation and the entire day could be lost.

The competition began with the alarm at 6:30 (AM!). Confusion just getting everyone out of the way (i.e. to school) on time. Finally, mid-morning, the real event could begin (you can just hear Alton Brown commenting on the loss of 4 hours!). The pita sponge was started, and looked good. Rising alarmingly fast for my timing plan, but it couldn’t be helped. Off to the next meeting.

Then the phone calls started coming in. Imagine you are the Iron Chef , hurtling through your preparation at 100 miles per hour, navigating challenges and ingredients one after the other, when the phone rings. It’s Takeshi Kaga, and he wants to change the day’s challenge. That challenge you were about to take on? Canceled. Well, not cancelled, just rescheduled to basically coincide with the other 5 things that have to be done concurrently while still trying to prepare the meal. And the kitchen facilities? Well, instead of the usual kitchen, we’re going to have random people and animals run around through it all day. Just to take it up a notch, as they say.

So the day went. Some calls were good, some were bad – for the food in any event. The sponge had to make it four hours instead of two. The camera pans the soggy dough, Alton Brown comments disparagingly, but I couldn’t see any lasting damage. The entire oven baking program had to be broken into two pieces due to sudden transportation requirements. Tomatoes can toast in an oven for a long time – as we found out. I think they actually tasted better. Bets are on whether the challenger can even deliver a meal before the time is up!

And then the dog, apparently (because no one actually saw him) ate 5 of the pita breads from the counter. Fortunately there were still 11 left. The cameras are panning around wildly, looking for the lost pitas, Alton Brown is practically frothing at the mouth trying to do the play be play on this. The dog retires to his blanket and is not seen again.

And the end? A mad sprint. To hell with the challenge rules! Corners had to be cut, unless we wanted brunch the next day instead of dinner tonight. Homework checked. Soup pureed. Soccer pickup. Onions sautéed. Day’s accumulation of dishes cleaned up (we’re only 4 people, but you wouldn’t know it from the amount of SNACK dishes left around after school). Track meet pickup and friends dropped off (another impromptu plan). And basketball on TV – damn - no time for that! Opps – forgot the chipotle slaw (well, 20 minutes to marinate is almost and hour, isn’t it?).

Iron pans and iron chefs melted in the heat of that battle. Titanium might have made it. Alton Brown has long since passed out. The cameras are finally turned off. No winner was announced.

And then we ate. Not that late. Well, maybe a little. I guess it depends on your perspective. One person’s late is another’s “Let’s please just eat it and be quiet!” Things really got hot after that!

Yesterday’s blog entry was finally posted at 12:30 am – 18 hours after the start of the challenge.

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Blogger ilva said...

How I do recognize this!! But I think you are a far more ambitious cook than I am, I usually opt for something relatively simple those days...

11:41 PM  
Blogger surfindaave said...

Ilva - thanks for the empathy! I got to admit that I didn''t think the day would be such a challenge as all that! Sometimes the simple turns into the complex, despite our best efforts!

8:40 PM  
Blogger gattina said...

I held my breath, clutched my fists and ground my teeth when I read this post. Great writing!

10:15 PM  
Blogger surfindaave said...

Gattina, thanks! It was very therapeutic to write about such an unexpectedly challenging day. Almost as good as that bottle of Scotch that is emptying at an alarming rate!

8:10 PM  

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