Thursday, November 6, 2008

super sunday, part 1

there is no way to recap what happened on sunday in one post, so i am going to space it out over three posts. my tentative outline is to start off with what happened before the race, then what happened after the race, then catch up on everything i meant to say in the first two but forgot. also, ask me questions about stuff, and i will address them in the third post. some of this will be straight out of my post on laura's blog.

people keep asking me if i had fun in texas.

rachael ray bowed to me. three times. and mario batali kept describing my dish with variants of the same two-word sentence structure: "(expletive) (exclamation)!" the expletive was the same each time. the exclamation varied between "awesome" to "amazing." i think there were others.

yeah. it was a good weekend.

we got picked up at the hotel at about 7 a.m. and ended up at the tailgate party site in the middle of the speedway infield about 8. there is a little activity, and darcie asks us if we've had breakfast. we had not. so she asks krista, mario's food stylist, to make extra for us. she also told us that mario had asked what we had done all day saturday and to make sure we got to hang together on sunday. i figured that the tailgate party would be my best access of the weekend, but it was nice to hear.

breakfast was green eggs and ham, and chilaquiles. the eggs were cheesy and covered in green chile. the chilaquiles -- tortilla casserole -- was full of really good chorizo. as we're eating,
mario asks me when my pace car ride is. i say, right after breakfast. he laughs and suggests that having breakfast might not have been the best idea. "leave the window open," he suggests. "the car is always going to turn left, so you want to barf to the right." as we left for the golf cart on the way to the pace car, mario reminded us, "aim to the right."

we had to wait awhile for the pace car, and when it was finally our turn, we learned that pam could go, too. the car was an impala, and we hit 105 mph, which was fun, but i've been in cars that were going faster than that (not naming names. just a coincidence that i'm looking at you, ronnie.) still, going that fast was fun, and going around the banked turns was cool. when we hit the turns, gravity would seem like it should force your body to lean to the left. but the force of the turn drives your body to the right, straight into the door. it doesn't make any sense in your head, but you can't ignore the rest of your body. (later, mario would come back to the tailgate area and tell us that he had just taken laps with jimmie johnson at 190.)

soon after we got back, rachael showed up, and within a couple of minutes, she was walking emphatically toward me making extreme hand gestures and shouting, "pig in pig in pig! where is it?" i wasn't in charge of cooking anything, so i honestly had no idea. but that was when she started bowing. i have to say, i really, really wish there had been video of this. we sat with mario and talked for awhile, about what, i really have no recollection. but pam got pictures, and i seem to be talking, and mario and rachael -- cuz that's what i call them now -- are looking like they are listening, and maybe even interested. i remember i told rachael how much i liked the deviled eggs at the asphalt chef party the night before. because they were awesome. pam told her she like the buffalo chicken meatballs. "i try to give the people what they want," she said.

i was impressed i was with how real and sincere she was. my phony detector has a hair-trigger, and i thought she was great. the woman is insanely famous. people were falling all over
themselves just to get a glimpse. and there we were chatting, and the fact that she seemed legitimately interested in my dish is still hard for me to comprehend.

so mario and rachael had to go to an interview and were gone for about an hour. i spent the time talking to people from uncle ben's and from the food bank, and basically walking around, trying to burn off nervous energy. then darcie came back from the interview and yelled at me to not move, because rachael was about to come back and they wanted to record for her show. at that point, i kind of freaked, because i had no idea what i was supposed to do or talk about, or how much i would stammer. so just before they got back, one of the speedway's chefs put the meat on the grill, and krista handed mario a pair of tongs, and all of a sudden, mario was at the grill, rachael was standing next to me, and from somewhere, there were like 20 cameras, still and video, crowding around us. looking back, this would seem to have been the most totally surreal moment of the weekend, and i don't understand how i wasn't overwhelmed to the point of collapse. but the truth of the matter is -- and i know this sounds stupid -- it felt totally natural. because the scene was set as if we were three pals grilling ... and that was exactly what it felt like. i would be interested in seeing the video, to see if i was incomprehendibly stupid, because i suspect that is totally possible. but it didn't feel that way. and when i see the photo that moved on the wire (click here), i'm amazed at how natural it actually looks. mario is using his own camera (and i would like to get a copy of that photo, actually). rachael was leaning back into me, and was lifting the tongs up over my head to pose for mario. see? it sounds weird, right? there's no way to say it that it doesn't. but it was AWESOME.

so mario turned all the pork packs, and it was going to take those things more than a half-hour to cook, so we broke, and suddenly, there was a line of reporters who wanted to talk to me. they all wanted to talk to me separately, so i really wished i had prepared a story so that i could be
consistent. because i knew if i started rambling, i would come up with a different aspect of the story each time, and it would sound like i was telling them all completely different stories. but that didn't seem to happen. i think. we'll see.

after that, tim, left, the track chef who was cooking the dish, came up to me and seemed nervous to be talking to me. he called me "chef" more than once. i giggled. tim said that he was afraid that the pork would burn if he left it on the grill, and he wanted to know if it was ok if he finished them in the brick pizza oven. yes, it was ok with me. he also asked me to try the glaze. when i made the glaze, i just heated up some oj and melted the marmalade into that, and kept adding marmalade until it was the consistency i wanted. they clearly had more than that going on in theirs, and whatever was in there, it was really good. tim asked for my approval on the glaze. i gave it. i'm not sure what would've happened if i had not.

unfortunately, sometime between the photo shoot and the pork coming out of the oven, rachael had to leave, and i am legitimately disappointed she didn't get to try it. tho i am devising a plan to get it to her. i'll let you know if/when that happens.

getting the pork out of the brick oven turned out to be another media event, as a photographer wanted me to slowly take the pan out of the oven. which would've been ok, except that the oven was like 800 degrees. slow isn't how you reach into an 800 degree oven. we got it out, and i started directing tim to grab one of the pork packs out of the tray so he could start carving it while i finished my media obligations with the photographers. it was at this point that i realized that it was probably now technically ok to be called "chef." but i still wasn't comfortable with it. tho i want to be.

when the pork was carved, mario came over, tim anointed the pork with the glaze, and the cameras started popping as mario reached in for a piece and told me to, also. we both tried, with cameras still popping. it was really good, i thought. "(expletive) (exclamation)!" mario proclaimed. it was really, really good. they used the sauce more liberally than i had, and i really liked it. so did mario. (that's krista in the photo with me and mario).

it was at that point i realized that rachael was gone, and mario told me that he had already taken a picture of the pork and e-mailed it to her, mocking her for leaving. it's sort of ridiculous for me to talk about anything regarding this weekend as "disappointing," but i would've loved to see rachael's reaction to tasting it. because it was awesome. maybe even (expletive) awesome.

i told mario that i was willing to come to new york to make it for her. he motioned me over to a table and said, "let's talk about that ..."

we sat for some time and talked for quite awhile about restaurants and cooking and ... a lot of stuff i don't remember. every once in awhile, it would just hit me where i was and what i was doing, and i think my memory just turned off. but it was a lot of fun. i have talked to a few celebrities here and there, and it is often extremely awkward, insomuch as you really have nothing to actually talk about. it was never like that, with either mario or rachael. i immediately felt like i had known them forever.

darcie got us two extra passes to the tailgate party, which gave me the chance to see barry harrell and his wife carrie, who moved to texas last year. i was really happy to get to hang out with them, even for only a short time, and i was really happy that they got to try my dish, and everything else on the menu. they got to meet mario, and got some pictures and autographs. then pam and i got a picture with barry and carrie ... taken by mario.

at that point, it was time to go to the suite to watch the race. we were in a different suite than mario, and he was going to be leaving for ny before the race ended, so we said our goodbyes, got on the golf carts and headed out.

that's where i'll pick up the next post. may take a day or two.

here is sunday's menu, and my take on each dish:

Passed Appetizers

Pizza - Marinara with Marjoram, Thinly Sliced Garlic and Serrano Peppers (unbelievably spicy. the brick oven was really cool. i want one.)

Asparagus Wrapped in Pancetta with Citronette (these were amazing. the pancetta seized up around the asparagus like skin.)

Grilled Peppers with Anchovies, Capers and Bread Crumbs (i don't know what the deal was with these anchovies, but they were really good. unlike any anchovy i've had. much less aggressive. the dish was like a panzanella on steroids.)

Arancine with Salami and Pecorino (deep fried rice balls. like that's even fair.)


T-Bone Fiorentina with Sautéed Spinach (these were the 3-inch thick allen bros. steaks. unreal. more on them in the next post. they play a pivotal role.)

Sweet Potatoes in Cartocci (didn't see this.)

Spicy Black-Pepper Coated Drumsticks (these were wing drumettes, and the sauce on them was an alabama white bbq sauce. i have heard of this, but am mostly unfamiliar with it. these were awesome. they were served on a platter with shaved fennel.)
Grilled Artichokes with Mint and Chiles (i always struggle with artichokes unless they are part of a spinach dip. good, tho.)

Portobellos with Arugula and Parmigiano (the mushrooms were awesome and the shards of parm were great.)

Pig-Wrapped Pig-Stuffed Pig ((expletive) (exclamation), dude!)


Debate-O-Matic said...

It couldn't have happened to a nicer or a better-prepared guy. I'm just waiting for the world-wide reaction to your pumpkin and goat cheese won-tons. Not that pig-wrapped, pig-stuffed pig isn't the (expletive) (exclamation), but the won-tons are my favorite Websterian creation.

Ronnie said...

(expletive) (exclamation)! i can't wait to read the next two parts. sequels usually suck but i have a feeling they will be equally (expletive) (exclamation)! wow!

Anonymous said...

To be able to keep your cool through all that ... wow, just wow. More please.