Tuesday, January 19, 2010

masterchef audition, coral gables, jan. 17

a lot of people tell me i should try out for top chef or next food network star. i always take it as a compliment, but here's the thing: neither of those shows is looking for me. i'm not a chef, so i can't go on top chef. i can cook, but that is a whole different thing from what those folks do. and i have way too much respect for chef's to imply in any way that i am one.

and i have no intention of being the next food network star. there are parts of the food network that i still like, but they seem to narrow by the minute, and the kind of shows that the winner of that show usually ends up doing, its just so not me. they call that show what they do for a reason. they are looking for a tv star. not a cook. i actually stopped watching this show this year. i rarely stop watching shows.

when i demur, i find that the best way to change the subject is to say that if they ever did a top chef-type show for home cooks, i would try out.

so when a production company made a call for people to audition for a new reality cooking show for home cooks for fox, starring gordon ramsay, i kind of exhaled deeply and watched as the e-mails started popping in my mailbox.

yeah, that's what i said i'd try for.

a casting call was set for miami, and i decided to go. and since its the only way i know how to do things, i decided to jump in with both feet, without looking over the edge first.

you had to bring a dish, and there would be no promises you could heat there. so i figured that since i would be traveling 4.5 hours to get there, i better bring something that can be cold or room temp. i recently had luck with cooking with the grapefruit that grown in my back yard, so i thought that it would be fun to use those. then i thought it would be cool if everything came from right around here. and i thought of ceviche.

i got terry tomalin, the outdoors editor at the paper, to help me line up some fish. he put me in contact with madeira beach seafood, which got me a red snapper and a scamp right off the boat.

i went to gateway organic farm near my house, where the farmers gave pam and i a tour of the grounds and kept pulling up samples of stuff for me to take. i wanted some small greens that i could use for garnish. we got that an a lot more.

i wanted fresh hearts of palm, and i texted dom macchia at bella brava to ask if she knew where i could get that. she texted me back that she just ordered it and it would be in in two days.

to that point, i had been planning to do one ceviche from everything i had gotten, but decided i had too many things to do that. i decided i could do one ceviche with each fish, and pair them with each of the citrus i have in the yard (grapefruit and tangerine). but i didn't want two, so i went to saturday morning market and found stone crab and decided to make a third out of that.

so what i did is turned it into a formula. each ceviche would be fish + citrus + crunch + chile pepper + herb. and i ended up with:

-- scamp + grapefruit + fennel + red serrano + red lettuce (this would be served as a wrap in the lettuce)

-- snapper + tangerine + hearts of palm + jalapeno + beet green (this would be served in a cone i made of a baked wonton skin)

-- stone crab + lime/coconut + red onion + green serrano + mint (this would be served in a spoon made of coconut wood)

so then, i packed it up in a cooler and left for miami with jeremy bowers, because i knew he would make me laugh for the entire trip.

we got to the coral gables whole foods and it was drizzly out and there was a line of people outside with umbrellas. i had an appointment to be seen at 4, so i wasn't worried about the line. then when we parked and went to the line, we found it was all people waiting for people who were auditioning inside. they said i could go right in.

the rules said you would have five minutes to plate, so i had myself set up to be able to do that. then i looked around, and there were people who had brought their own gas burners and were clearly planning to be there as long as it took. the room was set up with a series of folding tables in a u-shape with small square work areas taped off. i got in mine and started unloading my cooler and plating.

while i did that, someone came up and took my application and asked a couple of questions. so far so good.

then i started cutting my mint, and i realized my hands were shaking. since i already lost part of a finger last year, this concerned me. i got the mint sliced and put the knife away.

once i got everything plated, a tasting judge came by. as best i could tell, there were three of them making their way around the room, and some of the people auditioning would get the attention of more than one at a time. i just got one. she asked me if i had been to culinary school. nope. she asked if i knew terminology. i said yes. she asked me what an emulsion was. i told her. then she asked me something a little more difficult, but i knew it too, and she seemed satisfied.

she tasted my scamp first. the look on her face was not good. "it doesn't taste seasoned. all i taste is fish, none of the other things you say are in there." sigh. the scamp had not been my favorite of the three, but i didn't think it was bad. and i had intended for it to be eaten like a lettuce wrap, but she had just picked a tiny piece of fish up with the tip of her spoon. i accepted the critique and hoped for better with the snapper.

"it's a little better, but i still wish it was brighter." again, she took a little bite from the tip of a spoon, instead of eating it like a cone. sigh. i mean, i understood why she was being conservative with how much she was going to eat, given that she was tasting hundreds of things over the course of the day, but ... ugh.

so then she tried the stone crab. "that's pretty good. but the red onion is too strong." well, i'll take it at this point.

she takes notes and says, "your presentation is wonderful. it really looks nice." whew! though she sort of said "looks" like it was a backhanded compliment. but i took it.

she walked away, then came back and said i was done and could leave. i was like, well, that's bad, because there were other judges i thought might talk to me, and there was a camera crew recording interviews. if i was going to do any of that, i figured i was screwed. while she was standing there, another judge, who didn't seem to be part of the tasting trio, came over and started asking me questions that were like ones on the application. i think she tasted as we talked, but she didn't comment, and the first judge watched while she did. she looked at my application and asked if "pig-wrapped pig-stuffed pig" was a typo. nope, i said, and told her all about the contest. she seemed to like that.

so then the taster lady told me again that i could go. i was still disappointed that i hadn't done the on-camera thing, so i started cleaning up. s-l-o-w-l-y. as i was cleaning up, the interview guy looked at me from across the room and said "do NOT leave until i talk to you." at which point i nodded and let out the longest internal sigh ever. so when i finished packing, i was standing there and the taster lady asked me why i was still there, and i said because interview guy told me to stay. that seemed like a good enough answer.

so i did the interview, and as i was walking out the door afterward, i was coming up with all the answers i SHOULD have given. none of my answers were bad, but they could have been better. and at least one, if i had thought about it two seconds, it could have been more interesting AND more accurate, which would have been a double bonus. i won't get into the particulars.

jeremy had been waiting outside, and said that there were several people who had gone in after me and left before. i was too dialed in to notice. but that has to be good, right? i think? then jeremy and i went back to the car and we finished most of the ceviche that i had brought. i agreed that the scamp was the least assertive of the three, but we thought they all tasted fine. and she missed out by not eating the cone. that thing was good.

so anyway, the moral of the story is: apparently, i am someone who will spend two days trying to get on a reality cooking show that i have no real information about. does anyone have any idea when that happened to me?

i left miami not knowing if i had a chance or not. maybe they would want someone who would underseason a ceviche, right? it gives them something to fix. maybe? i don't know. anyway, i felt like even if i didn't blow anyone away, i didn't fall on my face. and when i am playing that far out of my comfort zone, i'll take that.


Old Chef Dude said...

Sounds real tasty, and alot of fun too.

KellyC said...

Seems like a fantastic experience!

Kristen said...

what a great experience! it sounds as if you drew a lot of attention and that has to be a good thing. also, always eat the wrappers!

Anonymous said...

Way to go, Jim! Hope I get to taste these some day.

AnneLuvs2Cook said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AnneLuvs2Cook said...

What questions did they ask in you one-on-one in the on camera interview? Was wondering...and good luck!

Anonymous said...

Well, Jim. I have never really tasted your cooking,. If they do not fully appreciate the talent you have there, please know that I appreciate your talent as a writer... I would not count yourself out on the audition. Sounds like you made an impression... all depends on if you fall into a demographic they hope to capture. Keep us posted.- Ken

Anonymous said...

Well, I also went to the audition in Miami. I arrived at around 10:30 & there were only about 15 people ahead of me (no cameras). I prepared a Rock Cornish Hen ala Orange w/ wild rice. The presentation was the best in the room at that time. When I removed the aluminum foil and revealed my dish one of the taster judges, said "wow". The next judge tasted it and said a few things, but, basically, he said "this is good, if I were to come to your home, and you were to serve this to me, I would be very pleased". I said something like " thats the point isnt it?" (in a nice way not nasty or defensive). Another judge (they were called the producers) came to me and asked me some very basic questions.
Long story short, I felt that compared to the other feedback given to other auditoners, I heard , I did very well, and for sure (since there werent as many competitors as I had expected) I would get at the minimum a callback. But it has been over a month and I have heard nothing. I find this very frustrating, since even a decline would be giving this great experience, some closure.