Working at San Chez kind of spoils a person. Cheap booze, decent management, seminars and training, it really seems like they want us to be happy. And so, when someone gets the bright idea of letting employees go head to head in an Ultimate Cooking Challenge, the Chez is all about letting it happen. This is how I found myself at 9:05AM rooting about in the downstairs walk-in for carrrots, citrus fruit, and the odd cucumber. 5 minutes before I was standing in dry storage being told that I was to create 3 dishes all involving "dried fruit and nut," and thinking "thank god I dont have to deal with fish." My cooking repertoire is rather limited, focuses strongly on indian food, and does not include meat or fish. So I thanked my lucky stars and loaded up with pistacios, almonds, figs, raisins and dried cherries. I started peeling carrots, and realized that my competitor, Jesse, was also peeling carrots. This didnt look so good. My plan was a sort of gahar halwa with a dessert masala of ground nuts and cardamom I whipped up in a food proccessor. This meant cooking the carrots down with some condensed milk and then adding the nut mixture. So I am running about with piles of carrots and no idea how to turn the stove on. Then I realize I have no spatula. Then I accidently set the spatula someone handed me on fire. I managed to get the burner down to low and covered the carrots with a nearby sheet pan. On to dish two. Back to the food processor to mix up figs, kalamata olives and more pistacios. I threw in some chef salt and a handful of cumin. This got spread on toast with goat cheese and called tapenade. Number three was the same damn nuts and fruit, chopped coarsely and mixed with honey a squeeze of orange and some lovely cream sherry from the bar. I sqeezed the stuff into balls and tossed the pan into the freezer. So far, so ok, but can i really call carrots a dish? Arent they a side? I found some pork and chopped it into nuggets and threw it into a pan to saute with some onion, garlic, and the dried cherries. a big handful of cinnamon and an indecorous amount of sherry vinager finished that. Maybe the funniest part of the morning was me trying to attractivly plate the damn food. Basically it ended up in unappetizing piles. Whatevs. I got the dessert-nut-balls onto a plate with some ice cream and drizzled honey over them. I called them charoset, after the passover food they are similar to. Then it was time for judging, a process I had trouble watching. When the jury came back, it was decided my food had lost, sadly. The winning food, made by Chez cook Jesse, was pine nut hummous, almond-coated chicken with cherry garnish, and carrot-walnut spanikopita. My charoset did take top honors, though, being called the best dish of the day. I think Jesse would have been pretty emarrassed if he'd lost to me, as he is in culinary school and knows how to turn a stove on and I go to the culinary school of hard knocks.
San Chez Iron Chef