Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Royal Show

This is a bit out of sequence, but while it is fresh in my mind....

We were told at the beginning of this trip that the only way we could get back to America would be by winning the USA v. Australia Burger Smackdown at the Royal Adelaide Show. To be honest, I didn't think of it too much during the trip while my brain was swimming in Shiraz and my stomach filled with Wagyu and Lamb. However, the day arrived, and the nerves settled in.

Kristina and I were scheduled to do a film spot, an instructional video of sorts for local meat ranchers which was produced by MLA, our sponsors for the trip. The set was created on the rooftop garden of our hotel, just us, the crew, our mis en plac, a grill, and a bone chilling wind. It was a tedious task to stop, start, fake cue in, use Australian lingo, and the sort. Best part about it was learning another way of how chefs must interact with media and what it takes to get your own chef message out to the general public.

We got a short break and were scurried off to the Royal Show with a few ingredients brought from home, our chef coats, and our American flag. Kristina was brilliant enough to bring things like chipotle, guajillo, and ancho chile. All items not readily available down under. We walked into the pavilion to a wide array of food booths sampling items such as German sausage, "Bush" flavored ice creams, and many preserved jams and jellies made with local product.

On stage, a competition was taking place amongst 8 or 9 Australian chefs on Weber grills for the best Australian burger. We watched a little from the corner and the host began the trash talking almost immediately. "I can feel the nerves that just walked into the room"..."Those Americans knees must be knocking from fear"..."How can they possibly challenge the greatness of these Australian chefs and their burgers"....I guess it is all in jest and I had a smile on my face, but internally I was blowing up with competitive fire. There was really no way that losing would have been okay for me.

We step on stage for our introductions and the Australian crowd is gentler than I thought. Our little cheering section was loud and boisterous as we had coaxed them to be prior to jumping on stage. We were outfitted with an awesome Weber grill with half cast iron grates and half cast iron sizzle plate, a few utensils, crappy knives, a lot of lettuce and herbs, and a few pantry ingredients. We were then instructed that we could run into the show and pick up 3 ingredients from the booths. We bolted and went straight for a spicy brandy wine sausage, wattleseed ice cream (this is a native seed that gives the essence of chocolate, coffee, and hazelnut - there must be a God, right?), and our home ingredient of chipotle.

Upon return we are given a mystery box and 20 minutes to get our burgers to plate! The energy in the room picks up, the judges are sequestered, the anxiety builds, and the confusion sets in. I don't know the rules, I don't know where pots are, our grill is not hot, and I have not located the sugar, salt, or pepper. The countdown begins.

3, 2, 1....we open the mystery box. Kristina frantically pulls out ingredient after ingredient. We are expecting about 3 or 4 items in the box, but there about 20. Things like lamb, preserved lemon, avocado, pickled jalapeno, bottled bbq sauce, sandwich baggies, canned beets. I was like, what??? Kristina and I had a plan. We were going to represent our Los Angeles flavors and show a little ambition by serving our burger with a milkshake.

We pull lamb, piri piri sauce, avocado, Greek yogurt, red wine vinegar, and canned pineapples. We quickly review our dish, delegate duties and we are off and running. I decide to make a chipotle glaze and pickle our onions, but I don't have sugar. I waste a few minutes scrambling for sugar and the host drops off crystallized honey. I spend another 5 minutes trying to get this out of the bottle, impossible, so I go to the butcher board and cut the bottle in half and start dumping honey into my pots. This was a brief moment of relief until I notice that our grill is not fully lit. Only the outside flames were on, not the interior. There was no turning back so I prayed to the Culinary Gods to watch over us.

Kristina forged through and made a beautifully rich avocado crema with fresh lemon juice and the Greek yogurt. Meanwhile, we bowled up our Wattleseed ice cream and placed it next to the grill to melt. I wondered aloud before the contest how we could make the shake with no blending apparatus, but Rick Gresh, the Executive Chef of Primehouse in Chicago who is traveling in our group suggested to let it melt and whip like crazy. So we did just that. Nice assist Rick!

Meanwhile, I have reductions and pickling liquids working so I get the burgers seasoned with salt, pepper, shallot, thyme, and piri piri sauce. I form those bad boys and throw them on the grill. I don't hear a sizzle and my heart sinks. The US and Kristina are depending on me to get this lamb cooked and our freaking grill is not hot! I had to move on and deal with it. We are down to less than 5 minutes.

The 20 minutes fly by and we go to plate with less than a minute to go. Toasted bun, crema

We watch the judge's scrupulously eat and taste each burger. "What are they thinking", I ask myself. I can't handle the anxiety so I ask Nicole to run and get me a beer. So there we are, watching judges eat our burgers and Kristina and I are on stage chugging beer.

"And the winner is, with a score of 80.5"......."TEAM USA!!!!"

Yes, we did it. We shake hands, pose for pictures draped in the US Flag and enjoy another beer before being rushed off to another stage to demo our lamb burgers on the national ABC radio show.

Busy day indeed.


Ashlyn Toczynski said...

So AWESOME and EXCITING Coo..Congrats your the BEST!!!

Anonymous said...

you are such a great story teller coo!! it was like i was there with you Great Team work and so proud of you the food sounds delicious congrats ! Can't wait to hear more...