Well, the bad news is, I might start charging a pay-per-post for this blog. It is not often that common mortals get to read words thunk up by a Finalist in the Farro Home Cook Competition, after all.
The other bad news is, in the excitement of the competition I knocked my beaters off the bench, and now they don’t sing no more. Killing beaters is becoming kind of a Thing with me. Next it’ll be stand mixers, then cement mixers, and then I’ll end up in a padded cell while a sadistic nurse amuses herself by dangling a whisk in front of my frothing mouth.
Anyhoo, it was an exciting evening. There were only five contestants - would have been six, but one didn’t show up, probably because Wintec doesn’t exactly go out of its way to advertise itself. There were also a gaggle of judges and reporters - the owner/chef of Palate, a writer for Nourish magazine, and a reporter and photographer from the local paper. The latter was somewhat bored, I think, and ended up taking about seventy pictures of me doing arty things with toffee. She was nice - she took some of my extra ginger cakes home for her fiance.
The other contestants included a sweet, mumsy lady who had been entered for the competition by She Knew Not Whom, and made a slightly underwhelming apple shortbread; an Indian chap who’s halfway through a three-month fast, but concocted a chicken curry with rice and lassi nevertheless; a young, sprightly woman I didn’t see much of, who made stuffed capsicums; and an older man who emitted a faintly aggressive, in-it-to-win-it vibe that made me nervy. In fact he was perfectly nice - lent me a whisk and everything - and certainly knew his way around a kitchen, but still. He made a coconut panna cotta which didn’t quite set up in the time allotted, but the judges sent him through to the finals anyway. It seemed inevitable.
The other finalists were myself and the Indian fasting guy. The Palate chef chap critiqued our dishes, and I was happy to hear that his only complaint about mine was that I plated it up with too much whipped cream. I would totally have eaten that much whipped cream, myself, but I didn’t wish to come across as gluttonous and argumentative, so I nodded sagely while he praised my Balance of Flavours and Really Nice Texture. The toffee nest on top turned out to be a good thing, too - it showed Technique. I was hoping it would. The marks sheet had five points allotted for Knife Skills, and I don’t know how I did there, as my dish didn’t really require any; but nevertheless, I got through. So that was pleasing.
Then we three finalists had more photos, standing in front of our dishes (which by now were mostly eaten and looked distinctly unphotogenic). We were supposed to grab spoons and taste things, but the Indian chap was fasting and the old chap simply refused to do it; so tomorrow’s Times will feature a photo of two men learnedly discussing food, while the woman in the corner stuffs her face. Oh well. The aggressive chap praised my dish, in a faintly challenging “I accept you as a worthy opponent, and come the day of battle I will CRUSH YOU LIKE A BUG” way; I responded by complimenting his panna cotta, which I didn’t much like. It was a bit odd.
Anyway, the Finals are next Saturday. In the meantime, we have a Farro gift card with which to buy three out of four ingredients to incorporate into our next dish. They are preserved lemon, chorizo, fennel and saffron. Not what I would have picked - I only have a nodding acquaintance with fennel, have never used saffron and don’t have a clue what to do with preserved lemons, other than buying them in large jars and displaying them in kitschy country cafes. Any ideas? I was thinking maybe a risotto with chorizo, fennel and saffron - maybe some caramelised fennel on top, or something. Or is that too obvious? Fennel’s good in soup, but it’s really not the weather for soup. I shall have to Google.
So, yus. We cleaned up under the stern eye of the Wintec hospitality course guy, who bawled out one of the contestants for putting dishes back wet and told me sternly that I should have worn trousers, because if I had spilled caramel on the two inches of bare leg between my boots and my skirt it would have been “very hot - it gets very hot, you know”. (Dude.) Then Helpdesk Man drove me and the pigs home. They had all been shopping while I was cooking, and he bought me a pita bread thing for dinner; sadly, it contained something extremely spicy he swore he hadn’t ordered, and I had to get a chocolate milk at the petrol station on the way home to keep from hurling it back up, but then he drove round a corner really fast and it sort of backfired, and I have spent the last two hours in a queasy fug, wondering vaguely if Panna Cotta Man poisoned his coconut cream in order to eliminate the competition; in which case, I guess Fasting Indian Guy really put a crimp in that plan, now didn’t he?