Preview: Our Chaos
With summer winding down to a close, it’s easy to get behind on important things: chores, paperwork, meeting up with friends/randos-I-met-at-bars-the-weekend-before, going to bed at a reasonable hour, blogging. A lot has happened here in the Bond House. After a familial July full of dinner and drinking, we lost roommates to school, business trips, thesis, Venezuela. This month there are but a paltry four Bondies (though undoubtedly the cream of the crop) in Boston. I’m not coping well. We don’t know what to do with all of the tomatoes.
To prepare for the roommate dearth, I thought it would be fun to host a friendly competition in which I subjected everyone to baskets full of “unusual” foods that would then have to be turned into edible dishes lest we all go hungry. If everything went awry and feelings got hurt, it would be easier to say goodbye to our dearest Theresa and Bennett. Besides, a kitchen food fight would make for a solid cocktail hour story.
I planned the competition for weeks. I watched hours of “Chopped” for strictly-research-related purposes, scoured foodie blogs for game-show inspiration, aimlessly wandered grocery store produce aisles (though, admittedly, that one was more for me than anything. I fucking love grocery stores). With great purpose, the list was complete.
And wouldn’t you know it? The day of the competition, the grocery store had less than half of the ingredients I wanted. So with a very patient Harriet in tow, we prowled the store, aisle-by-aisle in search of suitable replacements. Chicken hearts? Too easy. Lantern peppers? Too spicy. Tuna eyeballs? There would be a revolt.
To my Bond family, it could have been a lot worse.
When we got home, Harriet and I carefully packaged the ingredients in the finest of canvas bags and shoved them into the outside fridge. I crafted high-quality randomization tools designed for team building out of the back of an old note card and some highlighter-dyed cotton swabs. We’re all about high tech livin’ in this house.
Some ground rules (because let’s wing it):
Everything in the bags must be used and well-represented in your dish.
2 hours to cook.
No leaving the House for more ingredients.
The garden, however, is fair game.
And what does the winner get? A pizza.
The before-time, when people were happy.
The teams were divided, the pre-photo taken, and the bags were opened. I can’t tell you how much the chorus of “You’ve got to be joking” warmed my soul.
Someone had the bright idea of bringing the gong in from the porch and using it to referee the chaos. So, after a needlessly loud “bang”, our players were off to the races. While the whole of the exercise was great, the pre-planning phase was probably the funniest. Not because anyone did anything particularly hilarious, but because everyone was 100% dead serious. I’m talking: going off into the corner to furtively whisper about ways to use plantain chips.
With that done, everyone started dragging out pots, pans, mortar, pestle, everything (the cleanup portion of this competition will not be discussed because it went on forever). There was a certain delicate ballet to things as Elzerie de-thorned cacti, Bennett sliced eggplant, and Theresa dressed chicken thighs. As cutthroat as I wanted things, we’re simply too polite. To my horror, there was even a civil conversation about oven-rotation. “How long does your dish need?” “Oh, about 40 minutes at 375. Does that work for you?” “Jolly good.”
Meanwhile, the judges (Josefina, Claudia’s dear friend Andrew, and myself) were keeping watch on the other side of the kitchen while Michael intermittently jumped into the fray to help with chopping or clearing the dish pit. Halfway into things, we were joined by Elzerie’s friend, Chantel, who had just gotten off a plane from Australia (shout out to jet-lag delirium. I hope we weren’t too overwhelming). As I cataloged the competition, Mitch walked in with his camera. When it was crunch time, Giuseppe joined. And then Lucie showed up. It was a like a sitcom reunion episode.
Keeping it classy forever and ever.
While our competitors scrambled to plate, the rest of us set the table for 14. Candles, linen napkins, wine, the works. At 8, I rang the gong and no one listened. At 8:05, I rang the gong and no one listened. At 8:12, everyone decided they were done and took their creations to the dining room. That’s fine, y’all, that’s fine. The judges were seated together at one end of the table, we were served, and then, after a toast, the real challenge began.
I love how into the spirit of things everyone got. Each round came with a special explanation of the dish and how the ingredients were used. Brennan and Elzerie’s dessert portion was particularly charming. Brennan really laid into the “sob story” aspect of cooking competitions. It was simultaneously sweet and hilarious. Take note: style points matter.
To tell you how delightfully surprising each meal was would be a disservice to the chefs who made them. Towards the end of this post you will see the ingredients and the results. Words will not adequately tell you how delicious everything was. I never said I was a writer. Wait…
Down to the wire
At the end of each course, the other judges and I would confer and then make a small statement about the dish. I love pretending to be Chris Santos. After we had thoroughly stuffed ourselves, a decision had to be made. We three took our drinks out onto the patio and had a spirited discussion about ingredient usage and creativity. There was some talk of awarding each dish a different prize, but we agreed that it would rob the real winner of their accolades. So, after a few minutes, we came to a conclusion.
When we came back into the room, everyone went quiet. The three judges stood at the head of the table and I told everyone that the competition was close (this wasn’t lip service, the competition really was a close one). With as much pomp and circumstance as I could muster, the winners were announced.
Basket 1: Appetizer Ingredients: spam, coconut water, plantain chips, guava Meal: Spampresé and Guava Surprise A better explanation: Fried plantain-coated eggplant slices topped with thick mozzarella slices, fried spam, and balsamic glaze paired with a coconut water, fresh guava juice, and tequila cocktail.
Basket 2: Entrée Ingredients: chicken thighs, whipping cream, grapefruit, adobo Meal: Germischtes Gemüse with Grapefruit Chia Soße & Grapefruit Hühnden A better explanation: Baked chicken thighs coated in whipped cream and grapefruit sauce paired with potatoes and carrots seasoned with adobo.
Basket 3: Dessert Ingredients: queso fresco, cactus, sweet potato, Jiffy mix Meal: Ojos Locos de la Cabra A better explanation: A Jiffy corn muffin split in half with queso fresco and sweet potato puree on one half and candied cactus and guava paste on the other. Crazy goat eyes style.
Drum roll, please.
While each dish was creative and delicious, it was the Spampresé that took home the gold and the pizza. Crunchy, creamy, salty, and sweet, I have found something that I want to eat whenever I have a hangover.
I wish there were better photos taken later in the evening, but the 2/3 of the judges were very drunk. Our b. Congratulations to the winners, it was one of the most memorable nights in the Bond House. We will eventually buy a pizza (we’ll send you your piece in the mail, Bennett).