Writing this blog has led me to some really fun experiences, and this weekend was one of the best yet.
When DOLE asked if I'd be willing to sous chef for one of the three finalists in their 2012 California Cook-Off, I said yes before I'd even checked my calendar.
Chop and mince in front of a live audience at the Grove, one of the hottest shopping and strolling destinations in Los Angeles? Yes.
Cozy up to celebrity chef Ben Ford to talk pork, grilling and DOLE products? Oh, yes.
Help one of three home cooks turn out their recipe for the judges and compete for the grand prize? Heck yes.
Talk into the emcee's microphone to explain to the crowds what we're making? Yes, of course - you know how I love to talk.
The whole thing sounded like Erika Nirvana. I jumped at the opportunity.
|Host Tom Lowe introducing chef Ben Ford's grilling demo|
|DOLE had lots of products on display and handed out samples to the crowd|
The DOLE California Cook-Off recipe contest got hundreds of entries. The DOLE team narrowed it down to 20, then spent days taste-testing to pick the three finalists. Each finalist was paired with a local L.A. blogger assistant.
|Michelle and Amelia|
Michelle Wiederhold made Pineapple-Pork Quesadillas with Mandarin Crema. She was paired with blogger Amelia Winslow of Eating Made Easy.
|Richard and Pamela|
Richard Swanson made Banana Corn Crepes with Grilled Fruit and Ricotta. His partner: Pamela Braun of My Man's Belly. Notice that the two redheads ended up on the same team.
|Jeanette with her Island Pork Sliders, ready for the judges|
I was paired with Jeanette Nelson, a charming mother of three from Crab Orchard, West Virginia. Jeanette's been on the recipe contest circuit for a few years now; she'd been through this cook-off thing before. Jeanette's Taste of DOLE Island Pork Sliders with Pineapple Jicama Salsa were truly fabulous - ultra-juicy pork patties studded with DOLE pineapple and mango on a sweet Hawaiian roll, topped with a fresh crunchy salsa. The recipe will be up on the DOLE website soon - don't worry, I'll let you know. You'll definitely want to try making these at home.
|Jeanette's Taste of DOLE Island Pork Sliders with Pineapple Jicama Salsa|
Jeanette and I were both a bit nervous, but we'd planned every step of the recipe out carefully ahead of time and knew exactly who would be doing what. We were so organized we even had a few minutes to spare between taking the sliders off the grill and plating them. This actually helped us - letting the pork sliders rest covered in foil for a few minutes kept them nice and juicy.
All the dishes looked delicious, but when the verdict was in, Jeanette's pork sliders took the grand prize! I was thrilled for her. When emcee Tom Lowe asked Jeanette what she planned to do with her winnings, she said she would take her husband and three daughters on a beach vacation and use the rest to pay off debts. Tom loved her accent so much that he then made her sing "Country Roads" into the microphone for the whole crowd to hear - twice. She was a good sport about it both times, although I think she sang louder the second time (after she'd won).
So now I've gotten a taste of what it's like to cook for an audience...on the clock...and to have to be witty when a microphone gets stuck in my face as I'm wielding a sharp knife. I loved it. Next stop: Iron Chef!