For our Coronado Concert in the Park Finale of the summer season, our theme was Chopped, but a slightly less challenging version than the Food Network cooking television series hosted by Ted Allen.
If you're familiar with Chopped, you know that four chefs compete in each episode, in three rounds: Appetizer, Entrée and Dessert. In each round, the chefs are given a basket containing between three and five ingredients, and the dish each competitor prepares must contain each of those ingredients. Generally speaking, the ingredients are ones that are not commonly prepared together. The competitors are also given access to a pantry and refrigerator stocked with a wide variety of other ingredients. Each round has a time limit: twenty minutes for the Appetizer round, and thirty minutes for the Entrée and Dessert. The chefs must cook their dishes and complete four platings (one for each judge plus one "beauty plate") before time runs out. After each round, the judges critique the dishes based on presentation, taste, and creativity. The judges then decide which chef is "chopped," who is then eliminated from the competition. Thus, by the dessert round, only two chefs remain. When deciding the winner, the judges consider not only the dessert course, but also the entire meal presented by each chef as a whole.
I found a list of all the baskets of ingredients from prior Chopped seasons and episodes, and asked our participating 'chefs' to choose two numbers (they didn't know that the first number corresponded to the season and the second number corresponded to the episode during that season). They were permitted to choose any ONE of the three baskets in their chosen episode - the Appetizer, Entrée OR Dessert basket, and had to prepare a dish for that course with the corresponding basket ingredients. If they were unable to locate an exact ingredient, close substitutions were allowed. I had John choose my numbers before I told him what was going on, so I could play along.
My episode, All-Stars Tournament: Round Three -- Notable Chefs, aired on March 20, 2011. I went with the Appetizer basket, containing fresh pasta sheets, dried papaya, bluefoot mushrooms, and chorizo. My other options included the entrée basket with cobia, salmon jerky, Chinese spinach, and animal crackers, or the dessert basket with granola bars, heirloom cherry tomatoes, Chinese five spice, and piloncillo.
I have new respect for the chefs who compete on Chopped. Thankfully, we didn't have the time constraints, because it took me hours to come up with an idea, and hours to prepare the final dish! My appetizer was Chorizo Ravioli, topped with Mussels in Red Curry. I added sauteed yellow bell peppers and white beech mushrooms (no bluefoots at Whole Foods) to the curry sauce, and garnished the dish with a mix of diced dried papaya, cashews and coconut flakes.
I bought fresh lasagna sheets, thinned them out a bit in my pasta roller, and cut the ravioli with a large round cookie cutter. I borrowed a recipe from the Culinary Institute of America for Chorizo Ravioli and adapted a recipe from Williams Sonoma for Red Curry Sauce.
I sauteed the mushrooms and bell pepper, and cooked the ravioli at home. Once at the park, I then reheated the red curry sauce in my cataplana, and added the ravioli for a few minutes to reheat them. One ravioli went on each plate, and then I added the mushrooms, bell peppers and mussels to the curry sauce, closed the cataplana, and steamed the mussels.
I topped each ravioli with 3 steamed mussels, curry sauce, and a sprinkle of diced papaya, cashews and coconut flakes. Surprisingly, this turned out quite well.
Alec and Nina's episode, When Octopuses Attack, aired on October 12, 2010. Alec made an entrée with flank steak, chicory, pepino melon, and granola bars. His Appetizer basket contained lotus root, treviso, guava nectar, and octopus, and his dessert option included shiso leaves, pita bread, feta, and adzuki beans.
Alec told me he used a chicory blend that came in a tea bag as a dry rub for the flank steak, and then refrigerated it for 3-4 hours before grilling. Pepino melon is out of season, so he made a salsa with pears and pink melon, pickled onions, a Tuaca-Sherry reduction, and a ground-up granola bar.
Kai's episode, A is for Apple. U is for Udon, aired on August 16, 2011. He chose the Entrée basket, with sweet vermouth, leeks, French fingerling potatoes, and diver scallops. He declined the Appetizer basket with udon noodles, watermelon radish, razor clams, and pickled eggplant, and the Dessert Basket with Thai basil, marinated cippolini onions, Black Oxford apples, and rolled oats. Kai's final dish: Sautéed Scallops
in a sweet vermouth sauce (roux, sweet vermouth, chicken stock, sour cream), served over puréed leeks and mashed potatoes, and garnished with crispy leeks and bacon.
Jack and Sandra drew numbers corresponding to Buckwheat Blunders and Twists of Fate, which aired on August 25, 2009. Sandra also made an entrée with her entrée basket ingredients of knackwurst, pretzels, ramps, and mangosteen. Her appetizer basket contained olive oil packed tuna, English cucumbers, and buckwheat flour, and her dessert basket had biscuit dough, pistachios, dried hibiscus flowers, and black olives.
Carmen's episode, A Prickly Situation, aired July 21, 2009. She chose the Dessert Basket with bulgur wheat, pomegranate juice, pineapple, and green papaya. She could have made an appetizer with brioche, fennel, and sea urchin, or an entrée, with blackstrap molasses, red snapper, parsley root, and dried cranberries. Carmen shared her original recipe for Fruited Bulgur Puddings here.
Last Minute Chef was probably the only one who actually completed his dessert in the 30 minutes provided to the chefs on Chopped. Brad's episode, Dream'n of Redeem'n, aired July 20, 2010. He chose the Dessert basket, with vodka, crescent roll dough, sesame seeds, and blueberry jelly beans. He opted out of attempting an appetizer with rump roast, rainbow chard, and vegetable yeast spread, or an entrée with branzino (Mediterranean seabass), piquillo peppers, jicama, and chocolate sandwich cookies. Unfortunately, Brad's Cinnamon-Blueberry Jelly Bean Buns with Vanilla Vodka Glaze were tasty, but fell a tad short in the creativity department when he failed to incorporate any additional pantry or refrigerator ingredients in his dessert. He partially redeemed himself by purchasing cinnamon crescent roll dough and vanilla vodka, but he then failed to use all of his basket ingredients by omitting the sesame seeds.
Sorry, Bradley, but Judge Olivia ultimately decided you had to be chopped.
If you've been following along this summer, I hope you've enjoyed our Concert in the Park culinary challenges (you can see all the themes we've done for the past four summers, here). It's now time to finish planning and shopping for our annual Southern Jubilee Seafood Boil on Sunday, and then our annual Halloween Party. In between, I hope to squeeze in some recipes from my cookbook and cooking magazine collection, share more of our restaurant and food photography shoots, and get to a special post about another beautiful product for homemade pasta.