The final cook.
“Last thirty minutes, the most important thirty minutes of your life. Give it everything you have.” Chef Rajeev announced.
It was the finale of the country’s most loved cooking competition. And I was the finalist.
It wasn’t bad for a boy who had been selling cheap fried chicken and noodles in a small food truck throughout his life.
I knew no matter what the outcome of this competition would be, I was going to be a celebrity and finally I could open my own restaurant.
And odds weren’t in my side in this challenge. My opponent was Neeksha, who had done her professional cooking training in a famous cooking school. And before she tried applying for a professional chef job, she decided to try her hand in this competition. It was an easy way to gain popularity. And yes, she deserved to be here. All of her dishes till now were flawless and unique. She had never been in an elimination challenge, she had her dishes in the top three every time. The judges loved her cooking. And me on the other hand, only had my name called out once for top three dishes, I had faced the most number of elimination challenges. Somehow I survived, and I knew it was mostly because of the blunders committed by the other cooks which had kept me in.
She had the technical and the creative edge over me. I was always the underdog but also the crowd favorite.
This challenge, we had three hours to cook a three course meal. An entrée, a main course and a dessert.
For entrée, we both cooked a chicken dish. Neeksha cooked a Chicken with Parmesian and Herb crust. She had finished her entrée in 35 minutes. And it looked perfect, the chicken breast was coated with golden brown garlic flouverd herb crust and the white vegetable sauce would complement it well. It was simple and elegant. For entrée I had done a simple garlic roast chicken. It was a bit too heavy for a starter but I knew the flavors were there. I simply took the chicken breast, coated it with garlic butter and roasted it on the pan in low flame for about 30 minutes. I was happy with the dish.
Neeksha for the main had done another classic, coconut chicken with rice. It was a safe choice by her. The judges weren’t a big fan of spicy food and she knew it very well. The white coconut chicken offered the perfect balance between sweet and spicy. The chicken pieces were first boiled in water. Then the chicken was flattened out, the coconut paste and pieces were filled and the chicken was rolled. It was then again baked for 15minutes at 175C. The chicken came out tender and juicy, a bowl of coconut rice went along with it.
I had skipped the main and did the dessert first. I had learnt some new dishes along the competition and this dessert was one them.
I made a chocolate-strawberry crumble ball. It was a difficult dish but I had practiced this a lot. The dessert had a semi spherical chocolate at the bottom, inside it was chocolate crème filled strawberries, not whole but cut to pieces. The top covering of the dome was frozen tempered chocolate which was designed like bars. The dish wasn’t only chocolate and strawberries, the crème of the strawberry had lemon, fresh parsley leaves, and small hint of ginger. The combination was great.
Neeksha on the other hand, went for the complicated Poppy seed cake with passion fruit curd. It was a time consuming process but somehow she managed to finish it in an hour. She was working like a machine.
For the poppy seed cake, she added baking powder, flour, egg yolks, poppyseed, lemon zest and oranges. Then she baked in the preheated oven for about half hour. The cake was ready. The passion fruit curd was also easy, add egg yolk, lemon zest, oranges, some heavy creme, milk and put in a slow mixer. Then let it freeze. Then finally she covered her cake with a golden brown passion fruit glaze, which was slowly dripping along the sides. She would surely win the dessert.
I had half hour to finish my main. I couldn’t think of anything. I thought for five minutes, nothing flashed. I then went back to the days when I served the noodles and fried chicken. It was easy to make and tasty. Yes, it was too simple to win the competition but this dish had a story.
I decided to make a prawn noodles with some fried prawns at the side. I made the noodles from the dough and wheat flour, I was happy with the consistency, the noodles were very thin and light. I flavored them with some hot spices, chili powder, prawn infused masala, pepper and salt. I didn’t care about the judges anymore. I didn’t care if they didn’t like it.
The prawns were fried golden brown with some masala, pepper, salt and olive oil. I added some extra oil like I always did back then. The people would love the oil.
I finished the dish fast, plated it simple. Noodles on the middle and a lot of prawns at the side. I didn’t like how the professionals plated dishes with just two or three pieces of the prawn or meat. I always wanted more food on my plate than I could eat.
Last two minutes, maybe I could add something, and then suddenly I realized. I had forgotten my secret ingredient. My sweat.
In my food truck, there was no sense of hygiene while cooking. No gloves, no hat. I reused the same oil and water every time. My sweat constantly falling on my food, I had a habit of picking my nose, so even that was in my food. I worked in the sun, so I only wore my shorts during cooks, so the sweat form my armpit and crotch was always mixed. I didn’t do it on purpose, it had become a habit.
Yes, I was going to add all of that but I had to do it carefully. There was camera always.
But where there is a will there is a way. I put the prawns back in the pan in low flame, I sneaked my sweat (I kneeled down acting as if I was picking something and rubbed my crotch fast and yes, it was sweaty) added two drops to the small bowl of oil, I quickly rubbed my nose and got a few particles. Then mixed it properly.
Poured the oil to the prawns and lightly fried it.
The dish was ready.
The judges had finished tasting and were holding the results with them.
“And the winner of Chef’s Kitchen for the year 2016 is”
My heart was beating faster than ever.
My secret ingredient worked. Everyone has a secret ingredient which makes them special.