If You Can’t Stand the Heat…

I spent the evening sitting next to a hipster with a patchy beard who appeared to have skipped a shower or two. That’s the look people try to capture these days and I knew I was at some pretentious art scene event when I spied Mr. Shiny Hair sipping a Heineken.

This competition was in the spirit of “Chopped,” with Ted Allen. We selected our “mystery ingredient” Saturday morning at the farmers’ market.

Now that I pause to think about it, this was a hackneyed attempt at trying to marry the vegetable culture with the art world. I’m not complaining as I’m a self-admitted hack. As a matter of fact, Ben Franklin would call me a hack of all trades.

The “mystery ingredient” I selected was tomatoes. Simple enough. I thought about spaghetti, but there were only two mystery ingredients to choose from. I needed something different to stand out from the other tomato infused dishes.

I suddenly realized what I was going to create yesterday after church. I decided upon carnitas (über braised pork that I nestled In soft corn tortillas). I tossed in some tomatoes, but the star was going to be the salsa. Salsa is pretty typical for tomatoes, so I added cantaloupe and mint. It was more cantaloupe than tomato, but it went great with the pork tacos.

I really didn’t think the competition was going to be a big deal but I was competing with sixty-five other contestants. As I waited on the judges to do their work, I was hit with a wave of flop sweat. I tried to focus on a gaunt senior citizen wearing a CamelBak. I couldn’t help but notice his steampunk glasses that appeared to be a horse blinder but I decided it was either a monocle to give him X-Ray vision or it was a tiny rearview mirror. I only wish he had a steampunk time machine so I could skip the waiting.

I often question my abilities as I’m self taught. Granted, I have learned a lot from my chef buddies on Mercy Chef deployments, but I was curious to see how I fared among a sea of strangers.

The panel of judges consisted of chefs at great restaurants and I was competing with chefs. I could tell I was over my head when I saw the presentation of the dishes. I left out the hoity and the toity. Most everything else looked like it belonged on magazine covers.


I was shocked when I received an honorable mention. Even my great friend, Chef John, congratulated me and called me Chef. That means a lot coming from a chef of his caliber.

I don’t know if I’ll do another competition as the flop sweat is a killer, but I’m quite satisfied with an honorable mention. Oh, and one of the judges from the west coast said that this was something he would serve at his restaurant.


4 thoughts on “If You Can’t Stand the Heat…”

  1. TJ, don’t sell yourself short. You really are a great chef you just need to refine those skills a bit. I’m proud of you. Keep creating, find your voice in the foods you create and find a style that fits you. Great cooking is 80% Creativity, 10% knowledge and 10% hard work. Follow your heart


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