Sunday, May 20, 2012


This is a long, though entertaining one... go get a coffee and a snack...;)

Some of you may have seen on facebook that I participated in the Chopped competition on board, so I thought I'd fill you in on all of the happenings of that evening;)

Wednesday night, we put on a full-blown chopped competition.... well.. mostly:) You know the tv show? 5 Chefs, 1 appetizer, 1 entree, 1 dessert with eliminations in between each round, 1 basket with 4 secret ingredients per round.... ring any bells?... well.. I am a HUUUUGEEEE fan of this show... whenever it was on TV and I would attempt passing the channel, I'd always end up sitting there longer than planned and watch the full episode- and if it was back to back chopped episodes, I was DOOMED... the only shows that do this to me are Chopped, Iron Chef America, and my FAVORITE- Cupcake Wars.... any other show I can almost always pass up...:) BIG.FAN. It honestly felt like a dream come true that I was even considered to be a contestant...

Our version was a little bit different... we had only 2 rounds- 1 entree and 1 dessert round and after the first round, THREE contestants would be chopped... THREE!!! So, the heat was on- entrees have never been my forte... I'm not known to be a cook- I'm a known baker... i LOVE my recipes, I ALWAYS triple, quadrupral check everything before I mix and I'm not a fan of straying from recipes- why mess with what is already great, right? So, when I was told 'no recipes'... I almost had a panic attack... but... game on.

I was doubting myself up to the minute I walked into the room with the contestants... then I said 'You have a choice, Michelle, be confident and go for it, or cower down and fail...' ... I decided to just go at this full-heartedly and just see where it lead...I studied my tail off in the 2 days leading up to the competition- sat with recipes, memorizing them, wrote down ones worth remembering- sauces, marinades, cupcakes, cookies, puddings, everything.. right before the show, I layed down- put myself in time-out if you will, and read through my recipes over and over again until I was sure they were deep down in there. Then, it was time...

Now, let's lay out the contestants for a moment... we had Ben Goble- galley cook, Ben Digmann- Lab Tech, Bob Russell- Dentist, Josh Callow- Photographer, and Me- receptionist... The fact that I was the only woman reallyyyy fueled my fire to beat these guys.. the cooking industry is still surprisingly male dominant, and I wasn't about to get out in the first round.. I needed to represent all of those amazing female chefs out there... it was a heavy weight to bear, but boy did it help me fight hard for this.

I headed up to meet everyone with my measuring cups, my sweet African apron, my piping tips, and my notebook(which I didn't end up using.. definately strayed from my usual self on this evening..). We watched the introduction to a real episode of chopped, the rules were explained, then we filmed a short 'how are you feeling' video. It's funny, because they asked me 'how are you feeling? nervous? excited? Anxious? Up until this point, I was so nervous it was almost crippling, but at this point, my game face was on and I said 'I'M READY TO BEAT THESE GUYS!!!!!' Then they asked who I thought my toughest competitor was... I said Josh Callow- the man who made stuffed peppers out of triscuits a few weeks ago- and they were aweosme. Later, I asked Josh what he said, and he said "I think the moment we saw you with those measuring cups, we realized how prepared you were, so we all said you were our toughest competitor..." turns out they were right:)

After this, we went down to be interviewed in front of the crowd, where the baskets for round 1 were revealed. Round 1- the entree round secret ingredients were: walnuts, chicken breast, cinnamon bark, and African yam... The minute I saw that HUGE yam I let out an "OHHH NOOO!!!!" Not the best technique to show you're confident, but it's one thing I didn't think we'd get. It came to mind in preparation, but never really though we'd go there... I thought maybe plantain or watermelon, but not african yam..

I took off running down the hall (sorry Captain!) the minute they started counting down. 45 minutes to cook an entree... doable but tight..The first thing I did was got oil on the stove. I thought I'd make a yam french fry, which I'd had before and thought was yummy. I got going and realized the chicken would take the longest. So, after working on the fries, I abandoned that whole thing to get the chicken going. If there's one thing I've learned about chopped, it's that people who lose do so because of their lack of time managment.. and I wasn't going to be a victim to poor time managment..  from the second they said we'd do walnuts, I had the idea to do a walnut crusted chicken. So, I threw the walnuts into the food processor(THANK GOODNESS they gave us a food processor- one of my greatest fears was having to finely chop anything because it'd take foreverr!), mixed the walnuts together with some basil, oregano, salt, pepper, cayanne(my judges like spice so I played off of that a bit.. plus walnuts and heat work well together), and I grated some of the cinnamon bark into the mixture... well a lot of it really because I wanted the flavor to come out. I breaded the chicken with this after I dunked it in egg and pan fried it. Good choice minus the part where it MIGHT've overcooked a tad.. better than raw chicken right?

Once I got the chicken in, I realized fries didn't really work with this meal so much, so I got a pan going and decided to attempt latkes. I looked up a recipe during my preparation the day before in case we got potato- I KNEW I didn't want to serve mashed potatoes- that's WAY too overdone, so I found latkes... I decided it was worth a try.. the judges were judging on creativity afterall, right? I'd rather lose because I got too creative than lose with something that was good but boring. So, I got going on that. For the record, African yams are MASSIVE!!! I'd say a bit bigger than my forearm and hand and much thicker... HUGE. I grated the yam, mixed with some flour and egg and got going on it. I tried the first one to be sure it tasted okay.;.. it was good, but it had a BITTER aftertaste. So, I decided to mix onion and some of the walnut and spice mixture in hoping that some of the tones would work well in the yam.

I had everything ready to go and staying warm in the oven when I was told we had 10 mintues left... 10 minutes... 10 MINUTES?!?! You gotta be kidding me!! That's like 10 years in chef time... so I was thinking.. 10 minutes is a lonng time- I can pull something else out for sure! So, I grabbed the red wine box and got to playing around... I'd never made a red wine sauce in my life, but I'd never made anything on this plate in my life, so I might as well try... So I put the red wine in a saucepan with some onion, garlic, a few large pieces of cinnamon bark... it got cooking, but wasn't thickening fast enough for comfort, so I added cornstarch. Then more cornstarch.. then some more.:) I tasted it and it was SOUR, so I added honey..... BAM! We were there. In the time I waited, I also sauteed some onions because that'd go well with everything on the plate. With 4 minutes to go, I pulled out the chicken and latkes, picked my favorites and plated them. The chicken got small small soggy on the bottom- I should've put it on a paper towel, but I think it was fine... I strained the red wine sauce so it was nice and smooth, plated everything and bam! Done with 2 minutes to spare.

We took them down to be tasted by the judges. I noticed a WHOLE lot of yam mash- glad I didn't go that route, but some of the platings were GEORGOUS!! I was suddenly SUPER nervous...I realized that though I am a semi-trained cook, these guys were GOOD!

The judges got going. Oh- by the way, the judges were: Ken Hatfield- our food services manager- trained at Le Courdon Bleu, Rachel Foster- my previous team leader in the galley- also trained at Le Courdon Bleu, and Captain Jon Fadely- trained by his mom and grandma(which is where I first learned too, so we had a bond):) They liked my dish with a few qualms. They didn't like my plating. It was cluttered... but... if you know me... that's who I am haha... cluttered but pretty in spite of chaos... right? ;) It's the way I like my food to look.. but def not professional:) Otherwise they loved the idea of the latkes, they said they could taste each secret ingredient very well, LOVED the red wine sauce(yayyy), and overall liked it. Trouble was, they also liked everyone elses. Each dish had 1 or 2 things they didn't like, but overall everyone rocked it... there were 2 I was especially concerned about becuase they recieved great comments about their plating, the flavors, the taste, etc.. I got reallllly nervous again...

The wait between the judges finishing the tasting and the announcement was EXCRUCIATING... I was fine for the first few minutes, then I started freaking out... how would I react if I didn't get this- I realllly wanted this- how would I react if I did... what things could I make for this round... Then they announced... the 2 to go to the next round aree...... "Ben Goble.... anndd... The ONLY lady in our lineup... MICHELLE!!" I FREAKED OUT... ALL i wanted out of this was to make it to the dessert round... I DID IT!  I tried to contain my excitement, but it didn't work. I was especially beaming at the friends who were there who knew I wanted this so badly and knew how much I was freaking out and how hard I'd worked beforehand.

Then we were told the ingredients for the dessert round.... Pumpkin, Molasses, Lemon Juice, and Hazelnuts. When I saw pumpkin I let out a loud "YESSSSS!!!". We americans know our pumpkin... annnd molasses for that matter. I was up against a South African... I knew I had the upperhand in this not only becuase of my experience, but boy were those ingredients sooo american. When we realized there was only one basket, he looked at me and said 'Do you want me to carry that, or..' I looked at the basket, realizing it was heavy... and I thought for a second... and then grabbed it and RAN up the steps as fast as I could back to the kitchen... haha.

30 minutes to make a dessert....INSANITY....
I got up the kitchen and was a bit thrown off. Now, I know we didn't do the dishes, so I don't know why I expected the dishes to be gone, but they were still there- right where I left them... I was kicking myself for not cleaning up at the end of the last round where I had some spare time.. it took me some time to gain my footing. I stood there for a minute... blank. Not sure what to do. Ben was a tough competitor. I had no idea where his baking skills layed, but I knew he was  good cook for sure.. then I realized it was just the 2 of us... all of the attention was on us now... too much attention for my comfort...At one point, I remember John, the host of the event, looking at me and saying "So, how are you feeling? Do you know what you're doing." I looked at him, and then the camera and I said... "Good and yes.." then kept going... a second later I was like 'OHHH you wanted to know what I'm doing!!! It was disorienting, but thankfully one of the judges, Ken, stepped in and helped wash dishes for me...everything I needed was either dirty or missing..

I decided to make a pumpkin cookie with a molasses buttercream, unsure of how to incorperate the lemon juice and hazelnuts. the FIRST thing I did, though, was get those hazelnuts in the oven to toast a bit...good choice for sure. I  felt like a chicken with its head cut off, but I stood there for a moment, gained composure, and I was off...

Now, for those of you who watch these kinds of shows, there are types of competitors. The ones who are super arrogant, the ones who are always waiting to the last moment, the ones who are wayy too slow for their own good, the calm ones, the ones who run around like maniacs, but get the job done... I don't think all of these were represented in our group, but I think most of them were hit by one of us... Now..1 guess which one I was... now, brace yourselves- this actually really surprised me.. I had 0 idea until the heat was a...runner.... GASSSSPP!!! I never knew!! Truly!! I was a MANIAC!!! A sweaty, crazed chef, but boy did I get things done..had it not been for my mania, I don't think I would've gotten as much done...:) I remember hearing Captain Jon say 'She's just so intense and everything has such urgency.. it seems to work.." hah:)

I got going and tried to remember the recipe I'd memorized so well earlier in the day- the one for tollhouse chocolate chip cookies. Now, I remembered most of it, but was so crazy with trying to find the kitchen aide attachments(I had to use a stinkin whip for cookies... not ideal... great for the buttercream, but not for the cookies...) that things slipped... for example, the eggs... I put 1 cookie in to test, and not a minute after I got it in did I remember the eggs... *sigh*... I got them in though. I also remembered much later that I was supposed to put brown sugar in... but honestly- it's better... the pumpkin was super sweet as was... As I was tasting the cookie dough...yes..I'm a dough eater...I taste everything I make before I cook it..I realized it was missing something... so I added some of the lemon juice and a handfull of hazelnuts. PERFECT!! Soooo good!  Got those in the oven then on to the buttercream...

Butter, confectioners sugar, molasses... yum... but SWEEEET... I neeeeeded to find a way to cut into the sweetness. I knew for a fact that at least 1 judge isn't really into sweeeet things... Lemon juice! Yes! Perfect!! I attempted to add some cayanne pepper as well, but unfortunately it didn't come through... it would've been reallly good though... if I make this again, which i fully intend to try, I will definately put more cayanne in. Now, this round was chock full of mistakes, but thankfully nothing that wasn't redeemable. For example, I didn't make sure the bowl was secured before putting it on full whip and walking away... now, for the record, this bowl is super tempermental as is, so it would've come loose either way... so this bowl goes crazzzzzzy spinning all around almost spilling everything all over the place... certainly got the attnention of everyone in the room.... the Captain looked at me and said... "Are you okay?" haha... 'yes... I'm fine.. and thankfully the cookies are as well.."  I said:)

The biggest challenge for this round was that time was not on my side. 1/2 way through this round, I looked at Ken and said, "You do realize how INSANE and IMPOSSIBLE it is to bake in 30 minutes, right??" So he looked at me and said, "Yeah.. that's why I just extended it by 7 minutes." :) These cookies were big.. they needed to be because I was basically planning to make a cookie sandwich out of them.. no one wants a small little dinky dessert, right? They did NOT want to cooperate. Honestly, they were a bit more cakey than I'd planned, which was fine, but they didn't want to cook through... I had no choice but to pull 2 off and throw them in the freezer hopign they'd cool enough for me to get it on a plate with some buttercream, not melt the cream and somehow be cooked through... I got them on, piped the buttercream- it was the perfect consistancy... laid another cookie sideways so it looked nice, piped a little cream on the plate, sprinkled some hazelnuts on top of the cream that was on the cookie... but it was too... tan.. I didn't like the color.... So.. I went MICHELLE on it.. I grabbed a knife, dipped it into molasses and pretty much splattered/ swirled the plate with molasses.... such classic Michelle, it's not even funny- the queen of tye dye/ splattered anything.. I was happy with it.

As we walked the plates down, I looked at the judges and said "Can we PLEASE do mine first so you get it before it melts?' They listened. As we walked down, there were lots of 'oohs and ahhs' to both of our plates. I looked at Ben's dish, where a dessert laid so nicely in a square shape- it looked SHARP... I guess it just depended on what the judges declared dessert... to me it's something big and mostly heavy and just decadent, but to some, it's something simple and clean, yet delicious.... they had both in front of them. I got realllly nervous. As we walked down, Ben said "you'll have to show me how you got those cookies out in 20 minutes!"

I honestly didn't know which way it'd go, but I was really happy with my dessert- that's all that mattered to me- that it was something I liked and would eat... if the judges disagreed, that's fine...I did something I liked and that was all. The MC had us explain what we did, so I told them what I made... I shouldn'tve said there was cayanne though because then they were waiting for it... the hit never came... again- I'll do it again sometime and make it bang. They said they really liked the idea- they wished the cookies were cooked a little more, they loved the buttercream, wished they could taste the pepper. Now here is where the judges were divided... Captain Jon loved the design I made with the molasses- the splatter, if you will... the other 2... hated it. Later I asked Ken and he said he actually liked it but it wasn't professional and I went a little overboard.. but.. again.. I liked it a lot:) If it was my restaurant- it'd stay;)

At this point- I honestly didn't know what would happen... Ben pulled out a STRONG dish in the first round.. mine was good, but his was better. This was an overall competition- he beat me on the first round.. now the question is, whose dessert was better... the judges explained before they presented that the person they picked was one that used the ingredients as the main focus of the dishes, not something else that was found in the pantry and that was the main way they decided.... the winner was...drumroll pleasee........
MEEE!! Haha.. I don't want this to sound self centered- believe me- these guys were fierce competitors... but I only have my side of the story to tell- i didn't really pay any attention to the rest of the goings on of the evening;)

Anyway.. I won a $10 gift card and a dinner out on the town... exciting!!

Now, I need to make everything again so I can actually taste the entree... I didn't ever taste the final product...

And that is the story of how I won Chopped in Africa...;)

<3 M


  1. Thanks for posting this - I love Chopped too, and was intrigued when you said you'd done it on the ship! WTG! :)

  2. You should s end this. To the. Food n et work,!!! Awesome. Wish I was there. Proud of you!