Episode three of the Next Food Network Star focused on presentation.
Challenge #1: Feature one special ingredient (the potato) in a single dish (45 minutes to make it…if I remember correctly). Full use of the pantry for other ingredients. Then hold the dish, face the camera, and speak about it for exactly one minute, telling a personal story about yourself in relationship to the dish. The selection committee then tasted the dish in private.
Potatoes…oy. They don’t make it easy to be a lowcarber on this show. But at least it wasn’t wheat, dairy, or pig. Although I haven’t cooked them in ages, I have several potato dishes I used to make. Here are two that would have worked well.
Curry Mashed Potatoes
Dice potatoes small so they will cook quickly (unnecessary if not facing a deadline)
When done, drain and mash
Add raw egg, mix well to cook
Add curry powder and any other desired seasoning
The story would be how I lived in Nicaragua for 6 months 20 years ago and learned how to cook with very limited ingredients. This recipe came from a Dutch woman volunteering at the same school where I volunteered. (I’m trying to remember if this recipe has yoghurt or milk in it…I don’t think so, because those were hard to come by there.)
Potato and Egg Fry
Slice potatoes and onions, saute in oil until starting to brown
Add cubes of apple, stir
Turn off heat, add beaten egg, stir until done (I like undercooked eggs so perhaps I would have left the heat on longer to bring the eggs up to a more medium state of being cooked)
Add salt and pepper as desired
No specific story here, it’s just comfort food. Maybe say something about how I made this dish a lot when I was in college and away from home cooking all my own meals.
If I wanted to do a vegan one I’d probably try to roast the potatoes (if I had time) with good olive oil, sea salt, and fresh rosemary. Perhaps with some parsnips and carrots.
Challenge #2: Create a packaged food product that represents you. Plan and shop for it quickly (half an hour to shop, not sure how much planning time but it was brief), cook/create the product and put into a couple dozen containers with printed labels (not much cooking time, an hour or two), and put aside overnight. The next day, get 30 minutes to set up your table, including cooking all your demo items, and present your product to 50 food buyers (real people from places like Harry’s & David’s and William Sonoma) and one special guest, Martha Stewart.
I just don’t get these people. Are they looking for great ideas or are they looking for grace under pressure? I understand that they didn’t want people to take a week to source ingredients and do test runs, but do everything in a couple of hours? One contestant, for example, needed cayenne pepper for his dish, but another contestant had taken it all. It’s a common ingredient and he could have gotten it quickly from another store, but wasn’t allowed.
This is my dream challenge though. I have all sorts of ideas for food products and I already have experience with organic certification, sourcing ingredients, knowing a lot about what is and isn’t available, pricing, and so forth.
If I had the money or the backing, I’d create a line of salad dressings, sauces, oils, and similar products that were all affordable and healthy based on my idea of healthy. That means organic of course but mostly it means no junk food oils. Have you ever tried to find a salad dressing with unrefined oil? Even the organic ones at Whole Foods (including their brand) are based on refined soybean, canola, or safflower oils. Yeck. I get sick when I eat them.
If I were in this challenge, I’d make this dressing:
Olive tomato mustard dressing
Extra virgin olive oil
Raw apple cider vinegar
Olives (green and black)
Hemp seed or sesame seed
Herbs, salt, etc
Blend together well in to a thick but pourable sauce. It could even be made 100% raw if it were packaged for the refrigerated shelf. Would still be healthy and good if steamed into a glass container.
I doubt I’d sell my concept well though. Even for most people who are health conscious, unrefined oils aren’t on their radar. They think of extra virgin olive oil as the expensive stuff you save for special occasions. Rachael Ray has changed that to some degree, since she cooks with the stuff, but you still hear people like Alton Brown telling viewers not to waste the extra virgin on things like pesto (which is one food that really needs good oil). When it comes to other oils, forget it. Who cares about unrefined sunflower oil or untoasted sesame? This is the era where refined, genetically engineered, pesticided canola oil is considered healthy.
Food buyers would take one look at my products and say, but there already are organic salad dressings (etc) out there, what makes yours different? And I’d have a hard time answering without using the words “poison” “plastic” or “evil.” That’s why I would make a complex one like the recipe above. It tastes really good and it’s different.