We Have Been Chopped

If there’s one thing that can be said about our family, it’s that we love to eat. (It could also be said that we tend to sing a lot and that we always have dog hair on our clothes, but eating is more fun.) Rather conveniently, we also love to cook — all four of us. One of our favorite things to do together is watch cooking and baking shows, from Cake Boss to Restaurant: Impossible to The Next Food Network Star to MasterChef Junior.
carlos7
We stumbled upon Cake Boss in 2010 before the show’s popularity skyrocketed; the day we visited Carlo’s with my mom and stepdad, Buddy flew to Chicago to be on Oprah… and everything changed!
carlos9
Naturally, the girls are blurry so that the baked goods could be in focus…

We have also logged a lot of time watching Chopped, the Food Network show where the four contestants receive baskets containing “mystery ingredients” (i.e. rice cereal, squid, jelly beans, and cucumbers), all of which need to be incorporated into their final dishes to be presented to the judges… within 20 or 30 minutes. The moment those baskets are opened, we four backseat chefs get to work calling out what we think could/should be done with the ingredients, oohing and ahhhing and gasping and groaning at the chefs’ crazy and awe-inspiring creations.

Although Annie and Ella are very comfortable in the kitchen and, for years now, have been combining… unusual… foods just for the fun of it, they have long opined that it would be truly great to participate in their own version of Chopped — to be given mystery ingredients and then to create something, not only edible but delicious, out of them.

A good many years back, my dad and GrandMeg had gotten to know one of the chefs on Kiawah Island. Eventually, Chef Patrick left the restaurant business to focus on a more entrepreneurial, private chef approach; since then, he’s made several fabulicious meals at my dad and Meg’s house (on Kiawah) for special occasions. For Christmas this year, my dad and Meg very generously “gave” us dinner with Chef Patrick.

Normally when Patrick does his private chef thing, he does all the cooking; occasionally, he gives basic cooking lessons. Seeing that we were going to be in close quarters with a top notch chef who might be able to really teach us a thing or two beyond what we already know, I sent Meg the following email proposing something a little bit different:

When we watch these cooking shows, what impresses us the most is how the chefs are able to think on their feet, how they understand foods and flavors and how to work with the ingredients to create delicious dishes with amazing flavors… We can cook any recipe well; we want more!
So, THAT’S what we’d like to learn. How food works. What ingredients go well together and why? What basic sauces go with what foods, and how do we make them on the fly? What are some simple ways to elevate basic meals to something more flavorful? If we’re getting dinner on the table in a hurry, how can we mix things up so that it tastes different even if we’re pressed for time and using more or less the same ingredients?
So, you know… Essentially Culinary School 101. 😉
.
Meg then forwarded my rather, um, broad request to Patrick, who responded like this:
 .
I think a great place to start would be stocks, sauces and soups and then go into flavor pairings. We could cover the different areas of taste buds on the tongue which make different combinations of food taste so good together… Also covering ingredients you may have sitting in the pantry which could be used to whip up or add flavor to a dinner would be great.
 .
We could also get the creative juices going with a couple of surprise baskets with different ingredients in them like the show Chopped and see what y’all can come up with for dinner. You could all decide what you could make for dinner with whatever is in the basket. Of course it will be more like some blue plastic boxes. Sounds like fun to me!!
 .
I was dumbfounded. We get to pretend like we’re on Chopped? But with a real, live, uber-talented chef to guide us? Are you freaking kidding me?? When I read the email to Ella and Annie, they could barely contain their excitement. DREAMS DO COME TRUE, Y’ALL!
 .
For the first few days of our spring break, we simply took in Kiawah and Charleston, like always, and enjoyed hanging out with family… but really, we were barely containing our excitement for our dinner with Patrick. When at last the day arrived, Chef Patrick showed up and, as promised, lugged in several blue plastic boxes and set them on the counter. Once he’d gotten everything ready, he invited the girls to do the unveiling; they were more than happy to oblige.
 kiawah cooking1
 .
One box held proteins – chicken, sausage, etc. The others held vegetables, fruits, and starches – squash, carrots, parsnips, peppers, white and sweet potatoes, strawberries, raspberries, kiwis, fresh herbs. Additionally, like the contestants on the show, we could help ourselves to the “pantry” – a section of the counter on which Patrick had spread out staples like pasta, garlic, onions, cream, salt and pepper, chicken stock, etc.
kiawah cooking2
kiawah cooking3
 .
As soon as they looked everything over, both girls immediately had ideas about what to make. Rather than just listen to their thoughts, Patrick had the (genius) idea of inviting them to draw their finished dishes so they could really envision their creations as actual meals instead of just ingredients.
kiawah cooking4
kiawah cooking5
 .
Next, he checked out their illustrations asked them to describe their “recipes” while he wrote down the key ingredients.
kiawah cooking6
Yes, that coat does have the Super Bowl insignia on it because Patrick was one of the chefs at this year’s game. So, that’s not cool or anything…
 .
Once he’d gotten a feel for what the girls wanted, the fun really began. See, ’cause while their ideas were very original and creative, they weren’t necessarily… doable… in their original form. Not wanting to disappoint or discourage them, Patrick considered their suggestions and, working with each girl, tweaked them into something more polished.
 .
Or, in other words, the tables were turned and suddenly Chef Patrick became the Chopped contestant. Take these random ingredients and make something amazing out them HAHAHA GOOD LUCK.
 .
Annie’s idea was fairly simple: chicken and pasta with mushrooms and red wine. With Patrick’s guidance, they agreed upon pasta with grilled chicken and mushrooms in a sundried tomato, pesto, and red wine sauce.
kiawah cooking7
Annie’s drawing was… interesting…
 .
Ella’s idea was a bit more out of the box. Originally, she envisioned “sausage and potatoes with basil-stuffed raspberries.” After much discussion, with Patrick gently trying to figure out how the heck to incorporate raspberries with the sausage, he and Ella decided on Italian sausage and potato cakes with a raspberry basil balsamic glaze.
kiawah cooking8
You’ll notice the raspberry glaze drizzled nicely around the outside of Ella’s plate…
 .
Then it was time to get to work. Although Patrick absolutely ran the show, we helped out in every way that we could – chopping vegetables, chiffonading basil (I don’t know if you can  add -ing to chiffonade but I’m doing it anyway because it sounds way more chef-y to be “chiffonading basil”), browning sausage, boiling potatoes, cutting chicken. When we got to forming the potato cakes (a combination of Italian sausage, white potatoes, onions, basil, and olive oil), we were really winging it – even Patrick admitted he’d never attempted anything like this before, so there was little “advice” to be given.
 .
Over the course of the several hours it took to pull everything together, Annie and Ella grew antsy and would occasionally wander away to play. As their dishes were nearing completion, we called them back in to show them how things were looking — that Chef Patrick was nearly finished with turning their ideas into a real, honest-to-goodness dinner.
kiawah cooking9
Watching Patrick add salt to the sauce for the pasta.
.
kiawah cooking10
Checking out the nearly-complete raspberry glaze.
.
Finally, after an evening of thinking and prepping and cooking, everything was ready. We set the table, gathered up the two main courses, and sat down, anxious to see if the final dishes would be anything beyond merely edible.
kiawah cooking14
Annie’s pasta with chicken and mushrooms in a sundried tomato, pesto, and red wine sauce. (Obviously, I’m not a food photographer… Carry on…)kiawah cooking15Ella’s Italian sausage and potato cakes (raspberry basil balsamic glaze to the side).
.
You guys? They were more than merely edible. They were delicious.
 .
The pasta was light and fresh but filling. The sausage-potato cakes, the ones that Ella and Chef Patrick invented on the spot and then had to actually make doable? SO. FREAKIN’ GOOD. The potato and the sausage combined beautifully, the texture was just right, and the onions and basil added the perfect amount of flavor; even the raspberry sauce was fabulous, a sweet-ish (but not too sweet) complement to the saltiness of the cakes. We were in heaven; when Patrick joined us (we insisted that he eat with us because duh), he agreed, somewhat stunned, that their collaboration had turned out pretty damned well.
kiawah cooking16
Just a wee bit proud of herself… 
Oh! And you can see the raspberry sauce in the tureen, too.kiawah cooking17Thumbs up!
.
After dinner, Annie helped Chef Patrick assemble two super-easy pudding fruit tarts. They, like the main courses, were absolutely dee-lish.
kiawah cooking11
kiawah cooking12
kiawah cooking13
It got late, so she changed into her jammies…
 .
It’s a month later and still we can hardly believe it: our girls created recipes off the top of their heads (recipes that were inspired by Chopped-style baskets!) and then a world-class chef took their ideas and turned them into dinner. CHEF PATRICK MADE THEIR RECIPES! It’s like we sent an idea to JK Rowling and she wrote a story based on our thoughts! Holy crap, people!!
 .
Or, at Annie succinctly put it:
kiawah cooking7a
 .
They say that, if you’re aiming to cultivate happiness, focus on experiences and not things; you’ll soon grow tired of the latest gadget, but the memories you make while doing something incredible will provide you with lifelong joy. I can say, without a doubt, that the memories of our evening spent watching Patrick make magic (and dinner!) with our girls will continue bringing us happiness for – well, pretty much forever. How unbelievably fortunate we are, and how grateful we are to Chef Patrick (and my dad and Meg) for making it so!
 .
We have been Chopped… in the best possible way.
Advertisements

One thought on “We Have Been Chopped

What'cha thinkin'?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s