Happy New Year! I hope everyone’s 2011 has gotten off to a good start.
Before I write about what happened in the episode, let me write about what didn’t: I never said that the chefs were cooking against me in the Quickfire Challenge. No, I was just the pacesetter … which was a lot of fun, and gave me a fresh appreciation for our chefs.
The backstory? The challenge was sprung on me two days before we shot it –- the producers approached me and asked whether I’d be game to do it, which, of course, I was. I did a walk-through in advance to familiarize myself with the kitchen. Our chefs know where the pots and pans and oil and vinegar are, but I’ve never needed to take note of any of that, so I did the walk-through to get the lay of the land … and that was pretty much it. I showed up for the Quickfire Challenge and we shot it in real time. Of course, they had to edit it down to fit the show’s format, which means that some funny moments didn’t make it into the episode. What had happened with the tub that fell off the table while I was cooking is as follows: In my haste to open the bottle of olive oil, it flipped over, coating everything with oil, which got under the tub and caused it to slide off the table with a clatter. Meanwhile, I’d run to the pantry area for another bottle of olive oil, which I was attempting to open with my teeth, so I wound up holding the bottle in my teeth while running back to the table. I’m sure it was a sight to see. The whole time I was cooking, I was thinking of the producers’ admonishments to me that I absolutely HAD to bring in the dish at under 10 minutes! I wanted to use elements that would cook quickly, and I also focused on not making more than I absolutely needed to make. I needed two dishes: one for the judges and one for the cameras, so I knew I could get by with only six clams. I grabbed them as soon as I saw them, because I knew I could shuck them as quickly as anyone, and they’d add a lot of flavor. Zucchini cooks quickly, and I cut only as much as I’d need. Tomatoes didn’t even really need to cook, and, again, lend a lot of bright flavor. Herbs and olive oil were all I’d need to add. I brought everything to the stove with me so that I wouldn’t lose time moving back and forth. I only cooked the fish on one side, then flipped it and brought it in the pan to the table, knowing that the pan would still be hot enough to cook the fish on the other side in transit … and I brought the dish in at eight minutes and thirty seven seconds! It was important to me that the chefs tasted the dish when I was through. Since they are ultimately judged on the quality of the dish they prepare, I wanted them to know I hadn’t merely gone through the motions of cooking, but had actually cooked a really tasty dish in that time frame.