I'm sorry to report that we didn't finish in the money at the National Beef Cook-off last week. We did have a good trip to Chicago, though. Here's a quick recap of our cookoff experience.
The official festivities began with a cocktail reception on Wednesday night. It was held on the (chilly) terrace of the Renaissance Hotel. Here's a picture of all of the cook-off participants. I have said it before but it continues to be true -- people who participate in cooking contests are some of the nicest people you'll meet. An unexpected benefit of my contest hobby is that in the past three years, I've made friends from all over the country.
Contest day started very early on Thursday. The Food Network wanted to get a shot of our category before the contest started, so we had to be camera ready at 6:15 a.m. Here we are with Teri and Catherine (middle) and Shannon and Tanner (right). I knew Teri and Catherine from a cookie contest in New York City last year; I knew Shannon from the 2004 Pillsbury Bake-off. By the way, I hate myself in a hat, but considering they are standard issue in most food service establishments, I'm surprised this was the first food competition in which I've been required to wear one.
Guy Fieri, who won "The Next Food Network Star" last year, was the host. He really was a great Guy (groan ... I know ... I couldn't resist). He was around throughout the competition, and was friendly and congenial, even at 6 a.m. Throughout the event, he was especially complimentary and encouraging toward the kids participating in the contest. He was a great speaker with a good sense of humor -- he definitely has two fans in B. & me.
This was the fourth contest in which I have cooked, but it was the most stressful. You have one shot at cooking your recipe, and it is strictly timed. We were scheduled to start at 7:40 a.m., and our recipe was to be turned in for judging at 8:25 a.m. -- not a minute earlier or later. Adding to the stress was a crew of more than 20 people from the Food Network filming for their "Challenge" series. We were given a card with a green side and a red side to indicate whether it was a good time for the media to talk to us. When a woman from the Food Network ignored my red card and started asking questions when we were pressed for time, I snapped at her. I am hoping that moment doesn't make it on the air.
B. kept his cool -- probably better than I did -- and did a great job with his part of the cooking. He mixed the bread mixture that went in the meat, mixed the meatball mixture with his hands, scooped out the meatballs, made the feta yogurt sauce, sliced olives, and helped plate up the sandwiches. Our subs turned out as good as we've ever made them. This photo (above) is of us in our cooking area after we were done cooking. Whew! You can see other people cooking and the Food Network lights in the background.
One thing that made the contest special, though, was that we had family on hand to cheer us on. My mom (center in the photo above) got up at 4 a.m. to come to the contest from Wisconsin. My dad (on the right) also got up early and took the day off from his dental practice in Waukegan.
After the recipes were judged, they were put out on display. Here's B. and me with our cattlewoman hostess, Lana, and our sub that was on display. We did check out all the dishes in our category, which was called Kids in the Kitchen. The dishes all looked good, and I couldn't begin to predict which ones would be winners. I thought ours was nice and colorful, but was concerned that our subs had the highest calorie content in a contest that was stressing healthfulness.
The winners were announced at a gala dinner. Here's a photo of our dining companions -- my mom, two cattlewomen hostesses, and Shannon, Riley and Danielle (twin girls). The twins and would go on to win the Kids in the Kitchen category with their lettuce wraps. Teri and Katherine were runners up for their skewers, which I plan to make soon.
The $50,000 "Best of Beef" winner was Christine Riccitelli, with her Nuevo Chipotle Beef in Butternut Squash Boats. We spent some time with Chris, because we often were introduced in alphabetical order, and she was a cool person to hang around with. I usually get lots of butternut squash in our Porter Farms CSA bag, so I'm going to have to try her recipe. I hope the recipe will get me to start liking butternut squash!
Here's a link to the winning recipe. Here's a link to the rest of the recipes. The contest published a very nice booklet with all the recipes. For a free copy, send a self-addressed, stamped #10 envelope to:
National Beef Cook-Off®
Prize Winning Recipes
P.O. Box 3881
Englewood, Colorado 80155
The "Challenge" program will probably air on the Food Network sometime next year.