We were up until 1 a.m. cooking our sauce, prepping our veggies, and making to-do lists over and over, trying our best to not forget anything. Making a pizza outside of your own kitchen is a daunting task. If you forget something, it’s not so easy to find it (which we realized during the competition, unfortunately).
We were informed that our presentation time was 11:55 a.m., and that if we were even one second late, we would be disqualified. We created our schedule accordingly, waking up very early on Wednesday morning.
Jake went downstairs to the courtyard and turned on the grill. I wanted it as hot as it would get to sear our rib eye steaks, and knew that the longer it pre-heated, the better.
He came back upstairs, I made breakfast (my favorite banana pancakes, bacon, and over-medium eggs), and then left him in the kitchen to pack our cooler while I went downstairs to grill the steaks.
As I entered the courtyard, I immediately noticed someone near our grill. He had a spray bottle of liquid and a cone sitting nearby, warning that he was “CLEANING”.
I approached him with my platter of 3-inch thick steaks and asked if he turned off the grill. He responded angrily.
“You no leave the grill on an’ no be here! Kid get hurt, it my fault. You no leave grill on and no be here!”
Of course, we were the only souls up at that hour in Las Vegas. Kids don’t even exist that early in the morning in Vegas.
I set my steaks down and bent over to turn the grill back on, knowing it would take another 15 minutes (that I didn’t have) to get hot enough to cook. He continued to shake his finger and yell at me, saying he was cleaning and I’d have to wait.
“Do you know who I am?” I responded.
“I am Kina, and I’m here for an international cooking competition, and if I am late, there is going to be hell to pay. We’re talking Food Network, dude. Like, on TV and sh*t.”
I felt like the Hulk: Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.
His eyes widened, and he looked at the steaks, realizing that only a psycho or a celebrity would be grilling massive steaks that early in the morning.
He shut up and watched me cook. I watched the clock, and wanted to cry.
We loaded up the car and got to the Expo much later than we had anticipated because of the grill-cleaning-debacle. Parking is awful at the Convention Center, and by the time you walk to the Expo Center and get to the competition area, you’ve clocked a good mile with your enormous cooler while wearing a chef’s coat in 75-degree weather. It’s not easy.
The other competitors were already busy tossing their dough, saucing and topping their pies. It was oddly quiet, except for the loudspeaker announcements of demonstrations about to occur.
(there were some not-so-nice competitors, too)
We got to work.
First and foremost, one of the biggest flaws that I realized from the year prior needed to be addressed. The ovens that are available for everyone to use are brand spanking new, and therefore, have unseasoned decks to cook upon.
We normally cook a pizza at 650-degrees. These were community ovens, and the constant opening and closing of the doors during the competition bodes well for a cold oven. We brought a laser temp gun with us, and immediately went over to the ovens area. We waited until someone else opened the oven and then would quickly zap the deck in a few places to figure out the hot spots. We settled on the oven shown above; it had the most consistent 600-ish temperature, and many of the other competitors were using the other deck or wood fired ovens (and this one pictured above is not a common oven in restaurants, so we wouldn’t have to arm-wrestle for position).
Jake unpacked our cooler and began tossing out his dough. I set up our assembly line and allowed him to make the pizza, with me only there to back him up. I didn’t take any photos during this (because I was severely concentrating on his work), but here’s a few of him on the ovens.
Note the peel that Jake is holding above. It’s the one that we had to purchase because the day before, we were told that all of the peels and paddles had been stolen. We kept having other competitors try to take it from us, thinking that it was community property. I finally took a Sharpie to it and wrote our name on it, certain it was going to disappear. We were glad to share, but if it came down to “I need to spin this pie and check the bake and you have my peel” I was going to throw down.
Jake was so cool. So calm. I stayed on the sidelines watching as he loaned out our peel and chatted with the people sharing our oven. He even went so far as to use our laser gun to check the temps on the decks for other competitors, helping them to make a better pie. The big city folk weren’t having any of that (suspicious about his intentions), but the competitors from smaller towns were very thankful.
Jake and I had decided to par-bake our pizzas, then finish them off five minutes before we were to present them to the judges. We pulled them out of the oven and went back to our station two half-finished and not completely topped pies in front of us. One of the officials came by and eyeballed our offering:
~ Marinated rib eye steak, asparagus, yellow grape tomatoes, whole milk mozzarella with our homemade bloody mary-nara and a celery salt and pepper crust ~
“Flashing it before presentation?” he asked.
“Smart,” he replied. This was a guy that has won many, many awards at this competition, so it felt good to have him give us props.
We watched the clock, then we watched other chefs scrambling for time, racing to the ovens, frantically wiping down their station before running to the judges’ tent (if your station was dirty, you were disqualified). We were as cool as ice. For being late to the party, it was entertaining to watch the drunks while we were just mildly buzzed on adrenaline.
Jake announced “It’s Time” and we both walked over to empty ovens. The bake was good, the pie was bubbling, and we quickly pulled them, topped them with our fresh toppings and then walked to the judges’ tent.
~ Cold diced celery, grape tomatoes, green olives and freshly shaved horseradish root with celery leaves as garnish were put on top. That horseradish root is AWESOME! ~
The judges are out of view behind a curtain, where officials would take in your “presentation pie” before the officials would bring a fully cut pie for them to sample.
We were right on time.
And then we were done.
Afterward, the presentation pie is then cut and taken to a table where spectators and fellow chefs can sample your creation. A few other competitor’s pies were still sitting on the table.
Ours was set down by an official, and devoured in less than 30-seconds. Gone. Kaput. We didn’t even get to sample it when we got to the table. Now all we could do was wait.
We walked the show floor and decided to go to a class on “The Art of Making Mozzarella”. It was incredibly interesting, but honestly, all we could think about was the competition.
Jake and I both were very impressed, and he’s since been bugging me to get some curd to play with.
After the class, we simultaneously realized that we were starving. STARVING! With acres of pizza scent wafting through the air, we did what any starving person would do.
We left and got these for lunch:
Jake had never had an original In n’ Out burger. He was not disappointed. It was probably a good thing that In n’ Out doesn’t serve martinis, because I was in need of a vodka IV drip. The suspense and build-up of the day was killing me.
To be continued…..