My heart was beating so fast I was sure the crowd could hear it through the microphone, which was handed to me just a second ago after the host announced my name. After a never-ending second of terror, I began to speak…
The day was November 22, 2010. An ordinary Monday that started out as bland as it can be which included a long day at work.
However, instead of driving home at the end of the day, I braved the traffic instead to Tiato to cook for over 100 people and to be on Fox News. How did I find myself in this situation?
2 weeks ago, I entered a cooking competition on a nondescript Sunday. The An family had created the Noodle-Off to celebrate the prodigious Crustacean's 30th anniversary and the opening of their newest venture, Tiato and I got the heads up through a friend.
Using the flavors of my childhood, specifically a beloved dish by my grandma, I overhauled the ubiquitous Italian Bolognese to create my own version. Gone were the tomato base and in its place, sour plum and dried tangerine peel worked their magic. Pancetta was out, replaced by Chinese Yunnan ham. I'll stop now before divulging all my secrets ;)
A couple of days later, I got the fateful phone call from the organizers and here I was, introducing myself and explaining my inspiration for the Asian Bolognese in front of a panel of judges, which included a better part of the famous An family (including the creator of the trademarked garlic noodles!), industry professionals and a full house. Oh yeah, Jane Yamamoto was there with her crew too.
Although I am deathly afraid of public speaking—definitely lost a lot of sleep over anticipating that portion of the evening and have the under eye circles to prove it, it was an amazing experience that taught me much about competing and how to present oneself. Here's a list of Do's and Don'ts:
1. Do not wear black when appearing on TV. See example.
2. Separate yourself from your competition using your strengths. In my case, I took advantage of my design background to amp up my table.
3. If you have a difficult name, use a prop to help others remember you. In my case, I used a cup of tea, which doubled up as my beverage of the night. Double win.
4. Cook more than you need to for less trips to the kitchen. I was able to win over more attendees by serving still while other competitors were running back and forth because they ran out of food.
5. Leave behind works! I made little flags to hand out to everyone (even and especially the judges) so they will remember my dish. Muahaahah.
6. Keep your answers short and sweet. Newscasters are under strict time restraints and will not hesitate to cut you off.
7. Taste, taste and taste your food! Chef Helena told me afterwards that the reason she docked off points was because I overdid it with the sesame oil. DANG.
7. Stop stressing and just have fun!
Ultimately, the veteran competitor won. A retired administrator, she now competes full-time and have been cleaning house at various cooking competitions, including the Panini-Off early this year.
But. I didn't go home empty handed! Yours truly won People's Choice, which was a $200 gift certificate to Crustacean—no too shabby eh?
Photos courtesy of my friends and boss. Thank you for documenting the event as it went by in a blur for me!