A few weeks ago Phil got roped into a cooking competition among food bloggers to be held, on stage, at Taste of Edmonton.
And then he, promptly, forgot all about it.
It wasn’t until weeks later when he heard that his fellow competitors were testing recipes and having tasting sessions with other food lovers to pin down a winning dish that he started to worry.
Unfortunately, worry does not equal a solid plan.
He decided to keep his dish simple – the concept for the dish was a food truck entrée, so he wanted to go with a classic food truck staple:
Phil has become quite invested in grinding his own meat, and he’s pretty good at it, so he wanted to include that new love in his entry. We had also had the most creative egg dish when we were in NYC and Phil wanted to incorporate that idea into his burger as well – how could he lose with a deep-fried, poached egg on top of a home-ground burger?
He tried making the egg once, and it came out ok, if a bit overcooked.
And then, instead of trying again, he forgot all about it.
When he got a call from an event organizer asking for his planned recipe, he started to panic…
Recipe? He didn’t even know what he was making yet, nevermind have an actual recipe for anything!
So he started plan. For real.
No burgers – they were too simple. No eggs – they were too complicated.
So what, then?
He wanted to stick with the idea of his own ground meat, so he moved onto meatballs.
Meatballs and homemade potato chips!
With a gorgonzola cream sauce!
And gorgonzola in the meatball!
So he started cooking, and he brought a prototype to some friends whose tastes and knowledge of food we trust implicitly. The meatball was AMAZING, they said, but the gorgonzola cream sauce was to much of the same flavour.
Which made me sad, because I LOVED the gorgonzola cream sauce.
So he tried different sauces for the potato chips – maple, mint, basil, tomato – but nothing came even close to the yumminess of the gorgonzola, so I tried to convince him to keep the sauce and change the meatball.
To humour me, he got different cheeses to incorporate into the meat – parmesan, jalapeño jack, peppercorn gouda, cheddar – but, again, it just wasn’t the same.
Frustrated, he just wanted to forget about the whole thing (again), but the constant pressure from the competition wouldn’t allow him to slack.
After trying to work through the logistics of frying potato chips and making a sauce and cooking the meatballs all on 2 butane burners, Phil turfed the potato chips altogether.
Luckily he makes spectacular mashed potatoes, so he planned on subbing those in for the starch.
And that’s when the plan really started to take shape.
Don’t call them meatballs, I suggested, mashed potatoes brings up memories of family dinners…so let’s call them “mini-meatloaves” instead!
“Not your Mama’s meatloaf and mashed potatoes”.
Phil wanted to present something that everyone knows, but with an entirely new spin on it…his mash mixed regular potatoes with yams, and were silky with enough butter and cream cheese to deplete an entire dairy farm. The meatloaf was (home-ground) beef mixed with (home-ground) pork and seasoned with his personal blend of Italian seasoning, a (HUGE) handful of gorgonzola and wrapped in bacon.
But without the chips, there was no crunchy element…and the whole thing looked really blah.
In effort to solve both those problems, I started deep-frying every thing in our refrigerator – red onions, peas*, green beans, carrots, beets – but nothing really worked; they didn’t really get very crispy and frying sucked out all the vibrancy.
I thought that dusting onions in flour would help with the crunch, and it did…but it also just added another bland colour to the already monotone palette he had going on.
This was confirmed by another volunteer taster whose food cred we trusted – tastes good, looks bad.
There were a bunch of other things that we considered adding, just to give it a pop of colour – chives, arugula, red cabbage – but we just couldn’t think of anything that wouldn’t negatively impact the flavour we had already honed.
The night before the competition, we were wandering through Safeway picking up some last minute ingredients when Phil stopped, looked at me across the produce section and shouted, “PEA SHOOTS!”
That was it, the final piece of the puzzle fell right into place; you can’t have a family dinner without peas, and the non-traditional aspect of the veg fit perfectly with the rest of his concept.
We, then, spent 5 hours in the kitchen perfecting the cooking of the meatballs, and nailing down the precise timing of each element (he had 45 minutes to cook/plate), and at 1am, the day of the competition, we fell into bed.
There are other accounts of the competition that you can read (here, here,and here, or watch the video here), and the recipes will be posted in the Edmonton Journal on Wednesday, so I’ll leave it up to pictures of the event to show you how it all went down:
As an added bonus, the judging chefs were so impressed with each of the 3 dishes presented that they will be featuring one in each of their restaurants!
*did you know that peas explode when deep-fried? I do…now