20 February, 2010
Recently open auditions were held in the 3rd Street Farmers Market Sur La Table store for a new upcoming Gordon Ramsay produced series called "Master Chef." Ex-pats are familiar with the original BBC program which has been on-air for years in the U.K., New Zealand and Australia. Needless to say, for any and all amateur chefs and foodies in and around the L.A. area, this casting call was a huge and exciting event, and brought every aspiring chef to the outlining Farmers Market sidewalk to stand in line for hours on a warm Sunday morning in January.
Oh yes, I was one of those aspiring and passionate foodie chef-wannabes who woke up early to cook a tasty unique dish for some strangers that I was going to have to impress in a matter of minutes. The alarm went off at 6:30 and I sprang out of bed and started preparing one of my favorite and very personal dishes: Pollo Guisado (pronounced 'poh-yoh ghee-saw-doh'). Growing up eating Mexican and Puerto Rican food on a regular basis thanks to my heritage, this dish is the epitome of simple homecooking. A staple in Puerto Rican and latin cooking, it's easy to make and has flavor for miles.
3-4 chicken legs
3-4 chicken thighs
4 cups chicken broth (appx. 2 1/2 cans of chicken broth)
4 medium potatoes, cut into 2-3 inch pieces
1/4 cup Spanish green olives
6 dry bay leaves
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. white pepper
2 Tb. olive oil
4 Tb. Sofrito (click to see recipe)
2 small cans tomato sauce
salt to taste
In a large stock pot, heat the chicken broth over medium heat, and add the chicken, potatoes and green olives to the simmering stock. Add bay leaves, cumin and white pepper. In a separate small pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add sofrito and stir continuously for 2-3 minutes, opening the flavors of the sofrito. Add the tomato sauce to the sofrito and continue to heat for another 3 minutes, blending the sofrito and tomato sauce. Remove the sofrito and tomato sauce from the heat, and pour the mixture into the stock pot of simmering chicken. Stir to make sure the tomato sauce has melded with the broth. Add salt to taste if needed. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 35-40 minutes.
The stewed chicken is traditionally served over white steamed rice.
This audition Sunday, my Pollo Guisado came out absolutely delicious. I packed up my little secret weapon dish, which I was sure would knock the socks off the judges. But unfortunately, I was wrong. What I didn't know was that because of the volume of people auditioning, the churn-n-burn process wasn't going to let me talk up the judges very much. Instead, after standing in line for over two hours, and finally getting my number 139 place called, my audition lasted a total of 3 1/2 minutes.
Using the training kitchen in Sur La Table, the producers quickly shuttled in five or six people at once as five or six previous auditioners finished and walked out. I was told to plate my dish and raise my hand as soon as I was ready to present, and one judge would taste and another would be a casting director who would meet and greet me. What I did not give enough thought to was the fact that, even though I had AIR TIGHTLY packed my hot chicken dish in a Coleman cooler and was confident the multiple layers of foil and towels would keep all of my hot food hot and bacteria-free, the judges may not feel the same way. After plating my neat little entree, I raised my hand and couldn't get any of the judges' attention for about a minute. I patiently waited, while the auditioner set up next to me was getting chatted up a storm. Looking like a bad Guy Fieri imitator, this unemployed tattooed Long Beach 'bro' had caught the judges' eyes. And I just stood there with my dish, waiting anxiously for someone to come and chat me up like Oprah. I cringed when I overheard them ask Mr. LBC what mirapoix is, which he did not know. I came close to leaning over and screaming like an excited first grader, "I KNOW! I KNOW!!" but I resisted.
After what felt like an eternity, one of the judges tepidly approached my station, and asked me how I cooked it. I began to explain the steps and ingredients, while the judge took a microscopic bite of food. I understood why, of course, the judges could only eat minuscule tastes, considering the line of possibly 800 people and plates of food throughout the day of auditions. After sharing my recipe, I knew I was going to have to really show my crazy personality, and I was ready... except that the judge who tasted my food merely thanked me and walked away. I waited for the second judge/casting director to come by, and I spotted a handsome Hollywood type who was walking towards my station. I quickly smiled and got ready to let my personality shine. The chiseled casting director smiled and asked, "Has someone tasted your food already?" I eagerly responded "Yep!" And just like that, he ended my audition with, "Okay great, thank you for coming!!" and walked off. Just like that, my one opportunity to be on an exciting cooking show and share my passion with Gordo and the world fleeted right past me.
A bit deflated, I packed up my dish and went home. It was on my way home that I realized that the judges were probably TERRIFIED of trying my chicken dish! They had no idea how much effort I put into keeping the dish hot. I could have been their worst nightmare: room-temperature and bacteria-laden chicken. Of course, I knew that my chicken was still hot and definitely safe to eat. But needless to say, next time I audition for a cooking show with a prepared dish, I won't be making chicken.
I will, however, be excited to see who ends up on the new show. And if Mr. LBC is one of the contestants, I can at least say I auditioned next to the Fieri-sham once.