I’ve put off writing this post for a long time. Maybe because it was just such a big build-up to the event, or maybe it’s just because it was a harrowing experience and we weren’t ready yet. Or maybe it’s just because there is a lot of ground to cover, and the task seemed daunting. After staring at this item on my to do list for months, it’s got to go…
(This is part one. Part two will be posted soon, so stay tuned!)
The Cream Team was invited to compete in the World Food Championships in Las Vegas this past November, in the Recipe category (a total of three possible dishes) with an emphasis on cheese as the featured ingredient. Last year’s Mac and Cheeze Takedown win qualified The Cream Team, Brett Spangler, Paul Czarkowski, and me as the juggler/project manager/nagger, for the event.
I contacted a couple of previous winners to get the lowdown, but I’m not sure much could have prepared us for what it was going to be like at our first big out-of-state food competition. We weren’t even sure we were going to go, as we had heard it was nothing but a stunt for the DIY network (fodder for their TV channel). But when presented the chance… why not take it?!
I crafted a compelling IndieGogo campaign page to help us raise a little dough to offset some of the traveling and food costs. We estimated we would need at least $3k to cover most main competition-related expenses. Our family, friends and supporters did not disappoint—we raised $2,670! Now I owe our generous supporters their due gifts (eek), which I am dutifully working on.
We planned planned PLANNED, made tons of lists, got tshirts printed (thanks Brian!), had many taste test sessions with a group of our friends (who all contributed very valuable feedback to the process) and tweaked our three competition recipes to the utmost point of tweakage. Our offerings would be: ‘Craft’ Mac and Cheese (our version of a fancy Kraft dinner), ‘Chilly’ Con Queso ice cream (our Quesoff 2014 winning-dish) and ‘Tater-yaki’ (our take on Japanese takoyaki).
The goal was to make dishes that were interesting yet approachable, using the specified ingredients in a major and recognizable way for our audience of judges. Turns out, it’s a little difficult to understand your audience and the expectations of the dishes you present to the judges. More on that later…
We flew to Vegas with some select cooking equipment and specialty ingredients in tow, but had to purchase a lot while there. Paul and Brett ran around like crazy people for almost a whole day attempting to track down things like frozen green chiles, large mixing bowls and other small cooking equipment items and perishable foods. We stayed in a janky but pleasant little duplex in the shadow of the Stratosphere, so we were super close to the event space at the Fremont St. Experience, which was a very odd place: modern radio country music blared over the entire street area while patriotic videos meant to rouse our true American spirit (Paul is Australian) blasted across the street-long video screen above our heads. Casinos were selling liquor on the street and dazed tourists walked around sipping super fruity frozen drinks, wandering into glitzy casinos as they passed.
When we arrived at the competition space the morning of, we immediately started drinking. We were in VEGAS and it was GO TIME! Competitors with tshirts emblazoned with cutesy team names scurried around everywhere, some even sprinting to the judge’s table with their dishes, turning in just before their time was up. We got to our table and set up our station with our various containers of knives and ladles, chicharonnes, Hot Cheetos, mysterious science-y looking ingredients and cheese. Lots and lots of cheese.
I was the cleaner-up-er and the beer-ferryer during most of the cooking process: organizing, stirring, wiping up, finding ingredients, retrieving libations from casinos (two jumbo beers in hand, one gripped in my front teeth). The Cream Team must not go thirsty!
The first dish up was our ‘Craft’ Dinner Mac and Cheese, which, I have to honestly say, was the best mac and cheese they have made in all of their trials. The best mac and cheese I may have ever had, ever. Texas Hot Guts-style sausage was crumbled into creamy cheesy pasta shells and topped with chiffonade bacon, a chicharrones/Hot Cheeto dust and diced green onions. Paul and Brett plated it up, simply, in bowls on silver trays, and turned it in with plenty of time to spare. One dish down, one (or two if we SUPER-advanced) to go. High fives all around and more beer!
Now onto dish two: ‘Chilly’ Con Queso. There was a lot of mixing, and heating, and measuring of mysterious white powders. I must have been ferrying a lot of beer at this point, because I don’t remember much but stirring the milky mixture on the stove and the crazy smoke from the addition of dry ice to the mixer, turning that liquid gold into queso ice cream. We served the ‘Chilly’ Con Queso in a freeze-able shot glass, topped with a long red pepper and spiked with a thick fried corn tortilla strip. They looked delightful, everything went smoothly, the queso ice cream was on point and all we could do is clean up and hope for the best…
This story to be continued…