Gosh it's been nearly a week since I competed in the Best Home Chef competition and I am only now sitting down writing out the details of my experience. I basically hit the ground running when I returned home last Thursday and have only found a slither of time to write down what happened last Wednesday in the Best Home Chef cook off!
Let me start from the beginning in this whole adventure.. because an adventure it was for this little stay at home mum. This probably was a once in a lifetime experience and I am so glad that I was able to be a part of it. Over the past 9-10 months I had been submitting my recipes and photographs into the Best Home Chef website. Each recipe you entered was rated out of 5 by your fellow Best Home Chef members and commented upon. A few of my recipes went down quite well and some of my photographs were even used in the advertising for the Best Home Chef competition. Two weeks ago I was informed by email that I had made it into the Top 25 (I was pretty ecstatic) for the competition and had to wait for the final decision on the Top 5 which would be flown down to Sydney to participate in the cook off on the 19th of June. I waited patiently....checking my email everyday wondering if I was going to be in the Top 5. I finally received an email the week before the cook offs were scheduled for letting me know I had made it into the Top 5. I was pretty pumped to hear this news but then the hard bit come... trying to juggle what I would do with J.D and organising babysitters, my travel schedule, pack and continue to keep up with my freelance photography job that I am in the middle of. The days leading up to me flying out were pretty hectic to say the least.
The day before I was due to fly out I received the details of how the evening will be run, who will be judging and what to expect. I was sick to the stomach once I read the details. Gosh the judges were going to be fashion designer, Lisa Ho, Women's Day Food Director, Jennene Plummer and Recipes + Food Director, Amanda Lennon and there would be over 200 guests milling around watching us cook. I don't deal well with social situations on a good day and I was doing this A.L.O.N.E, hubby wasn't able to come with me as he had to stay home and look after bub. Bevan walked through the door that afternoon to a pale faced wife who had a serious headache and a BAD case of nerves. I could hardly stomach dinner that night and anything all the next day. I flew out of Toowoomba Wednesday morning. It was so incredibly hard to walk away from my little family that morning to go off to the "big smoke" by myself. This was the first time I would be spending a night away from my little boy and it was the hardest thing I have ever done. Mind you I kinda enjoyed the "me" time I was able to have without a crying baby holding onto my leg all the time.
All the contestants were kindly flown down to Sydney and put up in the Sebel Hotel in Surry Hills by Best Home Chef. We all met in the foyer at 4.45pm ready to take a taxi to the new Winnings Appliances Redfern showroom where the cook off was going to be held. It was great to meet the other contestants before hand and have a chat and get to know them a bit before the comp. Unfortunately the taxi that was booked for us never arrived so we ended up having to call one ourselves which made us half and hour late to start our prep for our recipes. Upon arriving to the showroom we were introduced to our mentor chefs who would be cooking beside us and cheering us on during the "cook off" period. I was paired with Anthony Fishbeck and he was the loveliest and most down to earth guy. He kept me focused and calm during the evening which is definitely what I needed!
To be honest most of the evening seems like a bit of a blur now that I think back on it but I had a ball. Anthony and I did a practice run of the Fig & Almond Frangipane Tart that I was going to be cooking on the night. This dish was picked out by the judges for me to cook so I didn't have any say in what I was going to be cooking for the night, which was kind of good because I would of had no idea what to do. We had a few problems with the ovens as it was unfamiliar to both of us and were not sure on the settings that the oven should be on. The practice tart had been cooking for over and hour and it still wasn't done.... it should only take 30 minutes. I was starting to get a little anxious... we only had a 40 minute time frame in the "cook off" and most of that time I would need to cook my tart - if the oven would do it in that time.
When the cook off began at 7pm we had already prepared the base of the tart and only had to prepare the filling and place it in the base and top with slice figs. We were prepped and ready to go when the time began and got the tart in the oven with enough time to cook. Halfway through the cooking time we noticed the tart had a LONG way to go before it was going to be ready. I was now in nearly meltdown mode... my worst nightmare flashed before my eyes - presenting a undercooked and goopy tart to the judges. Argh! Thankfully Anthony kept me calm and formulated a plan for presentation. We also schmoozed the judges while we waited the cook off to start, answered questions, chatted to guests and had fun while we waited.
The tart cooked in time but was not to the standard that I wanted - being the perfectionist that I am. We presented a slice with a dollop of creme fraiche to the judges along with the back up tart for presentation purposes. I was now able to breathe a bit of a sigh of relief as my bit was over... it was all in the hands of the judges.
We were all then gathered around the tasting table and stage to announce the winners. I knew I had done the best that I could but being the perfectionist that I am was not totally happy with what I had presented. It was out of my hands now. The runner up (second prize) was first to be announced... and we all looked up to the stage expectantly and in slow motion... my name was called out. My hand went to my mouth, and Anthony gave me a hug and pushed me towards the stage. My legs had become pillars of cement. I had just won second prize... with my nearly failed tart! I went up onto the stage and accepted my bottle of complimentary champagne and a handshake from CEO of Winnings Appliances and the judges. Massimo Mele asked if I wanted to say anything and I said no... I was too shocked to talk. (I feel a little bad about that now because there was a heap of people I should of thanked but I had social meltdown at the point! lol). While I was still computing that I had come second they announced the winner of the Best Home Chef competition... it was Stuart Talman with his gorgeous White Chocolate Parfait with Lemon Curd and Shortbread Crumb. Congrats to Stuart. He did a stellar job on his dessert and I wished I could of tasted it.
Once the proceedings of the evening were over it was endless photographs, interviews and more schmoozing with guests and fellow contestants. I was exhausted by the end of it... I hadn't had dinner, my mouth and throat were dry from talking but was on a bit of a high from coming second and maybe a little too much champagne on an empty stomach. I think I definitley got my 50,000 words out for the day talking to everyone. I take my hat off to all of the contestants for the wonderful dishes they put up on the night. I met some lovely people and made some new friends.
To top the night off we went out for a late dinner to Porteno's because we were all starving. I just so happend to glance up from the table in time to see Heston Blumenthal waltz past. We all jumped up from our seats are bombarded him with photographs. The poor guy was very gracious with our hijacking. Oh and the food at Porteno's was AMAZING! If you are ever in Sydney definitley make a booking to go there!
So that's my Best Home Chef experience! It was a fabulous two days I had away and am only really coming down from the "high" of coming second now! Thanks to everyone at the Best Home Chef office who put in all the hard work to make it happen. It was a wonderful night - one which I will remember for many years to come!