A month ago, I had the distinct pleasure of being a “Chef Coach” at August Martin High School in Queens, NY with the Stay Hungry Competition created by, Dream Director, Syreeta Gates via The Future Project.
This competition was particularly interesting to me because it took two things I absolutely LOVE and combined them…FOOD and HIP HOP!
There were a total of 6 teams from different high schools around the city led by Chefs of varying backgrounds (myself included). Each team was given a Hip Hop lyric that mentioned food and we were tasked to create a dish reflecting said lyrics. I was hype, nervous and ready for this!!! When I got there, I met and corralled with the other competing chefs. Most of them had come with a plan of attack and pre-meditated recipes etc. I must admit I felt slightly behind the 8 ball because of my ‘nonchalant’ approach to the competition.
My Game Plan:
1.Get there! August Martin is maaaaad far from my house via public transportation!
2. Go with/cook/create what I feel once there.
The other chef’s however, had their game faces on and were ready for war like we were taping an episode of Iron Chef!
The excitement and anticipation was building! We took a look at all the ingredients available to us. I go over my lyrics.
“When you used to filet mignon, it’s kinda’ hard to go back to hamburger helper”- Jay Z, Party Life
I finally start getting serious, assessing my ingredients, thinking of a concrete recipe and game plan. The school had provided actual boxes of Hamburger Helper. As a REAL Chef, I couldn’t go out like that and cook from a box! Fortunately, we had all the ingredients needed to make it from scratch. Hooray! Now I’m ready! I look around and all the other chefs are starting to get with there teams and plan…and plot. I’m looking around and my team hasn’t arrived yet. Nervous, but playing it cool, I wait…and I wait some more..then a bit more and finally…MY TEAM NEVER ARRIVED!!! Damnit!
Syreeta then assured me that I would have a team! Yay! I was brought 4 August Martin students who were NOT culinary students. Oh snap…but whatever, I had a team! Woot! I quickly hip them to what’s about to happen. I ask a few questions like “Have you EVER prepared food?”. I got what I needed, assigned task and the competition began!
The kitchen was frantic! Students and chefs running around, chopping, cooking etc. I stayed as calm as possible and delegated tasks to my team. One chopping veg, one boiling pasta (shells to be exact), one cutting beef filet and one on meat sauce duty. I have to give it to these teenagers, they were taking better directions than many line cooks that have worked under me in restaurants! Everything is going swimmingly! We’re cooking and tasting and flavor wise I felt like we had a WINNER!
Time to plate….
We had small, Styrofoam plates with flimsy ingredients. We did the best we could to plate and garnish our finished dish of:
Homemade Bacon Cheeseburger “Hamburger Helper” and Filet Mignon basted in butter, garlic and thyme, garnished with Parmesan, Scallions and Cherry Tomatoes! Yum!
We had some pretty stiff competition but my team and I felt confident in our dish!
Fast forward to the announcing of the winners. I knew we had it in the bag!
3rd Place goes to….NOT US! Great we did better than 3rd place, I thought!
2nd Place goes to….NOT US! Word!? We’ve won first place…I thought!
1st Place goes to…NOT US! WTF? But, I kept my happy face on and high fived my team for a job very well done anyway!
I was a bit miffed by our loss. I reached out to Syreeta a few days later thanking her for having me as a coach for the first Stay Hungry Competition. Her reply was peculiar…It was like “No thank you for coming ans congrats on your win”. My win? As in “winners at heart”? No….she meant win as in my team really WON the cooking competition!!!!! Yes! I was so happy…especially for my team! Due to some politics and technicalities we couldn’t win that day mainly because of the conflict of interest (my team was from the host school and were not culinary students).
On this past Sunday, we enjoyed our prize together, dinner at Ainsworth Park Restaurant in Manhattan. It was great to celebrate and see my team of very talented kids again. We ate delicious, gourmet burgers and they even ventured to try RAW Oysters for the first time!
At the end of our meal, we got a chance to tour the kitchen where Chef “G” explained to the students how a restaurant kitchen operates daily.
It was awesome! I’m looking forward to next years competition! Congrats to all the other chefs….but if I may say, respectfully WE WON!! WE WON!! WE WON!!!!
Stay Hungry ya’ll!