I really had no idea what a big deal the day of the cook off was going to be. We had Sunny Anderson for 8 hours under contract, so the pace was both fast and slow at the same time. I got up at 7, showered, and then headed to the Green Room – I actually didn’t realize that Extended Stay had suites – it had it’s own separate living room, king size bed and of course, the kitchen, but it had way more counter space. Food was in abundance the whole day. While one of the competitors (Hi Megan!) had no problem eating, the other two didn’t eat hardly anything, they were so nervous.
Ariel was our hair and makeup guy. He was so funny. He was based out of Miami and when I told him I don’t usually wear makeup he said “girl, you need to change that – look at how pretty your eyes are with a bit of eyeliner and mascara!” Throughout the day right before a shoot he would rush in, touch me up and then run out of the room.
The girl in orange? That’s Megan. She’s from South Carolina and is so sweet. She has skin like porcelain. By day she’s a pediatric speech pathologist, but like most of us, she really doesn’t feel alive until she’s cooking in the kitchen. Her dish was the sweet potato salad. Sadly, none of us got to taste each other’s food, but I’ve never seen a sweet potato salad before. Sans the scallions, I would totally try it. Had she won the money, she would have bought granite countertops for her kitchen. I know she has a blog, and I thought I wrote it down, but I don’t seem to see it now, so I’ll link to it later. It was so nice meeting you Megan! Here is the link to Megan’s blog!
There were so many cameras, still photographers, sound guys, grips, marketing people – it was such a whirlwind. We each got to meet Sunny separately for a few minutes. I told her that a show she did on Cooking for Real changed my life – I’d always tried to take the back out of a chicken with a knife, and what I ended up with was a very slaughtered, uneven piece of chicken. Who knew you could cut it out with kitchen scissors?! We have been butterflying our chicken ever since, and I know longer bring raw chicken to the table.
Megan and I were the first to cook. We each had separate rooms. My room was filled with cameras, my microphone was checked. They explained that Sunny would come into my room and ask me a question about my dish and what tip I had about it. What? A tip about my dish? I didn’t prepare anything, but I looked down at my thick pork chop on the plate, and realized that I could talk about searing the fat on the pork. I said “while pork fat rules, raw pork fat does not.” To which Sunny high-fived me on the pork rules part!
She loved her phone – she was on Twitter and Instagram a lot. After the taped portion of my dish was filmed, everyone left and I was left to cook by myself. I thought maybe someone would be with me to make sure I used al the ingredients, but they just said “let us know when you are five minutes from plating and we’ll have the judges sit down. I actually cooked 7 pork chops – I wanted to be able to taste one while I was cooking for doneness – these were a perfect medium, a bit pink in the middle and super tender.
So three people take two dishes each to the judges room. I stood on my mark, and then the director said “you have up to 20 minutes to talk about your dish.” I said “do you mean 20 seconds?” and he said no, TWENTY minutes. Wow. How was I going to explain my dish for 20 minutes? But then I just started talking about Tony being at Mayo, and the fact that after a long day of doctors and tests, it was nice to come back “home” to the hotel and Tony could relax on a recliner and watch t.v. to rest like he does at home, and I can get Bizzy in my Kitchen and work out my stress through cooking.
After I cooked was when time seemed to stand still. Two other women had to cook and present to judges, so I just hung out in the green room and watched Ellen. Our view from the room:
Finally around 5:00 p.m., they asked us down to the judges room to find out who won. Sunny was standing in the middle, the judges to her right and the contestants to her left. She asked which camera she should look at and they told her Camera 1 – well Camera 2 was pointed directly at me and Lauren, so I knew one of us won. But in the end, Lauren took the prize. I understand why now though. While my dish was simple for someone who cooks a lot – her dish was more catered to an Extended Stay America guest – semi-homemade if you will. She only cooked the fish and relied on prepared grocery items to finish her dish. I learned a lot from her!
Here is Lauren’s winning recipe:
EXTENDED STAY AMERICA’S AWAR FROM HOME COOKING CONTEST
AND THE WINNER IS… BAJA FISH TACO TORTAS WITH SMOKY CILANTRO SLAW
CONTEST WINNER – LAUREN WYLER, TEXAS
You can check out the video compilation here – I thought it turned out pretty good. I was nervous a lot in front of the camera – nothing can prepare you for that! I am not going to lie – I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t win. They $5k and the trip to the Food & Wine Festival would have been amazeballs, but when I called Tony to tell him I didn’t win and he could hear how upset I was, he said “you already won by getting to go to NYC in the first place – now go have fun at the dinner tonight!” Thanks Tony!
Dinner? It was amazeballs. It was at The Marrow – the chef/owner is Harold Dieterle, who was on Top Chef. Obviously, with a name like The Marrow, bone marrow was going to be on the menu. I’ve made that for Tony at home, but skipped that and got the bibb salad instead.
Here is a better picture of the bone marrow – we were in a private room in the wine cellar in the basement. I told Tony I would keep him posted on my dinner by sending him pics, but there was no cell service down there.
Megan got that, and she said to me “I don’t think I got a good one because there is no meat on it, it’s just fat. I had to explain to her that marrow is just that – all fat!
Everything was delicious, and while I am not a dessert person at all, the ginger cake is the most amazing cake I’ve ever had in my life. I thought I would take one bite, but I managed to eat the whole thing – insulin worthy!!
The wine was pouring freely, the conversation was great and the food was awesome. Could not have ended the night on a more perfect note. On the way back to the hotel we drove through Times Square – again a sea of humanity!
And before I knew it, we were back at the hotel. I think I was in bed about 15 minutes after we got back – it was a long day. And I needed to rest up for our Food Truck tour the next day! That will be the final recap of my trip tomorrow. For lunch I am having my version of a chicken kathi roll, and I’ll post that recipe tomorrow.
My breakfast and lunch were exactly the same as yesterday. For dinner I had planned on making beef tostadas, but I needed to get gas and Tony wanted to pick up a cigar, so we went to do that when I got home. He said “do you feel like eating out?” WHAT?! We haven’t eaten out together since probably June, so of course I said yes. We went to our local Italian restaurant, got a beer and had some pizza. We met some very interesting people at the bar and ended up staying there until about 9:30. It was just so impromptu, and I love meeting new people. And pizza, duh. And I think Tony was just happy to talk to anyone else but me.
Blog reader Rhonda was jealous when I told her they had Pumpking beer on tap. I tried that and the chocolate pumpkin beer – both were a bit heavy for me, so I stuck with Boddingtons.
Thanks for following along in my journey to NYC. Only one more post about it, promise! I am off to cook my chicken for the kathi rolls – the chicken has been marinating in plain yogurt, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, sriracha, lemon juice, lemon zest and cumin. Fingers crossed it comes out like I imagine it in my head!
Make it a great day!