Sunday, November 11, 2012

What Happened at the Chopping Block

It's a little bit embarrassing. Your friends are excited, your family is excited, you are excited. There's a long build up to an event that feels important at the time.
And then comes the day, and you sort of fall short. I mean, there's always that chance you're not going to win a competition. But you don't want to think about that too much--you just want to savor that time of possibility. You get so emotionally involved in the preparation and the selection of flavours. You add things and you take things away, you try the dish out a hundred times on your friends and loved ones. Ahh--in the mind it all becomes too serious! Whether you want it to or not.
I admit to making a bee line to have a little taste of red wine at the Good Food and Wine Show in Brisbane on the weekend. The man behind the stall gave me an inch of something in my glass, and it was enough to shake off the nervous tension I was feeling.
Then I made another beeline towards The Chopping Block Stand, after watching Toby Puttock paring a chicken.
I had to remind myself to breathe and passed into the backroom to prepare for the Gourmet Garden's Cook Off that we had all so keenly anticipated. I was immediately met by a warm smile of Amanda from the very humorous foodie blog Cooker and a Looker. Amanda is a relatively new foodie blogger and has a great story to go along with her awesome blog name. I wont spoil her story by putting it in my own words, but here she tells it so well. And it's true by the way, she's both a cooker and a looker! The judges agreed, and called us "the glamorous ones". Aw shucks!
I shook her hand and met some other lovely ladies from Gourmet Garden's. Then when I was about to get stuck into peeling potatoes, Amanda offered me some she had peeled herself, as she had extras.
I have to mention here that Amanda is the first foodie blogger I have ever met. I was so pleasantly surprised--I have heard so many horrifying stories about blogging mums having wars with each other, competing, belittling each other, pushing each other down to bring themselves up. It was one reason I was a little hesitant to meet anyone who might feel the need to compete. We really were going to compete--and here she was, handing me peeled potatoes for my dish.

Getting ready to start, and working out how to use the appliances...(I'm third from the left, Amanda is fourth!)

And then it began, with celebrity chefs Skye Craig and Dominique Rizzo as judges. We had both brought our cheer squads, they sat in-front of us looking intently as we moved from chopping board to stove top and busily worked our way to completing our dishes. We only had 30 minutes from beginning to finish. I felt pretty relaxed, and I knew I could cruise, as most of the time I was simply waiting for my salmon to cook and the potatoes to boil. The judges kept buzzing about our faces with the mic and quizzing us, questioning temperatures and ingredient choices. The last few minutes were a panicked rush as I quickly tried to plate up the dish and lost my salmon steak, which slid from the egg flip onto the bench. I managed to save it and put it together just in time.
We stood back--the creations were plated.  

Amanda had cooked up a lovely crispy skinned Trout with green beans, herbed wedges and herbed butter on the side. I had put together a decorative bed of baby spinach, topped with half a red capsicum, stuffed with cheesy mashed potato--upon which sat a salmon steak drizzled with creamy mushroom sauce. 

The chefs took the two meals and sat away from the stage and discussed them while they picked away at our original creations.
When they came back to the Chopping Block Stand and they started talking about my dish first, I knew who the winner was. Ohh! I felt myself nodding, nodding as I listened to my dish get bumped.
There were some criticisms. In a nutshell I should have roasted my capsicum, and put more flavour into the dish. There were a few nice things said too, but Amanda's trout was not to be trumped. They had an excellent report for Amanda's dish--it certainly was packed with good wholesome flavours and so wonderfully herby. Every bite was an explosion to the taste buds (as I soon discovered when we sat down together an tasted each others dishes.) Amanda was the winner! I am really happy for her and she certainly deserved it. She will be heading off to the Sunshine Coast with the other lucky cook off winners in May for some Gourmet Garden fun.
Then we both got interviewed about how we felt about the outcome, and Amanda was so darling and all she talked about was my blog. Of course I commented on how delicious her meal was and we both showed off mutilated, picked-at meals to the camera. Such great presentation! (Does anyone else find pictures of half eaten meals sort of yucky?)
I was fine with not winning, I always knew that was probably going to be the outcome of the day. You get gut feelings sometimes just before something happens.
Then after a while, a huge rush of emotion came over me. It was overwhelming in a way, and strangely anti-climatic at the same time. It sort of happened when people started saying nice things to me I think, almost consoling. It confirmed that I should be feeling something I didn't want to. Then I cracked a little and got teary. I couldn't believe it was going this way, and I was so embarrassed but I couldn't help it. After all the build up to this day, there was a rush of relief, a little disappointment in myself and a whole swag of other weird feelings tossed in there--hungry, tired, embarrassed, relived, exhausted ad surprised at myself. I swear Amanda must have wished herself away at that instant. The photographer wanted more photos. I wanted to sink into the floor.
Anyway, I walked away with a range of lovely Gourmet Garden goodies and a great experience, and met my first foodie blogger ever, and a very gracious one at that. Unfortunately I didn't get any pictures with her or Dominique and Skye, as my camera battery had died half was through the cook off. My darling husband took some photos, all of me though (he had eyes only for me I'm guessing). I'm hoping to see some more up on the Gourmet Garden website soon (hopefully none of me with red eyes). And I'm looking forward to seeing pictures of what those bloggers get up to on the coast for the Gourmet Garden convention--keep me posted ladies and I will live vicariously through you all! Don't forget to pop over and have a look at the winner's blog Cooker and a Looker! Amanda has some great and very interesting recipes, including savoury macaroons!

We had fun on behind that bench.
I think I almost swallowed the mic at one head kept moving backwards and Rizzo kept moving it closer!
I like to think I was the runner up hehe

Amanda from Cooker and A Looker was kind enough to pass along her own photos of the day, which are much better. Thanks Amanda!


  1. Love your honesty and I know what you mean about the stress mixed with excitement. I cooked at the Sydney event and thankfully won my heat. I thought the final was in March but you say May? Could you send me a link to any details you have about it?

    Sorry that I am not going to meet you there but perhaps in some other bloggy forum.

    1. thanks Carolyn, and congratulations! yes the Gourmet Gardens lady was telling us they are shifting the date into May because now it has become international, and they want the international winners to be able to attend too. It hasnt been made official, and they will be sending out info about it too you soon no doubt. I'm pretty sure all the cook offs have been completed now! have fun on the sunshine coast! yes we may get to meet at some other bloggers convention yet...keeping my eyes peeled for opportunities:)

  2. Hi Louise. I'm so sorry you didn't have the opportunity to go through to Noosa. I know what you mean about the feelings. Last Wednesday I felt like I had a bit of a 'breakdown' thinking about the whole thing and then I just said "you know what?" its out of my hands. I've never had nor ever will have an opportunity like this so just go for it and enjoy it. I remember how Dominique was putting the mic in my face too. I kept throwing my head back. I guess I kept my recipe relatively simple anticipating that we'd be interviewed a lot. I hope we do get to meet up some time in the future. I'm in the Redlands and always up for a coffee or a meal somewhere out in this great town of ours. All the best Louise. I'll look forward to following you on your blog to see what you're cooking.

    Anne xx

    1. Hi Anne! Congratulations to you on also winning the cook off the day before. You must be so thrilled at the opportunity. I'm just grateful I made it as far as the good food and wine show. Its a bit of a nerve racking affair though, isnt it? Well enjoy your time on the lovely sunshine coast! looking forward to hearing how it all goes up there! xo

  3. Love your wrap-up from Saturday, Louise. I'd totally forgotten about the potatoes.

    Maybe we can plan a catch up after May? We could share any ideas etc. we learn while we're away.

    Amanda xx

    1. That would be so lovely Amanda! I'd love to hear about your blog and how you run it, and also what you bring back from your time with other foodie bloggers! ps. Thanks again for the potatoes!

  4. OK, just had to comment. I bet your dish was great, but I know how you feel. I once went to a Cooking Light cook-off and my dish was a simple salad. I knew I wouldn't win with such a simple dish and it really took the edge off. (I didn't win of course. :) ) But, the other contestants were great. Most of the judges were gracious too. It was fun and thanks for sharing your experience.

    1. thanks for your kind words Debra! Nice to know there are others like me out there hehe The judges were very gracious--I think that's almost what made me crack. And Amanda, the victorious, was ever so kind too...


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