Sunday, September 27, 2015

Our food rocks the palate

How do I keep getting talked into things that begin early on a Saturday, across town? (Because I'm a sucker? It's possible.) Yet once again I was glad I hauled myself out of bed at the crack of 7:30am yesterday to get myself to the WIC Get Fresh Festival, where I was competing on a team with my friend and fellow food educator, Vera, in a farmers' market cook-off.

(I see you looking at the computer screen, eyebrow raised. Fine, I didn't actually get myself to RFK Stadium until closer to 10am. But I did get up before 8. I just move more slowly on the weekends.)

As Ollie and I rolled up, my team was in the midst of shopping for our three dishes. I locked her up and we jumped right in. We had to come up with an appetizer, main dish, and dessert heavily sourced from the RFK Open Air Farmers' Market. We'd have 90 minutes to cook, then present our dishes to the 5 judges, a mix of local chefs and Dept of Health folks. Oh, and part of the challenge was that our only heat source was a grill. I love a challenge.

Laden with bowls and bags of fresh produce, we headed to our cooking station. First, we began chopping the ingredients for a spicy tomato and watermelon salad with jalapenos and fresh mint, inspired by my teammate Levita. Beautiful presentation, no?

The juice at the bottom, after we'd served the salad itself to judges and market shoppers, might have been my favorite part. (I think the spicy, minty watermelon juice would've been even better with a splash of tequila, but that was not entirely appropriate for a family-friendly, Department of Health-sponsored event, so I tucked away that little bit of knowledge for later.) Next, I joined the main course team, skewering our veggie and paneer kabobs. The Indian cheese chunks were marinated in a delectable marinade of yogurt, garlic, ginger, and garam masala, and the aromatic, grilled kabobs attracted eager tasters like nobody's business. Props to Niraj for the ingenious recipe.

I was actually fairly removed from our dessert offering -- a fresh fruit salad with yogurt and cinnamon -- though I did chop some market peaches for it at one point. To be honest, I was busy near the end, scarfing grilled paneer that had fallen off some of the skewers. (You know, quality control.) As 12:30 rolled around, we presented our offerings to the panel and waited...and waited... It turned out there was a tie between my team -- Our Food Rocks the Palate -- and a lovely group from a vegetarian catering company. The judges decided we'd have to answer a food trivia question to determine the winner of the competition. Apparently having two teams in first place was not an option.

The million dollar question was: In one minute, list as many foods as you can that came from the New World. (Turns out that what WE did not know previously was that the emcee was a food history buff. But what SHE did not know was that I teach a series of lessons on food origins to 5th graders. Heh.) We won.

In case you're wondering, no, there was no million dollar prize. In fact, the prize was a small box with plastic vegetables in it and a plaque mounted on the side proclaiming, "Get Fresh Festival -- Grill Chef Competition -- First Place," that will live at nearby J. O. Wilson High School, where a few of my teammates work. And a sense of pride, of course. Go team!!

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