A Saturday At MasterChef Audition

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I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food. ― W.C. Fields

GETTING THERE

I woke up on the day of the audition feeling like crap. I didn’t sleep well, I was stressed about the audition, and I felt like not going. I tried to justify it in my head. I wasn’t very good anyways, and what was the point of getting up early to go. But of course, all of that justification just made me feel worse. I decided I was already awake at 0330am on a Saturday, I already had an invitation, and I already had a dish in mind. Why not go, and get it over with? With that positive attitude, I got out of bed, made the kebabs that I was taking to the competition, packed my stuff, wore a bright pink dress to enhance my mood, and drove downtown.

The Gardiner was, of course, closed for a triathlon, so after a few wrong turns, I finally made it down to Intercontinental hotel downtown on Front street. I parked for 10 CAD for the day until 4pm, and walked with my heavy cooler over to the hotel. I wondered if there would be anyone else there.

LINING UP

Imagine my surprise, when I get to the hotel and there is a long, long lineup that wraps around the hotel into the parking lot. I notice others in the lineup with their coolers, and I follow the lineup around to the end. I stand next to a man who has a goatee much like the evil guy in Aladdin. He pulls out a picture of himself and points to it, saying, ‘This is the next MasterChef Canada.’ That broke the ice and we started chatting.

Finally, the line started moving. Weirdly enough, I didn’t realize but I was in the VIP list, which meant that I would be one of the first ones to get tested. That was cool. The MasterChef people made us stand around in front of the hotel to take some video of all of us making a lot of noise. There were family and friends in the crowds as well, which made the crowd look bigger than it was. There were only 200 people who actually came for the audition, which really surprised me. Maybe the World cup finals had a bigger effect on the auditions than I expected.

VIP LIST

As I was on the VIP list, I was called in with the rest of the 49 VIPs. We shuffled in, signed in, got our pictures taken and then entered the waiting room. It was much like the waiting room for a dentist – it had the same undercurrent of fear running through the people in there. We sat down on tables, introduced ourselves to each other, and then tried to distract ourselves from what was coming. I started speaking to a lady from Ottawa who had made little wonton wrappers with chicken and micro-greens. As soon as we started getting deep into our food conversation, we were told to get ready.

Everyone I spoke to was extremely nervous. This lady kept on saying, ‘I am shaking in my boots.’ Another guy was so nervous, he kept on saying he was going to throw-up. I kept on asking people about their dishes, and they would all look up at me with suspicion. It was funny to me, as I wasn’t actually about to steal their recipe now that we were already here. But it showed me how serious everyone really was, and how desperately they all wanted to win. I could hear it in their voices, in their tone, and read it in their body language. I felt a bit like an impostor amidst all of these enthusiastic, hard-working individuals.

While I had been sleeping from midnight to 5 am, some people told me they had been up all night practicing plating their dishes over and over again. In addition, some of them had spent months figuring out what they were going to cook. Most of them had a story that they had built up behind their dish – a story with their life and passions mashed into the spices and flavours.

I sat there, surrounded by all of this passion for food and I felt lucky to be in that room. As soon as I got comfortable, a MasterChef organizer told all of us in the room to pick up all of our stuff and go into the plating/judging room.

AT THE PLATING

There were tables laid out with table cloths. The numbers A1-A50 were written out at regular intervals on the table. We went over to our numbers (A15 was mine), and put down our stuff. We were told we have five minutes to take out all of our dishes, utensils, cutlery and whatever else we want. We could remove the covers of the dishes, but we weren’t allowed to mix our dishes or plate anything yet. We did so. There was again a pin-drop silence in the room as we readied ourselves for the moment. After that, the lady at the front did a 3-minute countdown and we frantically plated our dishes.

As soon as I looked around after the plating (kebabs, mango chutney on a plate of greens was mine), I knew I had nothing compared to them. The guy next to me (blog Zero to Gourmet) had a Rubik’s Cube of watermelon, cucumber, and feta cheese. That completely blew me over. He also had a spoon made out of pita. Another woman had made bacon-covered macaroni and cheese. Another contestant had marinated the steak that he bought to the event in Guinness for a period of days. There were a lot of beautiful plates and crystal in the room. A lot of the contestants had bought out wine bottles, wine glasses, and beer with their dish, enhancing the creativity of the plating. Everyone had obviously bought their A-game to the contest.

JUDGING AND TASTING

We plated our dishes, and marvelled at everyone else’s dish. There were some people around me who were still ‘shaking in their boots’. I could see that there was a undercurrent of tension in the room, underneath the food and the nervous laughter.

As we stood there with our dishes, we first had Claudio Aprile, one of the judges, come around to chat with us as well, not tasting anything, just picking up the dishes, smelling them, and giving valuable advice (mine was to learn how to make pastries, as that was a basic skill to have as a chef).

Being bowled over by Claudio, we were inundated next by the judges and the tasters. The judge came around to look at the creativity behind the plating and ask us a few questions about our inspiration, and our experience with cooking. Our judge was really nice about it – smiling and putting us at ease. She asked questions, took notes, and then wrote down something on our scorecard (a yellow piece of paper with our information on it). The taster came after that – he did almost the same. He asked us questions about our dish, what was in it, what spices we used, what was our inspiration, and how did we cook it. He took a tiny little bit out of the beautifully plated dishes, making all of us wonder if he even got a taste of all the hard work that went into each dish. He then put down some notes on the score card, and went off.

The judges and tasters went at a snail’s pace through the whole room, with 50 contestants in there.

When they were done with the whole room, they grabbed the score cards from our tables, and went off to figure out which people were moving forward to the next level. We were told to mingle and taste each other’s foods at this point, which I was more than happy to do. I went around to the whole room, taking pictures, talking to people about their dish, taking little bites of the foods, and generally having a jolly old time.

JUDGEMENT DAY

A few minutes of that, and we were asked to step back into our spots. They called out the names of the people who were going on to the next round. I wasn’t one of them, but I have to say this was one of the memorable experiences of my life. I had a lot of fun, hanging out with other people who love food as much as I do. I also loved trying out different foods cooked to perfection by other amateur cooks. I walked out of the hotel, happy that I came to the audition. I had given out my cards to everyone I spoke to, so I hoped to keep in touch with fellow cooks through the year.

I believe I am going to try again next year, as I had fun this year. I also know more about what the judges are looking for, so I feel like I would like to try again to see where I can get.

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Changes To The Blog – Quick Note

Boom Shikha

That’s me!

This is a note for all of my lovely readers.

From now on, I am going to reduce the number of posts from daily to about once a week. I wanted to send out this post to everyone who reads my blog, in case you start wondering why I am not posting every day.

I would like to spend more time on each post honing it and creating something akin to a work of art (as much as I can hope to). Because I have been posting everyday, I feel like I haven’t been really posting quality thoughts.

Posting everyday worked when I was on the road, but now I would like to improve my talents as a writer, and as a blogger. I am hoping that you will stick with me on this new journey of writing, learning, and self-improvement. Please let me know what you think of my posts by commenting on them, or sending me a private message on brownvagabonder at gmail dot com.

Thank you for sticking with me through the years, and I hope there are many more years of writing to come.

 

Pick A Direction And Keep Walking

Standing inside the church to protect from being drenched in the rain

Standing inside the church to protect from being drenched in the rain, Panama City.

If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading. – Lao Tzu

The common cause of failure in my life is the lack of direction. It isn’t that I am not doing. I am not lazing around at home, and doing nothing. I am doing things. The problem is that I’m doing too many different things, not sticking to one thing for a long enough time to see results, changing directions often, and then wondering why I am not a success. I keep on changing the game plan, as ERE says in this article here.

I am not consistently moving in one direction for a long period of time. That is something I have found to be the reason for my lack of success, despite the fact that I’m moving as fast as I can. I move from thing to thing. I decide one day that this one thing will be the thing that I will focus on – the thing that will cause me to gain financial freedom. The next day, I decide it will be something else. I moved from working at CBSA as a government employee, to getting my MBA, to working in Marketing, to travelling, to working in Marketing again. Continue reading

I Threw Out 6 Garbage Bags Of Clothes

Clothing swap loot from Uber Swap, Toronto.

Clothing swap loot from Uber Swap, Toronto.

I always tell people that I have a lot of stuff – it isn’t only because I have a closet full of clothes, shoes, and other items. But because I am able to dip into my mother’s and sister’s closets as well. I am able to walk into their rooms, and grab whatever my heart desires, wear it for the day, wash it and put it back in their closets.

When I came back from the Big Trip, I decided to do a purge of all the clothes that I have in my closet. One weekend in early June, my sister and I put aside a few hours to go through all of our closets, and through the boxes of clothes, shoes and purses in our basement. We accumulated three garbage bags of clothes from our stash. We donated the bags to a nearby donation box, and felt good about the purge. Continue reading

Excited About Buying Things Again

Starbucks at King and Yonge Street, Toronto

Starbucks at King and Yonge Street, Toronto

Credit buying is much like being drunk. The buzz happens immediately and gives you a lift… The hangover comes the day after. – Joyce Brothers

When I was about twelve years old, we were living in Dubai at the time. There was this fancy (according to me) store that we used to go into. It was a British department store. I don’t actually remember the name of it. But I distinctly remember one outing to this department store. I remember that this store was too expensive for us to shop at, but it had an add-on bakery that used to have the best Chocolate Eclairs. We would walk through the clothing section to get to the bakery section. Occasionally, my mother would stop to admire something that she saw on the racks, or in the clearance bin.

Continue reading

My Main Fear About Time

Looks like a castle or fort from olden times

Looks like a castle or fort from olden times, Panama City.

How did it get so late so soon? Its night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flown. How did it get so late so soon? – Dr. Seuss

Being a mere mortal, I am terrified of time. It has its own ebbs and flows that I cannot understand. Sometimes it seems to move so fast. Other times it moves really slow. The main thing that scares me about it is when the moments move so slow, but the years pass by in a blur.

 

A few days ago, I was looking at renewing a subscription that I had held a while back. I was asked by the customer service representative how long ago, I had held the subscription. I didn’t remember. She asked me for my name, and informed me that I had first bought that subscription in 2006, and last renewed it in 2008. For a moment I was stunned. I had just inadvertently lost 8 years of my life. After the call, I sat down with the calendar looking at the years, and wondered how did that happen? How did those years pass by so quickly? How did 8 years pass by without feeling them pass? It was a moment of revelation for me.

Continue reading

Sharing My Frugality At Work

A wedding taking place at the church

A summer wedding taking place at the church, Panama City.

Frugality is one of the most beautiful and joyful words in the English language, and yet one that we are culturally cut off from understanding and enjoying. The consumption society has made us feel that happiness lies in having things, and has failed to teach us the happiness of not having things. ― Elise Boulding

On my first day of work, I was asked to send the HR person a blurb about myself, a few sentences informing the others about my interests, and such. I sent over four sentences, with the last sentence being about my frugal and minimalistic tendencies. I didn’t think anyone would really read the blurb. I definitely didn’t think anyone would remember that I am a frugalist from the blurb. But I had someone comment on it the other day to me. We were chatting about restaurants and he recommended a really amazing Pakistani restaurant and he added, ‘You are a frugalist, right? This restaurant is cheap as hell, right up your alley.’

Continue reading

Financial Breakdown For Panama

Marina, boats, and the skyline of Panama City

Marina, boats, and the skyline of Panama City

As part of our series on the costs associated with travelling through the Americas, today we will continue with our detailed expenses for Panama. In case you missed the original post, throughout our trip we’ve been keeping detailed expenses. Every time we make a purchase we write down our costs in either a paper notebook or a phone. We decided to put those detailed expenses to use and show you how much it cost us to travel in each country.

Coming into Panama, we were just hoping to get the shipping paperwork done as soon as possible, so costs weren’t a top priority in our heads. We drove directly into Panama City and didn’t really get a chance to do any sightseeing outside of Panama City. We spent most of our time at the shipping company’s office or in the room, calling customs and other shipping related companies. In Panama City, we ended up staying on a very busy street, Via Veneto, where street food stalls were in huge abundance. In the end, we were above budget in Panama by 65.32 CAD a day. Our average for 15 days in Panama was 174.91 CAD/day.  Continue reading

Allowing Myself To Be Bored

Inside the steakhouse where we had dinner

Inside the steakhouse where we had dinner, Casco Viejo, Panama City.

The mind exists in a state of “not enough” and so is always greedy for more. When you are identified with mind, you get bored and restless very easily. Boredom means the mind is hungry for more stimulus, more food for thought, and its hunger is not being satisfied.

When you feel bored, you can satisfy the mind’s hunger by picking up a magazine, making a phone call, switching on the TV, surfing the web, going shopping, or — and this is not uncommon — transferring the mental sense of lack and its need for more to the body and satisfy it briefly by ingesting more food.

Or you can stay bored and restless and observe what it feels like to be bored and restless. As you bring awareness to the feeling, there is suddenly some space and stillness around it, as it were. A little at first, but as the sense of inner space grows, the feeling of boredom will begin to diminish in intensity and significance. So even boredom can teach you who you are and who you are not.
Eckhart Tolle – Stillness Speaks

Continue reading

Return To The Life We Left Behind

Beautiful sunset over the bay

Beautiful sunset over the bay, Golfito, Costa Rica.

Yoga does not remove us from the reality or responsibilities of everyday life but rather places our feet firmly and resolutely in the practical ground of experience. We don’t transcend our lives; we return to the life we left behind in the hopes of something better. – Donna Farhi

It is a repeating theme in my life. I have written about it before – Running Away From Unpleasantness and Not Running Away. I am an avoider. I avoid responsibility and reality. I run away from both, by saving up and travelling for long periods of time. I run away from tough times in relationships. I run from tough times at a job. I run from self-analysis that runs too deep. I want to stop running from everything. I want to ‘place my feet firmly and resolutely in the practical ground of experience’ as the quote above says. Every single time my resolve is shaken in anyway, a fight with a friend or a hard day at work, I want to refuse to be shaken loose. I want to stand true and strong. I want to stand in Mountain pose, with my legs grounded into the Earth, my arms by my side, and my back straight and supple. Continue reading