Let me start this post by saying how sorry we are for how long it’s been since our last post. We have not been ignoring you guys! We have just been so-damn-BUSY. Between work, this event I am about to tell you all about, my bi-weekly D&D group, and the release of Borderlands 2 we have had zero time. Today however, is about me sharing with you this amazing experience we had, a simply amazing and delicious pear tart and how I think I am totally sick of chocolate. This is a little long, so bear with me if you can :)
About eight weeks ago I got a random tweet about joining this event called The Food Experiments National Tour. It was coming to the Twin Cities with a theme of pies and tarts (It has been touring major cities in the US with different themes for each). Initially I blew it off as just more random spam. When I finally did some research, I was floored – it was a real and legitimate contest and I figured “Why the hell not?” It took me about 3 days to finally enter and it was not because of my awesome procrastination skills this time. No, what took so long was the realization that we needed to put down what dish we were going to enter with upon registering.
Having to decide then and there what to make threw my brain into indecisive meltdown; sweet, savory, spicy, mild, complex, simple… argh! Too many options was making my brain whine and shut down. That final line in the entry form was left blank for a real long time. If I could not even fill out the form I was sure I would be doomed from the get go. No, I had to get past this – but nothing was coming! I laid my head on the desk at one point about to bust into tears when my mind wandered back to a few summers ago, when I made up the raspberry and frangipane bars that never made it to the contest they were intended for. That was it! Inspiration! I lifted my head up off the desk and typed out “A chocolate frangipane and pear tart.” I’d had this idea stuck in my mind for a while so now was the time to let the beast out.
On the entry form I was allowed to sign up a second person to help. I knew exactly who I wanted; my friend Jackie! She is going to culinary school with a focus on pastry – weird how we would get along right? – she’s super hyper (I’m pretty sure it’s 95% caffeine) and always stays amazingly positive. Exactly what I knew I would need to counter my inevitable freak-out mode. We have cooked and baked together before and I knew it was a good match.
We had 6 weeks, but with her going to school and us both working retail jobs, getting any days off to match up so we could work together was like winning the lottery. Finally, three days before the contest we finally got together and I made six different versions, each with different types of crusts, chocolate frangipane in varying amounts of chocolate and about 4 varieties of pears all done two different ways. Miraculously, Jackie and Frank were still not sick of chocolate. On the other hand, for me chocolate has all but lost its charm. I’ll give it a few months for my fondness for chocolate to come back, since I am sure it will not be permanent (I’m crossing my fingers).
We spent all of Saturday the 29th from 4pm until almost 4am working on the four 12×12″ tarts. Bedtime couldn’t come soon enough. I crawled into bed smelling of chocolate and vanilla – I suppose that’s not so bad, all things considered. The few hours of sleep I got were riddled with nightmares of broken tarts, raw pastry, and other general disasters. Around 9am I crawled out of bed and back into the kitchen to make one final tart as a display piece while Frank ran to the local kitchen store for boxes to transport the cause of my newest stress headache. Meanwhile Jackie was at home getting ready and making me the most awesome puffy chef hat to wear. This chick is crazy talented.
As we drove to the venue twenty minutes away, I was a tightly-coiled ball of nerves ready to spring like in a jack-in-the-box into a hysterical laughter of wound up nerves. To make matters worse, we arrived and were informed we were not on the ballot! (Wait, what??) There was no space for us and every table was full. Apparently no one planned on us showing up there as we had been mistakenly thought to have withdrawn.
So then I started to freak out a bit. Okay, more than a little bit. Apparently the misunderstanding came from when I emailed the event coordinator earlier in the week that due to conflicting work schedules we would miss the meet and greet/happy hour event the Friday before. However, we would be there Sunday to pick up our grocery voucher with our entry pastry in tow. It was just a misunderstanding that he thought we were withdrawing, but was he was very gracious about working to fix immediately.
As the jack-in-the-box inside me was about to pop and start downing copious amounts of beer – we were in a bar, after all – the coordinator and representative came up to us apologized profusely. By the time we came back with five large cake boxes from the car they had set us up with a table. I was beginning to calm down and things were looking up. We quickly got the pieces cut up and in sample dishes. Two hours flew by. People came up to our table trying samples and smiling. The feedback was so amazing, but as the saying goes ‘we are our own worst critics” and it was hard for me to fully acknowledge the gracious complements. I didn’t even taste my own tarts out of fear that they weren’t good! I don’t know what’s wrong with me.
Another hour passed and it was my turn to take my entry to the judges. I was completely aware there were going to be a potential six winners. There would be three winners of the judges vote and three for the audience vote. The audience vote would win the big prizes. My goals were set high and damned if I didn’t want that win, but I had told myself I would be happy with winning the judges vote, since the panel was quite an impressive round up of local media personalities and chefs. Ultra-intimidating for a home cook!
- Jason DeRusha, Food Maven and Personality, WCCO-TV and DeRusha Eats
- Kim Ode, “Baking Central” Feature Writer, Minneapolis Star Tribune
- Thomas Boemer, Executive Chef of Corner Table
- John Kraus, Pastry Chef/ Owner of Patisserie 46
For me it was Chef Kraus who was the most intimidating. Here I am, a simple home cook giving a French pastry to man who is a French pastry chef. While standing in front of the judges I could not stop watching his reactions. I wanted him to love it. Hell I would have been ecstatic if he just would have swallowed it with a smile even if he hated it. But then I did see a smile. I did a little skip as I left the stage! Shortly after – as I was the last contestant the chefs were leaving the venue – Chef Kraus shook my hand, patted me on the back and said excellent job.
Now, some might not understand this experience yet some might. Just know that for me this was as exciting as meeting your favorite celebrity. It was an experience that here I am writing this a few days later and I am still giddy. Apparently, per the event coordinator, Chef Kraus loved my tart and commented on how well the tart base was made – which is good to hear considering this was a contest based on pastry crusts!
So you are asking, “Did you win? OMG tell me!” Well my friends, I’m very pleased to say that Jackie and I ended up winning third place for the judges vote!
I absolutely cannot tell you how exciting this was for us. Not only in acknowledgement but just the recognition. On here I might not come off as shy and after a few hours around a person I am the complete opposite of shy. However, when it came time to say something in the microphone on stage looking into the crowd, I froze. It was – and you will get this if you know the movie – I had a moment just like in the Fifth Element when Chris Tucker’s character shoves the microphone into Bruce Willis’ face… All I could say was “Umm, Hi!” and “Thanks!” It wasn’t the most gracious acceptance speech ever but I guess it made me kinda memorable in an awkward way. We left the Fine Line Music Cafe with not only more grey hairs, but great memories, new friends, some cool prizes and an unforgettable experience we will never forget.
So you might be wondering if you’ll get the recipe for the tart? Yup. Soon…