America's Best Chef: The Finale

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Keith Ferris/CIA


This post is the second in a two-part series about one chef's experience at the 2010 Bocuse d'Or USA competion. To read part one, click here.

At 4:15 on Saturday morning, my alarm went off. The big day was here.

Nate and I drove to the Culinary Institute of America in silence. I felt very calm and relaxed: no more preparations could be made. Day one had gone as planned, and day two was looking promising.

When we arrived, I told Nate to go directly to our equipment and get it close to our station. Then we would ask if we were allowed to unpack. There was a bit of a lack of communication between kitchen proctors over the weekend: one chef said we could pile our equipment outside our booth, so we did so as quickly as possible, but five minutes later another said we needed to leave and escorted us to the chefs waiting area. Joella, a CIA student serving as our commis, was there, and I went over some simple tasks for her to take care of. At 6:15 we were off. Nate and Joella broke for the walk-in to retrieve our mise en place. I went directly to the station and began to organize.

She had not seen the other loin in the water bath, and I felt foolish for not checking.

The first half hour went quite smoothly. Chef Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park (one of the kitchen proctors for the day) came into our booth and asked some questions. He knew Joella, and I thanked him for training her at his restaurant. Although his team was my biggest concern, his presence didn't bother me. I admire his work very much and enjoyed talking with him.

As the morning progressed, any fear of not being ready subsided and we started to focus on the finer detail of our platters. My biggest problem was my lack of experience with electric plate burners. I eventually put the back burner on high and the front much lower and worked the pans back and forth, like on a French flat-top range. Joella monitored the temperature of our frying oil by removing it from the stove and placing it back on repeatedly. With 30 minutes to our fish platter, we began the plating process. Chef Humm stayed close and said we were doing great as he watched everything come together.

All went well with fish. The braised Macomber turnips were heated more than I would have liked, but I was happy overall, and we left for the plating station. On the way out I asked Joella to remove the lamb from our immersion circulator. Upon returning to the kitchen, I saw there was only one loin and the leg on the tray. She had not seen the other loin in the water bath, and I felt foolish for not checking. We proceeded to plate the lamb. The loin turned out to be fine and Nate was ready to go.

We had been given dimensions for a rectangular platter, and had practiced our layouts as such, but we had only seen the actual platter at 6:30 on Saturday. It was square. We plated as planned, but in retrospect we should have altered our presentation. It looked too crowded in front. Nate was spot on, but I was cracking a bit. Two months of work, and we weren't as perfect as I had hoped.

It was like a friggin' library in the auditorium. Where was all the noise? The silence was getting on my nerves. The window to our stand opened for a runner to take the platter, and an olive sphere fell off one of the tarts. Nate was chasing the delicate orb around with a spoon and finally scooped it up, and off the platter went. It looked beautiful, but should have been laid out differently. My fault.

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Chris Parsons is the chef of Parsons Table in Winchester, Massachusetts, and Catch Restaurant, an award-winning establishment that blends honest, straightforward flavors with haute-cuisine style.

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