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.
Chef Humm came right over and congratulated us. We cleaned up, took some pictures, and visited our families, who had arrived while we were cooking. A few chefs said we were the best of the first round, and we settled in to watch the second wave. It was fun to be done and just enjoy watching the other chefs go for it.
When Eleven Madison's platters came up, it was clear we were beaten. James Kent's preparation (and talent) was there. I felt disappointed but comfortable knowing they had clearly outperformed us. There would be no questions of favoritism in my mind. We left before the third round with the feeling of being firmly in second. My father asked what I thought. I told him, "Sorry, but we just got beat. Hats off to them. Someone in round three would have to take it from them."
That evening was the gala awards dinner. I'll admit to eyeing second place. The cup was sitting there and I wanted it. It was very crowded at the party and I was annoyed. I just wanted to sit and relax with Nate and our families. The awards started: best commis, best fish (Jennifer Petrusky, of Charlie Trotter's), best meat (Percy Whatley, of The Ahwahnee). Then they cleared the stage for the top three. I told Nate we were going up there. The announcement came. Third place goes to Luke Parsons. We all just stood there. Whoops! We meant Chris Parsons. Luke Bergman took second. James Kent goes to Lyon for the international Bocuse d'Or.