This past weekend, I got to participate in an event in Bellingham, WA called SeaFeast. I was the guest of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association (BBRSDA) and was a competing chef in the Skill of the Grill. That’s a lot of words and links. To put it short, I was in a cooking competition.
I had gotten wind of this event in June during the fishing season and had thought, “I want to compete in this!” Fortunately, cooking has been my thing and I have the chops and photos to back it up. So, after the season, I sent out a few emails and contacted some friends and I lobbied for myself to go. I was glad that I did.
Here’s what I decided to make.
I was looking for something that would have a lot of textural contrast. Sockeye salmon can have a more minerally flavor and I thought that the wasabi avocado cream would spread the intensity of flavor out as well as give the taster a bit of surprise – it would either be surprisingly not spicy because it looks a lot like straight wasabi or surprising spicy because it looks like guacamole.
I knew that wanted the skin to be crispy but, when I recipe tested this, I had too many issues with the skin sticking to the grill, so I opted to skin the salmon before marinating and make bacon out of it. It’s good fortune that I did because once I knew I was going to make salmon bacon and then stick a chip in the wasabi cream, the concept got a lot stronger.
Say “bacon” in any crowd and you’ll have half the crowd sighing in delight. The dish had a smooth mouthfeel with a crispy contrast and was hitting in the sweet, savory and spicy zones. Now to execute.
I had a lot of anxiety leading up to the event. Mostly, I didn’t want to embarrass myself. I thought that the concept was strong but there’s just the idea of competition made me nervous.
Although, I’ve professionally cooked for decades now, I’ve never actually been in a cooking competition. EATING competition? Hell, yeah. I’ve got three brothers. So, growing up, dinner every night might have been an eating competition. But cooking? No. Fortunately, if you cook often enough and professionally, every night feels like a competition against yourself. The challenge to be more creative, more efficient, to make things taste better…. From menu design to execution there is not always a straight line but when it’s time to actually perform for service, you want it to be as straight as possible.
Once things get going, it’s not about competition so much as execution and sharing something that you love. We were using an unfamiliar kitchen. My food didn’t actually make it to the event and I needed to find a ride back to the restaurant kitchen that we were borrowing to grab them. I couldn’t find parchment paper at the last minute and had to actually RUN to the boat I was staying on tp grab some out of my backpack that I had brought just in case. The grills were brand new and everything I cooked started to stick … and it was a GRILLING competition. Oh yeah, it was raining too.
Much went right though too. The other chefs were super supportive and fun. The crowd was great. The event was really fun and a great chance to catch up with a lot of old friends. And, fortunately, I tied for first.
The biggest lesson for me here was to keep following the compass. I KNEW that I wanted to go as soon as I heard of the competition. I followed that instinct. Overcame my anxiety. And, once I got into cooking mode, was able to just let instinct and experience take over.