When Opportunity Knocks!
My love for watching cooking competitions started about 12 years ago when I saw Iron Chef Japan for the first time. I was mesmerized by Chairman Kaga's outrageous fashion sense and impressive hairdo. It was the most incredible cooking show I had ever seen. The deft hands of Iron Chef Kobe, the wisdom of Michiba and the outrageous creativity of Morimoto left me wanting more. Nothing could satisfy my hunger for watching these men battle as they turned incredible ingredients into the most beautiful food. As I watched them work episode after episode, I made an oath to myself that I would never compete in a cooking competition.
Cooking competitions always have the promise of a perfect outcome despite the dramatic turmoil and mishaps, making it addictive to watch. My biggest concern was that competitions are meant for show and entertainment. It’s all about the spectacle of cooking. I didn't want to disrespect food and everyone knows no good food will come from an anxious, angry, or nervous cook. But..never say never. In the summer of 2015, I found myself submitting an online audition application for an new cooking show that was being pitched to several networks. (Spoiler alert: It ended up on the Food Network.)
That summer was fated to change the course of my life. I’ve always cooked for friends and loved ones. I started posting pictures of dishes and cakes I made on Facebook about 4 years ago. A good friend of mine, who'd been following me suggested that I apply for an open casting call seeking amateur cooks for a new cooking show. I did... reluctantly. I had always been skeptical about these trendy cooking competitions and there was that little issue of that vow I made 12 years earlier. It was important to me to never waste or desecrate food itself. Food is a lifeline. This simple fact was reinforced to me as a child growing up in a place where there’s poverty all around and hungry children. I was taught to never waste food. Cooking is something I hold dear to me, a sacred tradition my grandmother passed down to me, and I did not want that to be soured by bad experiences. I’ve always been creative and turned my artistic expression into professions. I spent 14 years in corporate fashion, and it almost killed my lifelong passion for fashion. I spent a decade performing in New York’s nightlife and underground art scene and experiencing the ugly side of being beautiful onstage made me question my love for performing. Cooking was another vital part of my creative expression and I didn’t want to fall out of love with it.
The application I sent was promptly replied to with a call-back, interviews, and several auditions. I jumped through so many hoops to present them with credible proof that I was a legit amateur cook! I even shot a guerrilla style cooking show in less than 12 hours with my husband, armed with 2 iPhones and 3 foam core reflectors. I had jumped head-first into the pool without looking back, and was determined to get on the show. All that work proved to be fruitful. I made it through and earned myself a place as one of the contestants. ( Wanna see how I did? Check out the Mac ‘N’ Cheese Meltdown episode.) I put my best foot forward and made food from recipes I’d developed. Despite my fear and initial reluctance, it proved to be one of the most incredible learning experiences I’ve ever had. I was presented with a series of challenges and was able to defend my creations in front of professional celebrity chefs and guess what?... I still LOVE cooking!
The day the show aired, I threw a viewing party and managed to fit 75 people in my Brooklyn apartment. It was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with friends and loved ones.
Cocktails were designed by my mixologist friend, Ariel Rios, to accompany the various finger foods that I had laid out for the crowd. Ariel created a cocktail just for the occasion, using Arak Von Osten, in honor of my heritage. The outpouring of cheers could be heard from the end of the block. Congratulations and love flowed from the people I deem most important in my life. This time I knew I was well supported by my community and, I had done justice to the gift my grandmother had passed on to me while she was alive. To me, that’s a true marker of victory.
Want to find out how to make the most expensive dish in the world in less than 30 minutes? Look no further! (Actually, I have no idea what the most expensive dish in the world would be, but, for me, this dish is worth $15K and a whole lot of PR), I have to thank the judges of the Cooks Vs Cons show, Graham Elliott and Daphne Oz, for deciding that this dish was worthy of taking home the prize.