We took our seats and watched ALL sorts of people file in and settle into line.
Oooh! Here's Beefcake. He was destined to be our bestie for the coming hour or two. He made lasagna with homemade noodles and bechamel sauce and was really nervous. And beefy. I hope he made callbacks, but have no idea.
Look! Here we are waiting. Ash on the left, me on the right and the sweet, but ghostly, face of pallor right smack in the middle. Poor old girl was feeling like a squashed beetle.
Check out this dude. Yeah, that dude way in the back of this fuzzy picture standing behind his table and being a total cheater. Although the rules very specifically state you can not bring any heating devices and your dish should be cooked ahead of time, he prepared what I think was chicken marsala on two gas stoves in the middle of the room in front of a very hungry, anxious crowd full of nerves and critical stares. He made sure plenty were watching when he cracked his eggs with one hand and loudly chopped his herbs. Don't be that guy.
An hour into the wait, my number was called. I filed in line with my group of 19 others and we were led into the room of uncertainty as our peers clapped, hooted and hollered. It was a fun feeling, like starting a big race. As we entered the room with the judges, we were given a space on some tables that were arranged in a horseshoe. I'd say it was approximately 2 feet square. "Put your stuff down and move over," said the really hot and skinny LA cool girl being the boss of us. "Get all your stuff out, but don't open or start plating anything." Well that's nice, it makes it easier.
"Ready? Have everything plated in three minutes when I say go. After I say stop, get your hands off the table and don't touch ANYTHING. If you touch your paperwork after I say stop, you'll be disqualified. It's my property now, so make sure it's on the table. Three... two... one... GO."
Hands shaking, I ripped a banana leaf in half, marveling how blessed I was that it made a clean and beautiful tear, laid it across my rectangular platter, and tore three beautiful leaves off my hydroponically grown lettuce. One, two, three lettuce cups in a row. Thermos of meat opened, I clumsily forked out a couple tablespoons on each leaf. I opened my pickled onions, filling the room with the very distinct smell, and I felt like vinegar was everywhere. A few onions on top so my pork is pretty in pink. 20 seconds left. Mango salsa on top of each, no time for cilantro, wipe the plate, "STOP."
A cool looking hipster girl came by my table. "Oh those are so cute! I'm not a judge, but I really want one. They're so pretty! Can I have one? What are they? Oooh, how do you know how to cook Mayan? Awesome! I'm a Latin American Studies major too! Well thanks!" She walked away and whispered something to the producer. Here comes the food critic:
"This is cochinita pibil? I'm from LA, so I eat a lot of authentic Mexican food." He takes a bite. No expression. He looks at me. "And this is very good. So tender." Another bite. "And this mango salsa, what are the peppers? Ah, habanero. No wonder the heat is starting to get to me." He is sweating through his shirt, but that happened before he got to my table. Uh oh. Was it too hot! No way! I tasted it this morning and it was barely spicy. He must be a wimp, but at least he was a nice one. Eek! Wonder what he's saying to the other staff over there. Here comes the guy asking about our TV personalities and our dish of choice. He asks a lot about my personal history, personality, cooking style, strengths and weaknesses. Tough questions, but he's a heck of a nice guy, this Duffy fellow. "Oh this is the mango habanero salsa everyone is talking about." Oh no. "Yeah, I was afraid it might be a little hot..." I said.
"Oh, no they loved it. They were all back there talking about how good it was." Compliment number three. Is this happening?! Could I really make it on the show, or even just to callbacks?!" I'm getting really excited now. The judges go through the last couple of people. One person with a ZZ Top beard sings and plays harmonica, and the judges eat it up. Another 55 year old man has pink hair, the girl two over from me is wearing a see-through shirt. Maybe I should have worn my eye patch? The judges wrap it up and leave us in the room as we deliberate. I make friends with the lawyer and roofer next to me. You wouldn't believe the crazy array of folks here. The plated dishes are mostly beautiful, but some people have some Nutso sounding dishes. I'm feeling pretty good. The judges come back in with the results.
Stay tuned to the third and final installment!! Haha, I always hate it when TV shows do that to me, so I get this sick pleasure out of doing it to you. But seriously, my fingers are tired of typing, so stay tuned.