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Host Your Own Cooking Competition!

What happens when three couples spend three hours in the kitchen cooking with nine mystery ingredients? There's lots of laughing, sweating and of course, good eating! That's what happened last weekend when I ran my first ever "Host Your Own Cooking Competition".

It was the first of several trials I'm conducting to perfect the most amazing experience you could imagine having in your very own kitchen. Think of it as "intimate dinner party" meets "catered event" meets "staring in your own tv cooking competition".

My guinea pigs for this evening where three lovely couples, good friends by not necessarily ones that always hang out all the time. The plan was to have the wives cook and the husbands judge. But within minutes of showing up, my gracious host asked if everyone could cook. "Of course", I said, "this is your evening!". After a quick survey of the men, it was settled. The couples would team up and take turns in the kitchen. Each participant would cook in one of three rounds: appetizer, entree or dessert.

A quick game of food trivia set the match-ups for the night. Each round would feature a head-to-head battle with one team sitting out, playing the role of judges for that round. Prior to the event, I surveyed the host to set the game plan. I asked her questions about her guest's cooking ability and interest in adventurous eating, foods to avoid due to allergies and dislikes, and her kitchen setup. I offered her a variety of add-on options including providing light appetizers and a variety of gifts for her guests as well as wine pairings for each course. And I asked if she had any special requests which uncovered the fact that it was going to be her husband's birthday. With this knowledge I was able to plan out the event.

Finally, after several weeks of planning and shopping, we were ready to get started. The format for the night was mystery ingredient bags. Each round would contain three mystery ingredients. Upon unveiling the ingredients, the teams would have 3 minutes to research and discuss, and then the cooking time would begin. Judges would score dishes based on taste, creativity in the use of the secret ingredients and presentation. The team scoring the most points over the two rounds they cooked would be the winner.

Round 1: Appetizer

Mystery bag ingredients: ground lamb, rainbow chard and dark chocolate

Cooks had 30 minutes to prepare their best dish. It turned into a meatball challenge with one cook making a chocolate lamb meatball over a rainbow chard salad and the other making a lamb meatball mole soup. The judges were impressed with the cooks finishing on time and presenting dishes that looked very nice. In the end, the meatball soup scored best, with the salad receiving criticism for various sized meatballs and heavy-handed dressing.

Round 2: Entree

Mystery bag: bone-in chicken thighs, cherry preserves and honey graham crackers

This time the cooks had an extra five minutes, but with bone-in chicken, the stress to avoid raw chicken being served was clear from the start. Both cooks got their chicken into frying pans to brown before placing them in the oven. One of the cooks didn't realize his burner was off for several minutes which put him behind the 8 ball, but he recovered nicely, and both chefs served fully cooked chicken. One dish featured roasted cherry chicken thighs with sautéed mushroom and graham crackers and graham cracker dust. The other served a roasted chicken thigh topped with cherry preserves and smashed potatoes mixed with graham crackers. When the votes were tallied, the smashed potatoes set the second cook apart.

Round 3: Dessert

Mystery bag: confetti cake mix, frozen mixed berries, goat cheese, birthday paper plates and candles

It wouldn't be a birthday celebration without confetti cake and candles. The dessert round saved the best for last, pitting two experts bakers against each other on another 30 minute battle. One of the bakers sells her baked goods, which left her competitor a little shaky. Both showed off their expertise pulling together high scoring dishes. Our "professional" baker whipped up goat cheese cheesecake muffins over a chocolate ganache and red wine mixed berry reduction. It wasn't without some stress as her cupcakes were too large and in danger of being raw. But some quick thinking had her scoop out about half the batter into a new muffin tin and they finished up just under the wire. Our "amateur" baker layered up a gorgeous parfait, an ingenious idea because she could quickly bake up a super thin cake and then crumble it into the dish, with layers of goat cheese "pudding" and mixed berries with shaved chocolate. The judging was extremely close, but the cheesecake muffins were served in a bowl instead of on the birthday plates costing that baker two points leading to a one point loss. When asked about it afterwards, she could only muster up the words "paper plates aren't edible".

And with that, the cooking was over and all that was left was total up the judges' scorecards.

The winning team? The couple that prepared both the winning entree and dessert. For their outstanding efforts they took a He Can Cook mug and a jar of He Can Cook original spice rub. That, of course, led to the winning wife informing her husband that he was now going to be the regular Wednesday night cook at home. A fun night was had and a business plan may just have been solidified!

So, do you live in the Raleigh-Durham area? Do you wish you could take part in an awesome evening like this? If so, let me know now! I'll be offering this unique and exciting opportunity in the very near future so don't wait to get on my calendar. Just fill out the form found here and we'll get planning!

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