Today was an incredibly fun day in my Culinary Arts class.
Today’s class was much closer to a competitive cooking TV show than a normal class day where we learn how to make a dish. The challenge: to make the most appetizing and visually appealing spaghetti.
It started with one of our teachers, Mrs. H-, saying that two of the Teaching Assistants (TAs) were hidden somewhere together. Our goal was to find them. The first three people to find them would choose to either get out of cleaning or to pick ingredients first, the latter being very important in the quest to win. She told us that it’s not anywhere dangerous, and we wouldn’t need a car to get there. It could be on campus or off campus, but not past any major roads. Our hint was “children’s laughter.”
I followed one of my teammates, A-, out of the building, across a small street, and into the park. What do you know, there were children laughing! The park was full of children from nearby schools—or more likely, summer camps—playing on the playground and some in the water area.
There was a group of five of us out there, which worried me since only three of us could win. I took my chances though because I just knew the TAs had to be here, and I was confident I could outrun the others.
Our group of five ended up splitting on its own, I went with two kids—a boy and a girl—from another group and A- went off with a girl from another group.
About a minute later I heard A- call out “Joshua!” That was it. I turned and saw that she and the girl she was with were running as fast as they could toward an isolated park bench. The two TAs were sitting there.
The boy next to me was running too, and he had a good 10 yard lead on me while the girls were too far to catch up to. I outran the boy and I was set to be the third person. That’s when I noticed another kid—he was in my group as well—running to the TAs from the other side. He was much closer, but I sprinted on.
As I was just a foot away, he tagged the TAs. I was in fourth place. That means I had no special benefits—I couldn’t avoid cleaning, and I couldn’t get our ingredients first.
We came back inside. A- decided she didn’t want to clean, and the other guy said he wanted to pick our group’s ingredients first. A- and I went with him to tell him what to get.
I said we had to get bacon and garlic no matter what. I told A- that I wanted to use my mom’s spaghetti sauce recipe, and she was all for it. (None of us really knew how to make a really tasty spaghetti sauce anyway.)
I texted my mom with an urgent plea saying, “Mom, how do you make the spaghetti sauce with bacon in it?” (This was completely fair game as we could use any human or internet resources to help us.)
My mom replied back with instructions, and we followed them. I was going for as close to that homemade Filipino taste that I could get with the limited ingredients available to us.
The recipe called for a sauce with bacon and garlic, as well as salt, pepper, and sugar. (I know that in a lot of the Filipino pasta sauces I’ve had before, they put in hot dogs, but my mom prefers bacon.)
Normally, I’m a little shyer in the kitchen. I don’t want to mess anything up because we’re judged on our plates every day in Culinary Arts, so I usually don’t take many risks. Today changed that. I was the only one who knew what I was doing so I was in charge.
I started by getting the pan on the burners to start cooking the bacon. We added a tiny bit of extra virgin olive oil because that’s what my mom does, even though bacon, because of the fat, makes its own oil. I fried the bacon until it was golden brown. Next we needed garlic.
Luckily for our team, we have B-, the garlic master of our group (although we share the title for whisking). He can dice garlic, mince garlic, whatever. The rest of us aren’t so good with garlic.
Then we added tomato sauce. I don’t really want to call it “tomato sauce” because it was really a value can of diced tomatoes from some grocery store (Culinary Arts is on a budget). It had a lot of sauce in it, and we had to mash the pieces of diced tomatoes so it wasn’t so lumpy!
At this point, we sent B- and my other teammate (the one who won the challenge and took my rightful place) to the main kitchen to cook the spaghetti. I told B- to make sure to add a little salt to the water.
I simmered the sauce and continued stirring it. A-, the girl who’s great with seasoning and plating (and pretty much everything else), helped add salt and pepper as well as more garlic. My mom usually adds sugar to her sauce because the tomato sauce is usually pretty sour. Unfortunately we only had powdered sugar which just wouldn’t cut it. We just ended up seasoning the sauce with salt and pepper as well as we could.
We had to plate the food much sooner than we expected. A- mixed the spaghetti noodles with the sauce, and then we added two spinach leaves and some diced garlic on top, as well as three slices of mushrooms on the side.
It went over really well with the judges resulting in a first place win! That scored my team, The Lion’s Whiskers (get it? It’s a pun on whisking), three points which ties us for first place with two other teams. Thanks for the recipe, Mom!
The thing I learned today is that I really enjoy cooking. I love being there with the wooden spoon and the frying pan, watching my bacon turn golden brown. I love brining my own culture to the plate. I love adorning my cooked creation with garnishes and other visually appealing food. Most of all, I love eating the food!