Monday, September 2, 2013

Iron chef Marburg

OK, so no, we haven't been boring all summer, we just did so many fun things I got behind on the blogging and couldn't catch back up.  Maybe eventually I'll post about Stockholm and our various bike trips all over Hessen...I think our local biking "find a castle" count is up to about 20, ranging from awesome to ones where we wouldn't know it was a ruin if there weren't a sign, but this post isn't about castles, it's about FOOD!!!

As you know, I like to cook and I like to eat, and a bit over a month ago I was reading the little free newspaper that gets shoved in our mailbox 2x a week (it's good German practice) and read about this cooking competition hosted by the local paper (the Oberhessische Presse) and thought it sounded like fun.  The mission was to put together recipes for a three-course menu featuring potato.  My coworker Nuria also loves to cook, and I thought it would be really fun to cook with her, so after much discussing, and some German editing advice from our colleague Anke, we put together an "international" menu featuring potato in every course.  I'll admit, I thought we'd stand out with our VERY un-German recipes, and I tried to make ours stand out a bit more by instead of being boring and doing an appetizer a main course and a dessert, we had each course represent potato in a different season.

The menu (as we wrote it) was a "spring" soup with a chicken chive parmesan broth, peas, small potatoes, asparagus and lemon, "summer" tapas of Salmorejo de Cordoba (a chilled pureed tomato soup that is amazing) and Tortilla de patatas (often referred to as a Spanish omelette) and "winter" tourtiere (pork and potato pie) with sauteed brussel sprouts with pecans and shallot.

SO, for whichever reason, we stood out and were picked for the cook-off phase of the competition.  6 teams were selected, and were scheduled to cook two at a time.  We were cooking against a German team in a Kitchen studio in a town between 45 minutes and an hour away from Marburg called Breidenbach.  For those of you who are not German this may come as a surprise but here, if you rent an apartment or house, the kitchen will probably be pretty bare; there may or may not be counters, etc. and there will very rarely be appliances like stoves or refrigerators.  This seems like a kind of crazy system since often there are space constraints and you need a specific size of refrigerator to fit in the funny space in your kitchen, so I guess it shouldn't be surprising that there is a whole host of "kitchen studios" that will sell you a kitchen to put into that empty room where the kitchen should be in your new place.  Anyway, if you remember, our current kitchen stinks (as does Nuria's who is my neighbor here in the guest house) and so we walked into this store and immediately I started coveting every kitchen in the place.  Even those with odd colors or other things that wouldn't be my first choice were 100000000x better than what I am currently cooking in at my apartment.  We went out on Wednesday to check out the place, but the actual cook-off was today; it was the battle between German and International.

So, we showed up at 1:30 and promptly had to modify our recipe because, while they were supplying the ingredients, apparently you just can't get brussel sprouts or asparagus in August (not so surprising).  That's OK, we just left the asparagus out of the soup and served cauliflower with hazelnuts instead...

Anyway, they gave us nifty if ginormous aprons and we had about an hour to start getting everything ready before tons of people came, and then there were people watching us, 4 judges to taste the food including a professional chef and a sommelier with his own wine shop, fancy cameras and video cameras all over, etc.  It was kind of distracting.  I mean, not quite as bad as trying to race the Athen's Twilight crit or having to fight through the crowds to the pit after crashing at Athen's twilight (for the non-cyclists among us, it's a race down in Georgia where the course is about 4-people deep most of the way around with spectators, mostly drunk college students...) hence just kind of distracting.
In any case, as nice as the kitchen was, we had to drag all our own stuff like mixing bowls and cutting boards over, and even a nice new kitchen is still a new kitchen to get used to. 

Cameras and stuff all over
Four judges judging
What with the unfamiliar oven and all, my pie ended up underbaked, so the potatoes were a bit crunchy, which was very disappointing, but on the whole, we performed well, I think.  The chef said that our Salmorejo and tortilla course was by far his favorite and that course got the best points from the judges of all of the courses that day, so go team "International"!

Isn't that shaping up to be a lovely pie?

Alas, the other team beat us out by a few points and will get to cook in the final round.  Although, to be honest, that's a blessing because Sasha and I will be in Provence the day of the final round, and Nuria will be in a super special secret vacation spot with her boyfriend (he gets to find out when they get to the airport, so I won't ruin the surprise here that they're going to Peoria, 

The soup
Salmorejo and tortilla de patatas
Tourtiere and sauteed cauliflower
Anyway, as the analytical person that I am, in retrospect, perhaps we should have done things slightly differently.  I should have tested the pie more carefully when taking it out of the unfamiliar oven, and the chef hinted that the pie needed something to make it stand up better as a course (he said maybe a sauce, but goodness knows I can't think of a way to put a sauce on a savory pie that wouldn't just be weird). Also, perhaps we should have stuck to a more conventional menu format; we only had to feature potatoes in the main course, so we should probably have done some sort of dessert and not done the Iron-chef style "feature the special ingredient in every dish" approach.  But on the other hand, maybe that was what tipped the scales to get us picked in the first place, since our seasonal approach was probably unique. 

The sad thing about participating as cook is that it meant that I didn't get to try the dishes from the other team, although Sasha gave us a taste of their main course.  It was good.  Very German and (as is typically German) very salty, but good. Sasha said that ours were all better, although I suspect he may be a bit biased.  Cooking with Nuria has made me appreciate cultural or personal differences in our cooking styles (what do you mean you never measure do you know when it's enough potatoes???) so it would have been really interesting to see the other team cook to see if Germans also have interesting differences.

In any case, it was a hilarious and crazy thing to do what with the driving through the country side and cooking in a kitchen studio and participating in an event where clearly foreigners were NOT the norm.  I can't get over that here I'm the international one, American that I am.

OK, I'll add the recipes in a day or so.  That's actually one thing that I'm pleased with about our menu.  It's all things that are delicious, but that are totally approachable.  So feel free to give them all a try yourself.

"Kitchen stars" after a successful potato battle


  1. wow, seeing this makes me so hungry

  2. this is so awesome! I'm proud =). Definitely a blessing in disguise to have not won, but pretty darn cool to get that experience!

  3. How fun! Your dishes sound heavenly!

  4. I love it Anna! Heheheh, you are amazing :)