On a recent team outing for our IT department, I participated in an “Iron Chef” style competition at the Culin Aeire school of cooking in Washington, D.C. Two weeks before the contest, we were grouped into teams of two or three and the “secret ingredient” was revealed to be: goat cheese.
The teams were then given one week to create a menu in quantities sufficient for the three judges, then turn the recipes over to the officials so that the ingredients could be procured. An email discussion with my team resulted in the following menu:
Dish 1: Simple Salad
Mixed organic baby lettuce
Reduced balsamic vinaigrette dressing: zest of 1 lemon, 4 tbsp Balsamic vinegar, 2 tbsp olive oil
Shredded Manchego goat cheese
Dish 2: Orzo d’ Goat
1/2 cup Orzo
2 tbsp Olive oil
6 oz plain goat cheese crumbles
Chopped sun dried tomatoes
Chopped whites of spring onion
Chopped fresh basil & oregano
Juice of one lemon
Heat enough water to cover the tomatoes, add a dash of balsamic vinegar and let them soak. Boil the orzo for 8-10 minutes and strain and place hot into a mixing bowl with the goat cheese. Add lemon juice and stir until smooth and evenly distributed, then strain the tomatoes and mix them in with the green onions, basil, oregano, salt & pepper to taste.
Dish 3: Greek Fajitas
1 lb flank steak, 20 minutes in marinade: juice of 1 lemon, 2 tbsp olive oil, chopped fresh rosemary & mint, several cloves minced fresh garlic, salt & pepper
Fresh spinach, wilted buttered & salted
Goat cheese crumbles
Sauteed yellow onions
Steamed flour tortillas
This was an ambitious plate, but we all agreed that we wanted to make it a complete meal balanced with vegetables, protein and starch. After a quick assessment of our skills, we delegated tasks and agreed to do some experimentation at home. I took the results of the home testing and compiled the meal intio a list of twenty-nine major steps. The goal was to be under the one hour time limit, but no so much under that our food got cold.
The kitchens at Culin Aire were well stocked, and the staff made sure that all teams had the right tools, ingredients and their favorite libations. Each station was set with three cutting boards and knives, and two butane burners. As the keeper of the list, I stood in the middle checking off numbers and keeping track of time. It was both tense and fun, but the plan worked well and we were right on time. I was not used to the hot gas burners and overcooked my first batch of vinaigrette dressing, but had time to recover with a second attempt. When the time reached five minutes left, we plated the dish and presented it to the judges. In the end, a potato and goat cheese fritatta won the battle of six meals, and there were many creative dishes that I sadly did not get to taste.
So what did I take away from the experience? Well the Orzo d’Goat is a definite keeper, and makes a great side dish for dinner or parties. While I still like the concept of the “greek” fajita as an American mash-up meal, I think this idea need to go back on the burner and stew for a while. As a team building exercise I think this worked out really well. It was both challenging and fun, and I got to make new friends within the department.