One of the highlights of last year was that I entered a cooking contest.
I saw this contest advertised. I really only entered for the chance to win 100,000yen which at today’s exchange rate is about 1,200 AUD. I decided why not. Even if didn’t win first place, there were still second and third cash prizes. First step was to enter in a recipe and a story (based on the recipe). So actually both the housemate and I decided to enter. We would both submit a recipe, a photo of the dish, and our story to accompany the recipe. The contest was being run by the Soy Sauce Association (who knew there was even such an organisation) so the recipe had to feature soy sauce. We came up with our recipes and modified them to include a tablespoon or two of soy sauce. We made a pact that if either or both of us won any money that we would share our winnings with the other. (Stupid mistake that was.)
So anyway, we spent one weekend each perfecting our own recipe and our story. We have seen enough episodes of Masterchef Australia to know that everyone has to have a sob story. Your story has to touch people’s emotions either through tears or laughter. So we definitely made sure to include poignant heartwarming stories.
We submitted our recipe, our photos and story online. Too easy.
I decided on chicken-katsu parmigianna – basically a Japanese-style version of chicken katsu (schnitzel) parmigianna style ie with eggplant, tomato and cheese on top served with asparagus wrapped in bacon.
This is what I ended up submitting for my entry.
It looked appetising enough. And tasted pretty flavoursome.
It was a matter of wait and see if I would progress to the next round.
As there were two categories, I actually entered in both the Japanese and Western cuisine category.
Housemate entered the Western cuisine category only with his apricot chicken, or maybe it was peach chicken. For the western cuisine, I didn’t really put in much effort and just submitted a spaghetti bol recipe. I was mostly aiming for the Japanese cuisine category. You were allowed to submit as many recipes as you wanted though.
About a month later, lo and behold, the both of us had been invited to the cook-off. We were one of the finalists in each of the categories. Of all the submitted recipe entries, we were in the top 5 for our respective categories. They had about 100 recipes in total split amongst about 70 entrants (accounting for the fact that some people submitted multiple recipes). It turned out that my recipe for the Japanese category was a finalist.
Wow. Pretty cool to have been a finalist. The cook-off was held in August last year. Both the housemate and I had a chance of winning 100,000yen each. Turns out though that the housemate wasn’t going attend the cook-off despite being one of the top 5 finalists. If I had of known that he wasn’t going to attend the cook-off, then I should not have made the deal to split our winnings, because it would now mean that any money we would win, would have to be earnt by me, and I would have to split it with him, even though he destroyed any chance of him winning despite making it this far. He did not attend because of work on a Saturday. I told him to take the day off work. He had enough notice to give, and really, was working on the weekend going to pocket him more than the possibility of 100,000yen? I think not. So off to work he went, against my bitter protests.
So anyway, I went along to the cook off on my own. It was a bit of a bizarre, surreal experience. You really never know what to expect, especially in Japan. The cook off was on a Saturday and practically an all-day affair. The recipe had to be cooked within an hour, so I didn’t think it would take that long, but we spent hours there. First of all I was a little late in finding the venue. It was held at a culinary cooking school institute near Shinjuku.
I got to meet the other finalists. I was curious as to where they were all from. (Here’s a photo of about half of the contestants)
Some had come as far as Kyushu and I think Akita. Most were from Tokyo or Saitama. The contest was also only open to foreigners living in Japan. The Soy Sauce contest for the last 6 years was previously only open to Japanese people, and now they were trying to make it more international. The travel expenses for all the finalists was also paid for, so it was really nice for those that were further away to get a free holiday to Tokyo. At least my 3 dollar or so train fare was covered.
The day consisted of waiting around a bit, getting to know the other contestants – no one knew what the hell was going on, then a briefing by the organisers, opening speeches by the panel of judges, a tour of the kitchen, cook-off and then getting photos in the studio.
Pics of the organisers coming into the participants waiting room:
And then we got to go down into the kitchen where each of our stations were set up with our ingredients etc and we got to meet the panel of judges including I think a couple of famous people (but I’m not really up on my Japanese TV celebrities) as well as a chef at a hotel in Tokyo.
Panel of judges:
And oh, did I mention that they had photographers and camera crew etc, and yes, they came around whilst we were cooking and asked us questions in Japanese etc. I could never be on Masterchef, because I find cameras really off-putting when you’re trying to cook to a time limit. Talk about pressure.
Here were some of the cooking stations from the competition:
There’s a lot of mushrooms on this one. He must be a fun guy (funghi – get it?):
This is MY cooking station:
And then it was time to cook. All a bit of whirlwind really. There was 9 other people cooking in the same kitchen and cameras and judges walking around to each station talking to us etc, while we’re trying to cook. I don’t really like talking to cameras. I was also going to be pushed for time. Was also a little weird to not be cooking in your own kitchen. Things like the utensils and oven were a little bit different. Everything here was all commercial appliances and large scale. It was a big stressful really. After the time was up, here was my final dish.
When I had found out I was a finalist, I tried to practice my dish a couple more times at home and for the life of me, could not get it to look like it did in my original submission photos. I haven’t been able to replicate my dish since. Even on the cook-off day, it was different to my original dish.
All of our dishes went onto the front bench for the judges to try. Everyone had to make 4 person servings, but a lot of it went untouched. I felt like I had made a lot of food, which barely went uneaten. I think the judges literally only had a forkful of each food. Granted they did have to try 10 dishes (5 from both the Japanese and Western cuisine categories).
We also didn’t get to try the dishes of our competitors. There was some serious competition though. I was up against one or two French guys (who can compete with the French?), a couple of Americans (one of whom cooks at a restaurant in Tokyo), a trilingual Canadian girl who has her own Youtube cooking channel and blog. Er, yeah no one pays me to cook and I’m no chef. I do like cooking though. Wish I had a better kitchen in Japan though. The standard though in hindsight really wasn’t that high though. Made me question the other 90 or so recipe submissions. Some of the finalist dishes were just spring rolls, or spaghetti bologanise but using packet udon noodles instead of spaghetti. At least handmake the udon! I mean, even my dish was not special. Anyone can make what I made. A pretty mediocre effort on my part.
We then had to go to the photo studio to get pro photos of our dishes and our beautiful selves. Apparently our photos were going to get published in something.
And then we had a bit of a closing ceremony and a group shot.
We would now have to wait for 2 months until we found out the results.
You will have to stay tuned for the results. That is a blog post for another day.