Geek Chef

I cook, I talk, I geek

Scenes from MasterChef Open Call January 30, 2010

Filed under: Food — geekchef @ 9:39 am
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Hey look, that’s me!

Here is a video of the open casting call, you can see a little bit of me in the background. Good to see my hands aren’t shaking as much as it felt. (2:45) me plating and getting judged.


Me in the third person January 29, 2010

Filed under: Food — geekchef @ 9:01 pm
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One of the next steps of the MasterChef process is to write a bio about yourself in the third person. I’m uncomfortable talking about myself period let alone using the royal we! But I did it, the following is me – talking about me.

Bio for MasterChef

Rachel  is a 29 year old Accountant from San Francisco, living in Mountain View – the heart of Silicon Valley. Her audition piece is called Juxtaposition Soup. The juxtaposition comes from the clever use of two key ingredients: nasturtium (a common wild flower seldom used by cooks) and white truffle oil (a highly sought-after, expensive, gourmet item).  The inspiration for this soup came from an interview in Alice Waters’ biography in which Alice mentions the use of nasturtium in soup, but does not give a recipe. Rachel sought out to reinvent the mystery recipe and quickly ran to her garden to harvest nasturtiums. The result was a unique and complex soup that has become one of her signature dishes.

Rachel has a very diverse cooking repertoire reflecting her own cultural background and that of her surroundings. Rachel believes that food should come from the heart and finds the most joy in cooking for the ones she loves. Rachel strives to create a feeling of warmth, love and belonging in her meals, to inspire a feeling of “home”, no matter where home might be. She examines comfort foods from all over the world, and finds similarities in dishes like soups, pasta and dumplings.

Rachel relishes the ample supply of fresh local ingredients in the Bay Area. She often challenges herself to think outside the box by finding ingredients she has never used, and then creating a mini Iron Chef challenge requiring her to showcase those ingredients in her next dish. This experimental attitude has been a constant in Rachel’s cooking style. She considers herself self-taught, citing inspiration from TV personalities like Martin Yan and Julia Child, and from watching her mother. Rachel started cooking early on, experimenting with ingredients like some children would play with a chemistry set. When her parents separated, Rachel volunteered to take on the responsibility of cooking for the family, applying what she learned from TV and her creative instinct.

Rachel’s first apartment was in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District.  The Tenderloin is a notoriously bad part of town, but Rachel joined the close-knit community in her building, and soon, her extended family, friends, lovers and neighbors were all benefiting from her “feed the ones you love” philosophy. The apartment was also only a few blocks away from the San Francisco Culinary Academy. Rachel shared recipes and techniques with the students that lived in her building, and many nights became impromptu potlucks in the hallway, especially around finals time.

Although Rachel considers herself agnostic, she enjoys the tradition of meals in her Jewish heritage. One such tradition is the setting of an extra place at the table for Elijah during the Passover seder. Rachel takes a less literal interpretation of this tradition by keeping an open plate policy for her friends and family.

Rachel has worked in real estate, advertising, education, construction and design. Currently, she is an accountant at a Silicon Valley startup. The trade of accountancy demands very little creativity, so she finds her creative outlet writing her food blog: Recently she started to feel like her job was wasting her creativity, and decided to start focusing more on her artistic pursuits. Rachel has recently begun marketing herself, turning Geek Chef into a brand-name instead of just a hobby.  She sells prints, accessories, and epicurean delights in internet marketplaces such as Etsy and Cafepress. The casting call for MasterChef came with fortuitous timing; Rachel has always hoped she could find a career that utilizes her passion for cooking. She hopes MasterChef will teach her the skills she needs to follow her dreams.

When asked what her secret weapon will be if she makes it on the show, she answers with a shrug, “I guess it’s my heart. I love to cook and I want this with all my heart. I appreciate that all the contestants have the same love as me and I have no wish to ‘beat’ them, I want us to grow and learn together, with any luck I will excel and be rewarded.” Her answer fits her personality and comes off charming and genuine.


Master Chef Auditions: Round One January 25, 2010

Filed under: Food — geekchef @ 9:30 am
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Today I auditioned for a new (to the US) food show called Master Chef. I don’t know much about the show other than it is for amateur chefs, like myself, and that it will be hosted by Gordon Ramsay. The casting call website leads me to believe that this is a bit like American Idol for home chefs, with a bit more of a mentorship vibe. What my friends from the UK tell me is that it is a bit more like American Idol with a mix of Hell’s Kitchen. I’m really hoping for the former, but expecting the latter… But I am getting ahead of myself.

So today I presented my Juxtaposition Soup to the first of hopefully many judges. I served it (nervously) with a simple mixed greens salad with a vinaigrette consisting of mint, parsley, rice wine vinegar, a little lime and a hint of morel mushroom. I also made a cheesy flatbread cracker that I (and I think the judge) was lukewarm about. I’m sorry I didn’t take pictures of the meal or its presentation, but it was all I could do to keep my head from exploding. I can tell you I was really happy with how it all turned out.

The day started with me having a massive panic attack. My friend Peterson and I spent the night in a hotel in SF after going to a show in Oakland the night before. I woke him up with my hyperventilating. I was worried that I was a hack, that I had no place even auditioning.  Even worse I make it on to the show and then completely screw it all up. I was freaking out about anything that there was to freak out about. Silly, yes. But I have never done anything like this before. I love food, I think this blog is a testament to that, I’ve always been content to cook for people I love, and I have been content with the praise that I got from them. This is a completely new thing for me and I am still so freaked out.

But I made it through, thanks to Peterson. He talked me down and verbally kicked my butt into action. I’m really glad I had the meltdown before the next bit of the story, let me tell you…. When I opened the fridge to get my ingredients I prepped the night before, they were frozen solid. Yep. Frozen. The mini fridge was cranked up too high and froze everything. Thankfully there was a Whole Foods a block away and I was able to buy some new salad greens, and use their microwave to thaw the soup. I also grabbed a latte and made my way to the long line of aspiring chefs and found I was just as nervous as everyone else.

I made friends with the couple behind me in line, David O. a bouncer from San Jose and his lovely wife (sorry sweetie I can’t remember your name). They were really awesome, they shared their umbrella and some laughs and if I hadn’t been so utterly petrified I would have gotten their info so we could hang out again. I’m really hoping David made it to the next round so I can see them again.

The line itself was massive, I was number one-hundred and sixty-something out of hell-if-I-know, probably 300. We filled up the very posh alley of Maiden Lane, in front of Sur la Table, the host of the event. It was cold and drizzly, exactly what you would expect from an SF winter but everyone was in great spirits. There was a guy singing opera music across the street, and we all applauded during every break. My neighbors in line were so impressed when I pulled out my secret weapon – a flameless ration heater. I have to say, it is pretty damn cool and a really good idea.

The flameless ration heater is a little packet that comes in MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) common in the military and in camping. The science behind it is pretty simple and cool. What it is is a packet of magnesium filings and when it comes into contact with  salt water it starts to rust at a very fast rate. The oxidation process creates heat and I harnessed that process in a couple of pyrex containers to create a makeshift double boiler. Here is the breakdown if you are wondering: Mg + 2H2O → Mg(OH)2 + H2

I pulled that bad boy out just before heading into the store and I think (hope) that it heated the soup enough to surprise the judge.  I can tell you I cannot remember a time when I was more proud of myself than while I was explaining to the judge how and why this was the warmest soup he was going to taste today.

I guess he was impressed, because he booked me on a spot for round two. I’ll be back in The City on Tuesday  for interviews and the next step of this adventure. At this moment I am less nervous than I was before, but I’m sure it’s just the euphoria that is keeping the fear at bay. I’m so worried that someone outside of the people who love me will think my food is crap. Granted, I discovered quickly while preparing for this round, my food is not as good when I’m not cooking for the ones I love. But I think that just means I need to learn to use my heart in the kitchen, no matter who is on the receiving end of my meals.