Part Two: Cooking Challenge
There’s a hush in Kitchen Stadium this morning, as Chef Macri and Chef Dunmire suit up to face the Airstream Thanksgiving Cooking Challenge. Chef Macri dons his traditional uniform—important that your chef is an ASE Certified instructor and department chair (retired). Chef Dunmire opts for the more casual, pajama look, “for easier movement in the space,” she announces.
Sous chef and kitchen clean-up crew, Gyp, is in her usual black-and-white, collar freshly washed and tags gleaming for what she has been told is a special occasion. Though she can no longer hear the excited buzz around her, her expert nose already tells her that this will be a meal to remember. She commences her signature pacing, which she will keep up during the entire Challenge except when shooed outdoors to sniff and contemplate the grass.
Chef Macri takes on the lighting of the oven, while Chef Dunmire limbers up her knees by making several trips to the cooler in the truck for supplies. While the oven preheats [cut to commercials—many, many commercials], she removes the pie from the freezer, whips off the box and plastic covering, and places it strategically on the center of the baking sheet. This is Chef Dunmire’s first foray into pre-made, frozen pies, and her fans are decidedly nervous as they contemplate their own pie-eating future if she decides to continue this method. (Note: don’t worry, she doesn’t.)
When the aroma of pumpkin-like pie fills Kitchen Stadium, preparation of the turkey commences. Chef Dunmire deftly cuts the plastic netting and removes the giblets and mysterious and unexpected “gravy packet” from the bird, reserving all for later. Sous chef Gyp samples the heart and is clearly pleased with the results so far. For this Challenge, the only seasonings available are salt, pepper, cajun seasoning, oregano, and lashings of butter. All are applied quickly to the turkey, and it is tucked snugly into the oven where it (thankfully) fits—just.
If you joined us for Part One, you know that the ingredients list included champagne for the chefs. Alas, it was unavailable in this part of the world, and they opt instead for the best hard cider outside of England, Golden State, which they were foresighted enough to stock up on. Now, back to our Challenge.
Side Dish Challenge
Back in Kitchen Stadium, three hours have passed and the Airstream and its surrounding campsite is redolent with the luscious aroma of roasting turkey. The local coyote pack with us today is heard yipping and howling, clearly also smelling what they hope is a future snack. The turkey has come up to temp, and Chef Dunmire removes it from the oven and sets it aside, approaching the stove to commence the side dishes: mashed potatoes and green beans. Now with the addition of the “gravy packet,” which both chefs agree can’t be “all bad, millions of people use it; we can doctor it up.”
Potatoes are quickly peeled and sliced, and brought to a boil. The chopped giblets that sous chef Gyp hasn’t already set aside for herself, along with the contents of the “gravy packet,” are poured into the only remaining saucepan (the one that was set aside for steaming the beans), and chicken broth and other secret ingredients known only to our chefs are added. Due to lack of pans and stove space, the chefs agree that green beans will go in the … wait for it … microwave. Chef Macri deftly carves the turkey, Chef Dunmire wields a fork to mash the potatoes and the meal hits the judges’ table! As the pièce de résistance, a bottle of 2004 Silver Oak Napa Cab, a personal gift from the winemaker to our chefs, finally sees the light of day after 12 years. It is pronounced exquisite, and well worth the wait.
Finale: Whipped Cream Challenge
For our final challenge of the day, Chef Macri takes the lead. He pours the heavy cream into the bowl with sugar, and reaches for the hand whisk. Chef Dunmire smiles and passes him the electric hand-blender, showing that working together in the kitchen can lead to the best solutions.
The Judges’ Decision
Turkey: Very good, just be sure to get one that’s small enough that you don’t ignite your oven. Sure, it was no pricey heritage bird, but it worked and turkey omelets were on the menu this morning.
Mashed potatoes: Even after the dilemma of choosing which to buy, they are, after all, mashed potatoes. What could be better? Especially when made with cream?
Green beans: We admit the microwave was unconventional (for us). But it worked out well, especially with more butter. Always more butter.
Gravy: A little strange out of a packet, but if it’s all you’ve got, and you can doctor it up, it won’t kill you. Probably.
Pie: If frozen’s all you got, it’s okay. But, the one piece I had is the only one I will have—nice, actually, if you’re trying not to look like a stuffed turkey.
Whipped cream: Whipped. Cream.
[Cut to crowd, applause and cheering is heard. @SanFranciscoDP, we miss your camera skills!]