Intern Katie Minchew spent part of her morning recently watching Michael Scott prepare for a timed cooking competition. Read on to see what happened.
On a warm morning in March, I met chef Michael Scott, seasoned culinary artist and executive chef at Northwood Country Club, and his mentor and coach, chef Andre Bedouret, a charmingly disheveled Frenchman who pronounces words like “list” as “leest.” I was there to witness one of Scott’s many practices for the American Culinary Federation Chef of the Year competition that will take place next Wednesday.
The kitchen is freezing at the early hour of seven. Steaming cups of coffee, black for me and Andre, creamy for Scott, line the stainless steel counter. Chef Scott is rushing around the room, pulling pots from here or there, asking an assortment of technical questions of his coach. This is his third practice run before the competition. (Today, a week before the competition, he’s done nine test runs.) Scott sifts through the competition packet, reviewing the rules. He hopes to achieve a perfect execution. He will have 15 minutes to set up, 60 minutes to “fabricate and cook four portions of their dish,” which must incorporate a whole bone-in duck, 10 minutes to plate the dish, and 15 minutes to clean his cooking area.
Scott is a morning person and very friendly. His enthusiasm, constant movement, and chatty personality create a musical atmosphere in the room. However, the second he gets off topic, coach Andre reels him back in with a strict, “This is all fine and dandy, is beautiful, but you need to put this in your timeline, capiche?” and then winks in my direction. “Yes, Chef” is always Scott’s respectful reply.
With an easy air and a grin he mentions, “I’m not nervous for the competition, just aware of how competitive the other participants are” and then exits the building to take a quick smoke break. I take this chance to get Andre’s true opinion of the competition. “What Michael needs to keep in mind is that you can come up with some concoction that you think will blow the judges’ minds away but they don’t give a rat’s ass about that. All of those guys can cook. It’s about cooking under these conditions, in this amount of time, with these ingredients.”
The clock strikes 8:16 a.m. Scott rushes in and apologizes to his mentor for being one minute late. Andre stops the music in the background, starts the timer on Scott’s iPhone, and the madness begins. Scott is flying around the room setting up his ingredients, running water, and checking sanitation. Spotless plates are unwrapped from plastic, a giant red cutting board is procured, and so are three bowls, four skillets, four pots, and an assortment of other instruments. No goofing around now. This is business.
I learn that everything they will use at the competition is pre-prepared. The potatoes are peeled the night before and every item is stored in those vacuum baggies you see on infomercials. Scott is a blur, dashing from stove to island to oven back to island back to stove with great intensity. He is calm, but hurried. Collected, yet scattered. All the while he is respectful to the master who is bossing him around the kitchen.
At 9:10 a.m., things really smell good. Andre opens the oven calling to the busy competitor, “Michael, look. Music to your ears.” And to be honest, it really did sound incredible. The sizzling, crackling sound of cooking meat in its own juices is something I’ve never before fully appreciated.
At 9:30, the duck comes out and the plates go in. Counters are re-cleaned and organized. While whipping the potatoes, Scott is ordered to “Do one more time—one more time of butter” and my stomach gives an appreciative growl. Fifteen minutes behind schedule, Scott begins plating the dishes (he had an unfortunately large spill that took too much time to clean).
The plate looks perfect. I soon found out that it tastes perfect as well, even if it took a bit too long to create. —Katie Minchew