Have you ever had one of those experiences that every time you think about it makes you smile? Well that's what last summer's trip to Toronto in The Real Women of Philadelphia cooking contest was for me - one big smile from start to finish.
But perhaps the biggest smile of all was the building where all of the excitement occurred because KRAFT Foods in Toronto is the closest thing to Willy Wonka's Chocolate factory I have ever seen - with tall glass floor to ceiling walls, a glass elevator running right up the middle of the building, and giant Toblerone bars on display in the building's gift shop.
And the food!
I don't know how they did it, but every KRAFT employee I met was fit and healthy - despite the fact that they were routinely developing new recipes and products not to mention taste testing submissions for the current contest. I remember asking one of them about that - she laughed and said that on Wednesdays, the day they taste tested recipes - that was all she ate, and then she'd go running! Especially during dessert week.
Kraft Kitchens were a trip too. There was a big industrial sized kitchen, a studio kitchen for filming (that I recognize every time I see Anna Olson in a new Real Women of Philadelphia commercial), and then several smaller kitchens set up with two stoves and two ovens - essentially two stations each - which is where we cooked off, and where I prepared my final fated pork tenderloin.
I have to tell you, at this point, experience was truly an asset - after having gone before Laura Calder, Tony Chapman, and Dana McCauley in my Recipe to Riches audition earlier that year, I knew I would survive this.
It wasn't lost on me, either, that the disappointment of the earlier contest had me so enthusiastic about this one.
That's my personality.
Knock me down and I'm going to come back fighting twice as hard.
Once upon a time a track and field coach didn't accept me onto the cross country team - assuming the short chubby little girl before her didn't have what it might take to run against the gazelles - to which I say, never underestimate a person with determination because three years later when I not only made the team but won a gold medal in the final district meet of the season, that same coach turned to my cheering mother and said "There is no way to explain this other than to say, that girl is running on guts."
I never looked back. Or to my sides to see what the other runners were doing - because I've learned, sometimes the hard way, that is the quickest way to slow yourself down.
Eye on the prize. Eye of the Tiger. Believe in yourself and GO!
That's where my head was at when they wheeled in my cart. I knew exactly what I was going to say and when the questions began, I practically threw myself onto the table with every fiber of my being pulsing - "Pick me Pick me!" - because I knew it was all going to come down to this.
Of course, in a panel situation, the judges are instructed to be stone faced - watch any episode of Top Chef to validate this truth- so I had no idea one way or the other how I did as I left the room. All I knew is that the competition was TOUGH! Kraft did an amazing job coming up with their entree finalists and, to be honest, I was flattered to be among the gazelles once again!
And I'm so glad I took the opportunity to try all of the other recipes. Danielle Abray's Crispy Fried Trout, Mandy Cmoc's incredible Chicken and Bacon Crepes, and Elisa Hendricks's LUSCIOUS Polenta Lasagna were each beautiful dishes.
I realized as we packed up for the day - 14 world weary cooks who had just gone to culinary battle - that this was far from being a done deal and at the end of the day, it was going to come down to what the judges decided.
A few of the finalists headed out after that for dinner, but with all that excitement I was craving my pajamas, a nice glass of wine, some food network, and room service - and though I rarely sleep well when away from home and at a hotel, I was asleep the minute my head hit the pillow that night.
I had survived my first live cook off and though I can't be sure, I'm certain I fell asleep smiling...
Check out my latest recipe featuring Philadelphia Cream Cheese!
Stay tuned for next week for Lunch with Anna Olson!
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