So here it was; 500 resumes reviewed, 147 panel interviews - down to 17 viable candidates, now just four left. The Company decided that the best way to determine who would fill theposition was to have a 'Top Chef' style cook off, oh my.
Southern Style Meatloaf and a Chef's choice entree. 1 Presentation plate and tasting plates for 10.
A month passes and I get the call, it would seem that I'm one of the last three standing, one candidate dropped out when they found out that they would need to cook it off. For a week I canthink of little else, so many questions; what's at the site, who will I becooking against, what dish would best exemplify my cooking style and reflect myfood focus in the actual job? I can feel the weight of the world on myshoulders, bearing me down as the date comes inexorably closer. I wear a rubberband on my wrist in order to express some Neural Linguistic Programming - whenI find myself getting overwhelmed by the prospect of doing poorly and lettingdown all who love, and depend on me, I snap the band so I can come back to aplace of calm and presence - I can only hope that I can do the same thing onthe day of the event simply by just looking at my wrist; jogging my subconscious into a placid place.
Soon all doubts would be answered.
Very soon there would be nothing left to do but to do it.
Driving to the city of the cook off I spend the hours staring through the traffic and road hazards like I'm trying to peer through to the present to the 'almost here'. The car ride feels likeI'm hurtling towards my future, be it good or ill. I really have to now ideawhat's going to happen and trust in the tightly held belief that 'it' alwaysworks out for the best no matter what that may look like.
Have I invested myself so dearly, emotionally, that if this doesn't go well I'll be able to square my shoulders and hold my head up high regardless of the outcome or will the let down crippleme for weeks to come; limping along without a cause or purpose?
I sing through my conflicting emotions with the music on the flash drive stuck into the dash like a two by four thrown through a barn door by a twister.
The car rolls on.
I had googled, facebooked, linkedin and searched the blogosphere for information about the other 2 and the Company principles. Proper preparation yes but still and all the proof would be in thepudding. In one way it didn't matter what I found, in the end my only realcompetition would be me. Would I be able to get out of my own way, allow 'it'to flow, accept the moment for what it was without forcing it? After all mywriting, and talking about Kanji in the Kitchen would I finally be able toexpress it without it sounding false, trite or insipid? Would I be found to bea poser, inauthentic - the 'fraud' of the ego that we all secretly fear orwould I be able to harness my passion, ramp down my 'bull in the china shop'spirit and articulate my deepest gratitude and humility that I was even here atall - surely there were so many out there, just as deserving of thisopportunity? The questions were deafening.
And yet here I was.
At the hotel I spent a very restless night sleep, going over my plan - movements, timing, script, options, backup plans and fall back positions like an Olympic athlete - my body swaying in thebrisk early morning breezes of the hotel room balcony as I close my eyesimagining the furious last moments right before service. Before I know it, or Ibelieve myself ready, the clock says it's time to go; time to stand tall andfrosty my brothers and sisters and bring it - after all this time there is onlythis day, this moment of presence that is real, gritty and tastes a bit steelyin the mouth.
I straighten my jacket, check my tools for the 10th time, get into my clogs and head down stairs towards what feels like my time.
The three of us meet. We're shown the kitchen where we'll be making our magic. We go to the store where we're to buy all the product necessary to prepare our dishes later at 1:30 pm. We findout that it's not 10 people eating but 12; did we buy enough food? Had weconsidered the cooking shrinkage or picked up enough seasoning?
I go back to the hotel to get a nap but sleep eludes me, my mind filled again with the dream of the dance until I resign myself to the inevitable. I get up and suit up again. Had I eaten? Did Ieven need to? The adrenalin flushing my face would be fuel enough for me, Idecide and head down again to the car. The one other candidate in the hotel andI make mindless chit chat during the drive, each firmly entrenched in our owninternal dialogue. We agree that no matter what we'll be professional and helpeach; finding pots and pans, locating an onion or plating the dishes as we onlyhave 10 minutes between courses.
And here it is, no time left to consider the others in our lives or the possibility of defeat. Everything falls away and there is a moment of clarity unlike anything else - a place where allpossibilties exist at the same time and the hands run true and the knives allcut straight. I'm getting ahead of myself I realize; with all my productarranged around my cutting board I take a deep breath, close my eyes and give amoment of silent thanks - a prayer of gratitude for even being here at all.Thankyouthankyouthankyou.
'You Okay?' my compatriot asks noticing that I'm not moving. 'Yeah, brother - thanks' I say as I pick my knife up and start moving with a purpose, grounded finally. Yea, man I think tomyself, oh hell yeah.
The first hour flies by as we'll all heads down, elbows akimbo, stripping produce, blooming herbs and shallots, reducing gastrics and molding meatloafs. We all steal glances at one anotherthrough the tools hanging on the overhead rack, calling out time and checkingeach other for progress. I realize that it's a perfect day, a perfect momentfrozen in culinary heaven; each of us has a distinctive style, unlike the otherand our meatloaf plates are a direct reflection - French country, ACF Americanand southern as southern can be. Our entree plates have three differentproteins, three different focus, three different approaches.
It's apparent that the Company picked well, they would have their work cut out for them - ain't no scrubs in this group.
All competitiveness, judgment or self serving criticism has disappeared. We watch each other for best practices and realize that there is something to learn from the other's approach.
2:30 comes and goes like it was never there.
We find out that there will be 13, not 12. Alrighty then - no worries now; just keep going.
Suddenly we're all three outside the back door grabbing a breath of fresh air. Three different styles, three different dishes and we're all at the same point; ready to rock with a momentto spare.
We find out that there is a scheduling change and we'll present both our presentation plates at the same time; oops, now I gotta scramble - I thought that we had an hour between thetwo presentations. I grab pans of food, staged and nested in bowls ready tofire. I cook enough for the 1 plate. We all work silently on the presentationplates until we're called out in front of the group, quickly wiping rims at thelast and checking the height of the fried onions on the meatloaf.
'You know if this was an ACF competition, non functional garnish would cost you points' one competitor comments at the plates on the table. I wonder what the ACF would say about a candidatebringing in prepared corn bread and collard greens or the other bringing in acontainer full of tools not available to the others. I brush off the comment,no time nor energy to give that criticism -almost there, just keep going.
I look around, startled by the observation that time is going to be tighter than I thought and shift gears, cooking and staging items necessary to plate. Wow I think to myself,this is bangin', enjoying the moment as we walk our plates out to the staffassembled around the table.
We take turns talking about our plates and are then excused back to the kitchen to finish it off.
I'm number 2 and started getting the plates ready; 8 minutes someone shouts.
In 6 I'm finishing the garnish and following the plate parade to the table. I stand mute, ready to answer any questions but it's apparent that my meatloaf has done the talking for me; allheads are down and forks scrape plates - a most perfect silence.
I am excused to stage the next meal.
Back in the kitchen I start wondering what's become of candidate number 3. He seems to have been out there for a while, probably talking himself up - arguing for his greatness. I havelittle time left but, for a second, I ask myself why no one asked me anyquestions about my meatloaf or culinary pedigree.
7 minutes! I have my marching orders and I execute; beautifully I might add.
No matter what, I think to myself, I represented myself well today - that, beyond anything, would be my solace and my bragging rights no matter what happened.
I walk out with my head up and my heart on my sleeve, apparent for all to see.
Then the questions come; about the meatloaf, why I got in the business in the first place, what I thought the position would entail; how I saw myself in it. I speak humbly, thankful for allmy history, experience and skill set. I speak like the job was mine, sayingthings like 'ours' and 'we'. Assuming the position was not lost on them as Ilook into their eyes and see slight smiles and nods of heads.
My feet never touch the ground walking back to the kitchen.
Clean up, restock, gather dirty pots and pans - the days not over yet and there's till work to be done.
We congratulate each other on the back dock, stealing a cigarette. This could go any way, I say, confident in the truth of it. We all did well and we respected each other through the process -a winning day in my book. As we walk back into the kitchen to get our finalinstructions I start to feel the inevitable adrenalin crash in my legs,suddenly heavy.
We're again introduced to the panel. Profuse thanks are offered and I get the feeling that this went very well for the Company. Pictures are taken, hands are grasped - eye contact made trying toget a read of how it went or who might have the edge.
In the end, we're told that a decision would be made after the weekend.
Manoman, it's going to be a long three days