If you are planning to compete in an upcoming culinary competition, here are five quick lessons to help refine your preparation. Execution is critical but the battle is won in the mise en place.
Lesson 1: Consistency
When we were preparing for our final runs in the culinary Olympics, one of my tasks was to just make sure that everybody was packing things exactly the same. When you're competing it's important to make sure that you're consistent and everything looks the same. That way when you set everything down, and I think we had 600 scaled ingredients for the chef's table run, when you pull out all those containers, they're all laid out the same way. Then eventually when the label goes on, the label is always in the same place.
Lesson 2: Travel with your salt
Overseas in Europe or in Singapore if you're competing internationally or even depending on where you're at in the States. Different salts have different perceived salinity so if you're using Morton kosher salt or diamond crystal kosher salt, you want to make sure that you use that for all of your recipes and then all the way through to the end.
Lesson 3: Tasting to Confirm
Another practice is for people to season out of this and then just reach their hand in a million times and just season and adjust and taste and season and adjust and taste. That's not where you want to be with a competition. You want to be able to taste and adjust but you really want to have the approach where you know where you want to be with your seasoning. My tasting is just going to be a confirmation that my seasonings work.
Lesson 4: Prepping an Onion
You could take an onion in to a competition unpeeled but it's an absolute waste of your time and energy. Depending on the rules of your competition, you may be able to take items a little bit further, you may not. You don't want to push your luck too far, but you want to take it as far as you can. Ideal is absolutely. Let’s say I'm allowed to cut this onion in half. When you do, make sure that there's nothing awful inside. Then, I scale it so I know how much of it that I'm going to need to use.
Lesson 5: Setting up a Leek
You can trim the leek as close to what you need as possible so you’re not taking in a whole leek. Make sure that all of that root end is gone and make sure that there's no dirt in the leek. That's something that can be done well in advance of the competition that way during the competition it's a cut and move, it's minutes that allow you to actually plate beautiful food. As you're controlling all the variables that you can control, the evaluators start to get excited. “Wow they really did great mise en place,” “I'm looking forward to tasting their food,” or “This should be fun to watch this team they came really prepared for this competition.” That's exactly where you want to be.
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One of 73 Certified Master Chefs and Captain of the 2020 American National, Culinary Team USA, with stops in Michelin Starred Restaurants; The Moulin de Mougins and Eleven Madison Park, Chef Ford has established himself as a professional who is focused, driven, innovative and organized beyond obsessive.