ICI Day 46 – Mystery Box Challenge

Thanks to Amanda and Chef Andreas for taking pictures for me. Amanda snapped this one of my finished dish before the chefs tasted it.
Today and the rest of the week are technically a break for us. About half the class left for travels throughout Italy. The rest of us decided to stay in and rest a bit and get some more time in the kitchen.
And Chef is always full of surprises, so we had a mystery box challenge today – in the spirit of Copped or Master Chef. We first split into two groups of 3 and 2. We all got the same box and were instructed to use everything in the box. We could also ask for anything in the pantry. The box contained a fresh mackerel, a lemon, an orange, five cherry tomatoes, a red onion and fregola (a round grain similar to farro) and we had 35 minutes to prepare our dishes.
I poached the fish in orange and lemon water, and sautéed the cooked fregola with butter, onion, scorched tomatoes and finely ground orange and lemon peels with parsley and white wine. Then I reduced some of the poaching liquid and added some white wine. To finish the dish, I plated the fregola added the poached fish on top, then thinly sliced lemons and diced orange with the reduced sauce on top. To my surprise, my dish won the first heat. Wow!
I’ll update with pics as soon as I get them from my friend. Thank goodness Amanda was taking pictures because the chefs started tasting before I could grab my camera!
In the next heat, Paddy won the heat and so the two of us had another mystery box for a cook-off. I was very nervous. Paddy is young, but very experienced and talented, and he cooks amazingly delicious food.
The second mystery box had different rules – we had to use everything in the box (not all the quantity, but all the ingredients) and we could only use what was in the box and what is normally on the cooking line – salt, pepper and oil. And we were given 30 minutes to finish the dish.
Ok then – what was in the box? A quail, potatoes, strawberries, balsamic vinegar, red wine, garlic, rosemary, lemon thyme, and butter.
I decided right away to use the quail breast because they cook quickly. I sliced the potatoes and garlic and browned them nicely for the base. Then I made a strawberry-balsamic reduction sauce with a couple of sprigs of rosemary. After the quail finished cooking, I deglazed the pan with red wine and added butter to finish the sauce.
While the quail was cooking I prepared the garnish – strawberry slices, a strawberry cap + end, and the lemon thyme.
Now time to plate the dish. Potatoes in a circular fan. Quail breasts on top. Spoon over the strawberry-balsamic reduction. Spoon over the deglazed wine sauce. Add the strawberry slices, cap and lemon thyme garnish. Amazingly, the dish was done in 20 minutes.
And even more amazing – the dish won the competition!
How did that happen? Is my kitchen mojo finally returning? Yes. I think it is and it feels wonderful.

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