The task: host a summer party for a group of young tastemakers. You have six minutes to shop in the Food Network Star kitchen and then you’ll drive to the venue with all your ingredients.
I knew everyone would rush to the protein fridge, so I chose to go vegetarian with a tofu ratatouille terrine. I wanted to make something that not only said “summer” but also fit in with my personal story. My mom’s side of the family lives in Quebec and France, and my dad’s side of the family is from China. So… tofu ratatouille was born.
I had a plan, I had the ingredients. I just needed to get to the venue. Oh those crates in the car trunk? Don’t worry about them…
Of course, that would be too easy, and Giada and Bobby called us to throw in a twist: this was a team challenge -- with the people in our car -- and we had to follow the theme in our crate.
Ours was… Pasta Fest! Our crate had a bunch of Italian ingredients, as well as ingredients to make pasta: 00 flour, eggs (chicken and duck), semolina... Once we got to the on-site kitchen, we also had pasta rollers and shaper boards.
I was already going to make a layered terrine, so it was easy enough for me to add lasagna sheets and --- yes -- ricotta, to make a pasta dish.
That’s right, my tofu ratatouille didn’t just have tofu as the binder. It also had 50% ricotta, plus some sour cream, miso, fermented tofu, and the three basils -- all contributed depth and richness. I’m not sure why I told Katie it didn’t have cheese. Call it competition amnesia?
I know what you’re thinking when you hear “tofu”. You think bland, dietetic, “why????”. But it had a ton of flavor. What it did *not* have was binding stability, at least while all the other components were hot.
I anticipated this and layered everything in a slotted hotel pan so all the juices could drain out and the lasagna could have a better chance of setting. I placed a weighted hotel pan on top of the slotted one, chilled it, and hoped for the best.
I think the tofu ratatouille lasagna could have worked if …
a) … I was able to execute my original ratatouille terrine idea. The veggies would smush with the tofu mixture, creating a solid, sliceable block. Lasagna sheets don’t smush. They’re a slippery, impermeable barrier and that’s what hurt me. And...
b) … it had chilled overnight. All my components were warm which loosened the tofu mixture. Not saying an overnight chill would have made this into the perfect lasagna, but it definitely would have helped.
Presenting at the Bites Bash was a lot of fun, if a little crazy. Six minutes isn’t a lot of time to present our dishes, do a demo, and interact with the audience. But that’s the challenge and it must be met.
I loved working with Rebekah and Katie. They are strong, driven women and I felt we really came together as a team. The best part of the Bites Bash was feeding and interacting with the guests one-on-one. We could just relax and do what we love best -- sharing food and food conversation.
By the time elimination came around, I knew my dish had some issues, but I didn’t know how it compared to everyone else’s. Everyone is doing their best -- but is your best enough? Are you learning fast enough? How much will that one miscalculation cost you?
I was in the bottom three, but I was safe. This was my second time cooking alongside Rebekah -- first in Orlando and second at the Bites Bash. She has a pure, giving heart and has a contagious enthusiasm for food.
Lessons learned for next round: 1) Don’t make anything that needs time to set, 2) Don’t say something is cheese-less when it actually does have cheese, 3) Roll with the punches. If the terrine works, but the lasagna won’t -- don’t do it!, 4) Stay true to your roots and culinary POV, but don’t go out of your way to make something “different”.
As always, grateful for all your support! I’ll see you next week on Episode 4!