It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Standing in the hottest kitchen on the planet, or so it felt, wondering briefly what I had got myself into, they called the start time. And we were off and running. Chef’s were everywhere, a sea of white, all with the same pale pallor, filled with fear and already weary from the heat. Omelette’s were first up, it sounds simple but making the best omelette of your life whilst three judges watch you, is an intimidating prospect. The smell of melting butter filled the kitchen, I was quietly happy when I heard the hiss of eggs hitting a pan, the sound of a pan too hot for a good omelette. Thank god it wasn’t my pan. I quietly tended to my eggs, trying not to be scared, not to pull it off too soon or too late. The omelette slid out of the pan and onto a plate, I called for service, the judge took it away and I knew I was on my way.
Next up was my main course; I silently cursed myself as I attempted to make crisp pastry in a kitchen that must have been breaking temperature records. The butter in the pastry was unhappy, I was unhappy but somehow my old friend butter did its thing and the tarts were rolled. Time was passing faster than I liked and everything was a blur, the hands on the clock seemed to be moving quicker now. They called 10 minutes until main course and fear filled my body, my broad beans were still in their pods, my asparagus was still not sliced but something keeps pushing you. My team manager walked up and asked me how I was feeling and I told him that some sick part of me loved the thrill. Adrenaline is pumping through your body, you’re moving more briskly now, somehow you’re doing four things at once and by some small miracle, it’s coming together. I plated my main course with seconds to spare and I felt like I was home free. I was two thirds of the way there and I was relatively happy with what I had achieved, it was far from perfect but it was ok.
And then I opened the blast chiller and my world came crashing down around me, everything that I had worked for was fading away. I could almost see my dream slipping away. Nothing was set, the blast chiller was not working and everyone’s food was far from frozen. My panna cotta’s were thick liquid instead of quivering creamy rectangles, my honey jelly was fragile and vulnerable and my iced chocolate ganache looked like it belonged in a chocolate fountain instead of an ice cream scoop. It was and this is no exaggeration, a disaster. I had 15 minutes to plate and nothing to plate. As I so profoundly put it later in the day, it was a plate with five different flavoured puddles. After it was all over, after I quietly cried my way through the washing up, I walked over to the viewing room to see my work and the work of my peers. I walked along the line of plates, attractive desserts were in abundance and I was confronted by my plate. A sad, murky pool of liquid. I strode out into the tropical heat of the campus and hid myself away, I wanted to scream and cry. The month of training, putting my life on hold, was all suddenly a waste of time, not because of me but because a piece of equipment was faulty. If it was my fault, I could accept it but it was all so horribly beyond my control.
I woke up this morning with my hopes of having a medal of any colour, a distant memory. Tonight we are off to the casino for a fancy dinner and medal presentation; at least I can cheer and scream when my amazing team mates no doubt collect medals. And I can fly home tomorrow knowing that I have made new friends, knowing that I had the opportunity to visit Darwin and most importantly, knowing that you can never trust a blasted blast chiller!