Sunday, December 13, 2009

Top Chef: Nicaragua!

Oh, my, god, Becky...
Yesterday the owner of the resort invited the contractors who helped develop it (water guy, plant guy, architect, etc) to a celebration dinner. There are 7 people on staff right now, so we had the morning to clean up/unload boxes, and I was going to begin cooking at after lunch! I'd spent the last 2 days in the capital sourcing food & getting equipment. 2 days. No, not finished.
1:30pm. We have had a good morning of unloading/somewhat organizing, but it’s been tough because there is no water on the island. Some sort of leak or clog with the filter. Every hour I hear that it will be fixed in just a few minutes, hopefully. My sous chef begins cooking family meal for a late lunch, some chicken sandwiches. it is pretty much ready in 20-30 minutes (which is a long time to be making sandwiches), but there is this huge runaround- the basic jist is that when 7 out of 8 people are ready to eat, they will hang out for the 8th to be ready, to, but in the meantime, someone else finds something to do, the cycle continues. I wait with patience for water, so I can at least wash my hands, and food, to get started cooking
2:30pm: everyone sits down to family meal (I have eaten by this point- sorry folks, I was hungry! the construction crew brings their own lunches, so I took note and did the same). All I want to do is wash my hands. Then, I find out that the water tower has a decent flow going! With help, I get a huge (clean) trash can full of water from the water tower down to the kitchen and begin to cook around 3:00. By cook, I mean, make a little salsa while also answering any question that comes my way. Did I mention I speak horrible Nicaraguense? So, things move slowly.
Interim pm: 2 of us are in the kitchen cooking, and the other 7 need to take care of front of house- we grab Elsa, who saved the night, and she becomes out dishwasher. HEAVEN. For a moment. The kitchen is full of people looking for stuff, needing the sink, since we are still missing some things, chaos ensues. I am laughing outside, sweating profusely, and freaking out on the inside. The guests arrive, and thank god there is a wine tasting first. We have two appetizers that go out on cool little plates as finger food, which are a hit. The owner is kind of giving me the eye though- I was scared she didn’t like the food... The girls on staff wanted to help out, so I asked them to make the tortillas. Never assume just because girls are Latina they can make tortillas. They tasted tough, but I wanted to give the guests something to eat! Plus, the salsa was good, so hopefully that masked it? There was mystery water coming in buckets at one point, from where, I didn’t even ask. The electricity goes out when I turn on the electric oven. Ugh. Generator, baby! Phew!
5:55pm. I am told that guests are sitting in 10 minutes. I ask 7 people each 2 times how many people are here to eat- because they keep coming and going from the bar area. 8. do-able! wonderful! AND! We have water!!!!!!! But how am I going to make pastries (without tart molds) to put this lime curd in?
6:15pm. I still have a LONG prep list for the entrees and dessert, plus, I have to make these folks breakfast in the morning? The Yuca Mash is Glue. Elmer’s Glue. Everyone is helping out in the kitchen if needed, and each course goes smoothly. We serve the salads and it is great! With so much staff, everyone takes 2 plates and gets served at the same time, if it weren’t for the flies, you’d think you were at the French Laundry. 
6:18pm. Carolina comes in and says we are actually nine. We need another salad. Ah. Ugh. Plating for 8 earlier, I managed to make enough salad for the staff to try, so thank goodness, crisis averted. It’s for the water guy (who, later toasted us to doing such a great job without water), he gets his salad. 

The main courses go well, and dessert, somehow, all works out! It was fun, hard, sweaty, a huge mess. I loved it. The owner gave me a big hug at the end of the night with a simple, smiling, genuine, Thank you.

The meal:
  • Antojitos: Salsa of onions, chiles, papayas and basil with tortillas & Chilotes (those little corn that Tom Hanks eats in Big) with lime mayo and queso seco
  • ***Judge’s Table Comments would have been***: why didn’t you just make more tortillas? you had more corn meal, right? They are so simple! Typical contestant response: I ran out of time. I should have just served the chilotes. 
  • Salad: roasted beets and cohombro with grapefruit (like a sweet squash)
  • ***delicious - really nice addition of the cohombro. a farm i went to last week gave it to me as a gift. I’d never seen one before
  • Entrees: Family Style: Sesame Seed Crusted Grouper with Roasted Eggplant and An orange scented chiles & Achiote Braised Short Ribs with Jicaro Seed, Broccoli and Cinnamon Bulgar Wheat
  • ***very good. so glad you didn’t serve the Yuca mash, and instead put the bulgar wheat with the short ribs
  • Dessert: frozen bananas with Nicaraguan chocolate and cashews, fresh lime curd ***perfect ending!
We all had a champagne toasts with the guests (to what has been created, and to the future of the hotel! And the owner!) before the boat ride home.
Oh. turns out we couldn’t all fit in the boat. So, 3 of us waited another 40 minutes to get the boat home.
Total day: left the house at 6:15 to go to the Mercado. In bed at midnight. Haven’t had a day like that in a while!

For breakfast this morning, a brief synopsis:

 Boat was late to get us for a 6:30 ride, 8am breakfast. No problem- everyone is used to that, including our great guests. There was a lot of miscommunication about how to use the coffee machines. My original menu contained: poached eggs with oven roasted tomatoes, potatoes roesti, bananas foster pancakes, homemade granola with fruit and yogurt, fresh juice, smoothies, but, I made QUITE a few changes.

The breakfast menu:
  • Fresh squeezed orange juice, Cucumber Water, Coffee
  • Caramelized Onion Frittata with Tomatoes, Cohombro, Garlic, Queso Fresco
  • Roasted Potatoes with Chiles and Garlic
  • Passion Fruit, Papaya, Watermelon and Yogurt

Everyone left happy and exhausted. I wanted to blog about this when I got home earlier, but the electricity in Granada was out until now! Insert canned audience laughter and signature catch phrase here... cue theme music, and, I’m out!

(PHOTOS: end of the night delirium on the star filled boat ride home, fresh chilotes)


  1. You made me LOL. You are amazing! Great responses under pressure.

  2. Judges Table Comments:

    You know, I like the way that Calley is able to make adjustments on the fly, that is what makes a real Top Chef. But what bothers me, though, is why did she not intervene on the tortillas -- she even admitted that they were inadequate. But overall, I was very satisfied with her flavors.

  3. Lady, you are having a totally different adventure than I've ever had. I'm so impressed!

  4. I love it! Great work under pressure. The dessert sounds great - what a bold move deciding to make one.

  5. I'm a little late chiming in, but man oh man! What a day and what a dinner! So you're going to be on Top Chef next year, right? right?