“Fifty minutes are on the clock!” the Chef shouted through his bullhorn as he stood at the front of the large, spotless commercial kitchen, “Ready, Set, Get Cooking!”
Three teammates and I were gathered around a gleaming, stainless steel prep station covered with cutting boards and mixing bowls, each of us wearing matching green aprons and slightly panicked looks on our faces. We had just been given a challenge to cook, plate, and present an appetizer to the judges by the end of the hour. Actually less than an hour, 50 minutes, which was now counting down on a large clock on the wall.
I was living my own Food Network dream by participating in a cooking competition at Team Building with Taste in Dallas.
Team Building with Taste gives you a chance to test your cooking skills, build communication and show of your creativity in the kitchen. This unique cooking experience allows you to compete against up to 3 other teams. Each team gets a prep station in a commercial kitchen with top of the line utensils, ovens, and grills. Fresh ingredients are at your fingertips and an entire table of spices, oils and condiments awaits.
When You Arrive
It starts like an innocent cocktail party, with appetizers and drinks. Our group was mainly DFW bloggers, some faces I knew but others I was meeting for the first time. After signing a waiver, we gathered in the bright private dining space, sipping Mimosas and getting to know each other before splitting into teams. One important note – you must wear closed toe shoes when cooking in a commercial kitchen.
After enjoying our drinks, Chef Joey Allette welcomed us and went over the menu for the Cooking Up Camaraderie Team Building Program. The dishes are mainly heavy Hors d’oeuvres, with recipes provided for each dish. Each team would be working with a master chef, who was familiar with the recipe. But we were also encouraged to experiment to give our dish our own unique flair.
The Chefs gathered at the front of the room and drew our names from a bowl, dividing us into four teams. After washing our hands and putting on our aprons, our first task was to come up with a team name.
In the Kitchen
Our team was given a recipe for Scotch Eggs, which consists of a soft boiled egg wrapped in sausage, breaded, and deep fried. Inspired by our recipe, we came up with the team name “Scotch, Scotch Baby.” Our Master Chef said our first task was decide how we would plate/present our dish. Did we want to make a slaw, salad, or vegetable to serve with the Scotch Eggs? While I grabbed several white plates for our final plated dish, my teammates whipped out their phones and got on Pinterest for recipe ideas.
“What about grilled romaine with a creamy parmesan dressing?” one of my teammates asked. We quickly agreed and went to the table to grab additional ingredients and seasonings. I chose garlic, cucumber, onions, and butter lettuce since there was no romaine available. And bacon, because everything is better with bacon. We also needed to add some spices to our sausage and cornflake breading for the eggs, so we grabbed cayenne and black pepper, creole seasoning, hot mustard, and Himalayan sea salt.
The bacon went in a skillet on the stove while we got to work seasoning the sausage and breading. “Taste as you go” our Chef reminded us. We seasoned the sausage, grilled it and shared a taste around the table. It didn’t have much taste, so more seasoning was added. Butter lettuce was grilled and tasted. It was bland but I figured it would taste better once we added some the creamy parmesan dressing. The dressing! Someone needed to start on the dressing!
By the time I peeled the eggs and two other teammates were working on the dressing, it was time to assemble the Scotch Eggs. I grabbed a pair of gloves to keep my hands clean while I worked with the sausage, egg wash and breading. First we wrapped the soft boiled eggs in the seasoned sausage. Then we rolled it in egg wash, dipped it in flour, back in the egg wash then finally rolled in the seasoned cornflake mixture. Finally they went in the deep fryer (I have not idea for how long, since another teammate was in charge of the deep fryer), then in the oven.
As the eggs were in the oven, the rest of the team was making our dressing and two of us attempted to “grill” butter lettuce. Let me tell you what happens when you grill butter lettuce – it turns to green mush. But with less than 2 minutes on the clock, we spread it on a plate, added our Scotch egg, sprinkled it with bacon, and swirled the dressing on the plate.
Presenting Your Dish
Back in the private dining space, all four dishes were displayed for the judges on a table at the front of the room. Then we had just a few minutes to come up with a “marketing” presentation. Somehow, I was chosen to give an enticing presentation to the judge. What our dished lacked in plated appeal, I tried to make up for it with my enthusiasm. As my team hummed the tune of “Ice, Ice Baby” behind me, to represent our team name “Scotch, Scotch Baby,” I described our dish in detail.
By this time we were hungry and ready to eat! More cocktails and wine were available, so I filled my glass and sampled a bite of each dish. First was a Korean Beef lettuce wraps with Kimchee. Second was creamy smoked salmon on crostini. The third dish was Choripan slides with chimichurri sauce. Last was our Scotch eggs with bacon and creamy parmesan-chipotle sauce. The chefs also prepared us salted caramel brownies with fresh berries for dessert.
Eating and Awards
As we filled our plates, the judges were busy scoring our dishes. Our score was based on a combination of time (25%), presentation (25%) and taste (50%). Because we were a little pressed for time that day, I think they let our “time” portion of the judging slide a little. Our eggs were not even plated at the end of 50 minutes. Also our dish was the last one to arrive at the judges table.
Everyone’s dish tasted delicious, the beef wraps were perfectly seasoned and the sauce on the sliders had an unexpected kick. Our Scotch Egg was okay, but it was not my favorite. The best dish, hands down, was the smoked salmon on crostini. I later found out that the recipe for Scotch Eggs was Chef Joey’s signature dish at Scotch and Sausage in Dallas. Which meant we probably should have stuck to the original recipe and not added our own flair.
After deliberating, the judges awarded the winner to… Team 2 with their Smoked Salmon crostini!!!
The Nitty Gritty
Team Building with Taste offers a variety of packages, ranging from corporate team building to a girls night out. They have found a way to combine cooking with creativity, engagement and a unique team building experience. Costs range from $69 – $109 per person for events, plus the cost of beer and wine consumed. They even offer dessert challenges starting at $45 per person. There is a 10 person minimum per event but they can handle parties up to 100! Details on the packages available are listed below:
Team Building With Taste – 3 Hours
Taste of Innovation – 3 hours
Cooking up Camaraderie – 2 hours
I love cooking but I have never experienced a challenge like Team Building with Taste. The Chefs encourage you to experiment and taste your food along the way. Working with a team means you have to communicate and delegate responsibility. The clock counting down on the wall adds to the excitement and I LOVED feeling like I was participating in a real cooking competition. It also showed me that the chaos in my kitchen at home (filled with dogs and kids) is nothing compared to the chaos of four teams competing against each other in the same kitchen!
If you are looking for a corporate team building event or just a fun cooking challenge with friends, I highly recommend Team Building with Taste. Just don’t the recipe for Scotch Eggs… trust me on this.