We brought in chefs from The Dutch and the Broad Table Tavern for an Open Stove all-soup challenge. We gave them cans and cans and cans of the stuff–plus some ramen, some miso, some onion soup in a packet. We gave them as much soup as we could load into the kitchen. And the weird thing?
No one made soup.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. Kevin Watters from Team Dutch started us off with a butternut squash bisque shooter as an amuse bouche, but that was BEFORE the soup challenge really even started. After I started showing everyone my cans? No more soup. It was…surprising.
Anyway, in that very first, pre-soup round, Shadee Simmons of Team Broad Table matched Team Dutch’s bisque with something that seemed so simple–two deviled eggs, one topped with salmon roe, the other with dried mushroom. And yet they were delicious. An ideal beginning to an evening that was going to go sideways very, very quickly.
So here’s a little something about Open Stove that most people don’t understand. We give them secret ingredients, which you know. We present them with physical challenges sometimes, which you also know. But we’ve been doing this for quite a while now (five years), and no matter how many times we explain that chefs SHOULD NOT ARRIVE WITH PRE-CONCEIVED NOTIONS OF WHAT THEY’RE GOING TO COOK, they just don’t listen. Coming into this thing, Team Broad Table knew they were going to make a scallop crudo for the first course, no matter what. And Team Dutch knew they were going to make crab cakes for the first course, no matter what.
And then I gave them cans of Spaghetti-O’s (and spaghetti with meatballs) as their secret ingredient, along with the instruction that they had to glorify this ingredient, not attempt to hide it, and do you know what they did? They cooked scallop crudo with Spaghetti-O’s and crab cakes with Spaghettio-O’s and it went precisely as well as you’re thinking right now.
Scallop crudo with chopped up canned meatballs and Spaghetti-O’s? Not great. Crab cakes, bulked up with canned spaghetti, and floored with a Spaghetti-O jus? Slightly better, but not by much. And suddenly, both teams understood my warning. You can’t come into our Thunderdome thinking you know what you’re going to cook. That way lies doom and disaster.
Luckily, they learned this lesson quickly and thoroughly and, by the next course, they were ready to rock.
We cooled things out with some shots at this point. Poured a little wine. Took a breath. And when they came back with their main courses? Well, take a look. With chicken noodle soup, mushroom soup, some miso, some ramen and a whole bunch of other no-longer-secret ingredients at their disposal, they thought on their feet, altered their plans, considered the various flavors and textures they’d been offered, and came up with composed plates. It was a perfect turn-around. It was exactly how Open Stove night are supposed to go.
And at the end of it? Hot donuts, ice cream and cheesecake. Nice.
When the final vote was counted, it was Shadee and Team Broad Table that took home the win and the glory. But more importantly (to me, anyway), this competition was an ideal example of the point behind Open Stove. It’s not just a game. It’s not just an excuse to get together, drink a lot and make famous chefs cook with Cool Ranch Doritos and gummy bears. For me, Open Stove exists to continually prove the point that chefs are some of the smartest, most creative, quickest thinking people I have ever known. And that all chefs work best under extraordinary pressure. The further they are from their comfort zones, the more desperate they become, the better the plates.
I’ve spent five years testing this theory, under every ridiculous condition I could dream up. And I haven’t been disappointed yet.
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