All that was running through my head was "What am I doing here?". After two and a half hours slaving away, chopping, slicing, freezing, boiling, mixing and other things ending with "-ing", I surveyed a sloppy custard tart in front of me and could have cried.
So how did it come to this exactly? Actually, it all started approximately 12 months ago. Back in the day when I was a blogging newcomer, a fair few of my new found friends entered a competition called "NomNomNom". A competition with that many "Nom's" in its name has got to be worth entering, right? With tales of madcap dashing around in the markets, burning things and general tales of drunken antics, I told myself that this would be the stage to prove that I could cook, to prove that I wasn't a total buffoon in the kitchen, to prove that I was capable of more than just writing about restaurants.
Courtesy of Tikichris
Twelve months later and the trumpet sounded. "All who would dare compete for the prize of most illustrious NomNomNommer, please apply here". Finding a partner was easy. I have already cooked with Carla from Bribedwithfood a few times, and although often considered no more than her "bitch", we entered together under the moniker of "The Cultural Hotpot", two people with more cultural ambiguity than a Benetton ad.
The prep did not start well. During the four weeks between entering and the actual day of reckoning, I spent 3 of them traipsing around South Africa, leaving me woefully underprepared. Thankfully, Carla had put in a few trial runs of the starter and the main, with the rather ambitous Strawberry Custard tart with Pimms sorbet in my hands. Two and half hours to make pastry, a set custard and a sorbet? In hindsight, this was a pretty insane proposition as I was soon to find out.
Arriving early at The Cookery School on Little Portland Street on a Sunday morning, we gathered our shopping bags, outlined our stock ingredients and set off for the market at a feverish pace. Marylebone farmers market can be found hidden away behind Waitrose every Sunday (10am to 2pm) and we managed to purchase some delicious (if pricy) vegetables and fruits before heading to the Ginger Pig for some pork to be used in the main and Waitrose for the last few ingredients we could not locate.
A swift return and a health and safety briefing later, it was time to show the world what a culinary genius I was. That was the moment everything started to go wrong. After calmly telling Carla that it didn't matter if we won, my insanely competetive instinct took over but I could not avoid the juggernaut of relative failure. First there was too much sugar in the sorbet, then I had run out of yolks for the custard and had to borrow one, then the cornstarch wasn't getting cooked. Error after error presented themselves to me, all of which could have been avoided with a simple trial run or two. Carla calmly went about her business and presented two excellent plates of food, whilst I surveyed my sad sloppy tart. I was a broken man, staring down at my custardy mess as others around me presented plates upon plates of highly "nommable" plates of food.
We didn't win, but we certainly had put our heart and soul into our food. I was severely disappointed with what I had done, but I always learn from my mistakes and next time I can guarantee that my strawberry custard tart will be error free (or at the very least, served in smaller pastry cases, and maybe a seperate glass for the Pimms "granita"). We proceeded to stuff our faces with everyone elses food and sat around a huge dinner table, chatting and drinking. After an agonising wait, the winners were announced and the rather hefty prizes were dished out, with a triumphant Food Urchin and Rachel McCormack taking first prize.
This is not where the story ends. The competition had many kind and generous contributors for prizes and the ultimate aim is to raise some cash for Action Against Hunger, a very worthy charity. If you want to do your bit, and maybe win a selection of amazing prizes, click right here which will take you through to an excellent raffle where you can win an array of food, kitchen utensils and...well....more food!
Thanks to Mex and all at the Cookery school (especially Ros and Claudine) for giving up their free time. Oh, and we can't forget all the lovely people who donated prizes and lovely things to put into our heaving goodie bags (a full list can be found here). Next year, I will be better prepared and will (maybe) win. Be warned ;)
p.s. If you want to see any more of my photos, you can find them here. Recipes to follow.