Dinner: Impossible


1000 construction workers, a basically non-existent kitchen, and construction workers for sous-chefs. 7 hours. Oh, and whatever he makes, he has to serve in paper bags.

They don’t want him to succeed, do they? He’s cooking in the emergency kitchens in the Salvation Army rehab unit vehicles. Requests: no vegetarian nonsense. Lots of meat. Hot is preferred to cold. It’s like cooking for Josh and Housemate! Only in a brown paper bag.

He sets his construction team on MacGuyvering a kitchen into existence while he and George shop for food – and he finally gets his inspiration for dessert from Raisin Bran of all places. As usual, he’s got an absurd number of courses. I want to know how he’s fitting those in a bag?

Anyway, so he comes to a lack of hardware. No pots. What’s a guy to do? Substitute wheelbarrows. Washed out wheelbarrows. Ew?

The coleslaw looked like so much fun to make. They had it two of those rolling Tupperware that are huge. My family keeps our Christmas tree in a container just like that. They make several hundred pounds of coleslaw in these containers. It was awesome. In this episode, like no episode previous, I really got an idea of the sheer scale of cooking for that many people. Stirring that much coleslaw with your hands. Watching that many meatballs transfer from one container to another. Looking on as someone chops through that many bananas, that fast. Wow, people. Wow.

I mean, obviously catering services do this all the time. Even fast food services. I’m pretty sure I’ve watched that many meatballs fly out of the pan and into the customer’s hands on meatball-sub day, but I wasn’t making them in one fell swoop. They were made in gallon sized jugs. It’s crazy to watch this much food fly through the hands of a team of 10 people in 7 hours.

The chicken and pork sandwiches are to be topped with a peach aoili, so he pours several gallons of canned peaches into a bright red plastic wheelbarrow and he just starts blending with his handy-dandy immersion blender. Awesome.

He’s got all the foods in their huge tubs, and they’re starting to “plate” (read: stick things in covered styrofoam and disposable plastic containers) when it finally starts to rain. Robert finally gets all the food covered and back to moving on the creation and plating of the food when the construction workers decide that being outside when it’s raining is too goof for them. What!? You’re construction workers. Brave those elements! If Robert the snooty chef can do it, so can you!

Being Robert, however, he perseveres even in the face of inanity. He manages to finish. Five minutes to spare, ladies and gentlemen, and Robert finishes the challenge. He gets it all inside for the wee baby construction workers, he completes it all, lines it all up buffet-style, and they love it. Go Robert!

So, I’ve been called out. I have a celebrity crush – two, actually. Alton Brown (I’ll wax poetic on him probably Saturday – new Feasting on Asphalt!) and Robert Irvine.

I’ve waxed poetic on him before, but today, I want to talk about his briefcase. You might have noticed it? It’s full of Robert’s secret weapons – because every culinary superhero has secret weapons.

Robert’s?

  • Rice wine vinegar
  • Robert’s handmade demi-glace
  • Stone ground mustard
  • A blender
  • A mandoline
  • Titanium knives

A nice selection there, 3 favorite ingredients that might otherwise be hard to find, and 3 favored tools.

To put myself to the same challenge, what 3 favorite ingredients and tools would I require to do what Robert does? (hah. Like I could ever do what Robert does.) But, in a pinch, what would I need to cook in someone else’s home without preparation?

Here is where that personal spice blend could come in handy! I’ll start with the tool set, it seems easier. Obviously, Robert has the right idea with the knives. You simply cannot survive without a good set of knives. You don’t know if theirs are going to be sharp! Or, in the case of the frat house, rusting into oblivion. So, knives. I wouldn’t take a mandoline, I never use just a mandoline. I would take my small box grater, though. I call it my cowbell and I love it. (Everything needs more cowbell!) I love grating fresh cheese, it has a microplaner and a wavy-grater (for carrots and the like) and mine comes with a mandoline side. Not quite as fast as a professional mandoline, but we’re going to assume I either have time or sous-chefs to set to the task.

I wouldn’t even consider a blender. If there isn’t one where I was supposed to be, it wasn’t meant to be. We can assume that spatulas, spoons, and that like will be there. If I’m cooking at a non-griller’s personal home, I’d desperately want my spring-loaded tongs. But then, a pastry/grill brush? A whisk? The trouble is, if I know I’m not cooking in a professional kitchen, what can I assume they have? But, I’m also quite resourceful – a fork is a simple whisk, a spoon and fork can substitute for tongs, and certainly you can always use a spoon to baste things with, you just have to be careful.

And while I was typing that sentence, I thought of it. My personal hand-mixer. It was a wedding gift, and the set comes with a whisk attachment, your normal mix attachment, and an immersion blender. I love it, and more importantly it’s really hard to substitute.

Wow. So now I have to get back to things I’d want to take. Well, do I get a shopping trip? Then I can assume things, like coconut milk, will in fact be available. I’ve never come across a grocer’s that doesn’t have it, and I usually go to a very sorely understocked grocer.

We’ll assume that. I can go to my local-local grocer’s, which has things like bread and meat, and doesn’t have things like pre-made peanut sauce, or even red chili flakes.

Which brings me to, yes, I’m taking my chili flakes. Pry it from my cold dead hands. Heat! (we’re assuming garlic is a go at any grocer’s, ever. Ever. It’s like the third most common spice in America after pepper). I’d want to pick up my favorite honey-mustard, which is really good. It comes in the little squat bottle that’s clear and looks like “ye olde germaine honyed mustart.” Or something. It’s hofermann’s something or other, it’s really good. And it is a critical component in at least 3 of my favorite sauces. It also performs admirably as a dijon mustard in a pinch.

Rice wine vinegar? I can’t see myself spontaneously requiring sushi, though. I’m almost always good with the plain white stuff and some sugar for all other applications, and if I felt like sushi on that particular day, I’d drop the chili powder and replace it with the vinegar. I almost never feel like both hot things and sushi at the same time.

I think I would finish off with lo mein noodles, which I adore. I don’t require them, I could always use spaghetti, but they are so tasty and add so much to anything. Most, if not all, of my very favorite ingredients are absurdly common. If I can assume flour, I can assume brown sugar and vinegar, garlic, garlic salt, Italian Seasoning Blend. And let us hope I can assume flour? ‘Cause I’m not interested in stale krispy kreme neopolitan.

 What would you take in your super-chef top-secret secret-weapon handbag?

The White Sox (boo!) play the Yankees, where Robert will get his mission.

Not knowing what you are doing is the scariest thing in the world, for anyone: not just Chefs. But now that he does, it’s 200 people, gourmet baseball park meal, with only on-site food – by the seventh inning stretch, meaning that he doesn’t get to know when exactly food’s out – does he have 3 hours, or does he have 45 minutes?

Dave? Dave?! Where are the GEORGES?! Dave is not helping with this, as thus far into the episode they are frenetically grabbing every piece of food in the freezer, rather than coming up with a menu. This is, of course, an exhausting feat.

Acquired: Ice Cream Dots. I want an “Acquired: Ice Cream Dots” sign in my life.

Robert also has to take time off from cooking to toss the first pitch. Being English, he doesn’t have the history of randomly pitching the ball around – he claims to have never even done this once – therefore, he’s convinced he’s going to fail it. He is, as always, utterly honored. Fail it, he does, but he’s got food to cook!

Right now he’s staring standard ballpark food in the eye. Nothing fancy. Just, you know, chicken wings and burgers. Pizza sauce becomes baked gourmet tomato sauce, and somehow margarita mix plus dipping dots is good. He swaps out brat buns for tortillas and cheese. Randomly making food a little more gourmet, but together, it makes it seem as he planned it to be this awesome.

lemon lime lemon lime peppers peppers peppers!

There are so many reasons I love Robert Irvine, and one of them is that he never does anything half-baked. “I can’t serve that, my name’s on it.” More men need to care about what their name is on. “Dinner’s impossible, but you know what, we’re gonna make it!” Yes, Robert, you are. (Also I love that he says “Bugger.” So perfect!)

The bugger, of course, was because he cut himself, pretty nasty, because he was working too quickly.

3 outs left and he’s just not done. Wow, this is down to the wire — except, there is a pitching change! Pitching changes take about 10 minutes, giving him a chance to at least put things in chargers, but then the businesswoman comes up and says, “Sorry, it’s the seventh inning stretch. You’ve struck out.”

He tells her that there is enough upstairs that she should change her tune. And so upstairs she goes, and change her tune she does. Go Robert! It was really awesome. Definitely worth staying up this late for.