11:00 AM: arrive at the Elm Street Center, unload equipment and check the Southern Foods pantry truck to make an inventory list. Chef teams will check for freshness and quality of the fruit, vegetables, meat and seafood. Every and anything you could possibly need to produce a high-quality meal will be on the truck. The chefs have limited time for planning (and cooking), so an inventory check helps out in the long-run. Every chef in his or her own restaurant will do this on a daily basis as well.
12:00 PM: Gather in the Empire Room. All cell phones and other electronic devices are gathered and locked away for safekeeping. From that moment on, the only contact the chefs will have with the outside world is the people they encounter in the kitchen and if they are smokers, a quick (escorted) walk to the loading dock. The chefs watch the same video montage that the diners will view 7 hours later. The featured ingredient is revealed to them the same way it is revealed to the dining public. It's quite dramatic, actually.
|Meeting of the minds|
After the "Chef Ref" Laurence Willard explains what is available regarding the secret ingredient, he also explains that final menus are to be turned into him my 3:30 PM and then the teams race off for menu planning and ingredient procuring.
|Team Noble's, plannin' and procurin'|
|Team J. Pepper's overloaded cart and overzealous excitement about pork belly|
|Competition Dining manager, Joel Sullivan, sorts out seating charts. It's worse than a wedding seating cart. Really. It is.|
|Messy, messy seating chart (names have been changed to protect the hungry)|
Back to the chefs: A day in the life of a chef is hard work. Both teams (6 people) work side-by-side in a small kitchen. A small, hot kitchen. A small, hot, unfamiliar kitchen. Tempers flare sometimes. But so do gas stoves, so it's okay.
|40 lbs of shaved fennel, anyone?|
3:30 PM: The menus have been turned in hours ago and the cooking is in full swing.
|Chicken scratch menu from Team Noble's|
|Chefs can bring their toys from home to play with during Competition Dining|
Teams are allowed to bring additional equipment to the kitchen. Chefs bring anything from Cambros to ramekins to sausage makers and thermal immersion circulators. The chef from the opposite team has the right to veto the use of equipment, so each has a level playing field.
6:00 PM: It's crunch time. The small kitchen becomes smaller as the teams begin to finish up dishes and move a little quicker from the oven, stove and walk-in.
6:30 PM: The work tables are cleared and it's time for plating to begin.
7:20 PM: The first dishes start to be plated.
|"Chef Ref" Laurence Willard stands by to supervise the plating and expediting|
|All attempts to keep the hot food hot and the cold food cold are taken.|
|My personalized place setting|
|...because it's Got To Be NC!|