It’s been a few days since we competed in the bacon division here in Las Vegas at the World Food Championships. Unfortunately we did not make the top 10 out of our group of 39, but we’ll get to that later.
We got in late Monday night last week, got our rental car, and drove down to the El Cortez in downtown Las Vegas where we were staying at their Cabana suites. The casino is older, but the suites are in a separate building, newly renovated, smoke-free, quiet, and most importantly, cheap! It’s in Fremont East, which over the past few years has transformed from the place tourists were warned to stay away from, to a hub of arts, cool bars, great dining, and innovative creations like the container park.
Any other time we’ve landed late in Vegas, we’d dump our stuff in the room, then head out drinking until all hours of the night. This time we called it a night early as we had a lot of running around to do the next couple of days to get prepped for competition on Thursday.
On Tuesday the first thing we did was unpack all the stuff we brought with us to make sure nothing got lost or forgotten. Everything got double-checked against our checklist. Then we headed out to get supplies, looking for a wheeled cooler, visiting all the Filipino bakeries to find the best pandesal, and looking for some plates to use for our presentation. We had plates for our 1st dish, but needed some for our 2nd dish, and options for our 3rd if we made it to the top 10.
Later Tuesday night we used a couple of free coupons from MyVegas to eat at Yusho, and watch Cirque De Soleil: Zarkana. The show was great, and the meal was even better – hard to go wrong with a Japanese street food style place. Free/cheap deals really saved us this trip – with our $ going towards the truck, there wasn’t much extra to spare to spend on Vegas indulgences.
Wednesday we went out to grab all of our ingredients for our 2 dishes on day 1. We went to Whole Foods for our produce and International Marketplace for our Asian ingredients. International Marketplace was awesome with aisles full of foods from different European and Asian countries – sort of like Nations back in Hamilton, but on steroids. I wish we had a place like that close by – I wouldn’t shop anywhere else!
We were also lucky enough to meet Dennis, Chelsea, and Kent from Urban Hydro Greens. We thought we had some microgreens for garnishing our dishes lined up, only to find out the person I spoke to had the wrong information (whatever can go wrong, will go wrong). I found Urban Hydro Greens on Google and even though they didn’t normally open for retail business, Dennis was nice enough to let us come in and put together a great mix of greens for us to use. We got a tour of their operation too, and we were really impressed at how they were focused on building a local and sustainable business. We also learned a lot about the individual properties of the greens and ended up altering our plans with some suggestions from Dennis. Thanks again guys!
Later that night we met up with some of the other Canadian teams for some whiskey and pictures, then took part in the opening parade (really more like a short walk), before heading over to the PICNIC rooftop pool lounge at the Downtown Grand for the WFC welcome party. Was fun to hang out with some of the other competitors and get hyped up for competition the next day!
Finally it was Thursday – hopefully the first of 3 days of competition. A mix of excitement and time difference had me wake up at 4am, and I futilely tried to squeeze a bit more sleep in. We went out to pick up our fresh pandesal from Valerio’s bakeshop, and grab a few more last minute supplies. Then we got everything packed, and sat around and waited for what seemed like forever. Our competition wasn’t until 2:30 in the afternoon, and the day just seemed to drag on and on until then.
We hauled our food and supplies up the street to the kitchen coliseum in time watch our friends in Team Canada finish up their second turn in in the recipe division. It looked and tasted fantastic, and scored a 98/100, which I think was the highest score of all of the first round scores. Then it was time for our cooks meeting, then off to our assigned kitchens. We ended up next to our friends Jeff and Jennifer – fellow Canadians and winners of the Roc City bacon competition (the first one I tried to qualify in).
The first thing we noticed at our station was that we only had 2 pieces of the 14 piece cook set we were supposed to be provided – not good as we needed almost every pan. The volunteers did a great job however and got us our missing pots and pans very quickly (they were also awesome about helping cleanup!). Then it was time to setup and start cooking our first dish – the Korean Bacon sliders – almost exactly the same as what we served on our food cart this summer, with a couple of minor tweaks.
Everything was going well. We were on schedule, and didn’t run into any other hiccups. Then about 10 minutes before turn ins, we started to run into problems. The stove we were cooking on was an induction cooktop, and for the life of me I just couldn’t figure out its quirks when it came to toasting the buns for our dish (cooking on something new for the first time at competition sucks). I ended up burning half of them, and the rest got the colour I wanted, but not the crispiness. With all the time spent on that, we ended up cutting it really close and barely made our turn ins on time – with some additional drama as I forgot to include the card with our dish name and had Jeannie yelling at me from the turn in tent and me running as fast as a fat guy can to bring it in. We made it with about 30 seconds to spare. Extra thanks to Sean and Tabitha from Team Canada who were watching and keeping an eye on the clock for us – would have lost track of it without you!
The other problem that came up was that during practice, I had been doing most of the finishing of the dishes, and Jeannie didn’t know what had to be done to finish them so she couldn’t help me much when we were rushing to finish. That’s something that we’ll definitely address for any future competitions.
Our second turn in went much smoother – even though things went wrong with it. Part of the dish is a 5 minute soft boiled egg that then gets breaded in panko and parmesan and quickly deep fried, so you get a nice crispy shell and then when you break into it, the soft yolk oozes out. Peeling a soft boiled egg is really delicate work, and Jeannie was having a particularly hard time with it here, with us ending up with 7 out of 18 usable – luckily we only needed 6, and I didn’t split any of them during the breading and deep frying stage. Luckily for us we had practised this before, and knew that peeling the eggs could go wrong, so we knew to make sure we had lots of extras boiled.
This time our turn ins were ahead of schedule, and I was even able to get a picture of our dish!
Once turn ins were done, we got cleaned up, got some drinks, then headed over to the stage for awards. Our friends in Team Canada got 1st in the recipe division, and with a pretty good lead too. We ended up not getting called into the top 10, which was a big downer. Our friends Jeff and Jennifer didn’t either, so we headed over to La Comida to drown our sorrows with tequila and Mexican food. Had a really delicious torta there, which gave me a lot of ideas to try to work into our own dishes for the truck. We ran into the team that ended up 2nd place in bacon last year but didn’t crack the top 10 this year, and we joked around about how much it would suck to finish 11th.
The next morning I woke up to Jeannie screaming. The detailed scores were posted, and we found out that we finished 11th, barely missing the 10 spot by 0.3 points out of 100. That really sucked. I went in between feeling really happy that we did that well, and being upset that a tiny improvement to our dish could have made up those 0.3 points. I immediately thought to how rushed we were on our first dish, and the garnishes that didn’t make it onto our presentation dish that could have made all the difference.
Finally I settled on the feeling of being happy to be 11th best in the world at cooking bacon – which sounds pretty awesome when you put it that way. I stopped looking at what it would take to make up the 0.3, and I’m focused on what we would have to improve on to make up the 6 point difference between 11th and 1st place. We had solid scores even though things went wrong and we missed some components, and there are lots of areas we looked at that we can improve in, especially in our organization and presentation – so lots of points to make up!
We’re definitely going to try to qualify again next year, and I’ll be working on trying out all kinds of different techniques and recipes. There’s such a world of flavours and knowledge out there when it comes to cooking and I’ve barely scratched the surface of it. We’ve been lucky to eat a lot of really great food here, and there are definitely some flavours that have inspired me and will surface in our own dishes for the truck next year.
We’ve got one day left here in Vegas and we’ll be enjoying the sun before heading back to the frozen north and the snow. Once we’re back we’ll be focusing on our planning for next year and getting our truck built. It’s been a crazy week here in Vegas and an adventure. Got to hang out with some old friends and met some new ones and share some unique experiences with them. But now I miss my degs, and can’t wait to get back home and focus on the next steps of our journey!