One second you’re standing over a covered basket filled with three secret ingredients. The next you’re flying into action — cutting, cooking, grabbing spices — using those ingredients plus a few others to craft a dish that will impress a chef.
Does it sound like a challenge? It is, but our Culinary Apprenticeship students were up to the task. Mystery Basket is a semi-annual event, held once in the fall and once in the spring during the program’s nine-month run. During each Mystery Basket, students have 90 minutes to prepare a dish featuring three mystery ingredients that aren’t revealed until the timer starts: a protein, a starch and a vegetable.
The challenge tests the students’ creativity and their ability to think on their feet, both important qualities in a trained chef.
“It’s not always easy to pull together an entree with sides from scratch when there’s no recipe,” said Pam Moss, program manager, “but it’s a learning experience. And you can really see how these students improve in their craft from the December event to the final Mystery Basket at the end of the course.”
During the Dec. 10 Mystery Basket night, all 12 students successfully whipped up a complete main course. Finished creations included flounder with spinach, garlic mash and corn relish; shrimp and white cheddar jalapeno grits on a bed of wilted kale; and chipotle cinnamon pork tenderloin with sweet potato fries, cinnamon apples and green beans sautéed with bacon.
After they finished, their chef instructor gave recommendations on what worked and what didn’t, so they can improve for next time. Dave Kanealii, a cicerone and 2014 Culinary graduate, was also on hand to give advice to the students and tips on how to make a winning dish.