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Gluten-Free Cooking Spree

I’ve been meaning to write about what happened at the
Gluten-Free Cooking Spree event that I attended last week… it was a pretty
funny story.

Gastro Girl and I were invited to a cook off for celiac
awareness – we were told that we would be helping a chef to create a gluten
free entrée on a stage in front of a large audience with CNN’s Heidi Collins
presiding.  There were 7 teams consisting of a chef, a doctor and a reporter.  It
sounded like Iron Chef (with a hint of “Scrubs” since I was cooking).  On the debriefing phone call we were told
that our chef would be provided with all the necessary ingredients (thanks to
Wegman’s sponsorship) and that we only needed to show up 30 minutes prior and
take instructions from our chef.  We had
1 hour to prepare the entrée and our meal would be judged against 6 other teams…

Sounds easy enough… but wait till you hear what really went
down.  First of all, much to the surprise
and amazement of Gastro Girl and me, all the other teams brought sous chefs
from their respective restaurants to the cook off.  Not only that, but they had cooked and
prepared most of their meal in advance, and were using the kitchen time to mix
and heat things.  They were dressed
impeccably in white cooking smocks and hamming it up for the CNN camera crew.  Our poor chef, Chef “Rock” (Rahman Harper)
from B. Smith’s Restaurant, got caught in some heavy DC traffic (this happens
when a motorcade of some ilk appears out of nowhere) and arrived about forty
minutes late.

Now, far from being an Iron Chef TV set, our facility was
actually a real hotel kitchen – steamy hot, grease covered tile floor, one
industrial gas stove, and stainless steel pots and pans hanging on wires
dangling above metal tables.  Gastro Girl
and I had come straight from work, and were wearing business attire, with heals
and the whole bit.  As I slid my way to
an unclaimed table, trying not to fall down in the grease in front of the CNN
cameras, I put my head together with Gastro Girl about how we could at least
find all our ingredients and have them ready for Chef Rock when he appeared.

We were the last team to arrive in the kitchen, and all the
ingredients had been handed out to the different teams… a box of groceries was
left for us in the walk-in cooler.  As we
removed all the items we realized that many of our ingredients were missing (we
were planning to make cheese grits and a sort of spicy shrimp Jambalaya).  In fact, there were only 2 cups of shrimp
(frozen and unpeeled!) in our box… and we were supposed to be cooking for 50
people… near our table was a group of sous chefs from a competing team, with a
large bucket of shrimp, grinning from ear-to-ear as they watched Gastro Girl
and me talking about our predicament.

Our situation was not lost on the organizers, however, and a
very kind lady asked us to give her a list of our missing ingredients so that
she could send someone to buy them for us.
Chef Rock appeared, and allayed our fears – “we can make this work, even
if we need to change the recipe a bit.”

Well, the other teams took up most of the burners on the
stove, and we had to wait until the last minute to cook our shrimp… and with 30
seconds to spare, Chef Rock came through with a gorgeous dish of soul food that
was whisked away to a large judge’s table in a crowd of hundreds.  Gastro Girl and I wiped the nervous sweat
from our brow and followed him out to the booth we had in the ballroom.

There were several presentations made, with introductions of
the various teams (Gastro Girl and I shouted “wooo-hooo” when our team was
announced, and waved to the crowd – we had the best team spirit)… and finally
the winner was announced… it wasn’t our dish unfortunately (coriander crusted
skate won), but several members of the crowd told me that they liked ours best.

And so, the Gluten-Free Cooking Spree was a great success,
raising money and awareness for celiac disease.
The chaos behind the scenes went unnoticed by the participants, and I
felt proud of our little team – having pulled off a near miracle against all

Next year, we’ll be back with a vengeance… Watch out, sly
competitors – Dr. Val, Gastro Girl, and The Rock will be armed and dangerous!

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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