Thursday, February 9, 2012

Toronto Underground Market Sample Day

The Toronto Underground Market doesn't just allow any old home cook or hash slinger to peddle their wares and fares. One must first prove to be capable, and thus they have 'sample day' - a sort of cooking audition.  Above is a picture of me on sample day back in August 2011. Clearly, a sweating nervous wreck.  My food concept was still a bit jumbled in my mind at the time. It was about a thousand degrees Celsius outside and unbelievably humid that day. I dragged the kids with me to the Brickworks (the venue of the market) along with a panini press (I needed to toast the bread), my knives and a bunch of other stuff. I remember for the presentation and assembly of the dishes, I was kind of making it up as I went along. I had all the ingredients and cooking down pat, I just had never really presented in front of people before. It was very stressful. Anyway, the food was good enough that I was deemed an official vendor (an amazingly proud moment).  A month and a half later, I had a line-up at my booth about 100 people deep and sold out of everything in a few hours. The market was an absolute blast and will be etched in my memory for many years to come. It was also a very humbling learning experience. Never try to cook 30 pounds of pork belly, 20 pounds of beef flank, several coils of blood pudding, hand-make 150 cod fish cakes, wash, chip and double fry 50 pounds' worth of potatoes, pickle your own onions AND make your own mayonnaise from scratch...all in one day.

Just don't do it.

I did.  It very nearly killed me (and the dear friends who naively volunteered to help). Also I couldn't help but be concerned about the quality of the cooking when producing large volumes at super fast speed - another lesson that I carefully noted for the next time.

This time around, I have simplified the menu, and will most definitely take advantage of the extra day of prep we were offered. Nevertheless, I really hope that I can wow the judges so I can get into another food market. My last menu was very flesh-centric; pork belly, crackling, rare beef flanks, blood pudding etc. Don't get me wrong - those things are all very delicious. However, given that the market will be held in March, with the dawn of spring somewhere on the horizon, I want to lighten things up a bit. I will have a vegetarian choice on offer this time (albeit deliciously deep fried), and I have improved on a couple of old recipes.  I just hope it's enough to become a vendor again. It really depends on what kind of competition I'm up against. As soon as I know I'm through, I will post my menu. Wish me luck!

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