On May 26, 2018, I gave my first cooking demo at the Taste-of-All festival in Charleston, West Virginia, during which I made catfish tacos with summer salsa! This particular dish was special to me because I utilized ingredients and techniques that I have learned and used throughout my first year as a competitive chef.
I decided to use catfish because it was an important ingredient that I used when I competed on the Food Network show Cooks vs. Cons. After several mistakes and near fires in the kitchen, my perfectly cooked and season catfish was the only saving grace that got me through the first round. I ultimately went on to win the show and the $10,000 grand prize, a feat that would not have been possible without my catfish!
In addition to a fresh green tomato and peach summer salsa, I drew inspiration from my experience at the 2017 World Food Championships and made a sweet chili sauce from peach jelly to top my catfish tacos. During the WFC I was challenged with infusing jams and jellies into a savory dish, and learned that it was a quick and easy way to add a unique and powerful flavors to dishes.
- Cooking outside of your own kitchen is HARD: Although this was not my first time cooking in a makeshift kitchen, it was the first time I had to do it in a controlled environment. During competitions everything is pure chaos, which means things get messy but that’s perfectly okay. During the demo I was challenged with not only staying cool, calm and collected while I shared my story, but also with maintaining some order as I cooked multiple components simultaneously. It’s like learning to rub your belly and pat your head at the same time, and definitely takes some getting used to!
- You are the dishwasher: It didn’t occur to me until after the demonstration that I was three hours away from home, and now possessed dozens of dirty smelly, fish covered dishes with no way to wash them. I will say that the clean-up portion of the event was a complete oversight on my part and something I had not even considered until the exact moment it became an issue. Thankfully, the event was hosted in a hotel with staff that were kind enough to help us wash our dishes so that we didn’t have fermenting catfish in our car during the drive home. Lesson learned, always prepare for clean up!
- Smile for the Camera: I had intended to share the entire story and video of the demo on my website following the event. Unfortunately, I committed the largest rookie mistake of all time and forgot to hit the record button on my camera before I got started and missed the whole darn thing. Thankfully, Taste of West Virginia Magazine’s staff was on site to save the day and document my demo! So all of the wonderful photos in this post are courtesy of Taste of West Virginia Magazine.
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