The Highly Anticipated Return of UChiFood

Hey everyone,

It’s been a grueling fourth week but it’s good to be writing about food again.  I think now is as good a time as any to make some formal announcements.

The First:

I’m interested in building a team to attempt this challenge: http://bartolinis.com/85bart.pdf

We’ll compete either this weekend or the next (2/6 or 2/12) and I’m fielding a team of four so there are three spots to fill.
Since I think there are more than three people interested in competing, I’m going to hold a preliminary competition in South Campus Dining Hall later this week.

The Second:

I’m planning on spending Chinese New Year dinner in Chinatown at Lao Sze Chuan.  If anyone is interested in going, they should email me and I will make reservations appropriately.

The Third:

BJ Iron Chef is happening next Saturday!  The theme will be announced at 9:00 AM this Saturday morning.  I will post a description of the competition and the menu we design when it is over.  If you’re in Linn Mathews and interested in participating, I will definitely be there.  Or, just come watch.  But it’s sure to be a lot of fun.  I am going to take this very seriously.

Relevant Rules:

BJ Iron Chef Competition 2011

The BJ Iron Chef competition will take place on Saturday, February 5. The theme will
be announced at 9 a.m. House teams will then shop and cook and bring their tasty
concoctions to Judson Lounge for judging at 5:00 p.m.

Each of the 6 houses of BJ dormitory will be invited to produce 1 team of Iron Chefs.
Houses will be limited to $35 for shopping for preparation of their prodigious meal
platters. Houses will be expected to show receipts both to provide (inconclusive) proof
that they have not exceeded the expenditure limit and in order to be reimbursed by the
beneficent Masters. Houses are not allowed to tap into their funds, even if they have
raised copious amounts of money by selling “ What Would Durkheim Do?” T-shirts on E-
bay.

The theme will be announced on Saturday, February 5, at 9:00 a.m. by email to the
BJ listhost, and the house teams will have to submit a meal of 3 or 4 dishes whose
relevance to the theme they can articulate with suave and pithy U of C eloquence –even
though of course the ultimate proof will be in the pudding (or soufflé)! Possible (though
highly unlikely) themes could be e.g., “ The Culinary Core (With Carrots!),” “ That Kid’ s
Caramelized Onion Comeuppance,” “ We Make It All from Scratch, NOT SCRH.” 2
NEW THIS YEAR: Each team should also prepare three copies of a menu with the
house’ s name and a list of their dishes, which will help the judges remember who is who
and what is what and be edifying for all.

The judges will consist of a distinguished panel of 3 hungry yet discerning VIPS
(Andrew Abbott, Gustavus F. and Ann M. Swift Distinguished Service Professor
in the Department of Sociology and the College; John Boyer, Martin A. Ryerson
Distinguished Service Professor in History and Dean of the College, and Jolie N.
Nahigian, food culture scholar, co-instructor of Anthropology 25305 [“ Anthropology
of Food and Cuisine” ], and former sous-chef at world-famous restaurant, Charlie
Trotter’ s, Chicago). The dishes presented should therefore be large enough and divisible
enough for each judge to get a tantalizing morsel and houses may choose to prepare 3
separate plates containing all their dishes for easy tasting by each of the 3 judges. The
scrumptious scraps will go to the contestants and bystanders (in a manner to be peaceably
determined at the event).

The teams’ creations will be scored according to two basic categories: taste and
creativity. “ Taste” refers to (yes, you guessed it, ever-so-quick BJer!) taste; “ creativity”
refers to the creative process that went into the platter’ s concoction, including its
surprising yet incontrovertible pertinence to the designated theme; attractive or
interesting presentation; and the house teamwork that the platter ideally exudes like
aroma.

The judges will taste each house platter, consult the house menu, listen to the brief house
patter, ask any questions they have, and then retire well-nourished to top-secret Judson
Library to make a speedy yet judicious decision. While the houses eagerly await the
judges’ unerring judgment, they will be sustained by study-break foodstuffs and soothing
background music. The judges will return to announce the first and second-place winners.
Awesome prizes will be distributed. Although in the end, we all know prizes are mere
supplements to The Glory, the true motivating force behind BJ competitions. Everybody
will go home sated and proud to have been part of the SIXTH ANNUAL BJ IRON CHEF
COMPETITION. Yeah!

(rules written by the eminent Josh Scodel.)

I hope to see you all there!

Also, brief food update: although most evenings this week were met with disappointing dinners from the dining hall or pre-packaged shrink-wrapped box, the next week promises to be a great week in food.  I’m planning on having Chinese New Year dinner, dinner at Kuma’s (finally), and probably somewhere interesting and exciting on Saturday.

In  the near future: expect a review of my experience at Z&H last week, a review of my dinner at Les Nomades, a review of dinner at Schwa, and possibly some discussion of the significance of plating (particularly following my involvement in Iron Chef).  Also, an overview of restaurant week and my top picks for lunch and dinner.

As a side note, I will be instituting an open door policy this Thursday for my room starting at 11:00 am to the time I leave for dinner at Chinatown.  Feel free to stop by, say hi, and hang out for a bit.  We can talk about food or other things (if it comes to that).


The Taco Challenge

How could I start a food blog and not mention the proudest moment of my eating history?

On Friday January 7th, I went with a bunch of my friends to Rockin Taco (by Wrigleyville) to attempt the Friday Night Fight.
It is described thusly on the restaurant menu:

10 Tacos From Hell!!!
10 half-pound tacos, smothered, covered, and served with a sauce so hot it’s not allowed in Hell!
Finish this feast in 1 hour with 1 drink and 1 napkin and it’s on us.
Also get a Rockin’ Taco shirt, your picture on the wall of fame, and eternal glory.
$16.66

Being a competitive person and a lover of all kinds of food, I was naturally very taken by this melding of my interests.  I organized an event, invited about 20 people, and we agreed to meet up at the restaurant on the evening of the 7th.

None of us had any idea what we were in for.

I called the manager (Vaughn) beforehand to let him know that we were coming.  During my phone conversation with Vaughn, I learned that no one had even come close to completing the challenge in the entire year that it had been open.

Oh.

The closest that anyone had ever come to completion was three tacos.  Out of ten.  This was completed by a competitive chili eater from Venezuela.

This news was a real game changer.  Up until this point, I had assumed the challenge was in consuming 5 lbs of food in an hour.  Now is was about consuming 5 lbs of painfully hot tacos in an hour.  And I honestly don’t usually eat spicy food.  But having done a fair amount of trash talking with my friends and fellow competitors, most of us felt obligated to continue and take on the challenge.  After the dust settled, there were five of us who made the attempt.

As we sat down and waited for our tacos to be prepared, we watched in horror as the chef covered his face with a filtration mask to handle the hot sauce.  The key ingredient in the sauce was extract of the ghost chili, the hottest chili on the earth.  Vaughn opened the front door to allow for ventilation and within a few minutes we could see our breath sitting inside the restaurant.  I was shaking both from cold and anticipation.

Around 8:00, the tacos were prepared and we were finally ready to begin.  Vaughn put on an AC/DC concert video and the big screen TV and counted down.  At go, all five of us viciously attached our evil looking tacos.

Peter and I pulled an early lead, finishing two in around five minutes.  The other boys were managing as well, but we were all in a deep state of suffering and concentration.  My technique was to swallow the tacos by halves, minimizing chewing and time macerating in my mouth.  This was an improvement on the boys’ technique of eating the tacos quickly.  After Peter and I completed our first two, we were ready for the next round of two.  I don’t remember much, but I remember seeing the pain and resolve in his eyes.  Picking up my third taco, I ate another half in one bite and forced it down.  Then, I called out to Vaughn.

“Are you watching?!”  I scream at him, face red and full of tears.
“What??”
“Are you watching!??” I repeat frantically
“Always!” he responds, with a smile of disbelief.

I then consume the remaining half of the third taco in one bite, tying myself with the previous record holder.  And we are only 12 minutes in.

At this point, Eric and Louis are slowing down.  Max is making steady progress, I am on fire (both in my performance and in my mouth) and Peter is showing signs of stopping.  I finish my fourth taco and fidget in my seat until finally my fifth and sixth are placed in front of me several minutes later.  They are the most evil looking tacos yet.  Over the next twenty minutes, Max finishes his fourth taco and I finish my fifth.  We are both in great pain.  Each of us spends about fifteen minues recovering.  Max takes the last bite of his fifth taco and taps out.  At this point, I have eaten 5.5 tacos and have already won myself a free dinner and broken the record.  But for some reason, I decide to take one more bite and finish the sixth.  I think it was because I really liked the idea of achieving the factorial of the previous record. (3! = 6)

For whatever reason, I ask Vaughn to prepare a glass of horchata for me, and with 2 minutes left on the clock I swallow the last half of my sixth taco.  I am not exaggerating when I say I have never experienced such pain in my life.  The half hour before that last bite felt like being eviscerated.  I am only exaggerating slightly when I say it was like having my organs pulled out and my mouth set on fire.  And just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, the last bite took me to another level.  For the next few minutes, I paced around the restaurant sipping horchata and trying to distract myself from my internal immolation.  When you’re in pain like that, you can’t remember what it feels like to feel normal.  Kind of like how now, when I think back to that sensation, I can’t recall how bad it felt.  I remember my reactions to the pain, but I don’t remember the actual intensity of the sensation.  Eventually it passed and the worst was over.  We settled our accounts and Vaughn took my picture, which is going up on the wall of the restaurant.

In the car ride back, I felt different and removed.  As though I had just completed a sort of rite of passage, like walking over hot coals or collecting my first scalp.  I knew that I had gone out of my comfort zone, to the limits of my ability to withstand pain.  And I felt good about it.  As though I had accomplished something.  That weekend I received many congratulations and high fives for my efforts, which were nice and appreciated.  It made me happy that others enjoyed hearing my story, but that wasn’t why I did it.  I did it because I wanted to push my limits.  And I am proud of the results.

So much pain!

Despite having bloodshot eyes and inflamed lips, I am happy.

Epilogue: Food Network’s Outrageous Food is filming an episode at Rockin Taco later this month featuring Tom Pizzica attempting to top my record.  I’ll post updates on this as they occur.