Taste Test

Free Taste Test by Kelly Fiore

Book: Taste Test by Kelly Fiore Read Free Book Online
Authors: Kelly Fiore
… BEGIN!”
    The air around me combusts into a mixture of crumpling paper, clanging pans, and feet clamoring toward the pantry and freezers. I wait until almost everyone has fled the arena floor before opening my little white paper and reading my word.
    Unsure, I read it again.
    My word is “insomnia.”
    I don’t want to look like a moron just standing here and wasting time. But the words “drawing a blank” have never been so applicable to me in my life.
    How do I cook the inability to sleep? What can I possibly make that will represent this word in a way that’s both clever anddelicious? I feel the panic rise in my chest. Unable to do anything else, I head for the pantry. The shelves have been ravaged by the time I get there, but my mind is clinging to an idea that I can run with.
    Caffeine.
    The one cure for lack of sleep.
    The one thing that can jolt you back to a functional state.
    And caffeine means two things, at least in my world—coffee and chocolate.
    I find a variety of coffee beans in vacuum-sealed sacks and choose a dark Kona blend. Nearby, there are two or three brands of cocoa. I pick the one with the highest percentage of cacao.
    I haven’t figured all this out yet, but one thing’s for sure—I can’t just make a cup of espresso or a chocolate cake. I need to pull together some kind of main course. Something that reflects me and the word I’ve so unfortunately drawn.
    The kitchen is emitting everything all at once—heat, steam, yelling, cursing, flames, and, most obviously, friction. Two guys, Patrick and Jason, are already in a heated debate over whose saucepan is whose. The cameras crowd around them like hungry lions.
    I let ingredients run through my mind as I set up my station.
    Coffee … cocoa … cayenne .
    A dry rub! Perfect.
    But what about meat? I’m sure the good cuts have already been claimed. I open the refrigerator closest to me and scanthrough what’s left. On the bottom shelf, I see two untouched packages of baby back ribs.
    Bull’s-eye.

    Anyone who’s ever competed—runners, swimmers, dancers—knows that you get into a zone where it’s not about what you think, but what you do. Your hands and feet move as though they are controlled by some inner force. Only a few minutes in, I feel that zone take over for my thoughts. It’s not about Christian or Joy or Prescott or anything else right now. It’s not even about me. It’s about the food. Time doesn’t exist. I work in a way that’s almost automatic, like what I’m doing is the only thing I could, or should, be doing at all.
    I’ve just portioned my ribs onto the judges’ plates when the timer runs out. I look around me at the hands rushing to finish things up, the faces dripping with sweat. There are still pots on the stove and pans in the oven. The judges seem unimpressed by the half-finished appearance of some of the plates. I sprinkle on a last dusting of chili powder before pushing my dish to one side of the counter.
    The judges begin making their rounds, stopping at each plate. They scrutinize the appearance of the food first before tasting it. There are a lot of steaks, a lot of red meat in general. I’m glad I didn’t even try to go in that direction, and I’m even gladder that I’m the only person who made a pork dish. Since it’s so easy to overcook, I’m sure people were afraid to screw it up on the first shot. But, for me, cooking ribs is like brushing my teeth. It’s a daily occurrence.
    It’s interesting to see what the judges like and what they aren’t blown away by. Madame Bouchon described Joy’s lobster bisque with roasted corn and potato shreds as “decadent and comforting at the same time.” Unfortunately, Gigi’s play on a deconstructed Waldorf salad doesn’t seem to please anyone. Prescott practically spit out his mouthful, then complained about the “inedible texture and lack of seasoning.”
    “Now, this is what I’m talking about.” Chef Mason smiles, looking up from

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