On an episode of Top Chef, the contestants were asked to create a meal out of vending machines. They grabbed all sorts of things: candy bars, deli sandwiches, cans of soda. They were all trying to be culinary wizards. As I watched them cook, it reminded me of my days in college where I would perform the same feats of magic, not in a competition, but because I was so broke, I could not afford bread for my baloney.
Like most college students I would end up hungry most nights, and when I should have been doing my homework, I’d be raiding the fridge and cabinets. I remember one night, I found Starbursts, bread, a box of mac and cheese, string cheese, freezer-burned pork chops and orange juice. I stared at the pile of food, trying to come up with some magic.
“Bobby Flay [an Iron Chef] could make something out of that,” Aaron cried to me from the living room where he was watching the Yellow Submarine for about the 100th time.
I hatched a plan. I brought the OJ and the Starbursts to a simmer in a sauce pan on low heat. I cut away the mold from the bread and tossed it into the oven to dry out. I thawed the pork chops in the microwave, too hungry to properly thaw them under water. I trimmed off the freezer burned sections and cut the pork into strips. I then cooked the mac and cheese and added cubed string cheese and a little cracked pepper. I coated the pork with the breadcrumbs and pan fried it.
When it was done, we ended up with “pan-fried pork with tropical fruit compote and double-cheese macaroni.” We ate like starving New York rats, standing over the pans in the kitchen.
But when you pull something like this off one time it becomes expected. It was like Top Chef: Philosophy Major in my apartment. Trust me, “Cocoa Puffs bread pudding with Cream of Wheat and hot sauce” not only sounds bad but is bad. Or that one time, when engrossed in a furious game of Super Mario Cart I forgot about the bacon in the oven and set off the fire alarms for the whole dorm. That was bad too. The cops asked me to leave. Like the people on Top Chef, sometimes I was a culinary wizard. And sometimes I wasn’t.
Chef Randy King is the Executive Chef at Sysco Food Services of Idaho. He has served as the Executive Chef at several locations in Boise including Richard’s in Hyde Park, Crane Creek Country Club and the Doubletree Riverside Hotel. Randy is a member of the American Culinary Federation and has been awarded the elite status of Certified Executive Chef. He can typically be found behind a stove making a mess…and something delicious to eat