Over the years, I have frequently read about the value of saying yes to opportunities that expand our horizons and take us out of our comfort zones.
Even though I have been performing music professionally for years, work in a public-facing job at a high-end cigar shop and have interviewed hundreds of people for my newspaper features, I still consider myself a bit shy.
Many of my friends might scoff at this because I enjoy friendship and camaraderie, but at the same time I still experience a bit of social awkwardness in new settings.
Which is exactly why I said yes last month to take on two wildly different roles – as a judge in a culinary competition and as a wedding officiant.
The following is part one of my week of saying yes.
My friend, Joe Bonaparte, is executive chef at the International Culinary Institute of Myrtle Beach. I have profiled him a couple of times – once for The Sun News and once for the now-defunct Weekly Surge, an alt weekly that was under the umbrella of The Sun News and its parent company, McClatchy Newspapers.
When Joe asked me to participate as a judge, this was on the heels of a story I had just finished about a pitmaster named Phil Wingo of an outfit called #porkmafia, who visited the Institute for a barbecue intensive.
Naturally, I thought I was judging a barbecue competition.
I was nervous enough about saying yes to this because I felt like I didn’t know enough about barbecue to be of any real value – but Joe assured me I would be fine.
But what I didn’t know was that this competition was a bit more, shall we say, complicated – than barbecue.
The event for which I was to participate as one of three judges was the National Pork Board’s “Be Inspired” cooking competition for foodservice educators, part of the 13th annual leadership conference for CAFÉ – The Center for the Advancement of Foodservice Education – a 3-day program chock-full of culinary events, breakout classes and presentations.
CAFÉ is headed up by executive director Mary Petersen, who founded the organization in 2002, but brings more than 20 years of experience to the table, promoting the professional development of foodservice educators.
The International Culinary Institute of Myrtle Beach, with Bonaparte at the helm, played host to this ambitious conference.
The cooking competition was put together by Chef Paul Sorgule of Harvest America Ventures, LLC, which according to its website is “a network of seasoned food service professionals who collectively have the ability to provide any service that an up and coming restaurateur may need. This network covers all typical issues faced by a chef/owner as they set the stage for a successful restaurant venture.”
I was overtaken by the sheer awesomeness of the institute’s brand-spanking new, $15 million facility – gleaming in all of its glory. And folks – foodies, teachers, visiting chefs, culinary students – were swarming the place.
I felt outclassed and definitely out of my element.
But after I met a few people and said hello to Joe – I and relaxed a bit, realizing that the event, while earning the chef-contestants continuing education points, was meant to be fun.
Thankfully, I was able to get a few pointers from a fellow judge, Chef David Bottagaro of the National Pork Board as well as from Sorgule – the upshot being to enjoy the process while tasting some wonderful food from three outstanding chef-instructors – judging on categories like effective use of protein, taste and flavor, plate composition, plate presentation, and texture and temperature.
My only regret is that I didn’t have anything meaningful to say afterward when the chefs were called in for individual critiques.
Sorgule was gracious when he told me that all I really had to do was think about whether or not I enjoyed the individual dishes and whether or not I would have ordered these in a restaurant. Thanks, Chef Sorgule.
Stay tuned – I will have more about Chef Bonaparte and the International Culinary Institute of Myrtle Beach in future blog posts.