Monday, October 25, 2010

Go to a Conference, Take Part in a Spectacle

I went to Florida last month and attended a fall conference in one of my business worlds. The CBORD Group has its annual User Group Conference in October each year and moves it around the country to keep it interesting. This year we went to Orlando. However, the location isn't the reason for this post.

The reason I'm blogging about the conference was the Tuesday event billed as "Fire and Ice". I really had difficulty making sense of this theme, but came to understand that if you wore denim trousers and then added red shirts and/or shoes and rhinestone whatevers, that you would fulfill the goal of the planners. OK, I guess. I didn't do any of those things, but they didn't turn me out at the door, which was good, because my dinner depended on making it through this activity.

the organizers
When we walked into the ballroom (not a small number of people, not a small room), we learned that we were entering an Iron Chef-like competition. There was a ton of noise, lots of machine-generated fog and a loud, pounding soundtrack. We were directed to tables and handed aprons. Each table group was a team and was distinguished by the type of apron it received. My group had an apron that would have been appropriate at a duck hunting expedition and we were immediately dubbed  "Team Camo".

the scene
Each team had a "chef" who was tasked with delegating assignments (some, not all, actually were chefs; I never found out whether our guy was). My assignment was to take a large pan to the "pantry" and grab anything that I thought we could use in creating gastronomic delights. I saw others at the pantry with lists, but I was on my own about what to procure. It wasn't until I returned to my team that I learned that three others  had the same assignment and preceded me back to the table. I felt a little undervalued.

The challenge was to create 10 discrete dishes in 30 minutes that would then be objectively judged by some unknown group of culinary experts. I got to make an appetizer with chicken, black beans, yellow peppers, garlic, and cilantro.

Team Camo
The action became really intense with lots of peeling, chopping, and dicing, followed by throwing the results into saute pans and adding oil, broth, or thickening agents to achieve the desired outcome. Sweat and beer flowed in equal amounts. It seemed a little out of place for team members to come by with trays of Bud Lime or wine glasses (did that happen in real restaurants?), but we didn't argue, we just emptied the trays.

There were folks with stop watches and other time-keeping devices who kept urging us to step up the pace. How many dishes were complete? Five? Seven? Not enough! There was a platform onto which we needed to place the finished delicacies and there were still several empty spots. Hurry!

As the 10th item was being placed on the rack, it was clear that the event was moving into the next phase. I was expecting the team of "judges" to begin making the rounds and soon after that, we'd be able to taste the finished products, not only of our team, but of the others as well. I was really hungry and looking forward to that phase. Instead, we were quickly ushered into the adjoining room and told that the results of the judging would follow shortly.
the guy who knew what to do

The room we entered was another large ballroom that was set for dinner for about the same number of folks in our room. We soon learned that we had been mildly duped. No judging was ever going to take place. We'd generated all of that frenetic activity and no one was going to taste the items that we'd created. In fact, all of the food was going to be thrown out. As we sifted through that knowledge, we started to realize that it was probably just as well. Folks were remembering that they witnessed serious cross-contamination of knives and cutting boards and that no one actually was seen sampling what they were doing. You can't possibly know if what you're seasoning is any good without tasting it!
my effort

As much as we were disappointed at experiencing a slightly altered evening, we enjoyed our dinner and felt satisfied that we'd given it our best shot. We did good going along for the ride. Call me up if you have a vacancy at your next culinary competition. I do a mean pantry grab.

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