“I’m tired of cooking,” declared Chef Willie. “Tonight, you people will make dinner and I will judge your efforts.”
Chef Willie is a bona fide chef and, at this moment, a genuine pain in the ass. But the guy stands behind a stove five days a week so it’s only fair he get a night off.
And so this is how we find ourselves preparing to compete in a mock version of “Iron Chef.” The rules, such as they are, are that we have to source as many ingredients from the property as possible. And the not-so-secret ingredient is apples. Seeing as Spirit Hill Farm is one big apple orchard, you could kinda see that one coming.
“Allez cuisine!” And we’re off . . .
Everyone darts out of the kitchen and makes a beeline for the garden, with the ripest vegetables going to the fleetest of foot. Willie’s wife, Kelly, has the good sense to head straight for the chicken coop to filch any available eggs. This is clearly an unfair advantage and there are howls of disapproval. On the other hand, it does bode well for dinner. What she will do with eggs and apples is anyone’s guess.
30 minutes later we are elbow to elbow in the kitchen, washing our individual harvests and grinning conspiratorially at each other. The chopping begins. Good thing there are plenty of sharp knives. Everything is humming along when Jon suddenly appears with a half-dozen bratwursts, a clear violation of the rules.
“Those aren’t from the property,” Carol carps.
“Technically, they are,” counters Jon. “They were in the back of my car which, as you can see, is parked right there.”
The group petitions the judge but Chef Willie is absorbed in his book and can’t be bothered. Wille is part Gordon Ramsey, part Anthony Bourdain, part Emeril Lagasse, and part Gordon Ramsay. Did I mention Gordon Ramsay already? Then you know what I’m talking about: Chef has a crusty side.
“The bratwurst stays,” rules Willie — more out of hunger than fairness, I suspect — and everyone returns to their cutting boards without another word. The clock is ticking, the competitive juices are flowing. And apparently so is the wine. “Save some for dinner, you guys!”
Finally, it’s time to show our hands.
Kelly has made Apple Fritters (2 peeled and cored apples, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick rings, dipped in batter and deep-fried at 375 degrees until golden; drained on paper towels and dusted with confectioners’ sugar.)
Jon has made Sausage-Apple Skewers (1-inch chunks of apple, bratwurst and red onion threaded on skewers; brushed with oil, grilled over medium-high heat until lightly charred.)
Carol has made Apple Chutney to complement her husband’s skewers (2 chopped apples, 1/2 chopped red onion, 1 teaspoon minced ginger and 1/4 cup each chopped dried apricots, dried cranberries, sugar and red wine vinegar; cooked until apples are tender.)
Melanie has made Caramel Apples (In a saucepan over medium heat cook 1-1/2 cups sugar and 1/2 cup water, swirling, until golden. Stir in 1/4 cup cream and 1/4 teaspoon each vanilla and salt. Transfer to a bowl and let cool. Spear apples with wooden sticks, dip in the caramel, then set on oiled parchment paper to harden.)
And Me? I made Appletinis (Pour vodka, schnapps and sweet-and-sour mix and shake vigorously for ten seconds. Strain the contents into glasses. Garnish with a slice of apple.)
Exhibiting his best judgment of the evening, Willie refuses to declare an overall winner but instead presents each of us with awards for Taste, Presentation, and Originality.
Then we order pizza.