Friday, November 11, 2011

Mystery Basket Cooking

Mushroom Stuffed Chicken Breast with Chantrelle Cream Sauce

There is a long tradition in professional kitchens to give a random bunch of ingredients to a cook that might be trying out for a job; it's called a "mystery basket" test. This a very good way of finding out how good a cook is. The cooking test requires that they be able to come up with a good tasting and looking dish without any prior planning. In the real cooking world you often don't have the luxury to sit at home surrounded by cookbooks or the Internet to research food ideas, oftentimes it is a last minute request by a diner with a dietary restriction that you have to produce immediately. I did many of these "mystery basket" tests over the years and the one that I remember the best was trying out for Bradley Ogden's soon-to-be-open San Francisco restaurant, One Market.  I had to take a written test first which I think is a very good idea for weeding out the many cooks applying for positions in restaurants. There were questions on the test like "describe risotto" and "what process makes food brown?" I passed it, then advanced to a one-on-one interview with Chef Brad.  He had me verbally tell him step-by-step how to cook a particular dish, and after I finished he liked what I had to say and I was hired on the spot. Even recently I am still tested by last minute requests and this week a had to come up with a three course lunch for a VIP with only a three-hour notice.  The result was a mushroom-stuffed chicken breast roasted and served with a chantrelle cream sauce, new potatoes with sage and sauted asparagus. The client was happy and another successful day at work was accomplished.

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