DOUGHBOY OBSESSION PART 5
Game Day was here. After breakfast, all of the finalists met in a room adjacent to the ball room where the Bake-Off would take place. The air was thick with excitement and nervousness. I looked around, observing the people around me. There was a clear division between the first-timers, the second-timers, and those who were there for their third and final attempt at the Big Bucks. Most of the first-timers, including myself, seemed anxious…as if we weren’t sure what we had gotten ourselves into. The second-timers were calm, cool, and collected. They’d been here before and knew that they had one more shot if this one didn’t pan out. The third-timers were serious. They knew this was their last shot (unless Pillsbury changed the rules). It was all or nothing for these guys.
As we waited to be organized into our lines for the grand march, I started chatting with the finalists around me. Are you nervous? How’d you sleep? How are you feeling about your recipe? Almost every single person I talked to told me the same thing…..their recipe was way too simple to win. Either they were playing it cool or they really thought they didn’t stand a chance.
Eventually we all made our way to the doors outside the ball room. We were lined up according to our range numbers so that we could attempt to be somewhat organized as we made our way to the ovens. It seemed fairly quiet as we waited for the doors to open. We were going to be escorted in by the inflatable Doughboy and the previous year’s winner, Christina Verrelli. Once again, I looked around. Some of the finalists had their eyes closed as if in prayer. Others were holding back tears. I started to get a little emotional. I still couldn’t believe that I was actually there. I leaned over to the lady on my left and said “If they play the national anthem I’m toast.”
Finally, the doors opened and the Kitchen Band started to play. Because it’s near impossible to describe what the grand march was like, you’ll have to watch this:
I remember very little about this part of the contest. What I do remember is that it would have been a lot easier to “march” onto the floor to the beat of “When the Saints Go Marching In” as in Bake-Off days of old. After attempting to walk and clap at the same time to the beat of the Kitchen Band, I gave up and decided to simply focus on getting to my oven.
Before I knew it, I heard the call to “Ready. Set. Make!” The clock was ticking. We had 20 minutes to get started before media would be allowed on the floor. Taped to the inside of my cabinet door was my equipment checklist (my grocery list may have been in there as well). I double checked my lists to make sure everything I needed was there. Then I turned my waffle iron on to preheat. Since I wasn’t familiar with the waffle iron they gave me, I turned it to medium high to avoid burning the waffles. While the waffle iron was heating, I started beating up my egg mixture and setting the rest of my supplies out on the counter. I had decided that I wanted to be one of the first to turn my dish in to the judges. For those of you unfamiliar with the Bake Off, we are provided with enough ingredients and supplies to make our dish 3 times. We are only required to make it once, but the extra allowed for mistakes and for samples. I knew my recipe forward and backward. I had practiced a few times and had even said “This will be a cinch! How can you mess up waffles?” Famous. Last. Words.
Mistake #1: I dumped brown sugar into my egg mixture that was intended for my whipped cream. I asked my runner, Joe, if I had to start over. He said that if I could get the brown sugar out of the egg without it affecting the taste then I wouldn’t have to dump it all out. So, I carefully scooped the brown sugar out of the egg and kept going.
Mistake #2: While the waffle iron continued to preheat, I decided to get my whipped cream topping ready and put it in the fridge until I needed it. I inserted the beaters into the electric mixer and went to place it in my cream. When I did, the beaters fell out causing cream to splatter everywhere, including my neighbors stove. I apologized profusely and tried to clean up my mess. What was happening to me? This was supposed to be a piece of cake!
Mistake #3: I dipped my first crescent roll in my egg mixture and placed it in the waffle iron. I waited the 3 or 4 minutes as stated in my recipe then checked the waffle. Um….something was wrong. It wasn’t starting to bake. Instead, it was almost melted all over the inside of the waffle iron. I closed the lid to give it a few more minutes. I checked it again. Crescent roll was strung from top to bottom and was beginning to burn. I was starting to panic. I called my runner over and told him I didn’t know what to do. I was picturing billows of smoke pouring from my station as I tried desperately to scrape burned waffle off of the iron. Joe had no advice for me. He went for help. He brought back Madison, who was a member of the kitchen staff. I asked her if I could clean my waffle iron then get some cooking spray before trying again. She said no…I couldn’t use cooking spray if it wasn’t in my recipe. I tried to explain that my waffle iron at home didn’t have a thermostat, it cooked at one temperature and I didn’t know what that temperature was. I had never had waffles do this before! She unplugged my waffle iron and told me she’d be right back. After a few minutes, Madison appeared with a brand spankin’ new waffle iron. I wanted to cry. They plugged it in for me and made it clear that there wasn’t another waffle iron around. If I messed up this time, I was done. I cranked that new waffle iron up to high and let it preheat for a good 30 minutes before trying to cook another waffle. Madison and Joe came over to watch as I placed a waffle in the new waffle iron. We waited nervously. After a few minutes, I slowly lifted the lid to see the World’s most beautiful waffle sitting there. YAY! I wanted to do a happy dance, but was too emotionally distraught. An hour into the contest and I was a wreck!
Sometime during my waffle fiasco the media had been let onto the floor. It seemed as if the media was drawn to certain finalists. I watched as bloggers and newspapers stopped to interview those around me. I kept cooking just waiting for someone to tap on my shoulder. Nothing. Eventually, my Test Kitchen buddy Madison whispered in my ear “Padma’s coming!” I turned around and sure enough…there she was, heading right toward me. She smiled at me and said “Hi Tiffany! How are you?” She must have seen my name on my range sign.
“Um…had a little bit of a rough start, but I’m on a roll now.” I responded.
She leaned over my oven and asked what I was making. I explained and she said she’d be back for a sample when they were ready. I asked for a picture with her and she was happy to oblige. She squatted down while I stood on my tiptoes so we would be closer to the same height. She wished me good luck and went on her way.
As I carefully prepared my second batch of waffles, I started hearing the cries that I’d been reading about. “Recipe coming through!” People were cheering and clapping as the recipes were being turned into the judges. Obviously my plan to have my recipe in early had been thwarted by an evil waffle iron. I tried to stay focused, but at the same felt like I was missing out on everything going on around me. Just what Pillsbury needs…..a Bake Off finalist with ADD. Occasionally I would turn around to check on those around me. I had lost track of how many recipes had been turned in. My range neighbor on the left, Kathy Ferder, had media stopping to chat and sample her dish. My neighbor on the right, Donna Fogel, was part of a mother-daughter duo and was garnering lots of media attention. I was hoping that the media rejection I’d been experiencing since the semi-finals was because of my recipe, not me. It was hard not to take it a little personal.
Eventually, I had two visitors at my station. A woman from a newspaper stopped to chit chat (I can’t remember her name or where she is from). She asked if my family was here with me. I told her that my mom was but my husband stayed home with the kids. She told me that if I gave her my husband’s phone number she would send him a text and let him know how things were going. I thought that would be awesome so I gave her the number. Here’s the photo she sent to hubby:
A little while later she showed up again and said that she had a message for me from my family. She handed me her phone and played a video that my husband and kids had sent. I couldn’t help but cry. All the emotion of the morning came to a head. I needed to see my family and to know that they would love me whether I burned my waffles or not. It was such a special moment for me….one that will be a huge part of my Bake Off memories.
My second visitor was a GE rep. He had been posting updates online and my sister asked him via Twitter to give me a message. He passed on the message and asked if he could take a pic of me working to send back to her. Sure!
Sometime around the halfway point in the contest, I was ready. I got out the white plates that I would use to serve my dish and placed them on the tray that I would transport them on. These plates were huge! I was certain they were bigger than the 8-inch plates I had requested on my equipment list. I called Madison over and asked if I could get smaller plates. I told her that I was certain I had requested 8-inch plates and these had to be at least 10-inches. She left and came back with smaller plates. I hugged her and told her that I was so sorry for being one of “those” people. The last thing I wanted was to be the complicated one out of the bunch. She assured me that everything was cool. I carefully plated my waffles while debating about whether or not to put topping on all of them. If the topping sat there too long the waffles would get soggy. If I put the whipped cream on top of the fruit it would eventually melt. But, I wanted a beautiful plate of waffles, like the one in the official picture, to present to the judges. I decided to fix up one serving like the photo. I put the rest of the fruit topping and cream in ramekins. I carefully balanced 4 8-inch plates of waffles on the lunch tray (which is a lot more challenging than it sounds).
I called Runner Joe over and told him I was ready to turn in my dish. My oven was on the far end of the ballroom opposite from where the spectators were. I asked Joe if we could take the long route so my mom could get a picture. Joe walked in front of me calling “recipe coming through!” as I tried to balance my tray.
I walked slowly and carefully as the plates slid around on the tray. Ugh. I should have done this differently. I just knew I was going to go down in Bake Off history as “The One That Tripped.” As we approached where my mom was I noticed that she wasn’t watching me at all. I slowed way down and started loudly whispering her name. One of the other spectators got her attention and she tried desperately to get her camera out in time for a picture. We had been advised in orientation that we couldn’t talk to anyone on the other side of the ropes. I just knew I was going to get in trouble for this. I walked really slowly trying to give mom time to get a picture, but it was too late. Joe was still walking and I had to catch up. We made it to the judging room where a table was set up just outside the doors. The attorney and another rep were at the table where I had to sign a legal form stating that I had prepared my dish exactly as I had submitted it and had no help. I handed the tray to Elevator Jann and she disappeared behind the door to the judges room.
Huge sigh of relief. I was done. Here is a pic of me and Runner Joe just moments after turning in my dish:
I don’t know who’s more relieved, me or Joe. I’d certainly made him earn his paycheck that day.
With about an hour until the Bake Off was officially over, I started wandering the floor checking up on a few folks and looking for samples. From the looks of things, the event had pretty much gone off without a hitch. I heard of only one oven malfunction. No fingers cut off or dropped dishes. A few people were disappointed with the grocery items they’d been given. Ground chuck versus ground round. Iceberg lettuce instead of leaf lettuce.
A confessional booth had been set up with the intent of capturing our thoughts immediately after turning in our dishes. This was initially a required thing, but they decided to make it optional when the line started backing up and it was a good 45 minute wait to “confess”. I was relived and intentionally dodged the confessional booth because we all know by now that I can’t make videos. I made my way back to my station visited with Runner Joe and my range neighbors while I waited for check out time.
As I walked out of the ball room that morning, I stopped in the doorway and looked back. I wanted one last look. Cheesy? Yes. But, I didn’t know if this was an opportunity I would ever have again. I met people who had tried for decades to get into the Bake Off before finally getting in. The fact that I got in on my first try wasn’t something I was going to take for granted. This experience had been absolutely amazing and I didn’t want to forget a bit of it.
We had several hours after the Bake Off before the awards ceremony. Mom and I decided to walk around and see the sights of Vegas while we had the chance. We walked to the Bellagio in hopes of seeing the fountains we had heard so much about. Turns out we had just missed the show and we didn’t feel like waiting around for the next one. We had heard that there was a Tiffany & Co. nearby. (Backstory…it’s been on my bucket list for years to visit Tiffany & Co. I had NYC in mind, but Vegas would do.) We chatted with the salesman at the jewelry counter as he showed us pieces of jewelry more expensive than anything I had ever seen. I assured him that if I won the million bucks I’d be back to buy something. He said that I wasn’t the first one to tell him that today. Pfft.
Mom and I eventually made our way back to our hotel room. I desperately wanted a nap. Don’t judge. Naps are a rare treat for me. This little trip was as close as I was going to get to a vacation and I wanted to rest. But, try as I might, I wasn’t going to be napping. I lay there second guessing every little thing I had done that morning. A question that had been asked during orientation came to mind. “How would we know if we were disqualified?” When the question was originally asked I thought it was silly. But, now it had me thinking. Would it be like the dance scene in Grease where they tap you on the shoulder and you have to get off the floor? Or, would they disqualify you without you even knowing it? How do I know that the judges even got my dish? If I was disqualified they may have simply set my overloaded tray aside so it wouldn’t be considered. I felt like they could have disqualified me if they wanted to. I had brown sugar in my eggs. I ruined a waffle maker. I begged for more plates. I was talking to people when I wasn’t supposed to be. How picky are they really? Would they want to disqualify someone that they had invested so much in? I would never know.