Veggie Conquest 4: A Baker's and Eater's Perspective

Today, I am serving up a blog co-written by myself and my husband, Steve! The subject: Veggie Conquest 4, which was held in NYC on April 25th. I volunteered as a baker, Steve attended as a taster, and we both had a grand old time. Read on...

Lindsay says:

On Sunday, April 25th, I lost a little bit of my sanity....

I had signed up to be a volunteer baker for Veggie Conquest 4, an amateur vegan cooking competition in NYC - a bit like "Iron Chef", but for budding vegan chefs. Just to clarify, my role in the whole evening was not to compete, but rather to make a vegan dessert that would be featured after the first course of competing dishes. The secret ingredient was potatoes, which made volunteering for and attending this shindig that much more exciting. Thankfully, I didn't have to use the secret ingredient in my baking (seriously, who would have eaten chocolate chip potato cookies anyway?). All I had to do was make enough half-cup vegan dessert servings for eighty people. Simple enough, right?


I decided on a dessert that seemed fairly easy to assemble, Mint Chocolate Mousse (the mint was Steve's lovely idea), sped over to Whole Foods on the day of the event to pick up the ingredients, and happily hopped on the downtown 4 train to get started on my creation. I was inspired, excited, and ready for this. Or so I thought.

Pearls of wisdom I learned from this experience:

1) Buy more food than you think you need. 

Thinking I would have ample ingredients for this challenge, I bought two bags' worth of ingredients at Whole Foods, only to discover after an hour of work that I only had enough food for thirty people. Shame, Lindsay, shame...

2) Plan ahead.  

I don't know what possessed me to think I could make eighty desserts two hours before the big event, but I was wrong. So very wrong.

3) It's okay to cry.

 At one point during the maddening process of trying to make, assemble, and pack eighty vegan desserts, I lost my marbles and broke down in tears - which may have been avoided had I followed lessons #1 and #2. Crying did allow me to chill out and actually remember to breathe (an activity that is essential to being productive - and remaining conscious), and it also taught me this next gem...

4) Always ask for help. 

Sometimes, I think I'm a vegan superwoman. For instance, after a day of work, I love the challenge of rushing home, creating a superb homemade vegan dinner for Steve and myself, and having romantic music playing on the computer, all ready for Steve's arrival. Sometimes, it happens - and it's a beautiful, rewarding experience when it does. But sometimes, we just end up ordering Indian. In this case, I actually believed I was capable of accomplishing this major feat alone (an honorable, but overly ambitious idea) - and the moment I realized I needed help - an hour into it, but better late than never - was the moment things started getting better. In hindsight, I just plain would not have been able to make all of those desserts without the aid of Steve and his best friend, Joe, and having their help made being a part of this lovely (and somewhat harrowing) challenge possible. 

And finally:

5) Be flexible. 

After realizing I simply did not have enough ingredients to make eighty Mint Chocolate Mousse cups, Steve and Joe started helping me search for ingredients in the area. We ended up realizing that one of the main ingredients - silken tofu - was not something we could find anywhere within walking distance, and the clock was ticking. Eek! 

After a few minutes of brainstorming, I decided to be creative and re-think the rest of the desserts. Did all eighty servings have to be the same dessert? Thankfully, no. The creation I ended up improvising was Balsamic Strawberries and Cream, which turned out to be delicious and much easier to make than the mousse. 


Ultimately, people loved the variety of choosing between two different desserts, and throughout the evening, I was complemented very heavily on both treats. Score!

With both of my treats - post dessert-making chaos/meltdown/learning experience.

When it was all said and done, I had an awesome time at Veggie Conquest 4. The food was amazing, the people were all like-minded, passionate, vegan-lovin' folks, and my desserts were well liked (and well eaten). As crazy as it all was, would I do it again? In a heartbeat. 

With Taster's Choice (and 2nd Place) Winner Jessica Gunter (left) and 
Veggie Conquest founder Jessica Mahady (right).

 And now that I'm equipped with the mental tools necessary to tackle mass dessert making, the challenge will be a much easier and way more fun experience in the future.  

Steve says:

As a longtime fan of "Iron Chef," I had always wished to get the chance to taste the delicious dishes served by the chefs.  I salivated in envy as the judges would sample and critique the delicacies prepared.  Well, my time had come.  Not as a judge, but as one of the many tasters/eaters at Veggie Conquest 4 (Yeah! No work, all play!).  

The event, founded and organized by Jessica Mahady and was MC-ed by Michael Parish Dudell of Ecorazzi.com and VegDaily.com.  The three special guest judges were Living Vegan for Dummies author Alexandra Jamieson, Patrick Kwan of SuperVegan.com, and eco-living website maven and chef Yoli OuiyaMatch Meats was one of the featured sponsors, and DJ Lil Ray provided some funky tunes to set the tone for the evening.

The competing dishes - don't they look yummy?

Sitting down at my table, appetite raring to go, I got ready to taste the six featured chefs' potato dishes.  While small in portion (there had to be eighty servings to accommodate the eaters and judges), each potato dish packed its own punch in flavor, texture, and all-around creativity.  Michelle Barton ended up with the Veggie Conquest 4 Title, as the judges gave the highest marks (based on presentation, creativity, and overall taste) to her Tiny Tater Nori Roll.  My personal favorite, and the winner of the Taster's Choice Award, was Jessica Gunter's Sweet Potato Cigars w/Plum Sauce - the perfect mix of sweet and savory (and spice!) in a yummy phyllo dough puff.  

 Yum.

The other four featured potato creations were Jenn Lynskey's Loaded Baked Potato Perogi (which took me by surprise, since it was the full experience of the loaded baked potato, one of my old favorites, all wrapped up in a little perogi - talk about a taste explosion!), Sherri Cohen's Papas Rellenas Al Horno, Jessie Mee's Curried Mash Canapes with Tamarind and Cilantro Canapes (which, along with Sherri's, looked almost too beautiful to eat, but I did so anyway - yum!), and Kathy Cho's Chipotle Sweet Potato Soup (a close second in my book, as it both satisfied my craving for sweet potatoes and spiciness).

Double yum.

All in all, the chefs wowed everyone with their delectable dishes, and I (along with my taste buds and stomach) give them the highest praise for their creations.  But wait!  That's not all! I GOT TO EAT MORE!!!!!!!!  All those years of drooling over the food creations on Food Network - it was payback time.  A group of volunteers (my lovely Lindsay included) made an entire second course a la carte for everyone to dig into.  In this second course of vegan delights, there was Mac 'N Cheese, "Cheeseburger" Casserole, "Chicken" Pot Pie, and 5-Bean Salad (just to name a few).  There was Lindsay's Mint Chocolate Mousse and Balsamic Strawberries and Cream and Chocolate Hazelnut and Cinnamon Vanilla Raw Ice Cream from Raw Ice Cream Company (oh no! I'm naming more!).  And, finally, there was Pumpkin Pie and Maple Walnut Crazy Camel Dessert Hummus and crackers (food can obviously make you go crazy). 

Second course - let's dig in!

2nd Course delicious-ness.

The result: a fully satisfied, filled, happy me.  A successful Veggie Conquest (4!).  A taster's dream.  I went home, delighted at the fact that I could now watch any food competition on TV and know that I finally got mine. 

Special thanks to Veggie Conquest organizer and founder Jessica Mahady for allowing us to be a part of this wonderful event. For more information about Veggie Conquest, please watch a great video about the event by Our Hen House co-founder, Jasmin Singer, and then visit www.veggieconquest.com.  

And finally: 


If you are in the NYC area, get your tickets now for Veggie Conquest's next endeavor - VEGGIE PROM 2010! This Friday @ 8PM in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I'll be there with the husband in crazy prom attire. Will you? 

Comments

CurlyLocks said…
All in all...Veggie Conquest sounds like an ultimately positive experience for you! The desserts looked wonderful! I'm sure Steve was happy in his roles as dessert assistant and taster.

As a reason to smile... We had Mother's Day dinner at Pure Food & Wine on Irving Place. I've been wanting to go for months. The Mother's Day menu was limited with mixed reviews for the food. The wine was good!
Myra Wolf said…
Reading your blog...Oh how many times I have under estimated how much I needed to make alot of something..including time. It made me laugh because I know what you were feeling and you are super woman but with only two hands :):)
The food looks SO good and right now I am SO hungry! I am looking around for a place that has Martini pizza..(the one we hand this weekend was really good and I want another one right now).

Steve is also a great cook and helper and I am so happy both of you got to experience all that...and have it a success at the end. What a joy. Love you honey. xoxo
Jeri said…
All the foods look delicious. And what a time you all must have had!

Your transparency is awesome. I just had my breakdown on Saturday. One of those didn't plan ahead situations. Of course, tears are like magic. After the cry you're all better and....you don't have to go bathroom the fluids all gone...ha ha ha
Rachel said…
Great quick thinking! :)

I would have never thought balsamic and strawberries.... genious!

Sounds like it was a blast!