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Green and Black's - The 15:15 Challenge

Green and Black's Chocolate Bar Selection by meemalee

It's the year 2000. Tandoori Palace on Histon Road. We've just had a rather nice curry, when my boyfriend turns to me and says, "These chocolate mints taste a bit odd". I try one and grimace, and I say to him, "They're orange, you idiot" ...

Green & Black's are looking for an Assistant for their Head of Taste, Micah Carr-Hill.

That's right - they're hiring a Chocolate Taster, possibly the BEST. JOB. IN. THE. WORLD.

Flavour Bottles by meemalee

The recruitment site says the following:

"Do you plan what you are going to cook and eat several meals in advance? Does the science and technology of food excite you? Can you discern between acceptable tastes and excellent ones? Do you love chocolate? Do you want the opportunity to build a career doing what you love? Green & Black's is looking for an assistant to the Head of Taste".

Successful applicants will be asked to undertake a series of tests, and some of us blogging folk have been invited to take part in an event to recreate a number of these tests.

Bloggers etc by meemalee
Simon Kimber, Kavey, Edd Kimber of He-Eats and winner of the Great British Bake-Off; The Ginger Gourmand and me; The London Foodie, Fernandez & Leluu, Ute of Hungry in London; Laura of Feast on Scraps, me and Becci of Feed & Gastro

The venue is the Miele Showroom in London - the last time I was here had been interesting to say the least - but I'm very happy to return to play with all the fab equipment again.

Micah Carr-Hill, the boss of the future Taste Assistant, welcomes us to the event and explains what he's looking for and why we're all there. I ponder whether his tongue is insured for £1,000,000 in the same way that Beyonce's bottom is.

We're then given a short talk by flavourist Matthew Stokes from Fruitarom about different flavourings that are present and used in chocolate, both artificial and natural, and urged to sniff testers dipped in vanillin (nice) and butyric acid (nasty - described by Simon and Edd Kimber as "baby sick" and "cheesy socks" and indeed it reminds us of the rankest Hershey bar).

Kyle Cathie Books copyright Simon Kimber

With that delightful scent lingering, the challenges are announced:

Two Taste Tests which everyone can enter - the Cocktail Test by Johan Svensson from Drinks Fusion, and the Chocolate Taste Test by Micah himself.

The 15:15 Challenge that nine of us have signed up for - to cook a meal for Micah in 15 minutes with a budget of £15 that will show that we understand how to balance flavours.

I've thought long and hard about what dish I'm going to create in those 15 minutes - the last time I did a cook-off I'd barely produced two courses in one hour, and the time before that I'd managed one dish in 30 minutes.
To be fair, both occasions were somewhat trying - this time around the atmosphere is extremely convivial and of course the fantastic Miele Home Ecs are on hand as always.

But 15 minutes go by very quickly.

Chef Montage copyright Green and Black's

In the end, I decide to make a version of Wafu Pasta for two reasons - firstly it's incredibly quick to throw together, and secondly it encapsulates all five of the tastes - Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter and Umami aka Savoury - and this challenge is all about flavour.

I choose brown beech mushrooms for their sweet earthiness, dashi and soy for savouriness, salmon roe for a burst of saltiness, shiso leaves for their bitter citrussy quality and some spring onions for extra tang. There's also mirin to ramp up the sweetness and zest of the dish. With a packet of linguine, my basket comes to just under £15. Phew.

Back in the Miele showroom, the lovely Gail Haslam, community manager for Green & Black's begins the countdown. There's no time to think - we just have to cook.

Me, Jen from Chocolate Ecstasy Tours, Laura from Feast on Scraps, Luiz aka The London Foodie,and Kavita from Kavey Eats are in this first flurry.

Much, much too soon, it's time to plate up and we rush forward to present them for tasting.

I'm completely happy with the flavours of my dish, though concerned the pasta may be a little undercooked, and I'm even rather pleased at the way it looks, since presentation isn't my strong point. Pleased that is, until I spot quite how beautiful the other offerings are.

1515 Group 1 dishes by meemalee
Quail with Rose Petals and Bitter Chocolate by The London Foodie, Chocolate Millefeuille by Chocolate Ecstasy Tours, Seared Beef with Coconut Rice by Feast on Scraps, Artisan Cheese on Toast with Pear Chutney by Kavey Eats

Micah tries each dish one by one. His face is inscrutable; he makes no comments; this man would clean up at poker. He makes copious notes, and takes sips of water to cleanse his palate.

When he's done, Micah leaves the table and we all set to, demolishing the leftovers. It's all stunning, though my favourites are Laura's beef dish (amazing that she cooked the coconut rice perfectly in that time) and Luiz's tender quail.

Micah Tasting My Dish copyright chocablog, Fernandez & Leluu, and meemalee
Micah tries my Japanese pasta

Sated, I distract myself from feeling like I'm waiting for exam results by turning to the other tests and tasting the cocktails and the chocolate ganaches to try to discern the flavours.

One drink is a pale pink cocktail which tastes like Parma Violets, creme de cassis and egg-white to me. The other is muddy brown and tastes of chocolate and some strong bitter, sharp booze that I can't identify.

I'm on safer ground with the ganache - the dark chocolate one reminds me of Hoegaarden for some reason - citrus and spice, so I put down orange and chilli pepper as the flavours - and the white ganache tastes like green tea, lemon and vanilla - I go back for thirds of that one, even though I'm not usually keen on white chocolate.

Meanwhile, the second group of contestants have started to cook - both Jack and Sarah from Food For Think, Becci from Feed & Gastro, and Simon from Fernandez & Leluu.

15 minutes later we have an elegant dish of scallops and capers (a witty variation of the MasterChef classic which makes me smile), a lush cheesecake, beautiful fresh crab linguine and, astonishingly, an intricate, deconstructed cassoulet.

Again, Micah tastes them all in turn without giving anything away, and again we fight for his leftovers.

1515 Group 2 Dishes by meemalee
Scallops, Pesto and Capers by Jack from Food For Think, Lime and Oreo Cheesecake by Sarah from Food For Think, Crab Linguine by Becci from Feed & Gastro, Deconstructed Cassoulet by Simon from Fernandez & Leluu

Finally, it's time for the verdicts.

First, the results of the Cocktail Challenge. The two cocktails are revealed as Orange & Ginger Alexander - Cognac shaken with melted chocolate and fresh cream, seasoned with ginger and orange served straight up with a dust of dark chocolate; and Moth Flower - Black Moth Truffle Vodka, crème de mure, Noilly Prat dry vermouth and a touch of lavender eaux de vie shaken with fresh lemon and sugar, served straight up with violet foam.

The lovely Jen from Chocolate Ecstasy Tours is announced as the winner and we all cheer as she receives her prize of Riedel glassware.

Cocktails copyright Simon KimberGanaches copyright chocablog

Next up are the results of the Chocolate Taste Test. Micah says that he obviously needs to make it easier as nobody got the dark chocolate and there was only one person close to the white.

He says the dark ganache contains coriander and coriander seeds, and I realise that I was right to think it tasted like Hoegaarden, but missed the point - a quick Google says that the citrus notes in their beer come from coriander seeds and not from oranges (though orange peel is an ingredient).

As for the white chocolate, it contained white tea, lime and vanilla - and a big grin breaks over my face as I realise I must have won with my guess of green tea, lemon and vanilla.

Winning Collage copyright Fernandez & Leluu, chocablog, and meemalee
I cry like a baby, the winners with Micah, and Edd packs my KitchenAid for me (though it looks like he's trying to steal it)

I step forward to claim my prize of a pile of gorgeous Kyle Cathie cookbooks tied with a beautiful ribbon and then melt back into the crowd.

Finally, it's time for the big one - the winner of the 15:15 Challenge and the Empire Red KitchenAid. I'm not really paying attention as I'm hugging my books happily, when Micah suddenly says that the winner ... is me.

Video courtesy of the brilliant Chocablog

I'm gobsmacked, because frankly one prize was enough for me and also because, hell, in the end it was just a plate of pasta, but here's Micah himself on why I won that gorgeous red KitchenAid mixer:

"I loved MiMi's dish because it was so well balanced, with the complexity from the shiso leaves and the salmon roe. It was surprising and exciting, especially combined as a pasta dish. I was impressed that she had thought about the challenge and how she could best use the budget and time".

Micah Carr-Hill, Head of Taste at Green & Black's

But Laura from Feast of Scraps's fab beef dish is a very close runner-up, so she wins second prize of a £100 Japanese Knife Company voucher.


This was just for fun, but if you want to become Micah's Taste Assistant for real or a member of the Green & Black's Taste Panel, you can apply at here. Closing date is 14 December 2010.

Coming up - my winning recipe and a COMPETITION ...

Certain photos used with kind permission from Chocablog, Simon Kimber, and Fernandez & Leluu - hover over each photo to see the photographer and click them to go to their sites


Great to meet you too, lovely post! (but you cannot possibly win the best post as well can you ;D )You have done so well, I hope you are enjoying your prizes very much.
chumbles said…
Great stuff and really well done! Super post. Shame it wasn't a year's supply of chocolate though; but it's probably just as well ...
meemalee said…
@Ute@HungryinLondon - Thank you for cheering us on!

@chumbles - That would be a very bad idea.
catty said…
OMG look at your awesome 15:15 meals! Thank F*** I didn't enter. Congrats on guessing the flavours MiMi, suppose you aren't going to quit your day job and be Micah's assistant???
veeezeee said…
How fun! Congrats to you. Enjoy your well deserved prize!
meemalee said…
@catty - I wish! Thanks :)

@VeeZee - Thank you Vicki - I will!
Suz said…
Wow, congratulations! Sounds like you thoroughly deserved it. Cor, that KitchenAid is a beauty.
Just watched the vid- you big softie!! Well done though, cooking and plating up anything in 15mins is a huge achievement! Ixx
Oh bless you I nearly had a little cry watching you cry (hormones!!!). It sounds like you really deserved to win but I'm still mighty jealous of your gorgeous kitchenaid! Get baking ;)
Graphic Foodie said…
Awww bless ya! And it proves a great plate of pasta is unbeatable :)

ps. have you named her yet?
Michelle said…
Yayyyyy!!! Good on your MiMi!! Its a long way from the devil's face on a plate (remember that post :-))

See, I really miss these bits about the UK. That, and Green and Black's :-(
meemalee said…
@suzler - Thanks Suz - is very, very pretty :)

@TheFastestIndian - It was an emotional time - thank you xxx

@I heart cupcakes - I will - links to some of your easy recipes please :)

@The Graphic Foodie - Yeah! Pasta rocks! Not yet - I am considering calling it Bradley after the Ginger Whinger in Eastenders (pride of Sidcup), though Kavey wants me to name it FiFi Le Rouge.

@Michelle Peters-Jones - Yeah, it is quite different - though this won't stop me eating and cooking weird stuff - I made a camel curry on Saturday :)

When are you back for a visit? Would be fab to meet up and I'll bring you chocolate x
TrulyJ said…
Wow! Good work MiMi! What a fine palate and pretty Kitchen aid you have. I look forward to browsing through your new books. Well done indeed :) x
Food Urchin said…
I'll say it again, it was a good job I wasn't in this competition MiMi......................actually nah that's a pile horse dung, well done you (said through gritted teeth)
meemalee said…
@Truly Johnston - We must have a baking session :) x

@FoodUrchin - There, there - anyway, you won Nom Nom Nom this year, so stop whingeing :P
The Grubworm said…
Great job on the linguine - i think the salmon eggs was an inspired leftwards (if eastwards) lateral leap. Sounds like you hit the flavour balancing nail on the head.

The whole event sounds fab actually - gutted to have missed it.
Greedy Diva said…
This was one of the best run events I have been to - and SO much fun. Loved it. Well done on your tasting/cooking prowess Ms Mimi.
meemalee said…
@The Grubworm - Yeah, I am zen. You should have been there, dude. Easily one of the best run and most fun events in a long time.

@Greedy Diva - Totally agree - it helped that everyone there was really lovely and supportive :)
Gail said…
Is it wrong to say I'm so pleased to have made you cry? ;-) A very well deserved victory.
Simon Fernandez said…
Congratulations!!! Mutter grumble!!
I'm sure there's another kitchen aid out there for me some where! Well done, love your montages too! See you at the next one! Clearly I'll have to up my game :/
meemalee said…
@Gail - You're evil, but lovely at the same time :)

@theferdie - There will, and I'll be there cheering you on. I think my competitive cooking days are over :P
Jen said…
Brilliant post, lovely lady. Thank you for your nice comments. You can see Micah smiling as he tastes yours - so maybe not the poker face we all thought! :)

I hope you are enjoying your new baby - so, so pretty!

Lovely to see you and hopefully won't be so long until the next time! (And hopefully you're cooking ;) )

Nic said…
Great win, loved the video!
meemalee said…
@Jen - Awww, thank you Jen and well done to you again - I'll definitely cook for you some time x

@Nicisme - Thank you - I was lucky that chocablog was there to capture it :)
Anonymous said…
thanks for the rec on the KitchenAid colour, I'm soooo envious that you won one!!