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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ...