#ChinChinAtHome: A challenge like no other
Early morning light breaks through my blinds and my eyes struggle to adjust. I groan as I take stock of all the areas of my body that are currently aching. It seems like every inch of me is broken. My fingers burn with the faint heat of chilli and I wonder just what happened last night. Then my brain refocuses and I remember... #ChinChinAtHome happened last night.
Rewind three months to the moment my heart skipped a beat and I wondered could I? Scrolling through my Instagram feed there it was...a post from Chin Chin Restaurant challenging me to cook a minimum of 4 dishes from 'Chin Chin: The Book', upload the results to Instagram with the hashtag #ChinChinAtHome and win a dinner cooked in my home for seven friends and I, by none other than the charismatic mow-hawked executive chef Benjamin Cooper! Be still my beating heart...
I received 'Chin Chin: The Book' last Christmas, but despite reading it voraciously from cover to cover, I must admit I had been far too nervous to attempt any of these delicious recipes. Could this have been the challenge I was waiting for? Adding fuel to the fire, a few friends emailed through their encouragement, and so the date was set and the challenge began.
Not wanting to do things by halves and wanting to be sure no one left hungry, I chose two entrees, three mains, a couple of sides and put together a Thai-style dessert to finish. It seemed easy enough right? On the menu for #ChinChinAtHome was Wok Fried Salt and Pepper Squid; Chilli Salt Chicken Wings with a kick-ass bandit sauce; Massaman Curry of Coconut Braised Brisket with Kifler Potatoes; Moo Yang BBQ Pork and Twice Cooked Beef Short Ribs. For sides we had steamed Gai Lan with Oyster Sauce and stir fried Broccolini with Oyster Mushrooms and Thai Basil. To finish the evening we enjoyed individual Mango Jelly with Coconut Tapioca Pudding.
In the week leading up to the #ChinChinAtHome cook-off, the cookbook became my constant companion. It came with me into the lunch room at work and lulled me to sleep each night. I made lists of ingredients, ordered meat from my local butcher, woke early one morning for a market shopping trip and started preparations the evening before the big day. This was no ordinary dinner party.
The day of the cook off, I rose bright and early and commenced preparations for the day ahead. I had all the ingredients ready, the meat was marinating, the jellies had been made and were setting in the fridge. Everything seemed to be going well. With a feeling of pride I told myself 'you can do this!'
It is funny how time moves at a rapid pace, just when you would rather it didn't. Quickly I realised I may have bitten off a little more than I could chew. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and looking back on it now I realise where I made some errors of judgement. Reading through the recipes a number of times, I think I had failed to grasp just how long each of the accompanying sauces and elements would take to put together. With so many elements, it was probably a little naive to think I could pull it all together in around 18 hours. What would have been smarter would have been to make some of the sauces and crucial elements over a few weekends prior to the big event. But alas... so I pushed on and did everything I could to pull all the elements together. There was no time to stop and no time to drink.
All too quickly I heard the ding dong of the doorbell...the first guests were here! I swear it sounded like the doorbell from My Kitchen Rules. Panic! Where I could I enlisted my friends to assist in a few small tasks and brave the ferocity of the spitting hot oil as we fried the tender squid which had been lightly coated in tapioca flour, along with the chicken wings.
By some sort of miracle, I managed to get all the dishes up within a reasonable time frame. Sure some of the sauces didn't make it, but overall it was a tasty dinner party with the highlights being the Chilli Salt Chicken Wings. The combination of the kick-ass bandit sauce and the Schezuan pepper salt took the humble chicken wing to a whole new level. The Twice Cooked Beef Ribs were melt in the mouth and the Massaman Curry was also a favourite with my guests, though I must admit in doubling the quantities I didn't end up with as much glorious juice to mop up as I would have liked.
Looking back on it now with a certain amount of fondness (despite swearing the next morning I would never attempt something like this again) I have decided I would actually give this another shot- perhaps just one or two dishes next time, rather than a huge chunk of the book. And let's face it, with a pantry now resembling an Asian Grocer, I would be crazy not to! However, I would allow more time for preparation and put together some of essential curry pastes and dipping sauces a few weekends before. Ideally I would also have a much larger kitchen, but that is probably just a pipe dream!
This challenge has taught me the art of perseverance and self-belief and regardless of the outcome, it was a fantastic way to spend quality time with friends. I finally had the courage to use a cookbook I had long sat admiring and I finished the challenge with the utmost respect for Benjamin Cooper and his team at Chin Chin. What they produce every single night is no mean feat.
Did any of my readers attempt this challenge? Would love to hear how you went. What dinner party successes and/or failures have you had? Share them in the comments below or on Facebook. I would love to hear from you.