Competitors from the two teams (the White Team and the Blue Team) charges into the greenhouses of Tootoo Farm on the outskirts of Beijing to pick fresh, organic vegetables for the dish they will prepare during the latest episode of China Radio International's (CRI) food show, "Chopsticks and Beyond," on April 22, 2014. [Photo: CRIENGLISH.com/ Cui Chaoqun]
Generally, Chopsticks and Beyond has been confined to the cozy surroundings of some of the finest kitchens in Beijing. This time was a departure from the norm, however, as the set of the latest C&B was far from the glitz and glamor of fine dining establishments and closer to the source of everything edible, from baozi to brioche - a farm!
We journeyed to Tootoo Farm, an organic, self-sustained operation on the outskirts of Beijing where a cornucopia of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and even wheat, is grown. The farm was first established in 2008 and provides fresh, organic produce and eggs to customers and restaurants looking for a healthier food source in China amid the country's constant concerns over food safety.
Tootoo's fresh vegetables came in handy, as we pitted two teams against each other in preparing Suo Yi Huang Gua, a Chinese cold dish that is a refreshing plate-topper appropriate for the coming hot weather.
Eight contestants from around the world were bused out to the farm and split into two teams of four. After being given color-coordinated shirts (blue vs. white), no time was wasted giving them their tasks. Being involved in every step of their dish's preparation, each team had to enter the green-houses of Tootoo Farm and pick - yes, you read it right, pick - the needed ingredients for the dish they were going to later prepare.
While the white team was all harmony, the blue team was laden with bickering and friction. While it made for good viewing, the white team was well on its way to solidifying the team dynamic needed to tackle the culinary part of the contest that was yet to come, while the blue team seemed like it would be a miracle if they could agree on anything, let alone work together to prepare food.
However, both teams managed to collect the needed vegetables. With the fresh ingredients secured, it was on to the next stage of the contest - making the dish.
Master Chef Wei Han from Global Home Shopping was with us once again and greeted both teams as they arrived. Wasting little time, Wei Han showed the contestants how to prepare Suo Yi Huang Gua, giving extra detail to the way that the cucumbers are supposed to be cut. Utilizing small, careful diagonal cuts on both sides of the cucumber without completely cleaving through the vegetable, the end result would leave the cucumber looking something like an accordion...or a green slinky. While it may sound easy, what took Wei Han about two minutes took the two teams a lot longer, and with a lot more trial and error.
Presentation of the vegetables was just part of the main dish; the key element to completing the dish was making the sauce. Using horse radish oil, sesame oil, garlic, salt, coriander, soy sauce and vinegar, each team was to make a sauce that would add to the robust flavors of the vegetables each team picked. While both teams prepared their dishes, it was not up to a panel of hoity-toity judges with culinary know-how passing down their verdict on which was better. A big crew of CRI media personnel was on hand to take a bite and cast a vote for the team that did a better job of nailing a dish with a flavor all of the CRI crew was very familiar with.
One after another, the people in the CRI crew tried the dishes from both teams, and when the dust settled, it was the blue team that came out on top. Persevering through the rough start and constant bickering, the blue team wowed the tasters, garnering 14 votes for their dish. The white team, on the other hand, while making a valiant effort and exhibiting much more cohesion as a team, made a dish that earned just seven votes. When asked why she chose the blue team's dish over the white team's dish, one taste-tester said, "The white team's sauce was just a little too bland."
After a quick victory celebration, the blue team was presented with a grand prize for their success - a large take-home box of fresh, organic vegetables from Tootoo Farm, which was presented to the victors by Li Jun, the farm's manager of foreign customer relations.
While the white team didn't clinch a "w" with their dish, they did get to take home a consolation prize, as well - a smaller pack of fresh vegetables and herbs for each contestant to take home. With the day's warm weather, everyone enjoying the cold dishes, some product placement and promotional jargon being thrown around and prizes being handed out willy-nilly, everyone was a winner on the latest Chopsticks and Beyond.
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