Episode 4 Food Network Star
midterm? It's time to panic!
That was quick! Something about taking a test gives me anxiety.
Midterms? I already have anxiety hearing anything to do with a test. So, when we walked into the kitchen that day and Bobby and Giada announced that our challenge was to make a typical weeknight meal, I stood there waiting for the catch. Except for once, there was no catch!
I decided to make biryani. It’s my go-to weeknight dish - an easy take on a one-pot meal of rice, meat, and aromatic spices, it’s rich in flavor, grand in tradition, and elaborate enough to take center stage at holidays and celebrations, such as Diwali or, in my house, most Friday nights. Each bite is suffused with spice, roasted nuts, dried fruits, or caramelized onions—deep and layered in flavor. This dish is very special to me because I learned how to make it from my grandmother. I even had the honor of making this dish on the TODAY show last year. Needless to say, I was definitely excited to show off my cooking chops on this challenge.
I had to make the quick version of this dish due to the 30 minute time constraint. There are dozens of variations of this dish in India, but a few key components to keep in mind.
Rice: I only use Basmati, a long grain rice from India. It’s worth the hassle to find, trust me!
Meat: You can use any type of meat for this dish. Chicken, mutton, goat, fish, prawns, beef - all acceptable in a biryani.
Marinade: The key to this dish is in the spiced yogurt marinade - yogurt is a commonly used acid to tenderize meats
Spices and aromatics: Biryani’s richness and complexity come, in part, from its layers of spices. Both ground and whole spices, as well as spice mixes, such as garam masala, are used in the cooking process, as are fresh herbs and seeds, such as poppy. Biryanis can be elaborately garnished with nuts, dried and fresh fruits, caramelized onions, and more fresh herbs.
How it’s Cooked: There’s a specific way to cook the rice for biryani. It’s called dum, a slow-cooking method in which the cook layers parboiled rice and raw, marinated meat in a heavy-bottomed vessel, sealing it with dough and cooking it for hours over a low flame. For this challenge, I used a dutch oven and skipped the dough and marinating the meat for hours.
Now for the judging... I walked in and stood in front of Bobby and Giada and they said the guest judge was someone I knew. I started looking around hoping it was my brother. No such luck! It was ME.
Frankly, I was a little disappointed to learn that there was no special guest judge. While I enjoy critiquing myself from time to time, I certainly didn’t want to do it sitting next to Bobby and Giada. I calmly started critiquing my presentation first, and then the food. I wasn’t thinking about right or wrong, or even getting too technical - the fact that Bobby Flay and Giada de Laurentiis loved my dish was enough to set me flying. Giada said my dish was “something she would make for Jade” and Bobby said the dish was “something I could come to his restaurant and make for his staff”. That was a huge compliment because I had been critiqued a lot on my flavors being overpowering the week before, and I felt like I had to get it right this time around.
Moving on to the Star Challenge, Jess had the advantage which allowed her to pick a team for the judging panel. She picked a team she felt comfortable working with and knew could all perform well. I honestly think Jess didn’t realize we were being judged individually and not as a team.
Our team was further divided against each other - Adam vs. Jess and me vs. Christian. This is where things got a little chaotic for me as I got paired against Christian. Guess what? He’s already judged on Beat Bobby Flay. This was my moment of panic.
It’s definitely a risk to have such strong players on one team. I suspect they knew she would pick this way based on the last challenge. To Jess’s defense, no one knew what twisted turns they were planning for us.
Our challenge wasn’t easy either, we had to moderate a panel and provide play-by-play comments while Bobby and Giada cooked, and then judge their creations. The mentees had become judges – what could go wrong?! A few minutes into the challenge, it occurred to me that Bobby and Giada were deliberately making mistakes. Our job was to comment while they were cooking, pointing out any mistakes and teaching the viewers about specific techniques.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to outsmart Christian with his judging skills and infinite knowledge about capers which landed me in the bottom.
Then I think I blanked out on the next part - the bottom four had to cook their versions of Bobby and Giada’s dishes. All I remember hearing is: SUDDEN DEATH COOKOFF. Words I didn’t expect to hear that morning. Knowing that I might be sent home from that challenge all of a sudden made this competition even more real.
This was an incredibly tough challenge on every front - being in the bottom, having to recreate Bobby Flay’s dish while everyone watched, all the while knowing that I could go home after this cook – it was a real mind bender.
Luckily, Bobby and Giada agreed that I executed my version of the dish well. I was safe! In the end, to my shock and sadness, Adam and Harrison were eliminated. They were phenomenal chefs and dynamic guys.
Love hearing from you all; please keep the comments coming. Thank you so much for following my journey.
2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
¼ cup yogurt
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 tablespoon grated garlic
1 tablespoon coriander powder
1 tablespoon garma masala
1 tablespoon cumin powder
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon salt
3 tablespoons ghee or coconut oil
1 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
2 cup of mixed vegetables (green beans, carrots, and peas)
3 tablespoons warm water
Pinch of saffron threads
1.5 cup best-quality basmati rice
6 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons ghee or coconut oil
½ cup fried onion
2 tablespoons mint, chopped
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
- In a bowl, wash the rice gently in several changes of cold water until the water runs clear. Drain it and soak it in warm water for 20 to 30 minutes.
- Boil 6 cups of water in a large saucepan. Add 1 tablespoon of the salt and ghee when the water comes to a full boil. Add the rice and stir a few times, cooking it for 5 to 5 minutes, until it is two-thirds cooked. (The longer the rice has soaked, the less time it will take to cook.) Drain the rice in a sieve, run cold water through it for a minute, and then spread it on a large platter or cookie sheet to cool. Set aside.
- Add saffron threads to warm water to bloom. Set aside.
- In a mixing bowl, combine yogurt, ginger, garlic, coriander, cumin, garam masala, turmeric, and cayenne, plus salt. Add the chicken, mix well, and let marinate in mixture for 20 minutes.
- Melt 3 tablespoons ghee over medium-high heat in a wide, heavy-bottomed ovenproof Dutch oven. Add onions, a pinch of salt and sauté till golden brown, add the chicken mixture, stirring well to coat, cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Add vegetables and stir.
- Gently sprinkle rice over chicken mixture. Pour saffron water over rice. Cover with foil and close the lid to cook for a further 20 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and rice is tender.
- Garnish with cilantro, mint, and fried onions
4 black bass filets
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1 tablespoon coriander powder
Kosher salt to taste
1/2 can coconut milk
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons blood orange juice
Kosher salt to taste
Garnish: 1/4 cup capers
Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high until very hot but not smoking. Score fish with a sharp knife, season bass with salt and pepper and cook, skin side down, gently pressing occasionally with a spatula to ensure contact with a skillet, until skin is browned and crisp and flesh is nearly opaque, 6–8 minutes.