Project Food Blog Round 11: Thank You SO MUCH . . .

>>  Friday, December 17, 2010


I’m still in shock, I think.

Friday afternoon at 3PM EST Foodbuzz announced that Tiny Urban Kitchen had been crowned the winner of Project Food Blog.

????!!!!!

Yes, I won!!!!!!!

I can’t believe it. Both of the other finalists, Marc from No Recipes and Angela from Oh She Glows, are such incredibly talented bloggers and put forth thoughtful, well-composed, and beautiful entries. I certainly don't envy the difficult jobs that the judges had!

What a crazy, tiring, but SUPER FUN ride it’s been, these last four months. I have loved the challenge of being pushed and stretched as a blogger in so many directions. As a goal-oriented person, I know it takes contests like these to force me out of my comfort zone to learn new skills, techniques, and dishes. Yes, it takes a TON of energy, but the end result is super satisfying. The best part? I’ve gained skills that will stay with me for life.

Please join me as I take you on a short “behind the scenes” peek at what was happening in the Tiny Urban Kitchen during each round of the competition.

Round 1: Ready, Set, Blog!
JenPhotography
Yikes! What horrible timing!

Why, oh why did this competition have to start right as I was about to leave for China? I finished this post on the airplane ride to Chicago. I hastily pressed “publish” in the airport lounge at O’Hare moments before hopping on my direct flight to Beijing. I had no idea whether I would be able to access Blogger from China (China blocks Blogger access), and thus no idea whether I would be able to continue in the competition.

Round 2: The Classics
Kaddo Bourani
Just to be safe, however, I churned out some Afghan kaddo bourani in the kitchen days before my trip to China and photographed it just in case I made it to round 2. I figured I could ask a friend to post it for me from the US if I made it to Round 2. While in China, I learned by accident that you can dial into Blogger via VPN!! Hallelujah! The kaddo bourani post went up while I was in China.

Round 3: Luxury Dinner Party
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I arrived back in the States from China on Friday evening. Though extremely jetlagged and a bit dazed from my trip, I got together with some friends on Saturday and cooked up a crazy luxurious China-inspired meal.

I’m so amazed at how it came together. Seriously, I was so exhausted, but somehow we managed to cook an incredibly delicious and uniquely luxurious meal that night. Yes, we didn’t eat until 9PM that night, but overall I think the meal was a success. Thank you so much Peter and Chia Chi for your help in dreaming up and executing that fantastic meal.

Round 4: Picture Perfect
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One of my favorite aspects of this competition is how it has challenged me to learn dishes I was afraid to try before. For this round, I really wanted to make something that would benefit greatly from a photo tutorial. After countless conversations with my mom over the phone, I managed to eek out some traditional Taiwanese rice dumplings, something that has been passed down in my family for generations.

Ha ha, my mom saw the photo of the one I made online and told me, “you put too much rice in it! You need more filling!”

Round 5: Recipe Remix
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I’m really a last minute kind of gal. This was an anomaly in that I actually worked on it mid-week – seriously, probably the only time the entire competition! I made France, Italy, and Canada on Wednesday. They turned out great so I ended up making the rest on the weekend.

And then I was stuck with a ton of pizzas. I gave some away to a friend and ate the rest for days on end. By the end of the week, I was pretty sick of pizza, so I think I threw away the rest. :(

Round 6: Road Trip!
Autumn Edible Bowls
For the first time, I felt completely at a loss. I generally like trying to come up with a post that is unique and “outside the box,” yet in this case my mind was completely blank. It was Friday night, and I had no idea what to make.

Bryan totally came to the rescue during this desperate time of need. I had mentioned off-hand the idea of packing butternut squash soup inside a butternut squash “shell”. He ran with that idea. “Why don’t you put everything in its own container?”

I really have to give him credit for this post. Yes, he absolutely can’t cook worth a dime, but he has a great creative mind and comes up with some crazy ideas. He was the brainchild behind the pumpkin shepherd’s pie, the apple cider apple cups, and the now famous inside-out apple pies. And unlike other parts of the nation that weekend, Boston was blessed with absolutely beautiful weather and breathtaking foliage.

Round 7: Video 411
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I am the type of person who needs tons of encouragement to pursue anything. I guess I doubt myself too often, and will mentally kill ideas before they are able to come to fruition. Because of that, I am extremely thankful for friends who sometimes push me to go forward with crazy ideas that I have.

I mentioned briefly in a conversation the idea of hand-pulled noodles for the video post.

My friend Peter replied, “Now THAT would a really cool post if you could pull it off.”

It was two weeks before the post was due.

I didn’t know how to make hand-pulled noodles.

Crazy? Yes, but I decided to try to learn this skill and make a video of it all within two weeks.

The next week, I basically spent every waking moment (outside of work, church, and my other normal activities) with flour, water, and dough. I made batch after batch after batch, trying to learn how to make this elusive food. The internet was surprisingly devoid of information, save for a couple of Youtube videos here and there. Thankfully, by the grace of God, I was able to learn how to make these noodles and crank out a video in two weeks.

Oh, I forgot to mention that I didn’t know a thing about editing videos. Bryan ordered some basic video editing software for me after I found out I had advanced. Thankfully, the software is pretty easy to figure out!

I pulled an all-nighter in order to publish my video about 45 minutes before my flight out to San Francisco to attend the Foodbuzz Festival. Needless to say, I was sort of a zombie Friday night, which was the only night I was able to attend the Festival!

Round 8: Piece of Cake
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The challenges just kept getting harder and harder and harder!! I am not a baker, so this challenge freaked me out. It didn’t help that I was going to Japan and China (again) for a week, and thus would only have Thanksgiving weekend to work on the post.

While in Japan, I tried to get inspired by the beautiful desserts that I saw there. Unfortunately, they all looked impossible to make, and I had no idea what to do.

Then I remembered the famous CHE family pumpkin cake. Of course! This was yet another dish that I have always wanted to learn how to make, but never challenged myself to do it. I e-mailed Bryan’s parents, who were more than happy to send me not only the recipe for the family dish, but also the cool background story about how Bryan’s great-grandmother used to make it from hand-ground rice flour and peeled pumpkin shreds.

I feared that the pumpkin cakes wouldn’t be complicated enough for this competition, so I decided to add in the thousand-layer spiral mooncakes and the pumpkin mochi to the mix. It took me the entire Thanksgiving break to figure out how to make everything.

I remember being almost a little sad at the end of Thanksgiving break thinking, “I just spent my entire Thanksgiving cooking for this post. I am so tired, and I now I feel like I need a vacation from my vacation. Is this really worth it??? Was it worth losing my entire Thanksgiving break for this?”

Round 9: You’re the Critic:
"Everything I Learned About Sushi I Learned From My Mom...And Kyubey
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Unlike many of the remaining 12 finalists in this round, I actually regularly write about restaurant experiences on my blog. Nevertheless, I had a hard time figuring out what restaurant I wanted to feature.

I finally decided on Kyubey, mostly because I had some neat video footage from that restaurant from our two visits there in the past two years. I also thought it would be interesting and unique to feature a restaurant from another country.

In some ways, it was really nice not having to learn how to cook something, cook it, and then photograph it all in a weekend ON TOP of writing up a post filed with fabulous pictures. It was nice to just spend the entire weekend writing and working on the post.

On the other hand, I struggle with writing a lot. I think of myself more as an artist than a writer. There were many frustrating moments that weekend as I struggled to find a way to write the post in an interesting, engaging, yet informative way.

Round 10: Final Reflections

It’s hard to be motivated to plan for a post when the odds of advancing are one in four, especially when that final post needs to be epic. So, of course, even though I spent time thinking about what I would write, I didn’t purchase a single ingredient nor did I spend a moment in the kitchen.

And then Friday afternoon I found out I had advanced.

The rest of the weekend was a blur. After heading to Chinatown to get some daikons, monster carrots, and winter melons, I spent about 3 hours carving daikons to make the Longfellow bridge “salt and pepper” shakers. At 9:30PM Bryan and I rushed to the grocery store to pick up some more veggies.

I made the rest of Boston alone through the night, accompanied only by the sound of the occasional car that drove by and the sounds of my own carving. I knew I had to finish it as soon as possible because the veggies wouldn’t last much longer than a day. At 4AM, I began filming the stop motion video. At 6AM, I plopped into bed, exhausted.

Somehow, within the next 36 hours, I recorded the song video (thanks singers for coming over on such short notice!), produced both videos, cooked up some octopus (thanks Peter & Chia Chi for your help!), made grape nut ice cream, and wrote up the final post.

Bryan had booked a celebratory dinner after post submission on Sunday night, but I was so tired that I told him “let’s just eat somewhere close by and simple.” So, where did we go? Basta Pasta, of course.

FoodbuzzMeetWinnerScreenshotMedium
When Did You Find Out You Won?
I found out the results the same way as everyone else. Foodbuzz had contacted the finalists and asked us to participate in a tweet-up half an hour before the announcement. In all seriousness, the butterflies in my stomach tripled when I thought about being "in public" for the final announcement. Thankfully, everyone was so encouraging, kind, and positive during the tweet-up that it was actually reasonably exciting and fun (as fun as it can be when you are super nervous!).

I'll never forget that moment when Foodbuzz tweeted the link. For some reason it reminded me of when I took the patent bar exam on computer - you find out right there and then whether you pass or not. Those moments the server is churning are the most butterfly-inducing moments you can imagine.

And then I saw the little medal on my profile.

Shocked! Speechless! Relief??

And then the "congrats" started pouring in. It was really hard to keep up with the quick scroll of super kind and encouraging words that rolled up my screen at seemingly lightning speeds. I could hardly keep up. Marc and Angela were super gracious and positive. In fact, all of the people with whom I have been competing were so encouraging and supportive. I couldn't believe it. I was so touched.

So Now What?
Well, I'm still recovering from the shock (seriously!) but I'll find out more about the year-long feature next week! Right now, I know as much as you do about what happens next!

As for the prize money . . . starting around Round 8 or so (when it looked like I might actually have a shot at winning the entire contest), I started becoming more and more convinced that if I won the contest, I wanted to give away $10,000 to those in need. This came about mostly from studying the Bible and seeing Jesus's example on how he cared about the poor.

I still have to figure out all the logistics and everything, but I'll keep you updated!

A Super Huge Thank You
As you know, this contest was 50% vote-driven. I absolutely could not have done it without all of your support. I loved reading your comments and tweets throughout this entire contest. It was fun "talking" with some of you over twitter or through your blogs. This food community is AWESOME. All-in-all, I have been blown away by the love, encouragement, and graciousness of everyone in the community, especially my fellow competitors, who I feel I have gotten to know throughout this competition (and some of whom I got to MEET at the Foodbuzz Festival!).

Thanks so much to Foodbuzz for organizing this competition, and to the judges, Dana Cowin, Nancy Silverton, and Pim Techamuanvivit, who had the most difficult job of all!

Of course, I could not have done this without the support of my friends and family. Bryan stood by my side round after round after round, patiently coming with me on endless supermarket runs, encouraging me and pushing me when I was feeling discouraged or when I was ready to give up.

My extended family, especially my parents and Bryan's parents, have been crucial by sharing recipes with me and I've cooked through several family traditions this contest - not to mention the constant love and support they give.

My good friends Peter and Chia Chi have been with me this whole competition, everything from helping me cook the Luxury Meal in Round 3 to coming with me to Boston's Chinatown for the video shoot. Also a quick shoutout to my friend Beata who lent me a pizza stone, and her husband Loren who relieved me of the burden of eating all the pizza flags by taking some for lunch.

Thanks also to my super talented singing buddies Grace, Ele, and Daniel, who came over at a last minute's notice. These guys are super talented - they listened to a recording and figured out how to sing and perform the background in less than two hours! You all ROCK!

And most importantly, above all, I thank God, without whom none of this would be possible.

Thank you all! What a wonderful Christmas present. :)
Kyaraben Party

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you can contact me at: jen[at]tinyurbankitchen[dot]com
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