After much ado, the basket contents were revealed: cauliflower, red onion, zucchini, roma tomatoes, arugula, wild rice, couscous, lemons, chicken, shrimp, and fish. A bit overwhelming, indeed, until you remember there is no rule about how many ingredients need to be used in this competition.
Insider tip: When preparing for a mystery basket competition (or for a mystery basket job interview), many chefs will come in to the event with a few entrée templates in their mind. These will be composed dishes that the chef has practiced, they know can be completed in the allotted time frame, and are flexible enough to allow for the mystery basket ingredients to be used. For example, a chef might walk into a competition with this possible idea for an entrée:
(Fish or other protein) in a Oaxacan black mole, paired with a (vegetable)-filled tamal, grilled (vegetable) salad, roasted onions and a three nut (and other possible ingredient) crunch.
In this composed dish, there are places to utilize a variety of ingredients that might show up in a mystery basket. This particular entrée was Rick Bayless's winning dish (for a non-mystery basket challenge) on Top Chef Masters: Hawaiian ahi tuna in a Oaxacan black mole, paired with a plantain-filled tamal, grilled nopal salad, roasted knob onions and a three nut crunch. It clearly won't be appearing in any 30 minute competitions.
Thirty minutes is not very long, really.
Congrats, Jason, and good luck in Leesburg in March!