By Stefanie Gans
In my role as dining editor and restaurant critic my inbox consists mostly of press releases announcing new restaurants, new chefs, new menus and fake food holidays, which is why an email with the subject line “Scavenger Hunt Question!” drew my attention. It was from Mandy, a Northern Virginia resident, playing in GISHWHES, The Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen. And she needed a food critic to complete one of the tasks:
“The reason I’m emailing you is because this year one of the items on my list is to make a dish (a really crazy dish, I will admit, with some very unusual ingredients) and get it reviewed by a published food critic. The dish in question is somewhat questionable, though not harmful or poisonous by any means (it consists of all real food items that taste just fine on their own, but together might be very awkward). I would make it and deliver it, if allowed, and you wouldn’t have to eat all of it (only a single bite is entirely fine).”
Later that day I received a similar email from Meredith.
Both Mandy and Meredith brought me Pasta Jam Sauce, item number 38:
“It’s time the Internet’s bourgeoning [sic] Culinary Master was recognized… or panned. Prepare West Collins’ “Pasta with Jam Sauce” and have a noted food critic review it. It must be a qualified, published critic. If they’re not a published critic, don’t submit. 102 POINTS”
The culinary master referred to above is an adorable and creative child who is allowed free reign in the kitchen. He makes messes, one of which is his jam sauce. Here are my reviews on Meredith and Mandy’s takes on this preposterous recipe.
Pasta with Jam Sauce by Team Iridium Salamanders (Meredith)
There’s a restaurant in Washington, D.C. that serves pasta in a strawberry sauce so when I tasted the smooth, fruit-forward sauce smothered on bow ties, it didn’t taste altogether shocking. There were notes of chocolate and an overall sweetness to the sauce, whose thick consistency rivaled wet concrete. Perhaps the addition of goldfish crackers helped to add a layer creaminess and heft, maybe like that of a roux. While the recipe called specifically for tire-shaped pasta, I give props to team Iridium Salamanders, who chose bow ties when she couldn’t find the tires, because they were the “second funniest shape I could find.” It’s also commendable that Iridium Salamanders boiled the pasta and cooked the ingredients until it resembled a sauce. I went in for a third and fourth bite, recognizing the layered flavors, at once mingling in harmony and rebelling in fear.
Pasta with Jam Sauce by Team Sauerkraut Scouts Love Rebellion (Mandy)
Eating a forkful of chocolate chips, goldfish crackers, uncooked spaghetti tires and strawberry chunks pushed a shudder through my body. The representative from Sauerkraut Scouts Love Rebellion charged her 13-year-old brother with assembling the pasta with jam sauce recipe. And assembling is exactly what he did. The raw ingredients, which also include orange juice, carrot juice, blackberries, apples and popcorn, remained incohesive in this dish-of-parts. Varying textures often help a dish succeed, but this time, with an overall gloppiness in between bites of stale cardboard, these different feelings propelled horror, not satisfaction.