‘Scorched’ champion talks heat of competition

Jess Schurz | Lariat Photographer
Jess Schurz | Lariat Photographer

By Rae Jefferson
A&E Editor

This year, members of the Lariat hosted, filmed and screened a cooking competition called “Scorched.” The competition pit four students from various backgrounds against one another, eliminating – or “scorching” – one contestant at a time until just one remained.

Exchange student Mouna Bounouader, graduate student Lynn Hailin, graduate student Zack Valdez and sophomore Daniel Chao for the competiton. All the contestants had at least six years of cooking exprience, making for tough competition.

Bounouader, from Marrakech, Morocco, was the last chef standing. Bounouader’s victory was announced at a screening of the film Thursday evening at East Village Dining Commons.

How did you end up at Baylor?

There were 15 universities that we had to choose from, and I chose Baylor because it was in Texas. I’ve been in the U.S. before, but I was in the north. I wanted to have a chance to get into the south. It was also well ranked, so it was kind of a good school.

How did you hear about “Scorched?”

I was walking around campus in the morning and a guy gave me a flier, and I was like, “I’m going to do it.” I still have the flier. I put it on my wall, and everyday I would wake up and say, “I’m going to do it.”

When did you start cooking?

In my culture, it’s really important for a girl to know how to cook. I used to just do the dishes, but when I was maybe 10, I started to learn from my mom every time she was cooking. She would give me advice.

I started to try book recipes and instead of watching cartoons, I just wanted to watch cooking shows. I love that. I think I learned so many things from that. You just learn how to mix flavors, and, you know, which flavor goes with another. It helped me a lot.

Has your cooking changed since you started college?

I started cooking every day in college because the food in the dining halls wasn’t that good. I’m independent, so on Sunday I go shopping for everything that I need. I study and I cook every day for myself. I like to cook for my friends also, and they all think I cook really well.

What are your favorite things to cook?

For dessert, lemon pie. It’s my specialty. My brother – he lives here in the U.S. – every time he goes back to Morocco, he calls me and says, “Do for me three lemon pies.” The first thing he does when he’s home is eat the pies.

For other dishes, I love t o cook a Moroccan dish called basteilla, with seafood.

How did you feel when you found out you were going to be in the competition?

There was a test before the competition to pick the four contestants. I was telling myself (there was a) 50 percent chance I would be out.

When they sent me the email saying, “Congratulations,” I was so excited. I decided then that I would not mind if I was scorched in the first round.

When Daniel was scorched, I thought, “Oh, yeah, I think I can do it.”

When you first began the competition, were you expecting to win?

No, not at all. Daniel, when I saw him bringing out his knives, I was like, “He’s going to win.” I just wanted to cook for the first (round). I didn’t mind if I was scorched in the first round.

When I was coming here to the U.S., I had so many dreams. I wanted to try and reach most of them. I wanted to reach them all, but I know that’s kind of impossible. This was not one of my dreams that I thought I would do here. It was not on my mind at all.

How were you feeling during the competition?

When I made the main dish, I knew it was delicious, but I didn’t know if they would like my plate. I saw the others’ and knew it was getting real.

When you’re doing something like this, you just want to be eliminated in the first round, or you need to make it to the last. I didn’t want to be scorched in the middle.

When Zack was scorched, I thought, “For sure, I can do it.”

What were some of the greatest challenges in the competition?

I know Arabic and French, so most of the words that I use (when cooking) are French. I asked chef Ben if he understood French, which was helpful, but I was not sure if I would be selected.

I had this, kind of problem with language because I don’t have a good vocabulary in English with cooking, so I told them (I made) omelets, but I didn’t know how to tell them what I did. I think they liked my food, like the taste.

I didn’t hear any of them telling me that it was too spicy, or that the spices were not good.

By the last round, desserts, were you confident that you would win?

Pastries are my thing. I was sure that I knew how to do it. I was really sure. French pastry is really well known. France and Morocco are kind of the same because Morocco was colonized by France for so many years.

I knew I could do it. I was really happy.

What did you learn in the competition?

I learned about how to present. I think that’s the thing that I was missing. My appetizer was kind of huge, and they were saying that the small dishes are better than the big ones. I was in a rush, so I knew that it was not good.

How did you feel when you were announced as the winner?

I cried when they told me I was the winner. I was really happy. I went out, but nobody knew. I wanted to tell everybody, and hug them and start crying. They told me not to say anything, and I was like, “Why is this happening to me?” I just told everyone that I didn’t know anything.

All my friends here, even though I’ve only known them for three months, they were all telling me, “Oh, you’re going to be the winner.”