This event was the first of its kind for our Nation’s capital. A BIG “thank you” goes to the National Arts Centre’s own Chef Michael Blackie who took a great deal of time out of his already busy schedule to come up with an event that had Ottawa foodies buzzing!
Some of Canada’s best chefs were paired together and asked to come up with a dish that would then be demonstrated at the event. The chefs then had 45 minutes to demonstrate their dishes, with each being followed by a question and answer period.
If I were asked to give any tips for improving the event, I would have to advise that the host be chosen with a little more carefully next time. Kevin Brauch of Food Network Canada’s Thirsty Traveller and Iron Chef America is such a vibrant personality and wonderful at his job, but as host of this event, he frequently interrupted the chefs and made it difficult for us to keep our focus on the chefs. That was in stark contrast to the awkward silent moments where some of the chefs didn’t speak a word while preparing their dishes, which would have instead provided a great opportunity for Mr. Brauch’s special brand of humour.
Overall, though, this event was a success and with a little more refining and some more practical logistical thinking, it can easily become a real coup for the city!
Here are the chef pairings and their creative dishes:
Demo 1: Drunken Squab & Newfie Screech / Tatin of Sunchokes / Foie Gras Crepinette
Chefs Anthony Walsh, Canoe, Toronto ON & Chef Michael Moffat, Beckta Dining and Wine, Ottawa ON
Chef Walsh showed us how to prepare the drunken squab and mentioned that chicken and other gamey birds are a good substitute for squab. Squab is a domesticated pigeon – not like the kind that bug us in the city – that is primarily dark meat, high in protein and minerals.
Demo 2: Kushi Oyster / Honey Flavour Roasted Foie Gras Terrine / Marrow Bones & Chardonnay Vinaigrette & Bacon Foam
These two young chefs were not only charming but pretty cute! Chef Lepine had us all intrigued with the molecular gastronomy behind his bacon foam creation. Molecular gastronomy is all about the science of cooking and how it can create amazing dishes. Not sure I understood much of it, but there’s a reason why I’m not a science major. Whatever the case, it all sounded very cool to me! As for Chef Cloutier, he perfectly seared a lovely slice of foie gras ;the fragrant smoke filled the room and had us all drooling.
Demo 3: Transverse Nova Scotia Sea Bass (Crispy Seared / Citrus Cured) / Cool Fennel & Citrus Salad / Warm Gold Beet Puree & Hay Brown Butter /Dulse & Beetroot Culis / Applewood Smoked Mussel Bridge
Chef Howell explained that he never serves salmon at his restaurant because, he believes, they are being overfished from our waters (a controversial opinion that is being disputed throughout the country), but he does use some other great ingredients from the ocean, like dulse seaweed, which grows along the shorelines of the North Atlantic.
Demo 4: North Country Bison Hash / Goat Cheese & Cauliflower Ravioli / Preserved Lemon & Rendered Bacon Hollandaise / Ancho Chilli Plum Gastrique
These two chefs seemed to have great chemistry. Chef Bowen made it look like his bison hash was the easiest thing in the world to prepare and OMG, did that dish ever smell divine! I was kind of bummed that I wasn’t able to attend the reception to try it out.
Demo 5: Poached Atlantic Lobster / “Benjamin Bridge” Beurre Blanc / le Coprin Mushrooms / Sweetbreads & Candied Fennel / Corn Flan / Watercress Sprouts / Black Olive Purée
I wasn’t keen on watching Chef Lyness prepare the sweetbreads (my stomach is turning as I type this – don’t know what sweetbreads are? Look it up.), but lobster? Hello, butter? No issues there. Chef Bear brought his fresh lobsters in from Halifax.
Demo 6: Shiitake Poached Pickerel / Beurre Noissette / Dressed Grains & Green / Crispy Crème Fraiche Oysters
It was fun to finally see a female chef up there. Chef Langley brought some life into the room, which was much needed because by 2:00 pm, we were all starting to feel a little tired. Sitting in a very warm and dark auditorium all day will do that to you. I did find it unfortunate that through the majority of the demo, the host joked around and continuously made comments about what chef Langley was wearing “her short shorts”.
When asked, Chef Langley did mention that the grain being used in the dish was quinoa.
Demo 7: Beet Risotto / Crispy Pig Cheek / Seared Qualicum Beach Scallop / Granny Smith Slaw
Chef David Rocco, Dolce Vita, Toronto ON & Chef Cesare Santaguida, Vittoria Trattoria, Ottawa ON
The beet risotto was made with fresh beet juice prepared the night before by Chef Santaguida. The scallops were prepared on a salt blockthat he found in his kitchen cupboard the same morning as the event. His wife thought it had been hanging around the kitchen too long and suggested he use it for the event. Apparently the way to clean a salt block is to scrape the top layer of salt off it after it’s been used.
When Chef Rocco was asked by an audience member what his last meal would be he answered with “lasagne as the main and a hamburger for dessert”. Smart guy....
Demo 8: Sweet Grass Smoked Charlevoix Veal / Crisp Potato Girdle / Clarmell on the Rideau Feta & Sage Infused Retention / Firecracker Spotted Prawn Crisp / Cloud Horse Mead-Lychee Sting
Chef Michael Lyon, Hotel Eldorado, Kelowna BC & Chef Michael Blackie, National Arts Centre, Ottawa ON
This demo was more of a glorified closing to the event. Smoke from ice blocks filled the room and host Kevin Brauch showed the chefs how to saber champagne bottles. While everyone seemed to be having a great time, there was really not much in the way of a cooking demo.
Overall, it was a fun and informative day and it was really refreshing to see how much passion for food and culinary talent there is our great city!