Sunday, April 29, 2012

Top Chef Canada: Season 2 episode 7: Curtis Luk is Outta Luck

Top Chef Canada has been parading out the celebrity Chefs lately and things are really starting to cook. Last week we saw Susur Lee and this week it was Richard Blais. Chef Blais has a signature style of cooking, that usually involves liquid nitrogen, that is best described as Molecular or Modern Cuisine. This style of cuisine uses "new" (at least on the kitchen) tools, ingredients and methods in creating dishes. Besides liquid nitrogen, examples include the use of a kitchen siphon (foam), gelling agents (like agar and sodium alginate) to make caviars and noodles made with cheese, veggies and fruit. Another element of this cooking style seems to be about deconstruction where traditional dishes are disassembled into their "individual sensory elements." (Dudek, p. 53) With Blais as a judge the Chefs were naturally put to the deconstruction challenge. As described by Chef Ryan Gallagher, during the show, deconstruction is the "same flavors that they [judges] would get from a classic dish but given to them in a totally different way."
We recently read an article on the topic of modern cuisine and the author made a joke that we rather liked. "The postmodern era of gastronomy will truly begin when a diner asks for bacon and eggs and the waiter nonchalantly replies 'ice cream or fried?'" (Dudek, p. 54) Richard Blais did offer some good advice to young Chefs, like 23 year old Jimmy Stewart whose dish was in the bottom, who attempt this cooking style. "When stuff like that happens [foam / ice cream on the plate with a chicken dish] it makes us all look bad in modern cuisine."
The quick fire challenge featured an array of cans with no labels and the Chefs had to use whatever they got using a 3 can minimum. We noticed that caterers are starting to serve dishes in cans and this trend seems to stem from Spain and be part of the whole molecular cuisine phenomena. Spain is home to Feran Adrià's, elBulli, that has spearheaded the Molecular Cuisine movement. We were recently reading the menu from Chef José Andrés' (who has worked with Adrià) new restaurant in South Beach Florida, The Bazaar, and came across this useful bit of information, "Although the technique (canning) was invented in France in 1810 by Mr. Nicolas Appert, Spain has become known for producing the highest quality canned goods in the world. At SLS [one of Andrés' restos] these dishes are prepared fresh daily, but we pay tribute to this groundbreaking practice by preparing selections typical of Spanish canning and presenting them in cans." 
We know that Cheftestant Ryan Gallagher said, "my dog eats out of cans," but do not be perturbed at your next cocktail your waiter hands you something in a can. You know the story behind the can and you can look witty in front of the other guests when you explain why your food is being served this way. In the quick fire challenged we were surprised with how good some of the dishes looked considering how nasty some of the stuff looked when the Chefs opened the cans. Chef Gallagher took the challenge with his Grilled Mackerel with Romesco sauce that was served in an oval plate sized can.
Catering Equipment: Canned Food coming soon to a cocktail party near you 
The elimination challenge asked the Chef to make deconstructed dishes. With the Chefs coming off of having just cooked for Susur Lee and now facing Richard Blais they really seemed to step up their game because there were some amazing looking dishes. There was also no added pressure of doing restaurant wars (service) like Susur Lee. Honestly, we have been waiting for Chef Chrystian to do cook like his audition video since the series began, he made a Turducken Tower. Chrystian’s Chicken Noodle Soup Terrine in this week’s challenge was the first sign of what we have expecting from the Chef. The same can be said of challenge winner, French Chef Xavier Lacaze, who finally did right by his country and its proud culinary tradition. Chef Lacaze served up a beautiful looking Quiche Lorraine made with shortbread and bacon cylinders with scrambled egg mousse and caramelized onions. If Lacaze and Chrystian keep this up they will definitely make it to the final no problem.
Despite all the brilliance there is of course the loser, Curtis Luk, who served up a Tuna Casserole Cannelloni. The idea of a tuna cannelloni makes us think of bad hospital food but perhaps that is just us. With only 6 years of culinary experience and no formal training, Luk's background is in science and mathematics, he is obviously a very talented Chef to have made it this far in the competition. Luk also displayed a very deft hand, except when he cut himself, with his desserts in the competition. 
Next week, the quick fire looks to be a skills competition. We noticed that they had not done this challenge this season. Last season, it was the first challenge and an almost a spoiler of who would be the finalists. Obviously we will be paying very close attention to this challenge. We also think that Chef Heinrich is the safe bet in this challenge if you are looking to us to make some predictions.
Work cited: Gastronomica, vol. 8 no. 2, pgs. 51-54 'Reading a Plate' by Nir Dudek.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Top Chef Canada Season 2: Episode 6: Sad News, Chefs Rivasplata and Cruz both lose

This has to have been one of the the most exciting episodes of Top Chef Canada ever. Double elimination challenge, Judge Susur Lee and restaurant wars where get to see the Chefs handle a service. We had wondered about the double elimination challenge because they did it in episode 2 last year. The double elimination this far in the series was a bit of a surprise to us and from the looks of things the Chefs too. The only thing that is perhaps more exciting than all of this is the fact the Richard Blais will be the guest judge on the next episode.
Gabriell Cruz was the first to go home in the soup and sandwich quick fire challenge. Chef Cruz presented a prosciutto sandwich with pickled onions and truffles. The offering seemed to weird out the judges and the sandwich did look a but cafésque.  The winner of the challenge was Jonathan Korecki who served up a Vietnamese sandwich and chicken consommé. Though Korecki won, Chef Carl Heinrich's gazpacho with bacon, cucumber and tomato sandwich was selected to be a Top Chef Canada featured menu item at Milestones. We assume that the Milestones crowd was deemed not yet ready for Vietnamese Banh Minh. Heinrich’s dish will not have the kitchen staff at Milestone's filling their larders with strange ingredients or scratching their heads when having to make a bacon, cucumber and tomato sandwich. You can make gazpacho in the blender but we wonder if it will pre-prepared for the Milestones kitchens. Heinrich’s sandwich does not seem very exciting and sounds like something you can make in your own toaster as a late night snack. 
Korecki certainly made a strategic move with his reward for winning the challenge by choosing Elizabeth Rivasplata as the opposing team leader. Chef Rivasplata has been bunting heads with the other Chefs in the kitchen and Korecki’s move was diplomatically described as "sneaky" by Chef David Chrystian. Korecki’s move also made for some exciting television.
We liked that fact that both teams chose Canadian themes with their resto concepts. There may have been no standout with the teams in their services as a whole but team name Fable (farm to table) was a winning idea. We have heard rumours that Chef Trevor Bird's new resto, that is opening soon, will bear this moniker. The other team chose to be True North offering a reflection of Canadian dishes. In this context Chef Rivasplata’s octopus dish left her team-mates scratching their heads. Rivasplata’s attempt at running the pass seemed to be her second downfall amongst her team-mates and with the judges who were left waiting for their food. Jimmy Stewart did offer a potato "risotto"dish  that was all potato no rice or veggies and deemed the worst dish by the judges. The win went to team Fable but was described by judge Mark McEwan as "not a perfect day." Team Fable seemed a bit surprised, they served melted ice cream, that the judges did declare no winner for this challenge.
At the judges’ table Chef Rivasplata started by showing a united team standing together but was immediately called out by Jimmy Stewart, the guy with the worst dish, for failing as a leader and at the pass. Rivasplata did throw herself on her own sword, we thought, when she said she would  "take credit" for the mistakes of her team as their leader. “You saved your ass,” Chef Rivasplata told Stewart while accusing him of you screwing her over in order to save Ryan who did front of house. Rivasplata’s final words to Stewart as she exited was “you are not right.” Rivasplata's departure leaves 1 female Chef in the competition. As the field narrows we think it is about time to start making some predictions about who will make it to the finals..

Monday, April 16, 2012

Top Chef Canada Season 2: episode 5: Chef Aubie is going Surfin' in Tofino

Joel Aubie was sent to pack his knives. Given that Chef has been in the bottom of the elimination challenges a few times, 3 in 5 episodes, it is no surprise that the surfin' Chef from Tofino was sent home. In watching the Chef packing his knives we could not stop thinking about this song, Chef Aubie, this one is dedicated to you...

Jimmy Stewart might want to forget the foam. The Chef had a funny moment when his foam, inspired by the moon landing rocket launch, failed to launch. This is the second time in the series that the Chef has made foam. His bread foam in episode 1 did not impress the judges and this time... Houston we have a problem. The presentation looked like the end of a can of shaving cream with flat liquid leaking out of the canister. Judge Mark McEwan seemed to be having fun with the scenario, calling the Chef t"space ranger Jimmy" and such phrases as "foam failure," and telling the Chef to "leave the foam home." In describing the situation McEwan told the Chef that he looked like "a faltering space ranger out there."
The quick fire challenge challenged the guests to make snack food with Tostitos chips. The Chefs did some rather elaborate, or was it complicated, dishes but simplicity won out with Chef Xavier Lacaze coating the chip with caramel. Caramel and corn is a winning combination, the saltiness of the chips would also add to the formula, that seemed to elude the other Chefs in this challenge.
As suspected, Chef Rivasplata is being portrayed as the villain in the kitchen. We expect more of this in the next episode because stress levels and tension runs high when it is restaurant wars. Remember last season when Dale freaked out because he was worried his soufflé would fall? Dale's freak out was dismissed as what happens in the kitchen stays in the kitchen but we wonder if this will be the case if Rivasplata has a similar melt down. The Chefs have some added pressure because the guest judge is Susur Lee who they will no doubt be trying to impress.

Cheftestants: This is how you do it

Monday, April 9, 2012

Top Chef Canada Season 2: episode 4: Mattoscio's poutine is no go

Once-again tragedy has reared its head on this season of Top Chef Canada. Remember Kunal Ghose? The Chef / Owner of Redfish Bluefish, that specializes in seafood tacos, was sent home for making a taco. Now, Montreal's Sergio Mattoscio is sent home for his beef tongue poutine. Why the tragedy? Besides the obvious, a Chef from Québec being sent home for poutine, in his audition video Mattoscio showed off his signature dish gnocchi poutine. 
We did pay a couple of visits to Mattoscio's, Macaroni Bar in Montreal when we found out he was going to be on Top Chef Canada. The establishment reopened after some renovations when it was announced that Chef Mattoscio would be competing for the title of Canada's next Top Chef. On both occasions we did sample the gnocchi poutine. The dish comes as a small appetizer ($15). Eating the poutine made us think a lot about our province's signature dish.  A variety of poutine combinations exist in our city. Consider that La Banquise's offers over 25 varieties of the dish but never strays from the basic building blocks of fries, gravy and cheese. Has anyone tried the Pogo medallion poutine? Mattoscio's creation is certainly one of the more unique combinations in Montreal's wide world of poutines. The use of gnocchi instead of fries is a logical step given the potato connection. From the look and taste of the dish we think that it has been baked under the broiler since the gnocchi has a deep amber color. You know when marshmallows are perfectly roasted and have a crisp outer skin and soft middle? We found the gnocchi took on the same consistency under the broiler. And the gravy? We were told it was made from fond de vœu and cut with ricotta. Obviously the dish is very rich, almost dessert like, and in Montreal's poutine landscape it is definitely at the top of our list. Our one suggestion would be to offer a bigger portion. This is after all your signature dish.

Gnocchi Poutine at Macaroni Bar

The theme ingredient for the elimination challenge in this episode of Top Chef Canada featured offal. This is one episode that had us longing for last year's Cheftestant Connie DeSousa, aka the butcher ballerina or bacon ninja, who can butcher a pig's head in record time. The challenge was not so much about butchering skills but what to do with your nasty bits in the kitchen. These days it seems like all the Chefs are talking about nose to tail as one of their kitchen philosophies. The trendy topic shows customers a social consciousness by not wasting food. You know how food trends work? The cheap cuts of meat are a great way for restaurant's to mange their cost to profit margins. The cheap cuts of meat prepared by famous Chefs in their restaurants results in the item becoming gourmet and expensive. The offal challenge forced the Chefs to put their money where their mouth is by having them prepare a variety of animal parts.
The combination of offal and Chefs also reminded us, sorry Chris Consentino, of Sue Towsend's Book Adrian Mole: The Cappucino Years. The book, published and set in the late 1990s, features protagonist Adrian Mole working as a celebrity Chef in London's Soho area. The book features lots-of Kitchen Confidential moments like a waiter with foot fungus who washes his feet in the sink, an insane coke-head owner and a scatological review from critic A.A. Gill. Mole, who has no formal culinary training, specializes in English working-class cuisine and therefore offal. Adrian also gets his own cooking show, Offaly Good, and book deal. Townsend's book was made into a television series and is available on YouTube. Ep 3.2 

To see the filming of Offaly Good hit the 4:45 mark.

Let's get back to Top Chef Canada. It is looking like Chef Elizabeth Rivasplata, who is also a very strong competitor, might be emerging as the next Top Chef villain. We will have to wait and see but this might shed the show's reputation as being a polite version of the original U.S. series.

Poutine Porn at Burger de Ville: Goat Cheese & Black Pepper Sauce

Thursday, April 5, 2012

All-Star Canadian Culinary Celebration: Celebrity Chefs of Canada

We were not sure what to expect when heading to Ottawa on Sunday (March 25, 2012) for the 2nd Annual Celebrity Chefs of Canada event at the National Arts Centre (NAC). We accidentally found the event online and did a double take because we could not believe the amazing line up of Chefs was for real. After attending the event it is official, we have been blown away and buzzing ever since. In fact, we are finding it hard to do this event justice with our blog post because there is just too much to say about this incredible day of Canadian food, Chefs and wine.

This all-star Canadian culinary celebration was organized by the NAC's Executive Chef Michael Blackie. During the evening reception we noticed Chef Blackie's portrait on the wall. What struck us is that the Chef is part of the NAC's artistic leadership team. As Chef Ned Bell said during his cooking demo, "we [Chefs] are artists, culinary artists." In the context of this event at the NAC, nothing could be truer when we say that this event is about recognizing these artists and their medium.

Celebrity Chefs are indeed a hot commodity these days, the new rock stars, or at the NAC, that often plays host to classical musicians, should the term be culinary maestros? The event could easily be described as a symphony of flavours. Given the day's roster included Susur Lee, Vikram Vij, and Lynn Crawford, this event is definitely one hot ticket. Consider the facts, the afternoon cooking demos attracted close to 350 people. An additional 400 guests came for the evening reception where we spotted Laureen Harper (wife of Prime Minister Stephen Harper) who, from what we could tell, was waiting in line to get a copy of Lynn Crawford's book signed. Over 750 guests, on a Sunday night in Ottawa for an evening of food and! The numbers alone demonstrate the drawing power with the cult of the Chef.

It is also worth noting that it is no small feat in smoothly serving 750 people during a 3 and half hour cocktail reception. To give you an idea, Chefs Larkin and Bell used just over 100 pounds of tuna for their service. Chef Santaguida mentioned making 960 raviolis. Chefs were assisted by members of their brigades but also Ottawa culinary students who helped keep the lines moving. Catering staff also did a great job in clearing empty plates off tables and keeping the reception running smooth.Besides highlighting Canada's culinary stars the event showcases Ottawa's food scene, more smart planning, by pairing a local Chef with a Canadian Chef in the creation of a single dish during the cooking demos. Besides being extremely educational, the demos gave us the chance to watch and be inspired by these talented individuals and their craft. Based on the comments made by the Chefs the distance between them meant their collaborative dishes were created over the telephone prior to the event. Also of particular interest was watching two Chefs plate the same dish. Same dish, same ingredients, different platings or creations. The chance to taste these creations during the reception that followed the demos was just pure gravy.

Is it art? Citrus marinated BC geoduck with ocean emulsion
The first team of demoing Chefs was Marc Lepine from Atelier (Ottawa) and Quang Dang from West Restaurant & Bar (Vancouver). The pair served up Citrus marinated BC Geoduck with Ocean Emulsion. If you have ever seen geoduck then you understand why the ingredient drew laughs from the crowd. We are lucky enough to have tasted geoduck before. It was served to us in a rich cream sauce at a Vietnamese restaurant in Vancouver and to this day we remember it as one of the best things that we have ever tasted. Giant bites of oyster. We were surprised to learn from Chef Dang that geoduck is rare in Canada because most of it is exported overseas. Dang made some good points in mentioning that it is unfortunate that we do not always get to enjoy our great Canadian bounty because it is exported for high prices overseas. These items can be part of our culinary attractions to our country by exemplifying our cuisine. Essentially we are selling and exporting a piece of our culture. The two Chefs are obviously inspired by innovation as liquid nitrogen made an appearance in addition to agar for the creation of beet jell-o. We were relieved to see that the ocean emulsion was not ocean foam. The chefs' dish introduced us to something we have never seen before, pomelo ash. Leftover pomelo bits are roasted until they turn into ash and add a subtle flavour, and interesting coloured garnish to dishes. The Chefs also mentioned using chive and apple cores to create additional ashes and flavours.

Chefs Quanq Dang (left) and Marc Lepine
 Chef Patricia Larkin from Black Cat Bistro (Ottawa) and Chef Ned Bell from The Four Seasons Hotel (Vancouver) was the next pairing. We know that this is not a competition but Chef Bell is an extremely charismatic and entertaining chef to watch who obviously works at it based on his trademark blue shoes. If you are looking to book a high energy Chef for a cooking presentation Chef Bell delivers. This high energy and enthusiasm comes from his obvious passion and love of his craft and food. How many people can work a room talking about their signature can of tuna? After watching Bell plate his dish it is also obvious that he is an extremely talented Chef. Not to be outdone Chef Larkin, who could just sit back and let Bell charm the crowd, also plated a beautiful dish that garnished praise from Chef Bell. The two Chefs served Albacore Tuna Tartare, Pickled Shallot Cucumber and Radish Red Miso and Lemon Vinaigrette, Black and White Sesame Praline. Chef Bell confessed his love of pickles during his demo. We see this trend as emanating from Korean and Vietnamese food or is it David Chang? As Korean food is one of our favourite cuisines we are thrilled to see this influence jumping into other styles of cooking. The Chefs described the sesame praline as being like those cookies you eat as a kid. We loved how the praline added a sweet crunchy garnish to the tuna. The presentation and serving of the tuna in a can during the reception was a nice touch.

Tuna tartare, pickled shallot, cucumber and radish with sesame praline

 Next on the bill, Cesare Santaguida from Vittoria Trattoria (Ottawa) and Vikram Vij (Vancouver). The pair served up Encrusted Lamb Lollipops with Butternut Ravioli. The dish was finished with a curry sauce and we were very disappointed to find out when we got home that it was not included in the recipe section of the event program. The main reason for our major disappointment with this omission is that the curry sauce was so damn delicious. We are glad the Chefs had prepared extra portions, "just in case," because we did go back for a second helping of this dish. We have eaten a lot of curry, we have cooked a lot of curry, we even use a mortar and a pestle to make our own curry powder but we have never tasted such a great tasting curry in our lives. Vij's reputation as a Curry King is obviously well deserved. We could have drank a cup of this sauce it was really that good. The kitchen staff happily gave us extra sauce with our second helping when we praised it's flavors. Light, creamy and a delicate curry taste, the sauce brought together the lamb and ravioli in a perfect balance. The dish was finished with a gremolata and was just another great touch to an already superbly flavored dish. If you think about it the individual components themselves are great tasting items, lamb and butternut squash that are only helped with a great sauce and garnish. What we also liked about the Chefs' creation was the way it showed Canadian style by reflecting our cultural mosaic, Indian and Italian cultures together.

Canadian Curry King Vikram Vij
 Next up was a solo act Patrick McMurray who offered us ShuckerPaddy's Hogtown chowder. McMurray was assisted by Chef Blackie who used chilli threads as a garnish for the dish. We mention this because we have never seen this ingredient before. The threads look like long threads of saffron and are a beautiful way of finishing a dish. McMurray has made a name for himself as a professional oyster shucker and is the Guinness world record holder for most oysters shucked in one minute with 38 oysters. There was a pause in the demos where we were treated to a serving of Murray's chowder. The fried oysters in the chowder make for some great bites because who does not like eating fried foods? Almost as impressive as shucking 38 oysters in one minute was the serving of over 300 portions of chowder during a 20 minute coffee break. The chance to eat a bite food after the cooking demos was very welcome because we simply cannot begin to describe the effects on your appetite of sitting in a room full of delicious aromas. We often found ourselves just closing our eyes and taking in the smell of the food during the demos.

ShuckerPaddy's hogtown chowder
 The demos resumed with Susur Lee and Matthew Carmichael from Restaurant 18 (Ottawa). Chef Carmichael has worked under Susur Lee and it was interesting seeing the reunited pair working together. The Chefs prepared "Chorizo Style" St. Canut Suckling Pig, Parmesan Crusted Fennel Lobster Salad - Saffron Mayonnaise. The two Chefs stood at opposite ends of the counter, each plating their dish. You could sense the mutual admiration the two Chefs have for one another with Lee earning a bit of awe or inspiration from Carmichael as they reminisced about their time together. During his demo, Susur Lee came across as very quiet, and extremely focused. The lack of talking combined with attention to his work meant that Lee finished his dish in record time. Both Chefs plated what must have been the prettiest plates of all the cooking the demos.

1,2,3... Look at Susur Lee
 Next up, the 2 Jasons, Chef Duffy from Arc Lounge (Ottawa) and Chef Bangerter from Luma (Toronto) with their offering of Braised Elk Ribs, Creamy Polenta, Tasty Crispy bits. We are a bit biased with this dish because we love elk meat. We happen to know a great provider of wapiti in Dunham and have enjoyed their elk tourtière on numerous occasions. The Chefs topped their dish in a great way with their Tasty Crispy Bits. Duck fat (we love it) is heated in a pan and ten you grab your bits around the kitchen, sliced garlic, thyme leaves, bits of torn bread, macadamia nuts... A great way of finishing just about any dish.

Braised elk ribs, creamy polenta, tasty crispy bits
 Jonathan Korecki from Side Door (Ottawa) and Jeremy Charles from Raymonds (Newfoundland). Chef Korecki is a recognizable face right now, the bandana sporting Chef is competing on the current season of Top Chef Canada. We ate lunch at Korecki's resto on Monday after the NAC event as part of our Top Chef Canada research. We were obviously in good company, we spotted Chefs Dang and Bell enjoying the food at Side Door when we walked in. The team of Korecki and Charles however get our villain of the show award because they served Wild Newfoundland Rabbit: Crispy Rabbit Ravioli, Rabbit Liver Mousse and Rabbit Terrine "Presse." Chef Charles mentioned he used 40 wild rabbits for the event. Remember our rule no rabbit or eating your bloggers (fans). Showing the wild rabbit to the audience we were struck with the difference of the flesh color when compared to the farmed rabbits you might find at your grocery store or butcher. The meat of the wild rabbits were a deep burgundy as opposed to the pale white flesh of the farmed variety. We do have to hand it to the Chefs for making a dish that uses all the parts of the animal with little waste. The chance to eat any animal that has not been raised under dubious conditions, especially rabbit. Korecki, like Chef Bell, is another fan of pickles, he has 24 kinds at his restaurant and they were used in finishing the dish. The two Chefs also presented the nicest looking dish of the reception using a cedar plank for the plating withwhite pine sprig for visual effect. The plating reminded us a lot of a Group of 7 landscape and it does not get much more Canadian, or artistic, than that.

Villains? Chef Jonathan Korecki and Chef Jeremy Charles
The Jack Pine White Pine: A trio of wild Newfoundland rabbit
Chef Clifford Lyness from Brookstreet (Ottawa) and Chef Jason Parsons from Peller Estates Winery (Niagara on the Lake) served up another one of our favorite food items, duck, with their Smoked Sous Vide Magret - Confit Leg. Chef Parsons caused us to have lots of envy with his cooking gadgets. Not to deter from the dish, the smoked and confit duck is the perfect example how simple foods when cooked to perfection are always a winner. Of course for the sous-vide a thermocirculator was used but Chef Parsons also had the coolest smoker that we have ever seen. Some of you might be familiar with the gadget because from what we could tell it seemed to work like a vaporizer. Remember we are talking about smoking here. The device, called a smoking gun, produces a enormous amount of smoke from a few wood chips or essential oil. The smoke is kept under wraps in a cloche with the food, infusing it with flavor. We have used a Cameron stovetop smoker at home for years and we love cooking with it in the kitchen and on the BBQ. Once you have smoked your own salmon at home there is no going back. The one drawback of the Cameron smoker in your kitchen is that it smokes up the house a lot so the the smoking gun system does look like a great way of smoking your food.

Smoked duck sous vide
 During the reception the company that sells the smoking gun had a table featuring some of their wares. Testek, a Québec company located in Delson, specializes in molecular gastronomy tools and supplies. Ever wanted to pump some spaghetti? Well now you know where to get it. In addition to a bunch of kitchen equipment that looks like it belongs in Tesla's laboratory we found the catalog to contain some of the coolest looking serving dishes, utensils, verrines, cardboard slider boxes, miniature coca-cola style bottles etc. If you are in the catering business it is definitely worth your while to check out Testek's line of products. These are wow factor presentation pieces that will definitely impress your clients. Take for example the dryspoon, hollow glass spoons that allow you to place a liquid inside (wine) and solid on top (cheese).

Designer Dishes & Toys from Testek
 Our final pairing of Chefs, Michael Blackie, Executive Chef at the National Arts Centre (Ottawa) and Lynn Crawford from Ruby Watchco (Toronto). Chef Crawford is one of the most recognizable Chefs in Canada because of her television work but it is a very different experience to see her in person. We said earlier that Chef Ned Bell was high energy and entertaining during his presentation well he has got nothing on Chef Lynn Crawford who is like a lightning bolt. Given her energy and enthusiasm, not to mention bitchin' kitchen chops, it is no wonder she has carved out a successful career as Chef and television star. With Crawford working the crowd and running around we almost felt sorry for Chef Blackie who seemed to be trying to keep things on track because they did have to prepare a dish after all. Despite being a blur on stage Crawford impressed us by inviting a 16-year-old volunteer for the event, and budding Chef, to cook with her on stage. The Chefs dish Was Seed to Sausage Double Smoked Bacon - Duck - Cranberries - Mimolette Gnocchi. Another excellent dish because we love duck but the mimolette (cheese) sage gnocchi was a real standout amongst all the dishes served during the reception.

Lynn Crawford with Chef-in-training
 Not to be overlooked the reception featured wine pairings from Ontario vintners. Allow us to take this moment to lament the fact the the Société des Alcools de Québec (SAQ) is really weak in the Ontario wine department because these were quality products. We had a bit of trouble juggling, or enjoying, our glasses of wine and plates food to take proper notes. A  handout, or including this information in the program, would have been nice because us Québécois would really like to know the names of the wines that were matched with the food. We did grab a few business cards and brochures from a few of the vineyards that included Diamond Winery, Lailey vineyard, Pelee Island winery, Peller Estates and Norman Hardie. One product that is really worth mentioning was from The Spearhead brewing company who featured their Hawaiian style pale ale brewed with pineapple. The pineapple is subtle, just a bouquet on the nose, and makes for a delicious crisp, satisfying beer that is unlike any we have ever tasted. The tropical notes pair really well with food but sadly for us in Québec this is yet another product that is not available in La Belle Province.

Chefs Blackie & Crawford: Duck sausage with mimolette gnocchi
 Coming from Montreal we know that our city likes to boast about its culinary reputation. We have also been hearing rumors that Ottawa's food scene was going places and shedding its reputation as not having any good places to eat. Judging from the caliber of the local Chefs at this event we can say that the rumor is true. Ottawa really got the big guns (long knives) out for this event. It only makes sense that our nation's capital should have great dining establishments and events when it already plays host to showcasing our national culture with it's museums and cultural institutions like The National Arts Centre. Montreal, Ottawa just kicked our asses with a capital culinary extravaganza that has all the makings of a destination event. Hear that High Lights Festival? Montreal we need to wake stop eating our foie gras poutine and watch our backs.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Gail Simmons' Favorite Montreal restos

In case you missed it writer and Top Chef Desserts Judge, Gail Simmons, visited our city to plug her new book, Talking with my Mouth Full. Simmons gave talks at her alma mater, McGill University, and at Appetite for Books. McGill posted a few videos of the event including her favorite restaurants. You will find the usual suspects on Simmons list but we were very happy to see that she also included Nouveau Palais.

Speaking of McGill events you might want to take note that The Food Science & Agricultural Chemistry Department at Macdonald Campus is celebrating 25 years with a symposium. On the bill, Maxime Bilet, chef and co-author of Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking. The 5 volume cookbook just won awards from the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) in the design and professional kitchens category. The event is scheduled for April 15, 2012. For more information click here.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Top Chef Canada season 2: episode 3: Bye Bye Chef Sarah Tsai

If we had to pick a theme for this week's episode of Top Chef Canada we would have to say bizarre combinations. The strange combos started with the first challenge and was also why Chef Sarah Tsai was sent to pack her knives. 
The quick fire challenge featured last year's host Thea Andrews, who like resident judge Shereen Arazam, is expecting a baby. The challenge focussed on odd food combinations in-reference-to the cliché that pregnant women have strange cravings. Not sure how many of these combinations and ingredients were researched because a few of the combinations bordered on ridiculous. We suppose the producers are making the challenges tough for the Chefs but putting together ingredients for the sake of doing so does not really have anything to do with gastronomy. Durian, wasabi, really? Are these things that pregnant women really crave? The show is walking a fine line by making the Chefs jump through hoops with this challenge. The challenge almost bordered on Fear Factor or Survivor but then again tough is tough and this is a reality show. Chef Jimmy Stewart really did make a smart move with his winning dish Oatmeal and Wasabi Chicken Wings because who doesn’t like a good chicken wing?
We are a bit unsure why Sarah Tsai was sent home over the other guys in the baby shower elimination challenge. Chef Tsai did win a quick fire challenge, in episode 1, and we have been seeing a-lot-of David Chrystian, Joel Aubie and Xavier Lacaze at the bottom. Chef Lacaze from France has hardly been doing right by his country and their culinary reputation. When was the last time you saw the judges spit our their food and wipe their tongues with their napkins? That is what happened when they tasted Lacaze’s dish. Mark McEwan said, after tasting Xavier’s Goat Cheese and Prosciutto Ball with Figs and Balsamic Jam, "if I stayed up late at night trying to figure out something more nasty to prepare, I don't think I could do it. Why did Xavier not go home? Shereen Arazam told Chef Chrystian to wake up based on his performance thus far in the show. At this point it looks a bit like Chrsystian and Lacaze are coasting on their reputations and this is why they were not sent home. What about bottom feeder Joel Aubie? Judge McEwan said his Scallop Sausage Wrapped in Bacon was “like biting a bladder.” The surfin' in Tofino Chef might appeal to the female demographic but he has also been in the bottom a few times. Maybe his sausage was not his fault. Perhaps it is true when Aubie mused that Connie DeSousa must have worn out the sausage press last year. Sarah Tsai served up a sweet arancine ball with spicy prosciutto chocolate sauce. The judges thought her dish was awful but was it really the worst? At least they kept it down. We guess it was just too bizarre a combination.
Last week Xavier pointed out that desserts can get you sent home on Top Chef. This was not the case with the winning dish this episode with Curtis Lok's Pink Macaron with Pink Peppercorn, Meyer lemon and Lemon Grass. Pink at a baby shower as one judge said “perfect.” Like the chicken wings in the quick fire there is nothing like a good macaron. 
In seeing the preview for tonight's episode we are very nervous because the are lots of shots of Montreal Chef Sergio Mattoscio looking dejected. Fingers crossed that this was just a teaser and not a spoiler in the nose to tail challenge featuring Chef Chris Consentino.