*authors note: I did take some of the pictures featured in this entry, but I would like to thank my good friend (and talented photographer) Deb for allowing me to use some of her pictures. We were able to not only giggle our way through each station, but Deb was able to beautifully document all of their hard work. Thank you Deb – I personally can not wait for our next culinary adventure!
I have to admit … I had a hard time writing this blog entry.
You see … I had an absolute blast on Monday. I really and truly did.
But from some of the comments I’ve been reading – I realize that not everyone else enjoyed themselves as much as I did.
So I’ve been conflicted as to how to proceed.
I decided to go for a run – usually I can solve just about any problem by lacing up my sneakers and pounding out a few miles.
It didn’t work.
I figured I’d go home and bake a cake. Baking always inspires me to blog – I figure if I can’t share the finished product with all of you; then at least I can share the process with you.
Again. I drew a blank. No blogging inspiration.
In the end I’ve decided to go with this.
I’ve decided to just be straight with all of you.
I PERSONALLY had a great time.
Do I think there could be improvements? Of course I do. I recognize that the event wasn’t a well-oiled machine: but then again, there is always room for improvement … serious feedback and constructive criticism will allow the organizers to improve their product for next year. However, at the end of the day, I still thought that there were some genuinely fun, interesting and worthwhile moments; and the evening reception was everything I had hoped for – an opportunity to sample 8 different dishes made by 16 very accomplished Chefs.
The highlight of the day for me?
Chefs Lepine & Cloutier‘s demo.
That probably doesn’t surprise anyone who has been reading my blog for the last week – but I honestly thought that they put together the most informative demonstration… and they were probably the most calm demo as well :0) (although, in full disclosure, I did miss 2 demonstrations: teams Howell & Aiken and Rogalski & Bowen).
Marc was able to teach us about some of his progressive cooking without scaring anyone off. From what I gathered, it sounded like just about everyone in the room wanted to get their hands on methocel K100 (available at La Guilde Culinaire) and xanthan gum (which is readily available at Market Organics on York street). He was able to break down his process, and then discuss his ingredients in a way that made it accessible to the home cook. If the lack of a dehydrater prevents us from actually making the bacon foam at home – at least Marc has inspired us to get our hands dirty trying new cooking methods and ingredients.
I hadn’t met Mathieu prior to their demonstration, so it was nice to hear him talk about his ingredients (he can be famously quoted as equating the foie gras to a McDonald’s “value meal”), discuss his food mentality (he enjoys playing with fat), and watch him as he diced, chopped, cooked, and plated his dish. I was lucky enough to speak to him after the demo: he proved to be just as laid-back and incredibly nice as he appeared on stage. It was also really nice to hear his enthusiasm at being paired with Marc.
The two Chefs worked well together as well – you could sense their mutual respect for one another. During the Q&A segment of the demonstration, both Chefs encouraged the audience to purchase quality ingredients, and try using products that we might otherwise shy away from. As Marc said, his job as a Chef is to create something you wouldn’t (or don’t) make at home: but he also encouraged everyone in the room to be inspired by what we eat at restaurants and create our own versions of the meal – use the same flavours and create our own version of the dish.
It was a solid demo.
I obviously have a soft spot for Charlotte Langley. I think there were far too many discussions about her attire and not enough about her food (personally, the short-shorts don’t bother me – not at this event, nor at Gold Medal Plates). I wish that Brad Long had been able to talk more about ethical and organic food; and I wish that sustainable / oceanwise fish had been discussed more, since I know how passionate Charlotte is about the issue. I think they probably feel the same way. It was also nice to see Mackenzie included in the demo – it seemed only natural since she usually runs down and plates a dessert or two when she’s at the Whalesbone (and I was under the impression that audience participation was part and parcel of a live demonstration).
I was entertained by the Rocco & Santaguida demo in the afternoon. Rocco charmed the audience (I would think especially the ladies in the audience) with his personality and talked us through making risotto. Perhaps it’s because risotto is my ultimate favourite food, but I enjoyed his tips. He was able to reenforce that making a risotto doesn’t mean that you’ll end up with tennis elbow – because you don’t actually have to stir your rice for 45 minutes… it can actually be ready in 16 to 18 minutes. Rocco stayed true to who he was … being attentive but not obsessive about cooking food.
But the highlight of their demo for me, what really caught my eye, was that sea salt stone. Now that … that was cool. What an interesting way of salting the scallops. I also would never in a million years have looked at that block of salt and thought “let me cook with that today” … and I can attest that yes – it gets hot. Really hot.
After all the Chefs wrapped up their demos it was time for my favourite part of the day…
I personally prefer this event to Gold Medal Plates. Why? Simple – you are given 3 hours to sample 8 dishes (an improvement from the 90 minutes attributed to GMP).
Deb (my partner in crime for the event) and I started with my team – Lepine & Cloutier’s dish:
The secret to this dish is that you have to eat it in its entirety. I made the mistake of not loosening the oyster in its shell prior to eating it. So when I tossed the oyster/foie gras/marrow back into my mouth, I ended up with the bacon foam, marrow bones and foie gras. No oyster. I had to go back for that. It tasted nice … the foie was silky, the bacon foam added a little crunch. The vinaigrette added a little tartness. And the oyster was delicious (but I’m a sucker for oysters).
I was happy with how my team did.
And then Mathieu gave me another one (it was an extra one at the end of the evening – completely unexpected) – and I ate that one properly.
It went from being a solid dish to being an awesome dish.
This time I was able to savour everything in its entirety. Amazing … silky, smooth, salty, sweet, tart. Everything in one bite, not separated by my inability to incorrectly eat the dish as Marc and Mathieu intended.
Merci Mathieu et Marc.
Dish one sampled, off to the second one. Team Moffatt & Walsh.
Oh. My. Goodness.
That was one excellent dish.
The tartin of sunchokes made me swoon. Smooth, creamy and sweet. The sunchoke purée filling was like velvet. Perfectly baked – and the absolute perfect accompaniment to the squab (which I didn’t think was overly drunk) and the foie gras crepinettes. Holy heck. I could eat another 10 plates of that … right this instant.
The line-ups were getting a little longer, so Deb and I wandered around trying to figure out where to go next … we ended up at the back of the room: the Blackie & Lyon table. Both Chefs were hard at work, adding the finishing touches to the individual plates, providing us with instructions (don’t drink the cloud horse mead-lychee sting) and thanking us for attending.
The highlight for me of the dish was the veal. The dipping sauce had a nice little punch to it (understandable why one should not shoot it back after enjoying the prawn).
But I won’t lie. I still had visions of the Moffatt & Walsh dish in my head and on my taste buds. Unfair to Blackie & Lyon … but that’s what happens when one walks from station to station enjoying everything on offer.
The main room was looking a little busy – so off to the side studio we went. First up was the Bowen & Rogalski dish:
I personally enjoyed the north country bison hash. Then again, I don’t think I’ve met a piece of bison that I didn’t love … but I really thought that Rogalski created a truly lovely component to this dish.
While finishing the dish, we jumped in the queue for Lyness & Bear‘s dish:
I have a soft spot in my stomach for fennel – and so the candied fennel was my favourite component of this dish. I personally found the poached lobster a little tough – but I had the opportunity to have some during the Chefs demonstration – and it was lovely then.
Out of the studio, back into the main room – and straight to the Aitken & Howell station.
This quickly became Deb’s favourite dish.
The beet hay – genius.
The crispy seared sea bass – perfection.
The oyster – lovely and light.
I was truly pleased to be eating this dish … and I don’t think I was the only one – they ran out of food just after I picked up my plate. Completely understandable – it was a gorgeous dish.
I had promised Charlotte I would save her dish for last… which meant it was time for the Santaguida & Rocco dish.
We’ve already established that I have a great fondness for risotto – so I’m sure you’ve already decided that I adored this dish. To be honest – the risotto was nice and al dente – but the star of the show was Santaguida’s crispy pig cheek. OMG. It would turn a vegetarian into a carnivore. At least in my opinion – the saltiness and crispiness paired with the light slaw and the silky scallop was lovely.
My girl Charlotte. Team Langley & Long.
The star of this dish was without a doubt the oyster. I LOVED it. I normally think fresh, simply oysters are the way to go – but I was shocked at how much I enjoyed that fried nugget of goodness. I hope that Charlotte adds it to the Whalesbone menu. It was delightful!
My meal was finished off with a quick stop at the turffle table: eggnog truffles to be exact. LOVED them! I love the Christmas spice to the truffles … it was the perfect way to finish my dining experience (although I could have eaten more than just one …)
By that point the evening was wrapping up – stations were being torn down, excess food was packed off and stored away. The Chefs were available to chat a little more freely, no longer under the pressure of serving up 750 plates of food. And I was a happy camper. I had spent my day surrounded by friends (new and old), listening to people who are passionate about food talk about it, and then sampling the fruits of their labour.
It was a win-win situation for me … but then again … I’m apparently easily pleased.
At the end of the day … I’m thrilled that Ottawa and the NAC got to host this event: I look forward to attending next year – think of how much better it will be since everyone is being so honest and up front with their feedback? :0)
*check out what the other participating bloggers are saying about the event: