Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Canadian Celebrity Chefs Event

Chef Michael Blackie has taken food entertainment in Ottawa to a new level. As Executive Chef at the NAC, he's launched an annual “gala event” that is a treat for all people passionate about food. This year, it started in the Studio theatre for the demos and ended in the foyer for the reception. A top chef from Ottawa was paired with a celebrity chef from another Canadian city to demonstrate their collaboration and inspiration on a plate.

It was a day-long event of food demos that allowed time to ask the chefs questions, including their favorite knives (many Japanese brands such as Kasumi for Chef Mathieu Cloutier from Kitchen Galerie in Montreal and Watanabe for Chef Marc Lepine from Atelier) and what they'd eat for their last meal (Lasagna for Chef David Rocco from Dolce Vita and Champagne for Chef Cesare Santaguida from Vittoria Trattoria).

In front of an audience eagerly anticipating the smoke and smells, these chefs shared their personalities and chef skills. A cameraman with a high def camera darted in and out to get the money shots and capture the techniques of these masters and display it on the big screen. Upbeat background music kept it fun and party-like.

Before each chef's demo, students from either Algonquin or Le Cordon Bleu wheeled in silver carts filled with food items and condiments that were ready to be transformed into over-the-top dishes. In a matter of 45 minutes, these chefs showed us how easily a dish can come together.

At the end of the day, we had a chance to go to each chef's booth in the foyer of the NAC to taste their dish and sample the wine pairing. The crowds rolled in (750 were expected) and the line-ups grew, but the waits were worth it.

Mise and preparing for an event
Chef Michael Howell from Tempest Restaurant in Wolfville, NS claimed he flew with three large styrofoam containers of salt-cured sea bass and a small bag for his underwear. Litres of beet juice were hand-made in the kitchens of Vittoria Trattoria with Chef Santaguida for Chef Rocco's dish of beet risotto. Chef Robin Bowen from Empire Grilled prepared over a 100 kilos of bison brisket that had been brining for three weeks. Chef Norm Aitken from Juniper explained that there were only going to be five or six people handling the booth to feed the crowd in the evening. There must have been a whole lot of mise going on!

Amazing ingredients
We were also introduced to some new ingredients that are local to other parts of the country. For example, the dulse seaweed in Chef Howell's that comes dried but is rehydrated in water and mixed with beetroot for his beetroot coulis.

And there was the incredible ingredients that we were all drooling over: the foie gras, the 2-ounce oyster brought in from Qualicum Bay by Chef Charlotte Langley from Whalesbone, the lobster already shucked and portioned by Chef Ray Bear of MIX Fresh Kitchen in Halifax. Chef Brad Long of CafĂ© Belong in Toronto explained how important using sustainable fish is to our environment. Chef Michael Moffatt from Beckta's used caul fat to form his foie gras crepinette. I'd heard that one chef drove veal bones from Montreal for the event. Ingredients are like Lego for these chefs.

"There's only so much you can do with a turnip." - Chef Howell

Technique and passion
Some of the techniques we were shown were fascinating. Chef Lepine showed us how to make bacon foam and explained how to dehydrate it to make shards. Chef Michael Howell showed us how to cure fish with salt. Chef Paul Rogalski from Rouge in Calgary showed us how easy it is to make hollandaise over a flame without a double-boiler. Chef Santaguida brought in a salt block that he heated over a flame and used to sear the scallops. Chef Clifford Lyness from Brookstreet Hotel explained how they'd whipped up a savoury crumble in the NAC kitchen that morning to tweak their recipe.
"Our job as chefs is to make food at the restaurant that you can't make at home. You come to Atelier to see and taste different textures like that." - Chef Lepine

Taste test
Finally, after watching all this food being prepared and teasing us all day, we made our way to the foyer for the taste test. The Tatin of Sunchoke by Chef Anthony Walsh from Canoe in Toronto was one of the best tastes of the reception. Another top taste was the breaded oyster at the Langley | Long booth. And the Sweet Corn Flan, almost shy and forgotten on the plate of Lyness | Bear, was impeccable. Chef Rocco's beet risotto was the star on the plate, perfectly al dente.

Personality and charisma
It was a day to get face-to-face with both local and celebrity chefs. Chef Langley, the only woman in the line-up, with her big personality, mismatched socks, and short shorts captivated everyone with her vibrant personality. Chef David Rocco invited audience participation by having someone help him stir the risotto. Chef Blackie and Chef Michael Lyon from Hotel Eldorado in Kelowna, entering through the fog of dry ice, entertained us with their competitive banter and successful attempt to sabre a champagne bottle. Only a minor eye injury was sustained after the sabrage due to some "spraying" antics between host Kevin Brauch of The Tasty Traveller and Chef Blackie.

It was a fun day, and one not without some hiccups. But one thing is certain: these chefs are all passionate about food.

"Playing with food is fun. We're passionate about it. It's like having three kids, we love them all. We can't pick one dish as our favourite." Chef Cloutier

You can find the recipes for all the chefs dishes here. Warning: you'll need to add xanthan gum to your grocery list! And foie gras, sweetbreads, marrow bones, pig cheek...

But not spam.

List of Recipes

Moffatt | Walsh
Drunken squab  + Newfie screech | tatin of sunchokes | foie gras crepinette

Lepine | Cloutier
Kushi oyster | honey flavor roasted foie gras terrine | marrow bones + chardonnay viinaigrette + bacon foam

Aitken | Howell
Transverse Nova Scotia sea bass crispy seared & citrus cured | fennel + citrus salad | gold beet puree + hay brown butter | dulse and beetroot coulis | applewood smoked mussel bridge

Bowen | Rogalski
North country bison hash | Quebec goat cheese + cauliflower ravioli | preserved lemon + rendered bacon hollandaise | ancho chili plum gastrique

Lyness | Bear
Poached Atlantic lobster | beurre blanc | Le coprin mushrooms | sweetbreads + candied fennel| corn flan | watercress sprouts | black olive puree

Lanley | Long
Shiitake poached pickerel | beurre noisette | dressed grains + greens | crispy creme fraiche oyster

Santaguida | Rocco
Beet risotto | crispy pig cheek | seared Qualicum beach scallop | Granny smith slaw

Blackie | Lyon
Sweet grass cold smoked Charlevoix veal | crisp potato girdle | feta + sage infused retention | firecracker spotted prawn crisp | Cloud Horse mead-lychee sting

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foodiePrints' article that includes links to all the bloggers involved

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