Oh, Canada. You sure had a lot of folks eager to show off their culinary creativity as part of this week’s Recipe to Riches entree challenge. Among thousands of dishes—from molten meatloaf muffins and chocolate chili to “bulgogi to go” and “cowboy sushi”—three offerings and three home cooks stood out:
–Mary Rocto from Toronto, who presented a rather complex recipe for jerk chicken baked into a bun.
-Ottawa-based law student Stephanie Kepman and her vegetarian-friendly General Tso’s tofu.
-Brampton, Ontario radio DJ Rick Matharu, whose passion for fusion food inspired his butter chicken lasagna.
(Above from left: Mary Rocto, Stephanie Kepman, Rick Matharu)
This episode’s batch-up was essentially an exercise in prepping, seasoning and cooking massive amounts of protein. For me, it was also a realization of pretty much my own worst nightmare in the kitchen: I detest handling raw chicken. It’s just so slimy and bacteria-riddled and… did I mention slimy? And yet Mary and Rick got in there and had a blast hand-seasoning huge amounts of the stuff (Rick, in fact, had to spend extra time fondling his fowl, as he lost his wedding ring in one of his batches). I guess they’re made of hardier stuff than your faithful scribe.
All three competitors suffered the sorts of commercial-kitchen setbacks that we’ve come to expect—wasted ingredients, difficulty with up-scaling spices, etc.—but ultimately managed to plate acceptable, if no longer extraordinary, offerings for our judges. Although Rick’s butter chicken lasagna lacked what was meant to be its signature butteryness, and Mary’s (now gigantic) buns had too much cinnamon, it was Stephanie’s tofu that was deemed least fit for the President’s Choice treatment. Staying true to the bean curd’s reputation, the dish was just too bland—and too niche-oriented—to make the cut.
(Above: President’s Choice Butter Chicken Lasagna)
And so our entrée episode turned decidedly into a chicken battle, featuring Mary’s rechristened “Jerk Chicken Bun-dles” and Rick’s “Matharu’s Butter Chicken Lasagna.” Now, was anyone else mildly annoyed when the marketing team told Rick he needed to make his product sound more exotic? That seemed unnecessary to me. When was the last time you went to a restaurant and ordered butter chicken by its “Indian” name?
Of course, Rick went along with the idea, and then took it a step further at his product launch, which used Punjabi music and dancers (yes, more dancers) to attract a hungry clientele. For her part, energetic Mary took would-be eaters back to 1995 with a launch featuring a group of Stomp-style percussionists.
Whether or not you were impressed by the dueling concepts, you can’t say the events themselves weren’t successful. At judging, Rick was asked to guess the percentage of people who liked his product. Boldly he said 99 per cent. And he was right! Mary upped the ante, confident that 100 per cent of her eaters liked her product. And guess what? She guessed correctly, too! Every single person who chowed down on one of her bundles came away satisfied. Clearly, both of these fabulous entrees deserved to be named the first co-winners of Recipe to Riches, right? Well, our four judges—ever sticklers for the rules—made the tougher choice, ultimately selecting the Rick’s Indian-Italian fusion fare over Mary’s jerk-spiced buns.
Look for Rick Matharu’s President’s Choice Butter Chicken Lasagna in grocery stores this weekend.
If you missed it, you can watch the full episode here.
Craig is an editor at a Toronto-based city magazine. He also writes about all manner of cultural topics, including food culture.
- Recipe to Riches: Episode 1 Judges’ Recap
- Recipe to Riches: Episode 2 Judges’ Recap
- Recipe to Riches: Episode 4 Judges’ Recap