What does it take to be Canada’s best? A cross-Canada collection of top chefs who had already won bragging rights as local winners during provincial culinary competitions over the past year, gathered in Kelowna this past weekend for the Canadian Culinary Championship finals. After months of work, anticipation and jitters, it all comes down to this: two days, three events, a delicious Olympic fundraiser (to date the annual competition has raised almost $10 million for Canadian Olympic athletes) and bragging rights as Canada’s top chef.
Here’s how the winner is chosen.
Competition 1: Mystery Wine Pairing
Chefs are given a mystery bottle of wine (wrapped in tinfoil, no less) and must create a dish using ingredients that best compliment the mysterious wine. With $600 and a set time to shop locally and cook for 500 guests, this is the opening night event for the competition, where guests are served these on-the-fly composed plates during a chic cocktail reception at the Delta Grand Okanagan hotel. This — the ‘People’s Choice Award’ for the best wine and food pairing — goes towards one-third of the competitors’ overall score. Dishes ran from blood sausage to elk tartar, braised short ribs to a beet salad, beautiful and innovate composed dishes that all paired quite well with what turned out to be a meaty, smoky B.C. Pinotage.
Competition 2: The Black Box
This competition takes place in the Culinary Arts Department of Okanagan College, where every 10 minutes a new chef (of the 11 competing) is presented with a box of 10 identical ingredients from which they must use at least six. This competition also accounts for one-third of the overall score. The box included quinoa, lavender, a whole duck, lobsters, yams, and other not-too-threatening ingredients. Decidedly not a Chopped-style cook-off a la “make canned spaghetti and beef jerky into a delicious dessert”, this box was truly meant to showcase the chefs’ abilities and creativity using quality ingredients. The competitors had an hour to plate 13 identical dishes for the sequestered panel of judges while the rest of us were there to watch the chefs sweat it out in the kitchen. Pretty exciting stuff, though unfortunately creativity wasn’t at the forefront for most chefs in this round.
Competition 3: The Grand Finale
On the final night of competition, the chefs created their best dish for guests to sample, paired with a great wine from their regional winery partner. This competition accounted for the final third of the overall score. Many chefs recreated the dish that won them their regional titles, from tree syrup-glazed beef to roasted quail. By the evening’s end, after more wine-ing and dining, followed by a fundraising auction and awesome live music by Spirit of the West front men John Mann and Geoffrey Kelly alongside Barney Bentall, the crowning of the Gold, Silver and Bronze medalist chefs were announced.
Say hello and congratulations to your new Canadian Culinary Champions!
Gold: Chef Ryan O’Flynn of the Westin Edmonton. His winning dish was a beautiful terrine of pine-smoked Alberta sturgeon and cured Quebec foie gras with wild North West Territory morels, Okanagan apples, and toasted Brioche.
Silver: Chef Antonio Park of Park Restaurant in Montreal. His dish was a super-creative take on Korean bibimbap in the form of a sushi-like roulade of julienne veggies, braised shitake and cauliflower, spinach, chicken, boudin blanc, gochujang sheet, soft-boiled quail egg and crunchy mixed rice topper.
Bronze: Chef Kristian Eligh of Hawksworth Restaurant in Vancouver. His winning dish was a deconstructed chowder composed of silky sablefish and lobster covered with a dome of crispy lacy bread.
Inspired by the Canadian chefs’ dishes, I asked Chef Ross Derrick of the new local restaurant, The Table Café, for a West Coast inspired dish we can all make at home. Now it’s your turn to be the culinary champ in your family.
Chef Ross Derrick’s White Fish, Prawn and Vegetable Green Curry with Coconut rice
During the competition, most chefs sourced their fish and seafood at Codfathers Seafood Market, an amazing family-run Kelowna shop with a huge range of bivalves, top catches and bottom dwellers, where everything is beautifully fresh and gloriously sustainable. This dish was one of the first dishes Chef Ross Derrick came up with when opening his new restaurant, The Table Café at Codfathers. He says the white fish can really be any mild white-fleshed fish, such as halibut, haddock, cod, or even snapper.
Green Curry Sauce Ingredients:
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 medium onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 stalk lemongrass, chopped
1 ½- inch ginger, grated
1 Thai red chili, seeded and chopped
3 small green peppers, cored and diced
4 tablespoons fish sauce
2-400 ml cans coconut milk
- Place cumin and coriander seeds in a frying pan and gently heat for a few minutes until they start to darken and smell fragrant.
- Place seeds into a grinder or mortar and pestle and grind until fine.
- Saute onions, garlic, lemon grass, ginger, and chilis with the ground spices until soft.
- Add coconut milk and fish sauce, bring to a simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, add green peppers and puree in a blender, in batches, until smooth. Set aside.
Coconut Rice Ingredients:
1 cup jasmine rice
1 ½ cups water
1 pinch salt
2 teaspoons coconut oil
- Rinse rice under cold water until water runs clear.
- Add rice to a pot with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, and cover. Cook for an additional 15 minutes.
- Remove from heat and place coconut oil on top.
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 green pepper, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 small head cauliflower, cut into florets
12 large Oceanwise prawns, peeled and deveined
½ pound white fish, cut into 1-inch pieces
½ bunch fresh coriander
salt to taste
- In a large pan, saute vegetables until they begin to soften, then add prawns and fish and continue to sauté for several minutes.
- Add green curry sauce and heat through. Serve with rice. Slice some limes and pick fresh coriander for garnish. Season to taste.