Events & News
October 23, 2012
Culinary Team Canada had a great showing at the Culinary Olympics, bringing home a Gold in Restaurant of Nations, Silver in the Cold Platter Display, and fourth place overall.
Three months to the World Culinary Olympics in Germany and the focus is practice, practice, practice.
Besides working individually, Team Canada chefs are now practicing together monthly. On July 14–16 they were in Saskatoon, where the weekend started with a practice dinner for 110 guests that featured the team's Restaurant of Nations menu.
"Everything with the preparation, presentation and taste of the dishes, the way the members are working together is coming along really well. Better each time we practice," says Team Business Manager Simon Smotkowicz. "Of course, we're still keeping our menu under wraps, so I can't talk a lot about that! But I can sure talk about what an incredible job the CCF Saskatoon branch did in organizing the event and in hosting us. We can't thank them enough for their outstanding support and work and hospitality."
Branch president Anthony McCarthy is executive chef at The Saskatoon Club, where the Saturday practice dinner was held. Joining him on the organizing committee were James McFarland (executive chef at the University of Saskatchewan) and Trevor Robertson (executive chef at the Radisson Hotel). "We all worked hard leading up to and during the team's time here. We were thrilled to be involved," says Anthony. "For our members, it's a chance to see just how much work goes into practicing and to the results of that. It helps us sell ourselves when we can showcase what amazing talent Canadian chefs have."
In addition to the so-important, behind-the-scenes work of ensuring a good turnout for the dinner and organizing practice venues, accommodations, media coverage [Jessica: Would you put the link here, or as a note at the end? Or in both places? See details below.] and more, the branch put on a terrific cocktail reception prior to dinner. Local members Darren Craddock (Riverside Golf and Country Club), Ahmed Mohammed (University of Saskatchewan), Doug Hyndford (Saskatoon Inn) and Scott Torgerson (Radisson Hotel), at live-action stations, welcomed guests with delicious morsels paired with select wines.
From the guests, the team and the branch, reviews were unanimous: a great success! "I think it was about ten years ago that the culinary team was last in Saskatoon, and after this weekend, we'd welcome the opportunity again," says Anthony.
With Saturday's practice dinner behind them, team chefs gathered Sunday morning to review how things went and, with an eye on winning gold, to look at what could be better.
And then it was on to their Cold Platter Display Table entries: presenting, critiquing, talking, tweaking, note taking... and here too: looking at what could be better.
And then, as always at the end of a practice: taking with them improvements and to-do lists to work on for the next practice, four weeks away and four weeks closer to the October World Culinary Olympics.
Watch a slideshow of photos of the team practice – Saskatoon, July 14, 2012
At the June 2012 CCFCC national conference in Halifax, CTC Chef Serge Belair took first place in the annual National Chefs Challenge. Representing Alberta, he out-cooked six other provincial contenders. His three-course menu impressed guests and judges with every dish and every bite—and even had one judge asking Serge how he did the crispy-on-the-outside-and-creamy-cheesy-runny-on-the-inside potatoes!
Menu development began two months before the competition, when chefs received the list of mandatory ingredients: tuna, shrimp, pork belly and pork tenderloin; and the list of mandatory sponsor products: Saputo cheese and Knorr stock base.
For Serge, inspiration came quickly: "When I saw the pork, it reminded me of when I was a kid, the kind of foods and cooking of Quebec—the cabane à sucre deep-fried bacon with maple syrup, crisp fried potatoes." That back-home theme carried over to the appetizer, which included pickled ramps (wild garlic), and to the dessert, with one element reminiscent of a warm beignet. With sous chef Myles Fedun (who Serge mentored to a National Junior gold-medal win at last year's CCFCC conference), the dishes were tested, tried, refined, and refined, and refined. Three practice run-throughs under competition conditions and they were ready for the real thing.
The day before the Chefs Challenge, the chefs met in the competition kitchen for a briefing and received their ingredients. They gathered their tools, set up their workstations and assembled their dinnerware for plating. Serge discovered his local contact didn't have enough plates for the dessert. A bit of hustling — who knows someone who knows someone who has...—and he managed to borrow 15 plates from a Halifax restaurant. Given the slightly different shape, proportion and colour compared to what he'd practiced with, it meant a little plating improvisation during the competition, but it's something pros learn to handle—"and it worked out." says Serge.
On the day of the competition, the clock starts ticking and each of the chefs starts cooking 15 appetizers, 15 main courses and 15 desserts. Four hours later appetizers must be plated and ready to serve; half an hour after that, main courses; and half an hour after that, desserts. The chefs have five hours to show their culinary creativity and master-level technique, to perform under pressure, to prove just how good a cook they are—and to make their dinner a standout from among the other competitors' dishes and a standout for the tasting judges and the guests (mostly fellow chefs!).
For Serge, execution is all about preparation and planning. "We were really organized. Every step for every item on the menu was detailed, timed and listed. The list of what needed to be done by what time was posted on the wall, and I crossed off things as I went along. Super military style!" The kitchen judges noticed that organization, coordination and attention to timing. "Staying on top of the timing is added pressure. You don't want to fall behind, but you don't want to get ahead of schedule either," says Serge.
A culinary competition isn't just about creating a sensational-tasting menu. On the day of competition, it's about doing every single thing right, at the right time, to deliver on the promise of that menu. The ones who do it best are crowned the best. At this year's National Chefs Challenge, that chef was Team Canada's Serge Belair.
With this win, Serge qualifies to compete in September 2012 for the right to represent Canada in the World Association of Chefs Societies (WACS) Americas competition in Las Vegas in August 2013. The Americas winner goes on to compete at the 2014 Global Chefs Challenge in Norway.
Chef Serge's winning menu:
CCFCC 2012 Chef Challenge
Citrus Cured Albacore Tuna and Prawn Sphere
Pickled Ramps, Fennel Slaw
Roasted Tomato Concassée, Citrus Foam and Shrimp Sauce
~ ~ ~
Honey Mustard Pork Tenderloin
Maple Pork Belly Confit and Pulled Braised Pork Tatin
Saputo Cantonnier Cheese Potato Croquette
Smoked Parsnip Purée, Carrot Terrine, Brussels Sprouts
Chippolini Onion, Porcini Mushrooms
~ ~ ~
Lemon White Chocolate Mousse
With Hazelnut Blondie and Raspberry Jelly
Lemon Fritter, Raspberry Frozen Yogurt
On Hazelnut Strussel with Hazelnut Anglaise
Orange Sauce and Raspberry Compote
Forget the typical wine-and-dinner fundraising event. Team Canada and its volunteer organizing committee decided it was time for a change. The concept: hot chefs, cool bEATS, a supping and sipping tour of great food and drink inspired by the everyday and the faraway.
A street festival — complete with street food–inspired stalls and street performers against a backdrop of chain-link fence and graffiti-adorned pillars — greeted guests on arrival. The menu served up by chefs from local restaurants included the likes of pork belly on rice, jerk chicken with pineapple and lime slaw, barbecue duck on arepa with fermented slaw, laksa noodles with tofu and beef tartar. And from Culinary Team Canada: brisket sliders and duck fat poutine.
This foyer street scene immediately got everyone into the spirit of the evening — an experience that fed all the senses. And it continued into the main dining room, which was set up like a culinary tour of the world.
Local restaurants were part of this food scene as well, providing specialty foods and drinks. Team Canada chefs greeted guests in three food "regions." In Little Japan — teaching guests to roll their own sushi while they sampled saki and listened to Japanese drummers. In the Brasserie under a canopy of 300 baguettes — cooking up croquet monsieurs, and mussels and fries, and offering a selection cheese with wines and beers to the accompaniment of a French-Canadian band. In Granville Island — serving oysters on the half shell, fried oyster sliders, salmon tacos, and fish and chips paired local (Granville Island) beers and a local (Edmonton) balladeer.
Amid the other entertainment highlights was an Iron Chef–type (but friendly) competition between Team Canada chefs Brad Horen and Serge Belair. With their black box of (surprise) ingredients, the two had 20 minutes to prepare and dish that would wow the judges (chosen from among the guests). While tasting samples were passed around, the judges declared Brad's dish the winner. "That's why he's the team captain!" laughs Team Business Manager Simon Smotkowicz.
Though it was a busy working night for Team chefs Brad Horen, Poyan Danesh, Peter Dewar, Patrick Gayler, Dave Ryan, Roger Andrews, Serge Belair and Jeffrey Young, it was also a fun evening. "It's always great when we can get together. And to do a fundraiser like this — something completely different — and see people's reactions and enjoyment and support of our efforts … that's always worthwhile," says Smotkowicz. "We're into the last six months before the Culinary Olympics in Germany, and this definitely gives us a boost."
Sated and happy from their food walking-tour, guests ended the evening with a sit-down plated dessert prepared by Team pastry chef James Holehouse.
The reviews of the evening were unanimous: Totally hot. Totally cool. Sights, sounds and eats that satisfied all.
On Saturday, February 25, seventy specially invited guests sampled Team Canada's Restaurant of Nations menu. "To this point in our practices, we've been tasting and refining the menu only among ourselves," says Team Manager Simon Smotkowicz. "This was our first time preparing the dishes for service — not for quite as many people as for the competition, but an excellent test run."
Although details of the dishes are being kept under wraps, the preparation, plating and presentation of the three courses earned great reviews from the guests — and from the coaches. The team is taking those commendations as a good sign as they look toward next month's practice. They're taking their dinner on the road to Vancouver.
Watch a Slideshow of the team practice – Edmonton, February 24–26, 2012
On Sunday, January 15, Team Canada chefs did their first run-through of the proposed Restaurant of Nations menu, and "the dishes were extremely good, very impressive," says Team Manager Simon Smotkowicz.
At last October's team meeting, to inspire a direction for the Restaurant of Nations menu, each team chef prepared two dishes — an appetizer and a main course. After a roundtable tasting, Team Captain Brad Horen and the coaches were charged with refining the top choices into a menu for this January practice.
On Saturday, January 14, team chefs joined Brad and the coaches in Edmonton's Shaw Conference Centre kitchen. They discussed the menu and sample dishes, and the team then started on the prep, which, to simulate competition conditions, was taken only as far as allowed under Culinary Olympic rules. Meanwhile, Brad and the coaches worked on final plating and presentation of the appetizer and main course.
And when the team finished cooking on Sunday, and the dishes were plated and tasted? "The coaches and I were very pleased — not only with how the team worked together but with the results," says Simon. "The quality of the dishes was much better than would typically be expected at this early a stage in the development of a competition menu. That makes me very confident about where we'll be with this menu come October."
Completing the Restaurant of Nations menu is a dessert course from team pastry chef James Holehouse; while his teammates worked on the other two courses, he and coach Clayton Folkers continued to refine this part of the menu.
The practice also included a first look at proposed Cold Platter Display Table entries. As with the Restaurant of Nations, details about the products and presentations in the three categories (finger food/hors d'oeuvres, three-course menus/main courses and patisserie) are kept confidential until the competition. "We've begun some good work here that I think will be exceptional ten months from now," says Simon.
As with all Olympic-level competition, training is key. In the ten-month countdown to October 5–10 in Erfurt, Germany, Team Canada will be going hard, with team practices almost every month and lots of individual practice in between.
At Team Canada's October 22 meeting, everyone's attention was on the Restaurant of Nations menu for next year's competition: what direction should the menu take, and what Canadian products should be featured.
CTC took a no-talk, all-action approach. The challenge went out to team chefs Brad Horen, Dave Ryan, Patrick Gayler, Peter Dewar and Poyan Danesh, and support member Jeffery Young: on your own, develop Olympic-worthy appetizer and main course recipes that showcase Canadian product you strongly recommend—and come to the meeting prepared to cook the two dishes. Manager Simon Smotkowicz threw a wild card into the chef mix, asking Serge Belair from his Shaw Conference Centre kitchen to also come up with two recipes.
The team gathered at the NAIT apprentice lab, each chef at his own station. And even though they're all teammates, a little friendly competition definitely surfaced! The seven chefs served up three plates of each of their dishes for round-table tasting. Details about the products and dishes selected are under wraps until the competition, but the day went really well—"some very, very good dishes, and we've narrowed down the choices," says Simon.
Between now and the team's next practice in January, the appetizer and main course recipes will be refined, and pastry chef James Holehouse and coach Clayton Folkers will continue working on the dessert course. Ten months after that, CTC is looking to deliver polished perfection with a three-course Restaurant of Nations menu that wins Olympic gold.
Congratulations to the Junior National Culinary Team on their 2nd place finish in Ireland at their first international competition. Read about the competition and check out the photos, videos and profiles introducing these talented young chefs on the junior team's new website.
Members of Culinary Team Canada along with local Edmonton chefs and producers/growers came together to raise funds for the Team and for Edmonton High School Culinary Challenge scholarships. It was the second year for an event that supports the dreams and efforts of Canada's current and future chefs as they pursue culinary excellence.
Guests enjoyed a five-course gourmet menu featuring specially selected local produce and products of the region, with outstanding wine pairings. Some of the best chefs in Canada and Edmonton prepared dinner in front of the guests in a beautifully appointed room at the Shaw Conference Centre. Dinner was served with a running commentary about what the guests were eating and where it came from.
The evening was relaxed, fun and a success by all standards. Definite highlights of the live auction were a PEI Culinary Adventure with Team member Peter Dewar (which sold twice!) and a long weekend Culinary Getaway in Victoria with Team member Patrick Gayler.
The Team thanks all of the volunteers, sponsors and supporters who stepped up to the plate to make Chefs in the City an amazing event and celebration of local bounty.
Culinary Team Canada won gold medals in the hot kitchen and cold display categories at the Expogast Culinary World Cup competition. In a field of 28 countries, Canada finished fifth overall, with only three points separating the top five teams. It was the new team's first competition so, with only five months of practice (instead of the year that most teams had), winning two gold medals was an impressive accomplishment. As further testimony to Canada's culinary reputation: Seating for the Team Canada three-course hot kitchen competition dinner was sold out three weeks before Expogast began! All in all, a great start as the Team works toward the 2012 World Culinary Olympics in Germany.
For the World Culinary Olympics, held every four years, the CCFCC sanctions the formation of a new Team Canada, and the baton gets passed on. This time, the baton included a website developed by the previous team. It came with a wish: "We hope this website will be the starting point for future Teams to showcase exciting news and events." It was a great starting point. We're pleased to re-launch the website with updated content. And invite you to explore it—especially the Team Members section, to learn about the chefs who will be representing Canada at the World Culinary Olympics in 2012, and the Partners & Friends section, to learn how you can be support Canada's chefs on their road to gold.
Team tryouts were held in Edmonton, Alberta, in January and the chefs selected met as a team for the first time in March. While their sights are set on the 2012 World Culinary Olympics, the team would enter several other international competitions before then.
First up: Expogast in Luxembourg in November 2010. Between April and October, the chefs gathered for four team practices—to present, critique and refine their dishes for the Hot Kitchen and the Cold Display categories at Expogast. They also held three Go for the Gold dinners, when the chefs simulate Hot Kitchen competition conditions. Again, they critique and refine every aspect—from plating and taste of the dishes to organization and teamwork to cleanliness and cleanup—because all that comes under the scrutiny of international competition judges.
The team also hosted a Chefs in the City fundraiser dinner in Edmonton. Proceeds were shared with High School Culinary Challenge, which fosters the culinary interests and skills of teenagers through an annual inter–high school competition. A highlight of the live auction was a four-day tour of Nova Scotia and a cooking class with Team Canada chef Peter Dewar.
The Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA) is providing $300,000 over the next three years. A key mission of Culinary Team Canada is to foster awareness of and promote Canadian food products. That mission "is definitely aligned with our goal of increasing demand for Alberta meat products by bringing these products to the global stage of culinary competition," says ALMA president and CEO Gordon Cove. "Not only are we showing what the chefs in Alberta and Canada can do but we're also showing what our meat products can do."