Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Cutting Edge Culinary Competition at Saltscapes Expo

This past weekend I was asked to be a judge in the Cutting Edge Culinary Competition at Saltscapes' East Coast Expo at Exhibition Park. A contact of mine at the Winery Association of NS called me, explained the role and the asked "So, do you think you'd be interested?" Think? Interested? I was over the moon with excitement, and honored that she would think me worthy to judge someone else's cooking!

The Cutting Edge Competition is very similar to an Iron Chef event with required ingredients and limited time! There were several rounds whereby chefs from across the province competed for top marks. Final scores for the competition were compiled based on a combination of the judges’ marks and votes from the audience. The chef with the highest score at the end of all rounds would be named the Cutting Edge Culinary Champion.

The chefs were given a 'Black Box' of Taste of Nova Scotia products and 45 minutes in which to create a meal using all three. They were then judged on the taste, originality and plating/presentation. The competing chefs were also paired with an audience member who acted as their sous-chefs. The competitions, hosted by Alain Boise of Saltscapes Magazine also opened the floor to audience's questions ranging from food preparations to the chef's favorite spices.

Participating chefs in this challenge included Chef Dennis Johnston of FID Restaurant, Executive Chef Alan Crosby of White Point Beach Resort, Chef Rick Ogilvie of Tin Fish Restaurant in Lunenburg, Chef Michael Howell of Tempest Restaurant in Wolfville, Executive Chef Shawn Zwarun of DesBarres Manor Inn in Guysborough, and Executive Chef Renee Lavalee of Five Fishermen.

I was to judge the Saturday afternoon competition pitting Chef Earlene Bush of Chanterelle Country Inn and Cottages in Cape Breton against Colin Stone, Executive Chef of O'Carroll's Restaurant here in Halifax. Their Black Box included pork tenderloin, maple syrup and yellow onion.

It was pretty thrilling for me, a new writer to sit on a judging panel with a Saltscapes writer and an Executive Chef who had won countless National culinary competitions. As we watched, we saw the interactions occurring between chef and sous-chef; the idea, the planning and the execution. There was also a camera above each chef's station so that we were able to see the process that went into preparing each dish.

Finally came the judging. I have to admit- I was a little self-conscious. I love food so much, that you have to really screw it up in order for me to refuse it! However, the food was plated beautifully, and tasted equally delicious. I considered the questions thoroughly and came to my decisions on each contestant's dish relying solely on my own culinary knowledge and my tastebuds!

On Sunday, after all rounds had been completed and judged, the winner of the Cutting Edge Competition was announced; Chef Renee Lavalee of Five Fishermen. I can only imagine how her dish tasted, as I know from experience that she does some fine work up in that Five Fish kitchen! I didn't see Renee's round, but I know that she, like the other competing chefs have a love of Nova Scotia's culinary products, and believe in using fresh, local ingredients as much as possible in their cooking.

Taste of Nova Scotia and the Winery Association of Nova Scotia were heavily involved in this event- both as sponsors as well as in the planning stages. What a wonderful way to show off NS's food and beverage products; making them fun and inventive, and giving them each a spot on center stage.

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