Sixteen contestants purveyed a parade of scallops in early May, each hoping to become CHG's Top Chef. The following Saturday, eight produced plates of pork tenderloin - hog heaven for the judges and semi-professional moocher who shall remain nameless. Ok, it's me. The Saturday after that, our cries of "where's the beef" were answered with flavourful bison and chased with chocolate and rhubarb desserts.
Full photo album may be viewed here...
And then there were two. Ben Weir and Shirley Fortez. The finale features supper for a full house at Lux; consequently, each finalist selected a team consisting of a former competitor and a celebrity judge-cum-chef. Ben selects John Dykeman and Valerie Lugonja while Shirley chooses Cedric Boeglin and Che Bechard. The dueling duo will create appetizers, entrees and dessert featuring, respectively, steelhead salmon, beef shortrib and spot prawns, and eggs. In addition, they will shop in the farmers' market for local ingredients to accentuate their culinary creations.
Showdown night buzzes with excitement. Ben's salmon tartare appears first, and showcases simple salmon flavour paired with vivid asparagus-tarragon mash. Shirley's cured salmon with daikon-carrot slaw is next. It is anybody's game.
Ben crusts his shortrib with coffee and serves it with a giant spot prawn tortellini atop a green puddle of arugula pesto. It is tender, the coffee flavour is utterly demure, and the bright chartreuse pesto belies a strong peanut flavour. Shirley places a whole spot prawn (striking but potentially dangerous to the eyes) atop a rectangle of shortrib resting on rice with red curry-coconut-shrimp sauce. Here we have two very different entrees, each with their own roster of strengths and weaknesses.
Dessert presents sabayon and carrot cake. Ben's boozy, airy sabayon crowns a mouthful of winter berries and shares quarters with a vibrant scoop of raspberry cream. Shirley's carrot cake is dense, moist and buttressed by apple-pineapple compote and a scatter of almonds.
The moment of truth. Judges Paul Shufelt, Liane Faulder, Kari Skelton and Blair Lebsack deliberate while guests cast their ballot. The race is unbelievably close but, ultimately, Ben seizes victory. The CHG Top Chef journey has been wild and delicious and, like any good competition, features impossible twists, turns and a heady cocktail of flavourful surprises. Kudos to all the judges and CHG for a fantastically entertaining month. I eagerly await the 2012 season.