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Tuesday, 10 May 2011

CHG Top Chef Round 1: The Sweet Sixteen

We are all competitors, consciously or not. We gauge our own performances against the feats/failures of others and are simultaneously evaluated by our peers. This everyday undercurrent of competition may escalate to the point where we seek out competition; we intentionally search for the opportunity to show the world - and ourselves - that we are the best in show. And hence, we have the Olympics. The Derby. The Indy 500. Chefs in Edmonton's Century Hospitality group (hereafter, CHG), which includes the likes of Lux, Century Grill, Delux Burger Bar and 100 Bar + Kitchen, have their own venue: CHG Top Chef.

CHG Top Chef begins with 16 chefs that operate with CHG's various restaurants. On a drizzly Saturday morning, May 7th, they compete one on one.  All are challenged to create an appetizer that centers on scallops in a tight, 30 minute time frame. The dishes will be evaluated by a panel of four chefs: CHG's own Paul Shufelt, educator-foodie Valerie Lugonja, radio/marketing personality Shauna McKay McConechy and food writer Mary Bailey. They will decide which competitors move to the next round based on the flavour, presentation and overall creativity of each dish.

(Two beautiful chefs stand before me, but I have only one photo in my hand. The chef whose name I do not call must return to the kitchen here in beautiful Edmonton, collect your things, and go home. So who stays in this competition? Please click here to see the entire photo album.)

First pair: Shirley Fortez vs. Brandon Kaduk. Shirley's pan-seared scallop with mandarin slaw prevails over Brandon's scallop with deep fried spuds and onions with citrus cream. Shirley moves to round two, though the judges recommend that she move out of such safe territory.

Second pair: Nic Barron vs. Scott Cowan. Nic's scallop with asparagus, potatoes and a pancetta is intriguing but Scott's scallop with honey bacon atop smoky-sweet tomatoes noses ahead. Scott will compete next week and Nic is reminded that the sum of the parts do not make the whole.

Third pair: Vilma Cassamiro vs. Cedric Boeglin. Vilma's scallop atop julienned veggies is visually stunning but the sun-dried tomatoes seem out of place. Cedric's ceviche is a welcome break from seared scallops, and he moves to the next round.

Fourth pair: Cole Colley vs. Stephane Moreau. Cole presents a sizeable creation that places a scallop atop veggie linguine and tomato-rhubarb veracruz sauce, while Stephane earthy creation places the shellfish with mushrooms. Cole's portion size is a bit much while Stephane's seasoning is a wee bit inconsistent; ultimately Cole triumphs.

Fifth pair: Rob Frisen vs. Ben Weir. Rob spices up his scallop-arugula-basil salad with anise while Ben's scallop two ways includes ceviche in a martini glass and a seared scallop plus button mushroom. Judges agreed that Rob's tasted better than it looked and informed Ben that the ceviche was the stronger part of his entry. Ben will compete in round two.

Sixth pair: Erica Krumpitz vs. John Dykeman. Erica adds a dose of chili oil heat to her scallop with brown butter spuds, and John keeps it simple with a slab of boar bacon underneath his scallop with citrus zest. Erica's taste of fire is refreshing but John's minimalism prevails.

Seventh pair: Eric Amyotte vs. ?? Eric's competitor is a no-show, so Paul steps in and creates a scallop carpaccio with citrus segments. Eric's searing is top-notch and his judicious anointment of sesame oil bumps his entry to round two.

Eight pair:  Andre Nedd vs. Lindsay Bell. This is the closest race of the day. Andre creates a fragrant tomato-curry broth with which to surround his scallop while Lindsay dextrously concocts a supple and lick-worthy citrus beurre blanc. It's a tough call. The mushrooms in Andre's broth are superfluous while the citrus in Lindsay's beurre is a bit lost. In the end, Andre moves on.

Tune in next Saturday to see who is still in the running towards becoming CHG's Top Chef...


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