The summer’s supreme food fight

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For the third year in a row Lindsay Porter, executive chef of Woodwork, won a berth to compete at the World Food Championships in Orange Beach, Alabama.

After two rounds of competition at the Canadian Food Championships held July 21 to 23 in conjunction with Taste of Edmonton, Porter ranked No. 2 out of five contestants in the steak category.

Porter, who excels at staying cool under pressure and creating original, succulent dishes, possesses a flair for competition. She takes part in Gold Medal Plates and is slated for more food sport action at the Prince Edward Island Shellfish Festival from Sept. 14 to 17.

At Friday’s preliminary challenge the Bellerose High graduate and NAIT-trained chef provided a few insights into her competitive spirit.

“Competitions are exciting. It breaks the monotony of work and you get to try new things you don’t get to do at work.”

Two other St. Albert connected chefs competed, but were unsuccessful. Wind Rose chef Miroslav Kolasa also competed in the steak and seafood category while Peter Keith, founder of Meuwly’s Charcuterie brought his skills to the table in the sandwich category.

Twenty workstations, complete with stoves, barbecue grills, microwaves and assorted kitchen appliances, were set up under a couple of tents at Sir Winston Churchill Square.

Participants had the option to compete in seven categories: seafood, steak, chicken, sandwich, bacon, burger and dessert.

Unlike a controlled kitchen environment, chefs and cooks dealt with breezy winds, heavy rains creating puddles, grills that failed to reach high temperatures and the occasional failure to pace oneself during the one-hour allotted time to prepare a dish.

In the preliminary round, Porter signed up for both the seafood and steak category. Along with sous chef Shannon Minor, the duo worked briskly as a well-oiled machine to prepare Atlantic smoked-butter poached lobster with sautéed scallops and lemongrass pork dumplings.

Surprisingly, despite the delicate, mouth-watering aromas wafting from the station and the marine-themed presentation on seashell dishes, the Asian-inspired dish failed to place in the top five. Competitors must place in the top five to wrangle a spot in the finals.

Supported by his European culinary background, Kolasa instead chose to present a lobster potato cake and scallops marinated in Pernod with morel mushrooms mixed in crabmeat.

Using exacting standards, the St. Albert resident who likes to work with wild food, brought to the table fiddleheads he picked north of Slave Lake in the Peace River country.

“You can’t buy them. They cannot be cultivated. It’s a symbiotic relationship between the trees and the mushrooms.”

Although Kolasa and his sous chef Devlin Morrison worked furiously in the pressure-cooker atmosphere to prepare an incredible dish, they missed the one-hour buzzer by five seconds and were disqualified.

Instead of feeling defeated, the duo returned for the steak competition prepared, focused and determined to out-compete their rivals.

Once again the European cuisine was distinctly visible in their choice of grilled steak in port wine sauce topped with foie gras (goose liver paté) and a side of carrots, potatoes and broccolini.

Speaking little, Kolasa and Morrison moved in a synchronized form peeling, cutting, chopping, mashing and barbecuing. They handed the dish in with two minutes to spare.

“This is the best steak I’ve made,” said Kolasa immediately after the competition.

The judges agreed. Kolasa and Morrison’s precision revealed itself when the judges rated their steak dish in the top four.

Porter, on the other hand, brought Brant Lake wagyu, a premium beef marbled with fat that is more tender and flavourful than most cuts. Her sides were smoky mashed potatoes with snap peas and greens ordered from Prairie Gardens. This dish too had a Korean vibe infused with soya sauce and ginger glaze.

For the audience, watching different cooking processes is way to gain culinary insights. With steaks wrapped in individual cryovac packages, Porter dropped them in a warm water bath kept at a constant 55 degrees Celsius.

“It will cook the steak evenly. At the last minute we’ll do a quick sear on the outside,” Porter explained. A rapid appraisal of other stations revealed no other chef had adopted this method.

Unfortunately, her barbecue grill failed to reach high enough temperatures. The quick sear wasn’t happening. Accustomed to last-minute kitchen upsets, Porter flipped the steaks onto a cast iron pan and gave them a flash-fry.

“I like a nice crust. It makes a big difference,” she said.

She was right on all counts. Rated in the top five, both Porter and Kolasa moved to the Sunday finals.

Paul Kane High graduate and Red Seal chef from NAIT’s culinary program, Peter Keith took part in the competition for different reasons.

“We’re here to have fun and we just wanted to promote our product,” said Keith. He is referring to Meuwly’s Charcuterie, a new start-up that specializes in creating hand-processed meats.

At the moment Keith and his partner Will Kotowicz (also Keith’s sous chef), deliver 20 different sausages, salamis and bacon to area restaurants. Within the next three months, they hope to open a storefront for the meat loving public.

Keith’s sandwich was Meuwly’s Bacon BLT, a trendier take on traditional bacon, lettuce and tomato comfort food.

“Honestly, I just want to make a sandwich I love to eat.”

Taking several slices of molasses-cured ham, layered with fried tomatillos, charred romaine lettuce and a freshly made avocado ranch dressing, the well-matched duo had almost completed the sandwich in 20 minutes.

Their big challenge was stretching out the minutes to the 50-minute turn-in time. Following the rules, they created a simple presentation for a tasty sandwich that would be a culinary feature while watching a game at home.

Unfortunately, they ranked in sixth place, one-half point away from reaching finals. Still happy with the sandwich, Keith added, “In retrospect seeing the score, we were probably behind in our presentation. A lot of people did elaborate things.”

He also noted, “This is about food and it’s nice an individual can make a dish that reflects their style.”

In addition, he had high praise for the competition’s organization.

“It’s one of the best kitchens I’ve competed in. They supply you with a lot of things and they have people that come and help you clean up.”

Watching the competitors in action, Canadian Food Champion host Mike McCloud had some positive things to say.

“I love the fact that most competitors are experienced. They’ve learned to apply their technique and to work through a potentially changing environment. I expect they will do very well at the World Food Championships.”

The World Food Championships take place Nov. 8 to 14. First place finishers receive a berth to the championships and $2,500 cash while silver place competitors win a spot and $1,000 cash.

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About Author

Anna Borowiecki

Anna Borowiecki joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2000. She reports on local people and events in the arts, entertainment and food industry. She also writes general news and features.