I really am a lucky girl. Thanks to Calphalon's Executive Chef, Susie Reading, and my friend Brian, on Monday night, I had the good fortune to attend their Rising Chef Challenge. This culinary competition between 3 teams of the city's hottest young chefs celebrated it's 6th year with this edition and featured teams from Bymark, Parts & Labour, and the Fairmont Royal York. Each team prepared courses featuring sustainable Arctic Char, Spring Creek grass-fed beef tenderloin from Alberta and seasonal Ontario pears and apples, each paired with one of three Jackson Triggs wines. The event was hosted by cookbook author and home economist Mairlyn Smith, and judged by not only the diners, but 3 professionals: Nels Kendelson, Kevin Pendleton and Chef John Higgins (I hope I got their names right!).
For the appetizer course, Chef John Nepomuceno of Bymark gave us a smoked arctic char on linguine puttanesca; Chef Matt DeMille of Parts & Labour, an arctic char carpaccio with smoked pork belly, navy bean, onion oil & lemon zest with fresh horseradish and pickled shallot; while Chef Hayley Ness served up a whisky cured arctic char tartar with shaved fennel, lemon dijon aioli and a basil gelee. While I enjoyed the subtle smokiness of the Bymark offering, and the inventiveness of the basil gelee, I preferred the carpaccio presentation most. There was a nice texture contrast provided by the lemon rind and crunchy bits of pork belly (though, I'm not sure the navy beans added much in the way of flavour, texture or colour). Matty's treatment of the fish best allowed it to shine, I thought.
The main course beef tenderloin courses went like this:
- Bymark - Butter poached beef tenderloin, carbonara risotto cake & mushroom ragout with mustard zabaione
- P&L - Seared beef tenderloin with braised lentil, cremini mushroom ravioli and brown butter spinach
- Royal York - Beef tenderloin with smoked pork, butternut squash ravioli, braised leeks and port reduction sauce
Bymark took this course for me. Proving that butter is best, this was the tenderest piece of meat, with the most interesting flavour. The hit of cinnamon on the meat before searing added a great dimension. I do wish the mustard was stronger to balance the richness of the buttery meat, but overall, all the elements on the plate worked absolutely beautifully together. I have to say that Ness's beef dish confused me. Nothing seemed to taste like what it was! The pork belly tasted like liver, which the beef picked up. I don't know where that came from, but perhaps the port reduction?? Also, I got a strong curry flavour off the squash ravioli. The leeks were lovely though.
The final course, dessert, definitely went to Parts & Labour, by a mile. To me, it was the only dish that really highlighted the beautiful fruit. Bymark's apple & brown butter panna cotta with maple caramel sauce fell a little flat, while the Royal York offering of chocolate truffle filled with marinated pear, sugar thyme and fresh berries just had too much going on, and the pears were rendered almost invisible. I did enjoy the candied basil on that plate though. The P&L dessert of brandy poached Northern Spy apple making a pouch for arborio rice pudding, topped with a maple brushed phyllo crisp was absolutely delicious. I'm generally not a rice pudding fan, but this wasn't super wet like rice pudding usually is. I would compare it more to the texture of a Thai sweet sticky rice. Once again, DeMille's clean, straightforward approach allowed the fruit to be the star of the plate.
What a great evening this was. By the end, I was full of lovely food and drink, and had a fun time with my table mates, including Shawn Rusich of It All Starts With Butter! Thanks again to Susie, Brian and all the staff at Calphalon for inviting me to attend this wonderful event. If you're interested in other events and classes at Calphalon, be sure to check out their schedule.