Friday, March 29, 2013

Atlantic Culinary Exhibition

I don't know how these things happen to me but again I was lucky enough to be invited to yet another dinner. Last Friday I attended the Atlantic Culinary Exhibition hosted by the Nova Scotia Culinary Association of Chefs and Cooks. Junior teams from NS, NL, and PEI competed for the gold in a three course black box style competition. Though I am sure I am missing a few, the black box contained pork shoulder, beef tongue, shrimp, salmon, oyster mushrooms, beets, cauliflower, chocolate, strawberries, and blueberry juice. If you follow me on twitter or instagram, then some of you may already know the teams and even the winner but let's do this in true competition style, completely blind. Now, I'm no celebrity chef or even an expert for that matter, but here are my thoughts.

Course 1, Team 1: roasted red pepper soup, warm beet salad with pine nuts, open face beef tongue and Gahan Island red pulled pork sandwich, sautéed spinach, and comtomme. Though everything on this plate was tasty and I commend the creativity of the soup-salad-sammie combo, nothing really blew me away except maybe for that incredibly tender beef tongue.

Course 1, Team 2: seared salmon, oyster mushrooms, red pepper sauce, quinoa, braised celery and comtomme gratin, jasmine rice crisp, fish sauce and vinegar foam, tomato crepe, shrimp mousse, salsa verde. I know what you're thinking. So much going on. This seems to be the current trend in plating but sometimes I can't seem to wrap my taste buds around so many flavors on one plate. And I'll be honest, foam just isn't my thing. However, much on this plate was quite tasty namely the perfectly seared salmon and the shrimp mousse in the tomato crepe. Plus, I could eat salsa verde with a spoon.

Course 1, Team 3: beet and vodka cured salmon, shrimp and dill farce, mesclun salad, shrimp veloute, red quinoa cracker. Despite this appearing to be the simplest of the plates, this was easily my favorite starter. The salmon was perfectly cooked, had a great subtle beet flavour and made all the more delicious with the shrimp and dill stuffing. The shrimp sauce was also divine. Plus, best use of both the beet and quinoa.

Course 2, Team 1: Salmon roulade with tarragon and capers, red quinoa crusted salmon, citrus beurre blanc, basil and lemon agnolotti, seared shrimp, tequila tomato sauce, cauliflower puree, butter poached oyster mushrooms. One word, agnolotti. That pasta was easily the best part of the plate though I also enjoyed the puree, tomato sauce, shrimp, and beurre blanc. But how can beurre blanc be bad really. Unfortunately, the salmon was a tad overcooked athough we were one of the last tables to be served.

Course 2, Team 2: braised pork shoulder, parsley sauce, rosemary salt, pave potatoes, cauliflower puree, battered beef tongue, mustard emulsion, pickled beets and roasted shallots. I simply loved the pork shoulder on this plate. It was packed with flavour and was so different than the usual pulled preparation. The tempura beef tongue had potential but by the time it got to the table, all crunch was lost. I bet tempura beef tongue would be killer. The puree, pave and parsley sauce were also winners. This was my main course pick.

Course 2, Team 3: pork blanquette, blackened beef tongue, mushroom barley bar, stewed leeks, cauliflower puree, pickled carrot. This was by far the best beef tongue preparation. So tasty that I imagine it could convert many a beef tongue hater. Both the pork and puree were excellent but we didn't enjoy the chewy barley cake. How interesting that every group made the cauliflower into a puree?

Course 3, Team 1: Frangelico mousse, chocolate cake with raspberry jelly, strawberry sorbet in a brandy cup, blueberry sauce, mint macerated strawberries, white chocolate Grand Marnier truffle. Oddly enough, the best part of this beauty of a plate was the minted mascerated strawberries although the strawberry sorbet in the brandy cup was a close second. Despite being absolutely gorgeous, the delicious mousse and white chocolate couldn't make up for that spongy cake. However, I bet this one got big points for plating.

Course 3, Team 2: financier, blueberry reduction, sabayon, ice wine glazed strawberry mousse, peanut crunch, meringue base, white chocolate and cream cheese ice cream, crispy milk, salted caramel sauce. Once again, I'm all over plate 2. The white chocolate cream cheese ice cream with salted caramel and crispy mik (huh?!) was incredible. The rest of the plate was delicious but that ice cream...oh my.

Course 3, Team 3: orange custard with chocolate chiboust crisp, raspberry puree, lemon cream cheese donut, blueberry curd, frozen lime chiffon, strawberry basil salad. How funny that the last plate of the night was the most underwhelming. The crisp was odd although I can't say I've ever had a chiboust crisp before. The saddest part, however, the donut was overcooked. I would have been all over it.

So, who exactly were the teams? Introducing, Team 1: PEI, Team 2: NS, and Team 3: NL. And the winner is...

Best appetizer: Team NS
Best main: Team PEI
Best dessert: Team NS
Gold: Team NS

I'll be honest. I felt a little proud with my fellow Nova Scotians taking the gold. But as you can see every one of these young chefs is extremely talented and all deserve to be congratulated. Big thanks to Heather and NSACC for inviting me and allowing me to be part of such an exciting-and delicious-evening. One thing is for sure; our culinary future is in good hands.

Be sure to keep an eye on their facebook page for upcoming events. I know I will.