The 2012 Healthy Chef Competition
A Recap of The 13th Annual Healthy Chef Competition Event & Fundraiser
It was my third year attending the Healthy Chef Competition event and fundraiser on March 7 at the Hyatt Regency in Vancouver. It’s an annual event organized by the British Columbia Chef’s Association (BCCA) and the BC Produce Marketing Association (BCPMA) to promote healthy eating and the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.
10 of Vancouver’s restaurants compete for the titles of “Best Entree”, “Best Dessert”, “Healthy Plate Award”, “Best Table Showcase” and “People’s Choice Award”, and guests are randomly assigned a main and dessert from two different restaurants for their dinner. All the previous years have taught me to arrive early to scout out the menus, and to wear appropriate (loose) clothing because all of the restaurants make extras so that guests can try more than their assigned dishes. Being that I’m the type that has to try everything, I’ve always managed to try every dish each year, and this year was no different. It’s always an entertaining and fun event, but this year was even tastier.
This year I was invited to be a guest judge and what an honour it was. What?! You want me to eat 10 mains and 10 desserts made by some of Vancouver’s finest chefs? It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it, so I guess I’ll sacrifice myself.
To be honest, it really is a tough job though because the room was full of talented chefs and it’s hard to compare them all. The criteria was based on overall taste, use of ingredients, presentation, table showcase, and use of fruits and vegetables. It’s meant to be a fun and healthy competition, but the restaurants invest a lot of time and energy to preparing the dishes, and in the end who doesn’t want to win?
I actually love culinary competitions. I’m probably a bit competitive by nature myself and there’s just a certain drive and energy that comes out of competing, whether it’s with yourself or with others. I actually prefer the prior because the latter can be a real waste of time. Anyways a huge congratulations to all restaurants and chefs for participating in the Healthy Chef Competition 2012. Putting your passion out there to be judged is something worth respecting alone.
2012 Healthy Chef Competition Winners:
Best Entree: Vancouver Community College
(Made up of members of the Junior Culinary Team Canada)
Overall I am very pleased with the results and the two awards for Vancouver Community College were well deserved. The team is made up of members of the Junior Culinary Team Canada and if they represent our top chefs of the future, then we are incredibly lucky. These are some pretty gifted “kids”, and they’ve achieved a lot on an international level at such an early stage of their careers. I can’t wait to follow along their journey as they train with the best and explore the world of culinary competitions while bringing home the Gold.
Due to the nature of the event and my responsibilities this time around, I’m not doing to go into too much detail about the food. However I will note some interesting techniques or ingredients I found fascinating.
1. Hyatt Regency Vancouver
Kaboocha Squash Agnolotti, Fricassee of Early Spring Vegetables, Green Pea and Mint Fusion Garlic Chip – It’s a type of ravioli and usually I’m used to having them with rich brown butter sauces or syrupy demi-glace, but this was a healthier take. The Kaboocha squash filling still gave it that creamy indulgence and there was some nice colour and texture on the plate too. Those skinless basil infused cherry tomatoes were quite popular and they’re always nice for that extra burst of flavour. This was the only vegetarian plate of the night, but just because something isn’t vegetarian doesn’t mean it’s not healthy either.
Dulce de Leche, Poached Pear, Pineapple Star Anise Panna Cotta, Goose Berry Mint Pate – This won “Best Dessert” of the night and the chocolate and fruit theme went beyond the typical strawberry and raspberry which are out of season anyways. I would have loved some more acidity in the Pineapple Panna Cotta, but the presentation was clean and easy to follow.
2. The International Culinary School
3. Chinese Canadian Chef Association
“Best Table Showcase” was a category again this year and The Chinese Canadian Chef Association won the award last year. They continued to exercise their talent and made these intricate displays using Chinese vegetables. This was made from lotus root which is very high in dietary fibre and commonly found boiled in Chinese soups or thinly sliced and stir-fried.
I mentioned in my Chinese Chef of the Year post that presentation is something that is more or less “off the radar” with many Chinese chefs. Chinese cuisine is about family style dining and thus family style presentation, so it’s still something they’re working towards. This is the second year the Chinese Chefs Association has participated in the Healthy Chef Competition – see their Poached Prawns and Scallops with Ponzu Glaze, Organic Soba noodles and vegetables from last year.
East Meets West – Mini Red Bean Past Pandan Ice Moon Cake and Strawberry Napolean with Mango Puree – They went with a strawberry theme last year too, but it would be great to see them use seasonal fruit.
4. Pier 7 Restaurant + Bar
Pan Seared Queen Charlotte ‘Pacific Provider’ Coho Salmon, Bacon and King Oyster mushroom relish, Truffle ‘Little Potato Company Sauté, Buttered Beans and Red Wine Jus – This was a beautiful piece of salmon and the skin was perfect. The red wine jus was unexpected, but red wine can pair with seafood as long as it’s a light red like a Pinot Noir or Merlot.
I missed the photo of the dessert, but the dessert featured Finger Limes which I found amazing! It’s a new ingredient for me and it originates from Australia and has only made its way to North America in the last few years.
The Finger Lime is actually unrelated to the lime and lemon, but it tastes just like a lime. It looks like a cornichon and they just snap right open. Inside are these tiny pearls of crunchy “lime caviar” and they pop in your mouth like Pop Rocks. The flavour is very sharp and sour, not just tangy or tart. Thinking about them makes my salivary glands go because of how sour they are, but they’re refreshing, bright and a pop of flavour.
I can imagine this ingredient really taking off in Vancouver and almost want to include it as a Vancouver Food Trend for 2012, but I think it’s too early. It would be fantastic on sushi rolls, key lime pies, raw oysters and ceviche. I would see it more as a garnish because a few pearls go a long way… my salivary glands haven’t stopped the whole time I’ve written about the Finger Lime.
5. River Rock Casino Resort
*Best Table Showcase*
The River Rock Casino Resort booth was reminiscent of Tao night club in Las Vegas. With rose petals, Indian music, the aroma of incense, and a pretty girl lounging in the bath tub, I can’t say it was too shocking they walked away with Best Table Showcase.
Assiette of Indian Curries with Rice Pulao & Carrot Pachadi – Goat Curry, Prawn with Sour Mango Curry, Chicken Kofta with Quail Egg, Aloo Gobi, Spicy Eggplant, Toor Dal -Yes! Goat! I know it’s still very exotic to most people, but seriously get in on the game! Literally. It’s less gamey tasting than lamb and also healthier because it’s leaner. Goat exists outside of Indian and African cuisine too, so I’m waiting to see this ingredient flourish, which is why I also named it as one of my Top 10 Food Trends in Vancouver for 2012.
Cashew Barfi with Silver Leaf, Mango Lassi, Apricots with Cardamom, Purple Carrot Halva, Rasmalai with Orange Blossom & Rosewater Meringue – To be honest, I really dislike Indian desserts unless it’s kulfi or rice pudding. I’ve tried various kinds and for me they’re usually way too sweet or one dimensional. On this occasion it was executed in a modern manner and it was actually delicious! I loved it.
I’ve had traditional versions of each before, but on this occasion it tasted even better and almost more gourmet. The plate had so many aromatics and components and the sweetness was toned down. I think a few shards of silver leaf would have done the job as opposed to the whole sheet, but generally I really enjoyed this dessert and I surprised myself.
6. Executive Plaza Hotel Coquitlam
*Healthy Plate Award*
Roasted Beef Tenderloin, Smoked Sea Salt, Root Vegetable Confit, Caramelized Beet, Wild Mushroom Polenta & Port Wine Jus – This had quite the classic pairing of ingredients, but the roasted beef tenderloin was tender to the point of me still remembering how tender it was.
Sweet Potato and Pineapple Chip Tower, Tropical Fruit, Organic Yogurt & Berries -This was one of my favourite desserts of the night for presentation, texture and flavour. It was easily the “healthiest” dessert I think and it had no flour or dairy. It was layers of baked and crisp fruit, but it wasn’t as simple as it sounded. There was some fresh fruit in it too so it wasn’t all dry and crispy. It was a bit hard to eat without destroying and getting some of every layer, but I really loved the presentation.
7. Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts (PICA)
Veal Cheeks Sous Vide with Dashi & Red Wine. Vegetables 3 Ways: Puree, Dashi and Duo & Farrotto (Whole Grain Farro – Risotto Style) – This also had no dairy, cream or butter and the veal cheek I could have eaten without teeth. That was almost melting it was so tender. Cheeks are always one of my favourite parts of any meat and if it’s sous vide, it’s going to be pretty much guaranteed melt in your mouth goodness. The puree was made from celeriac root, parsnips and cauliflower, but overall it was a bit under seasoned.
Superfruit Circles – Chiffon Sponge, Blueberry Ginger Sorbet, Raspberry Yuzu Macaron, Passionfruit Ginger Sphere – I enjoyed all the components to this dessert and those passionfruit ginger spheres are almost bonus points for me because they’re hard to make. The way it was presented reminded me of a fried quail’s egg though… with an extremely massive yolk.
8. Wah Wing Szechuan Restaurant
Wah Wing was the other Chinese team who I also remember from the BC Chinese Chef of the Year competition.
Similar to the other competing Chinese restaurant, they too invested a lot of time in creating a table display. The goldfish made from tomatoes and pink lily pad flowers made from red onions were all quite charming and the effort showed.
Steamed Japanese Yam Dumpling, Goon Bo Prawns, Scallop with Chili Bean Sauce – As I mentioned before, presentation is still in the works as it’s not really a category Chinese chefs are trained to really focus on. Everything is served on big platters and in piles, so the traditional Chinese idea of “presentation” is a completely different concept than a Western or European idea of presentation.
Layered Red Bean Jelly, Honey Wolfberry Osmanthus Jelly, Red Bean Coconut Cake – They went with really traditional Chinese desserts and you can find most of these at many Chinese restaurants and usually during dim sum.
9. Vancouver Community College
(Made up of members of the Junior Culinary Team Canada)
*Best Entree* & *People’s Choice Award*
Steelhead & Halibut Press, Scallop Ahi Tuna Bar, Poached Daikon, Taro Har Gow, Sweet Carrot Puree, Hot & Sour Emulsion, & Green Curry Sauce – This was my favourite entree of the night. The presentation took the most time and the line up was the longest, which is a risky formula, but can also be a very good sign. It was new, different and memorable and each component almost felt like a mini entree. It really reached that competitive level I was anticipating. Being that it was prepared by junior competition chefs, it wasn’t really surprising. It’s a shame I can’t order this again though because I would. I ate this twice just because I knew it would be a last.
Chocolate Kalamansi Fondant Bar, Green Tea Mousse, Lychee & Roasted Korean Strawberry Chiboust Tart, Pear Sorbet with Caramelized Pear – I definitely ate this twice too. I loved this desert and again it was almost like three desserts in one. There wasn’t really a single focus, but it didn’t bother me because they were all delicious and there was no “filler” much like their main. That Chocolate Kalamansi Fondant Bar with Green Tea Mousse was my favourite and they put a feuilletine crunch at the bottom which I’ve always been a sucker for. I also have a strong passion for pear, so this dessert did no wrong (except for those few non-seasonal berries). Texture, balance, colour, flavour… I was tempted to take some to go.
10. Copper Chimney Restaurant + Bar
I was worried it was going to be really rich, thick and sweet and a “one-sipper”, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t like sipping chocolate and it’s not nearly as thick as I was imagining. It’s more like cocoa powder than melted chocolate, so it’s still rich, but not indulgent. It coated the glass, but as you can see it was still somewhat thin although not watery. It’s a fun party drink and it’s made with XOXOLAT chocolate in Vancouver. I could taste the vodka, but it was rather light, smooth and it’s only about 12% alcohol. It was surprisingly not that sweet and I could taste hints of vanilla, caramel and a bit of espresso for that earthiness that isn’t bitter.