Taste of Talent Benefit Dinner Recap (By Canada’s Best Competition Chefs)

Taste of Talent Benefit Dinner Recap

A recap of the Taste of Talent benefit dinner presented by the BC Culinary Arts Foundation & Canadian Culinary Federation

“Canada’s best culinary talent under one roof, in one kitchen, on one evening. This will be an epic experience.” That’s what I wrote when I announced the Taste of Talent Benefit Dinner 2012 on Follow Me Foodie. And was it true? Of course! It wasn’t the food alone, but the whole experience that made for a beautiful evening.

The first annual Taste of Talent Benefit Dinner was on March 26 at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia in Vancouver, BC. The food this evening was created and prepared by Culinary Team British Columbia, Canada’s National Culinary Team, Canada’s Junior National Culinary Team, Bocuse d’Or Competitor Alex Chen, and WACS Global Chef Challenge Competitor Tobias MacDonald. In a nutshell think the Olympics, but the culinary version of it for each respective category. Many of these Canadian Chefs have been working for years to prepare for these world renowned culinary competitions taking place around the world, and they need support in order to bring home the Gold.

Mentor, Coach, and Chef Bruno Marti, commonly referred to as “The Godfather” in BC and Canada’s culinary scene.

The event started with a champagne reception featuring 7 hors d’oeuvres stations followed by a sit down dinner with 8 courses and wine pairings. I know. It’s hard not to smile even just writing that sentence. I feel really spoiled, but incredibly grateful. Since many of the ingredients were sponsored, it wasn’t quite what the chefs will be making when they compete, however it gives them the opportunity to practice and perfect.

Needless to say it was a memorable evening with well prepared and refined food, however I personally took more of an interest to the hors d’oeuvres served at reception. The sit down was very good, but I just felt more challenged with the hors d’oeuvres which were more experimental. It makes sense though considering this benefit dinner was for 150 guests which means 150 tastes, so there has to be a caution for approachability. It’s hard to cater to a general public so the sit down was a bit tamed for what these chefs are capable of, but it was a nice tease for what’s to come and I’m so proud to have Canada’s culinary scene so well represented.

I was honoured to be invited by the BC Chef’s Association and honestly I don’t even know how to approach this post. I mean these are some of the best chefs in Canada preparing my dinner. What am I supposed to say!? It’s intimidating. However after some thought, I realized that these chefs are competition chefs and they aim for perfection and seek honest feedback in order to improve. That being said, I’m not a chef and I can’t do what they do, and I have the utmost respect for their incredible talent. It’s not only with competition chefs, but chefs in general.

**Note: There were no descriptions on the menu and I had no pen and paper so I’m doing this strictly from memory. Bear with me. I will do my best to describe what everything tasted like so you can imagine being there if you weren’t already.

Some photos are thanks to Good Life Vancouver.

On the table:

Champagne Reception & 7 hors d’oeuvres stations

Sushi

Venison Stew

Home Smoked, Maple Cured Salmon, Oysters with Kalamansi Foam

BC Spot Prawn Ceviche with Cucumber

Although I tried all of them, I only got a few photos and surprisingly it was of the two I ended up liking the best.

Sous Vide Turkey Breast with Cranberry Ravioli Gel

  • Sous vide can make drywall taste moist… turkey is about the leanest you can get and it was incredibly succulent and well executed.
  • If you’re unfamiliar with sous vide, it’s basically a method of slow cooking food in a vacuum sealed plastic bag at a low and constant temperature for up to 72 hours. The food keeps moist and the nutrients locked in. It’s a common technique used in fine dining restaurants and professional kitchens.
  • The highlight on this plate was the cranberry ravioli gel which takes some skill to make.
  • It was a burst of tangy and sweet and with the turkey it was basically 10 seconds of amazing Thanksgiving and why we love it so much.

Smoked Kangaroo Loin with Queen Anne Plum Chutney

  • Kangaroo? Love it. I wrote about this in my 10 Food Trends in Vancouver 2012 post – see “Goat is the New Lamb” section.
  • I’ve had kangaroo a few times before – cooked, tartar and paté – see here for paté.
  • The meat is almost like steak, but slightly sweeter and it’s quite rich. It’s an easy meat to mess up, but it was excellent here.
  • The highlight on this plate was that walnut looking object in the back. That was almost the highlight of my entire night.
  • The black walnut was incredibly rich and buttery and made with foie gras, another one of my favourites.
  • The texture was mousse like and luxurious and I could taste the foie in the nose and on my palate.
  • It had that je ne sais quoi and you just wanted to hold it in your mouth to pick out all the flavours, but it was melting before I could even pick them out.
  • The black walnut is inspired by Joël Robuchon, but reinvented by Coach Chef Hamid Salimian and Culinary Team BC.

BC Culinary Arts Foundation Taste of Talent Benefit Dinner

Chef Nakano’s “Display of Tastes”

  • Chef Ken Nakano, Head Chef, Rosewood Hotel Georgia
  • Wine pairing: 2010 Riesling, Tantalus Vineyards, Okanagan Valley
  • This amuse bouche had modern Japanese all over it. It wasn’t “fusion” though – a word often misused.
  • It was very authentic and true to Japanese flavours, but the ingredients were modern and West Coast as was the execution.
  • Of course it helped that the chef was Japanese, but he did a lovely job and I’m usually very picky about this stuff because I’m familiar with Japanese cuisine. Outside of a Japanese trained chef and restaurant I have my hesitations, but not here.
  • The only thing is that I wish it was plated according to the intensity of flavours rather than how it was.

The actual menu decriptions or names of the items weren’t given, so I’m doing this by guessing.

Swiss Chard Goma-ae

  • It was incredibly creative! I love goma-ae and order it all the time and this was a very unique interpretation of it.
  • Instead of spinach he used swiss chard so it had a firmer texture and didn’t leave that spinach film on your teeth.
  • There was a touch of sesame sauce in the Swiss Chard, but most of the sesame flavour came from the candied sesame crisp on top.
  • It was sweet and nutty and made for great texture.
  • I actually want to try and remake this.

Miso Sablefish

  • I always order miso sablefish and although this wasn’t grilled (robata) it was still nice.
  • It was coated with a miso sauce and it sat on a piece of squash which I think would have been good puréed for a complementing texture.
  • I’m partial to the authentic grilled sablefish which the best I’ve had is at Aki Japanese Restaurant (which is now closed and re-opening in May at 1368 West Pender), but this one was still good.
  • Since this amuse bouche was all room temperature or chilled I can see why he didn’t grill it.

Mushrooms Wrapped with Daikon

  • I’m used to Enoki mushrooms for Japanese cuisine, but in this case it was Beech mushrooms.
  • It was a nice change and the sturdier mushroom really held up with the presentation because the enoki would have just wilted and required a lot.
  • The daikon was poached in dashi (Japanese seafood stock) and it had a bit of mirin and some sweetness to it.
  • It was very simple, so I wish I started with it first and that it was placed as the first appetizer.

Potato Croquette

  • It’s not a traditional croquette (long), but for simplicity’s sake I’ll call it a “croquette”.
  • I think it was a potato croquette, but I don’t remember. I’m sorry!
  • I do remember that it was served with Miso mayo though! It was a very intense miso mayo and it was strong with miso paste.

Chawanmushi

  • Seriously he put my favourite Japanese appetizers on a plate. This is another dish I love.
  • It’s a savoury steamed egg custard and it’s comparable to a savoury creme brulee or panna cotta, but served warm.
  • Traditionally it’s served in a clay pot with a lid and the first bite should be as hot as your last.
  • Usually it has a lot of soup and more soup is gradually released as you dig into it, but this one was more solid.
  • It was silky smooth like tofu and the egg had some dashi (Japanese seafood stock) in it for depth and flavour.
  • There was a piece of shrimp and a couple other ingredients and usually it might have enoki and chicken too.
  • It was good in a modern context, but if you’re curious to try the authentic version I recommend the one at Dan – see Chawanmushi.

2010 Riesling, Tantalus Vineyards, Okanagan Valley – Of course it was the Tantalus! This was the Riesling almost everyone thought was the mystery wine at the Gold Medal Plates. The mystery wine was actually the Château Des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2007 from Ontario, but the flavour profiles are incredibly similar. Both Rieslings are excellent quality that even non-Riesling drinkers will be convinced. It was smooth and sweet, but had a good acidity of lime and perhaps apple. It was my favourite white of the night and possibly one of my favourite Rieslings.

Steelhead and Halibut Press with Ahi Tuna Bar

  • Junior National Culinary Team
  • Wine pairing: Hester Creek Pinot Blanc, Oliver
  • Well doesn’t this look familiar!? It was the award winning dish and people’s choice award winner from the BC Healthy Chef’s Competition!
  • I assume this is actually the team’s competition dish and practice makes perfect, so twist my rubber arm to eat it again.
  • It’s kind of unexpected, but it tasted totally different from the one I had at the Healthy Chef’s Competition.
  • This plate has a lot of Asian inspiration, but I wouldn’t call it “Asian”. It was still Pacific Northwest.
  • The salmon and halibut was tender and infused with Italian flat leaf parsley or Japanese Shiso leaf.
  • The sauce was a Thai-like green curry sauce that was infused with lemon grass and some ginger for a kick.

  • Although this “har gow” or “prawn dumpling” is nothing like a har gow, it was inspired by the concept and I still liked it!
  • The skin could use some work because it wasn’t as chewy or translucent, but it was filled with a rich and creamy taro root paste which I love.
  • The top part of the skin where it’s pinched closed was a bit high as well, and I wouldn’t mind an additional ingredient for crispy or crunchy texture.
  • The crunchy mushroom and turnip salad was almost like a slaw and that was a nice textural contrast, but the prawn alone could have used more.
  • The sweet and spicy carrot puree was obvious in carrot flavour and I felt like there was some parsnip root in it too.
  • I tasted either grapefruit, lime or kalamansi and Sriracha sauce for heat and spice in the carrot puree, and upon confirmation it was actually yuzu and chili oil. So close!
  • Yuzu is basically Japanese citrus and the fruit is a cross between a lemon and a grapefruit with a bit of orange.
  • The ahi tuna bar was good, but forgettable out of the three although still enjoyed.
  • The sauce it was served with was sweet and fruity, but I don’t remember what I thought it was anymore. There were a few tapioca like pearls on top too.
  • The sauces were all spicy this time and the heat lingered and picked up with each bite.
  • I like spice, but I kind of wish they weren’t all spicy because it just got a bit confusing and I had to wait until it died before I tried my next bite.
  • I just wanted a neutralizer like coconut milk or creme fraiche.

Hester Creek Pinot Blanc, Oliver – It was crisp and refreshing and a good starter wine. I guess my tastes have changed because I used to really enjoy Pinot Blanc, but now I find it a bit too simple and I prefer something a bit richer.

Wenzel Duck Breast with Quince

  • Culinary Team British Columbia
  • Wine pairing: 2010 Pinot Noir, Meyer Family Vineyard, Okanagan Valley
  • Check out that colour on that duck! Gorgeous.
  • Duck is a very tricky meat to approach with a sous vide technique, but it’s almost the best method too because it guarantees a tender meat which is hard to achieve with duck breast.
  • The fat layer was nice and rendered and not chewy or too thick. It takes skill to get it so even like that.
  • They likely had to render the fat before the sous vide process because the temperature to sous vide duck won’t be hot enough to render fat.
  • I personally like the skin seared last minute and crispy, but they probably didn’t have time to do that.
  • It looks like it was pre-seared, but that never really helps if it has to be sous vide after because it just softens.
  • The quince puree was lovely and the fruit naturally has so many incredible aromatics that it doesn’t require much help.
  • I could really taste apple in the quince and I guessed it was reduced with some apple cider which it was! Yay!
  • I also got some subtle herb flavour in the end, but that was just from the natural quince aromatics.
  • The duck breast was topped with a buckwheat crisp which was nutty, but a bit bland and it added a “neat” factor more so than a “wow” factor.
  • The tiny orange pearls on the side were likely quince, but I couldn’t get the flavour and I’m not sure it did anything for the duck.
  • I would have preferred micro greens over the big spinach leaf, so I wasn’t really following that, but the quince and duck combo was lovely.

2010 Pinot Noir, Meyer Family Vineyard, Okanagan Valley – I’m not too crazy about Pinot Noir and although good, this one was a bit tart for me. Mandarin Kalamansi Sorbet

  • James Holehouse, Pastry Chef, Culinary Team Canada
  • Next up was the palate cleanser.
  • It was art. This was probably the most artistic one of the night. Since it’s a dessert it’s easier to be artistic with, but this takes some real talent.
  • The sugar blown mandarin orange was something I wanted to hang on my Christmas tree.
  • The best part was that every single element was edible, which it should be especially in a competition context. If you can’t eat it, don’t use it.
  • I wasn’t too keen on the “Citrus” font though just because it reminded me of an advertisement, but otherwise I was a fan of the overall look and flavour.

  • The whole “carton” was made out of sugar and then the bottom of the “carton” was layered with sponge cake so that the sorbet wouldn’t leak out.
  • The sorbet was so bright and citrusy with double citrus fruit flavour. The end had a bitterness which I really liked, but it could be acquired.

Superior Farm Lamb Rack and Smoked Loin with Thyme Jus

  • Culinary Team Canada
  • Wine pairing: 2005 Chateau St Jean Clement, Bordeaux Cru Burgeoise
  • The colour on that lamb tenderloin was incredible, but two white purées were unexpected.
  • The side was baby carrot, crispy green beans, a couple golden chanterelle mushrooms on a celeriac root puree.
  • The puree was quite sweet, creamy and smooth and I loved it. It was almost like a pommes puree and there was no bitterness in the end.
  • It wasn’t lamb 3 ways because they were all prepared sous vide, but they showcased 3 parts of the lamb.
  • The lamb rack was about a medium or medium rare and it was perfectly tender.
  • The tenderloin was also tender and almost like a filet mignon with well marbleized fat, but I couldn’t tell it was smoked.
  • The tenderloin seemed pre-seared before the sous vide process which is risky business since it can usually change the flavour of lamb, but in this case I thought it was fine.
  • I couldn’t necessarily taste all the aromatics of garlic, carrots and celery it was infused with, but I would be curious to know.

  • The last piece of lamb was the gamiest and strongest in flavour. My guess was either neck or cheek, but because it was sous vide it was hard to tell.
  • The last piece was actually lamb neck, but it was slightly mealy in texture like liver and it had that stronger flavour of liver too. I loved it, but the texture caught me off guard.
  • Sometimes sous vide meats turn mealy and according to Modernist Cuisine it’s because the water boils during the vacuum sealing process. I’m sure there could be other reasons, but there has to be a solution.
  • Lamb neck is cheap and usually for stews, so to make it taste $50 and serve it like this is hard to do.
  • Sous-vide is most efficient and guarantees a tenderness on a tough cut, but it changes the texture and I prefer a more traditional method for lamb neck like braising.
  • The lamb neck sat on a bed of creamy and buttery polenta. I think there was some melted cheese and then an infused cherry tomato on top, but I’m not sure what it was infused with and the flavour wasn’t as obvious.
  • The sauce tasted like a reduced caramel-like demi glace, but I couldn’t taste the thyme. I think I expected traditional rosemary since the lamb was so strong, but it was still a good sauce.

2005 Chateau St Jean Clement, Bordeaux Cru Burgeoise – This is funny because I’m not even a huge Bordeaux fan and it’s usually too strong for me, but I loved this one. This was my favourite one of the night followed by the Riesling. It was so velvety and smooth and the pairing with the lamb was incredible. The flavours just flowed into one another and the transition was seamless.A Trio of Artisan Cheese with Celery Salad and Apple Jelly

  • Tobias Macdonald, WAGS Global Chef Challenge Competitor & Alex Chen, Bocuse d’Or 2013 Candidate
  • Wine pairing: 2005 Chateau St Jean Clement, Bordeaux Cru Burgeoise
  • Tobias is from La Belle Auberge and I tried his WAGS Global Chef Award winning tasting menu last year which was amazing – see here.
  • Alex Chen is the Bocuse d’Or representative and I tried his dishes at Cafe 375 – see here.
  • Together the two culinary masters put together this cheese plate which was honestly very memorable for me as a cheese plate.
  • The thin shavings of celery, crispy raw Granny Smith apples, peppery arugula and bitter frisee just touched upon every taste bud I wanted to hit in a cheese plate.
  • There was also a tart vinaigrette which tasted nutty from perhaps hazelnut oil.
  • Kootenay Alpine Cheese Company – Nostrala, cave aged (Right)

  • Little Qualicum Cheeseworks – Brie, BC (Middle)
    • My favourite cheese was this one and I found it the best showcased.
    • It was topped with a mandarin gelee and the cheese itself was super soft and creamy and infused with what seemed like orange blossom essence.
    • I could taste little segments of mandarin in the gelee too.
    • It’s an award winning brie, and it was unique from other bries I’ve tried before.
  • Alexis de Pont Neuf – soft ripened cheese, Quebec (Left)
    • The round cheese “patty” was crusted with almonds and/or hazelnuts and it was nutty and crunchy and tasted like deep fried brie.
    • Although I did enjoy it, I kind of wish the nuts were crumbled like granola on the bottom, or even just on one side.
    • I understand the brie was likely entirely crusted to hold shape and not melt and look like a blob, but a few people ended up not eating it because they thought it was bread.
  • The apple jelly were the red dots and it tasted more like cranberry to me, but it was actually sour cherry. I didn’t really taste any apple though.
  • There were also some almond biscotti crisps on the side which was the “cracker” to the cheese.
  • It was a nice variety of Canadian cheeses which were executed very differently and creatively.

A Creation of Honeyberries

  • James Holehouse, Pastry Chef, Culinary Team Canada
  • Okay… James Holehouse… seriously, I am a fan. It’s not just because I have a sweet tooth either. First the Mandarin Kalamansi Sorbet and now this… I’m dying.
  • First off I love pistachios so when I saw the green I was already on board.
  • It was a very floral and intense vanilla bean gelato on a soft pistachio cake.
  • It wasn’t a sponge cake or a shortbread, although it may have been intended to be a shortbread that got a bit soggy and soft from the melting gelato.
  • The pistachio “shortbread” was great though and I could bite into little peices of pistachio nuts.
  • The round donut was filled with a berry cream or custard and I loved it.
  • It was not just a “custard filled Tim Bit”, but that custard really made it and it wasn’t too sweet, rich, or greasy.

  • The cake in the back I thought was some vanilla bean and citrus panna cotta, but it was almost like a layered meringue with a panna cotta covering.
  • Half the edge was crusted in pistachio nuts and something pink. It reminded me of peppercorns and I’m not sure why he didn’t go all the way around unless it was just the style.
  • The cake was crispy, moussey and well textured, and not too sweet and sugary.
  • It was almost like a pavlova, and I couldn’t taste that granular sugar texture which I don’t like.
  • The non-seasonal berries were a bit questionable, but in the context of colour, plating and context, it was fine.

Petit Fours

  • Fumiko Moreton, Pastry Chef, Culinary Team British Columbia
  • Fumiko… I am a fan. These were just the petit fours and she really exceeded expectations as the last and final course.

  • Hamburger Parisian Macarons – It was not just a novelty and it was actually good! I could taste chocolate hazelnut (Gianeuja) as the “patty”, green shredded coconut as the “lettuce” (I thought it was Pandan at first), marzipan (almond paste) as the “cheddar cheese”, and the toasted sesame seeds. They were nice, crispy, chewy, and moist and I could really taste all the layers.
  • Pate de Fruit – Passion Fruit – This is a standard petit fours and it was good for what it was, but I’ve never been too keen on them.

  • Peanut Butter Chocolate Bar – This was the favourite on the platter. It had that crispy feuilletine crust mixed with ganache which I love. It was layered with a creamy bitter sweet chocolate ganache, two piped strips of rich and smooth peanut butter, and then the crunch of a whole candied peanut on top. It kind of reminded me of this EBO Chocolate P Nut Butter Bar I tried at EBO Restaurant. It won’t be on the same fine dining standard, but Cactus Club does offer a very good Peanut Butter Crunch Bar too and it will give you some sort of idea of what this tasted like.