Chef Tobias MacDonald Competes in the 2012 World Association of Chefs Societies Global Chefs Challenge!
Follow Me Foodie to Chef Tobias MacDonald’s Global Chef’s Menu at La Belle Auberge.
It’s the 35th World Association of Chefs Societies (WACS) in Daejeon, Korea and Chef Tobias MacDonald from La Belle Auberge is the representative for the Americas. After competing against chefs from all over continental America, he has earned his spot in the Global Chef’s Challenge at WACS. It’s incredibly exciting to have a chef from Vancouver representing such a large demographic. The Global Chef’s Challenge consists of 7 chefs representing Asia (Hong Kong), Americas (Chef Tobias from Vancouver, Canada), Pacific (Auckland, New Zealand), Central Europe (Budapest, Hungary), Africa (Abu Dhabi, USE), Southern Europe (Ljubljana, Solvenia), and Northern Europe (London, UK).
I was honoured to be invited to attend Chef Tobias’ final practice run for his Global Chef’s Menu at La Belle Auberge. For those of you who are unfamiliar with La Belle Auberge, it’s pretty much one of the best kept secrets in Metro Vancouver’s restaurant scene. It’s the top rated Zagat Restaurant in Metro Vancouver and one of four Mobil Exxon 4-stars in Vancouver too. It is located in a heritage house in Ladner, BC (small suburb of Metro Vancouver), which makes it that much more of a hidden gem and unique experience when you visit.
La Belle Auberge houses “The Godfather” of Vancouver chefs, Chef Bruno Marti.
Not only has he trained many of the most talented chefs in Vancouver, but he continues to mentor and coach those competing. As well as being active in the culinary industry he is just as hands on at his own 4 diamond star restaurant. Regular diners would attest to that.
Sorry! I played a little Wilson from Home Improvement on you, but there he is! It was hard to get a photo in the middle of all the action. Chef Marti is a well respected local legend and overall supporter in Canada’s culinary scene. His lifetime achievements are well recognized amongst the industry.
I actually tried Chef Tobias’ award winning Gold Global Chef’s Menu last year (see here), and that was the menu that won him the spot to compete in Korea this year. His new Global Chef’s Menu is inspired by the same menu, but there are several changes and new additions. In this Global Chefs’ Challenge, the 7 chefs are required to use specific ingredients for the 4 courses they are to prepare in a five and a half hour time period. Currently Tobias has 10 minutes to spare. While time is not an issue, there were other things for Tobias to worry about, although you would never guess due to his down to earth and relaxed mentality.
Being that this was the Global Chef’s Menu, it almost goes without saying that the level of food delivered was competition style. On the other hand, there are many different styles that go under “competition style” and this one was very representative of Chef Tobias’. He is classically trained in French cuisine and with Chef Marti’s guidance, many of the dishes often pay tribute to traditional French ways. On occasion I could see Tobias’ own Pacific Northwest style come into play with the use of Asian flavours and ingredients, but for the most part it is still French. The Global Chef’s Menu was a little more Asian influenced than what the regular menu at La Belle Auberge would offer, but generally the the flavours are honest and subtle, the presentation clean, and the techniques near flawless.
With this particular menu each plate had several components, but each one tasted unassumingly simple, although not ordinary or every day. For me I’m always most impressed with the technique Tobias brings to the table and I wish him the best of luck competing in Korea. Being chosen as the one chef to represent the Americas is already quite the achievement and anything else he brings home will be considered a bonus.
A bittersweet ending to this is that Chef Tobias will be leaving La Belle Auberge after this competition. He will be moving on to teach our future chefs at Vancouver Community College. His replacement is the talented Chef Jen Peters from Raincity Grill, so I’m excited to see what she has planned. Jen actually apprenticed under Chef Marti, so in a way she’s just going back to her roots.
**Update May 8, 2012: Chef Tobias placed third at the Global Chef’s Challenge after United Arab Emeritus took Silver and Norway took Gold.
On the table:
- I always appreciate attention to the basics. The bread here is made especially for La Belle Auberge by a bakery in Burnaby, BC.
- It’s not the traditional baguette you would expect at a French restaurant.
- It was served warm and has a thin and crusty exterior, but it wasn’t chewy and just ultra soft and fluffy in the middle.
- It seemed more like a white bread than a baguette, but it was good.
- King oyster, shitake and hedgehog mushrooms in a green curry cream, cucumber, scallions, garlic chips, peanuts and lime. Chimichurri with spring salad, yuzu basil seed vinaigrette.
- The only requirement for the first course was that it had to be vegetarian.
- This is actually one of my favourite courses here and I’ve had it every time I’ve dined here.
- It was available on his temporary menu which is where I ordered it from last time – see here.
- From the first time I tried it there has been some alterations, but the spring roll was more or less the same. The side was different.
- It was a modern interpretation of the fresh Vietnamese style spring rolls and the mushrooms were sauteed in a light curry sauce made with coconut milk.
- Personally I preferred his chicken version and pork belly version of this spring roll, and not because I’m a carnivore.
- I liked the meat versions because the mushrooms were naturally slippery as was the wrapper, so I just like textural contrast.
- On the other hand the toppings made up for the desired texture and I really thought they made the roll.
- The spring roll is full of flavour and each bite was a surprise since there isn’t much of each topping.
- Whether it was a juicy burst of fresh lime segments or nutty crunch of garlic chips or peanuts, the toppings just made for an overall aromatic experience.
- The presentation was beautiful and it was very reminiscent of Thai flavours.
- I think some fresh pineapples or even green papaya would have been an interesting addition to the mushrooms, but really this is a delightful dish.
- It was served with Chimichurri spring salad with yuzu basil seed vinaigrette.
- It was a very delicate, light and fresh salad, but the herb flavours were strong and there was a mild spice in the Chimichurri sauce.
- There were shavings of beet and celery, arugula laves, a pickled artichoke heart and beech mushrooms.
- The vegetables didn’t seem very pickled and they all seemed rather natural in flavour.
- The celery shavings caught me off guard because I usually expect cucumber for more flavour, but the celery ended up working because of the Chimichurri sauce which was strong.
- The Chimichurri sauce was the green strip you see on the plate. I almost wanted more of it and although there wasn’t much, it was packed with flavour.
- It was strong with garlic, parsley and basil with some Japanese shichimi chili pepper seasoning for spice and it really kept a vibrant green colour.
- It was also slightly creamy, but not from any cream and the texture was almost that of green pea puree.
- The basil seeds were new to me and they almost looked like caviar or kiwi seeds. They were effortlessly intriguing.
- I’ve never had a basil seed before and it’s supposed to taste a bit licorice-like, but these ones were marinated in a citrus yuzu vinaigrette with flavours of lime.
- They were a bit slimy and when they popped they were tangy. I thought they were seeds of some exotic fruit.
- It didn’t have much flavour or sweetness, but it looked nice on the plate and brought some texture and uniqueness.
- Scalibut with spinach mousse, coconut mayonnaise, carrot and wasabi pea puree, pickled carrots, heart of palm, and squid ink puffs.
- Whoa! Reading the description I totally did not pick up on the coconut mayonnaise, but now I want to try making that at home!
- The requirement for the second course was that it had to have halibut.
- In terms of presentation, it was beautiful. It was clean, colourful and almost everything was recognizable.
- The lobster crusted halibut wasn’t crusted with a traditional crust, but the “crust” was just the lobster meat wrapped around the halibut.
- The halibut was fantastic and the whole thing just melted in my mouth. Honestly, it made every other halibut I’ve tried almost seem dry.
- The fish was juicy, flakey, and very natural in flavour but not bland. I wouldn’t say it was under seasoned, but just tasted salt cured.
- The lobster gave a nice crunch next to the halibut and it was definitely an upgrade from an expected chopped prawn wrapping.
- The only thing was that the skin on the lobster was a bit stringy, but the meat itself was fine.
- It sat on a creamy rich red Thai curry bechamel like sauce (I think this was the coconut mayo part) and there was some lemongrass in it as well.
- I could have used more of that curry sauce, but the halibut was good without it.
- For presentations sake I think they limited the sauce so it wouldn’t run on the plate.
- The other components on the plate included the lobster balls, squid ink puffs, carrot and wasabi pea puree, pickled carrots and heart of palm.
- The lobster balls are available in his lobster bisque at the restaurant and they’re one of my favourite things.
- They’re sous vide so they keep quite moist and they’re very tender and soft. This one wasn’t as juicy as the ones I’ve had in the past, but it was still moist.
- It’s executed in one piece so it’s not a pureed lobster meatball.
- The meat is very loose and it almost seems like a curl of lobster meat yet it still had that lobster crunch.
- The flavour of the lobster meatball was again very natural and it certainly wasn’t chewy. The flavour isn’t surprising, but how he made it is a wonder.
- I’ve also tried it once from Chef Hamid Salimian who used to be at The Apron – see his Atlantic Lobster Globe. (Both chefs are friends and have competed together in culinary competitions).
- The squid ink puffs were actually shrimp crackers died with squid ink so they tasted like shrimp meets seaweed.
- Unlike the Chinese prawn crackers, these ones were paper thin and crisp rather than crunchy.
- The pickled carrots tasted pickled with limes or lemon rather than the expected vinegar and they were more bright with acidity than sour. They also had a natural sweetness or there was maybe even a bit of added sugar.
- The Scalibut with spinach mousse was the square piece with the light green squiggly design on top.
- It was a puree of scallop and halibut and the texture was very soft and silky.
- It wasn’t a fluffy mousse, but almost like egg white or tofu, but with the flavour of scallops.
- The green design on top solidified a bit so I could almost peel the design off as if it were icing.
- The sauce was made of spinach and the flavour was really mild so I couldn’t even put my taste buds on what else was in there.
- I ended up eating each component separately because I wasn’t sure how it was really meant to be enjoyed and which sauces went with what.
- There wasn’t an overload of flavours, and everything was quite natural, but the halibut was really the highlight, simple due to the fact that I’ve never had it that moist before.
- Beef brisket with sweetbreads and sirloin wrapped in bacon, beef sirloin with olive crust & seared foie gras on pomme au gratin and natural jus with cabbage puree. Served with yam with dried brisket, fiddleheads, golden beet & salsify.
- Since this was a practice run it was just regular beef, but in the competition he will be required to use New Zealand Wagyu Beef. As soon as I heard “Wagyu” – it made me think of this article.
- I won’t deny that I’m a fan of foie, and the best foie I’ve had to date is here at La Belle Auberge – see Seared Foie Gras with Apple Tart Tatin.
- I appreciate the typical pâtés and the creative uses with foie – see aerated puffed foie gras, foie gras cotton candy, and foie gras marshmallows, but when all is said and experimented with, I will stand by that nothing beats simply pan seared.
- The foie gras was seared on both sides, although a bit uneven. One side was significantly darker, maybe a tad burnt, but it didn’t taste burnt.
- I usually like something sweet and tangy with my foie to cut the richness of it and in this case it was the purple cabbage puree.
- The purple cabbage puree was solely intended to keep the natural jus and red wine reduction in place, but I actually found it did more than that.
- The puree helped contrast all the savoury things on the plate and it was just nice to have something sweet and so pickled.
- The puree was very thick and creamy and it almost coated the roof of my mouth like a paste.
- It was simply pickled cabbage puree (Eastern European style) with some apple cider vinegar and sugar, but it was very potent and the flavour lasted beyond its description.
- The beef sirloin with olive crust wasn’t necessarily tender, but Tobias won’t be using ordinary beef in the real competition.
- The olive crust was new and it was much more exciting than a dry rub, and the concept I loved.
- The crust was made from a combination of onion ash dyed with squid ink and olives, so it was nutty, salty and aromatic.
- It was surprisingly not burnt or very bitter since the olive flavour was stronger, and I wouldn’t have guessed onions or squid ink because it didn’t really taste like either.
- The beef brisket with sweetbreads and sirloin wrapped in bacon was actually one of my favourite parts after the foie gras.
- It was a very substantial and meaty bite. However there was a lot going on and all the proteins were almost fighting for the spotlight.
- I don’t know how he executed it because they all cook at different times and three pieces of meat in one roulade like component would certainly be a challenge.
- This component was definitely the most flavourful and it almost seemed out of place because it tasted Asian, but I liked it.
- The brisket was all shredded and marinated in soy sauce and Asian seasonings and it was stuffed with sweetbreads and rare sirloin.
- The piece of bacon wrapped around it was paper thin and almost undetectable except by flavour which was obvious.
- The sweetbread was quite dense and a bit overcooked rather than being pillowy and creamy so I’m not sure if I would have even guessed it was sweetbread.
- The layer of pomme au gratin underneath the meats was the part of the dish that no one would complain about… except for those on a diet. For them it would be a guilty indulgence.
- It brought new meaning to “scalloped potatoes”. It was a thin layer and they were incredibly rich and indulgent.
- The pomme au gratin was made with heavy cream, butter and Gruyère.
- Although simple, they were just intensely infused with butter and cheese flavour and the top was crispy from the Gruyère.
- The potatoes were almost melting into a sauce and they were salty enough to be addicting, but not salty enough to be too salty.
- The other vegetables were a yam with dried brisket, fiddleheads, golden beet & salsify which were pretty much as is.
- Strawberries, vanilla pastry cream, lemon curd and almond cake. Strawberry gelée with green almonds and white chocolate gianduja and strawberry cheescake ice cream with caramelized white chocolate and cocoa nib.
- The requirement for the final course was that it had to use Korean strawberries. In this case, Tobias had to practice with California strawberries (local ones weren’t ready).
- Being that Tobias isn’t a pastry chef, he ended up getting consultation from Vancouver’s top Pastry Chef Thomas Haas for this dessert. Some ideas were used and some weren’t.
- This almost seemed like 3 separate desserts and although the one in the centre was visually the focus, it wasn’t necessarily so in terms of flavour.
- The white chocolate gianduja and strawberry cheescake ice cream with caramelized white chocolate and cocoa nib had the most flavours going on and it was the richest component to this plate.
- It was really cheesy in flavour so a marscapone cheese might have been better than a cream cheese. I found the cheese flavour overpowered the strawberry a bit.
- As a strawberry cheesecake ice cream it was fantastic and I’m not even a huge fan of cheesecake, but it tasted like what it was.
- The crumble at the bottom kept the ice cream in place as well as adding texture.
- It was almost like a graham cracker crust to a cheesecake so it really seemed like a dessert in itself separate from everything else.
- The component in the centre is Tobias’ biggest challenge and what he’s most worried about.
- The white chocolate shell was almost like an Easter egg or a grown up “Kinder Surprise”, but served as a formal plated dessert.
- It’s really challenging to get the chocolate shell thin and even all around.
- The white chocolate shell with gold leaf was filled with perfectly minced strawberries, vanilla pastry cream, lemon curd and almond cake.
- The almond cake was just a piece of cake at the bottom and it stopped all the liquids from oozing out onto the plate. I was actually surprised it didn’t get soggy.
- I would have loved more of this cake because I found the strawberry lemon and cream to be quite liquidy and it just melted into each other.
- I was hoping for a bit more texture or distinction between all the creamy textures, and the lemon curd just got a bit lost.
- The concept and presentation I found exciting, but the filling didn’t come together as well as I had hoped and it was just really saucy.
- The strawberry gelée with green almonds and white chocolate gianduja was the smallest and most unassuming component of the three.
- I was probably most excited for this one just because it had green almonds which are highly prized since they’re only available for such a short period of time.
- This one didn’t necessarily taste the best, but it was my favourite because it was different.
- Green almonds are almost like fruits and they taste like aloe vera jelly, but a bit juicier. They’re slightly sweet and honestly mistakable for aloe vera.
- Th green almonds were floating inside a strawberry jello and the white chocolate gianduja was the sweeter component to this.
- Gianduja is a chocolate made with 30% hazelnut paste, but this one was made with I think almonds which was a first for me. Since it was made with almonds I don’t think it would constitute as Gianduja anymore, but I’m not 100% sure on that one.
- The chocolate was quite grainy and sweet more so than nutty, so I wouldn’t have minded some more almond extract or flavour.
- This was the fourth dessert component or the end of the meal palate cleanser.
- La Belle Auberge is pretty notorious for this “after chocolate mint”, but it’s not minty.
- You pop the whole chocolate in your mouth and when you break the shell you get an explosion of sweet and tangy kalamansi juice.
- Kalamansi is a Filipino orange that tastes like a lime so there’s a good sour and sweet balance with the white chocolate being quite sweet.
- It’s not a truffle and it’s not creamy and it left a lasting impression to what was already an unforgettable meal.