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Almost Famous Chef

I am a lucky girl. My friend Jen, at Piccante Dolce and one of my two partners in crime in my year long challenge to never repeat a recipe for a year, no reEATS gets invited to some pretty cool food events and she has arranged for me to be invited to tag along a couple of times.

Last night we attended the regional finals for the 9th Annual Almost Famous Chef competition at the Calphalon Culinary Centre. 8 students from four participating culinary schools across the country were given two hours to create a unique signature dish. The judges were a collection of chefs, food journalist and a blogger, David Ort from Food with Legs, who won  his spot on the judges table.

 We had barely got in the door when Eden Spodek, the lovely woman who invited us to this event, introduced herself and asked if we would like to go upstairs and have a poke around the kitchen where the competitors were just finishing up their dishes.

The kitchen upstairs is so fabulous. Of course there are rows up rows of Calphalon cookware hanging along the back wall, miles of stainless steel and knives flying and sweaty brown furrowing over their tasks. It was pretty exiting to watch all of these talented young chefs at work. We were greeted by Matt Heres who showed us around a bit and encouraged us to get right in there, take pictures and have a good look. We spent at least ten minutes in there but when Matt called out "okay, you have six minutes" I got all panicky like I was in kitchen stadium and grabbed Jen so we could leave these guys to their work.

We want back downstairs where the competitors were presenting their creations to the panel of judges one by one. The judges all  had a plate in front of them and as they sampled the food, they would ask questions of the chefs and I was impressed by how poised and articulate they all were when describing their dishes, their food philosophy and justifying their choices.

After they would finish, another group of Calphalon kitchen staff would start plating up what we first thought were direct samples of each dish but we soon realized that the kitchen was attempting to recreated the dishes that the young chefs were presenting and I think, in many cases, what we were tasting didn't really taste much like what the chefs were making. All the dishes except for one had at least one, cloyingly sweet element to them, almost no salt or pepper or much seasoning at all. That was really odd. One dish was covered in a really sweet onion jam like compote that was supposed to be caramelized onion and it completely ruined a perfectly cooked piece of meat ( i think it was bison but I forgot to note that dish down - doh). Every dish but one served some sort of beet, which was interesting to see and there was a good selection of protein choices - rabbit, duck, bison, veal, lobster, scallop, piglet belly. One dish that we both agreed was probably really fabulous was the duck breast with chestnut bread pudding by Christine Amanatidis (i believe she was from Vancouver). The bread pudding in our version was really eggy, almost like a breakfast strata but hers looked quite different and I was dying to steal her plate off the judging table so we could eat that one but I didn't want to get us kicked out. I want Jen to continue to invite me to these shin digs after all.

The big winner of the night was Jean-François Daigle and he will be going to Napa Valley to compete in the big competition in the spring!

There was some tasty champagne, wine, lots of San Pellegrino products seeing as they are the sponsors, a really nice array of cheeses and, of course, all of the small plates representing each contestant's dishes. By the end of the night, we were both stuffed and very happy.

The Calphalon Culinary Centre is pretty fabulous and it offers all sorts of cooking classes, which I am thinking about checking out so if you are in the King and Spadina area, check it out.

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