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Almost Famous Chef Competition and A Winner!

me and the winner,  Daniela Molettieri

This is the second year in a row that I was invited to attend the Canadian Regional San Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef competition held at the Calphalon Culinary Centre here in Toronto. Six young canadian chefs from all over the country went head to head to win a spot in the final competition in Napa Valley where they will compete , hoping to win the title of The Almost Famous Chef as well as a nice fat cheque.

The weather turned nasty late in the afternoon - aka, it actually behaved like a normal Toronto winter day and started to snow like crazy- so I had to leave my snow tireless car at home and hop on the bus. This made me arrive too late to taste all of the contestants dishes so I am not going to even offer up my opinions of them as it wouldn't be fair to judge something that I tasted cold and in a hurry. I will say that even stone cold, the winning dish of veal with wild mushrooms and a squash puree was delicious and it was the only plate that I finished.
The competitors were:

Cole Nicholson, The George Brown Chefs School (Toronto)

Charles Gignac, École hôtelière de la Capitale (Québec City)

Daniela Molettieri, Institut de tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Québec (Montréal)

DeAille (Yee Man) Tam, The George Brown Chefs School (Toronto)

Anne-Marie Plourde, École hôtelière de la Capitale (Québec City)

Hans Berg, The International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Vancouver

Instead, I  want to share two recipes with you - the winning recipe from Daniela Molettieri for her Filet of Veal Stuffed with Wild Mushrooms, served with Butternut Squash and Roasted Hazelnut Puree and Cole Nicholson's recipe for  Maple Juniper Venison Loin with Chocolate Infused Red Wine Jus, Leek and Potato Mash. 

First up is Daniela's recipe:

Filet of Veal Stuffed with Wild Mushrooms, served with Butternut Squash and Roasted Hazelnut Puree
Daniela Molettieri, Institut de tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Québec (Montréal)
Veal tenderloin is stuffed with flavourful mushrooms offering up a tender roast that is delicate enough to serve atop the sweet puree of butternut squash. Serve up a fresh mix of carrots, parsnips and beets for additional colour and vegetables for the dinner plate.
2 veal or pork tenderloins (about 2 lbs/1 kg)
1/2 cup (125 mL) butter
12 oz (375 g) fresh mixed fresh mushrooms, minced
4 shallots, minced 
1 tbsp (15 mL) chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp (1 mL) freshly ground black pepper
Pinch salt 
2 1/2 cups (625 mL) veal or beef stock
1 cup (250 mL) dried mushrooms (about 1 oz/30 g)
Butternut Squash and Roasted Hazelnut Puree:
1 1/2 lbs (750 g) peeled and cubed butternut squash
1/2 cup (125 mL) butter, cubed
Pinch each salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup (75 mL) chopped toasted hazelnuts
Butternut Squash Puree: Bring squash to boil in salted water for about 20 minutes or until very soft. Drain well and return to pot. Using potato masher, mash well with butter, salt and pepper. Stir in hazelnuts. Set aside and keep warm.
In large skillet, melt 1/4 cup (60 mL) of the butter over medium high heat; cook mushrooms, shallots, thyme and garlic, stirring occasionally for about 15 minutes or until liquid has evaporated. Set aside and let cool.
Using a chef’s knife, make an incision in centre of tenderloin across the middle not cutting through to the other side. Cut along each side to open up a bit more. Stuff centres with mushroom mixture and close back up. Tie tenderloins with butcher’s twine in about 2 inch (5 cm) intervals and place seam side down on parchment paper lined baking sheet; sprinkle with half of the pepper and salt. Roast in 350 F (180 C) oven for about 45 minutes or until meat thermometer reaches 150 F (65 C) for medium rare. Let rest for at least 5 minutes before slicing.
Meanwhile, in saucepan combine dried mushrooms and stock and bring to a simmer. Let simmer for 10 minutes. Drain through fine mesh sieve and return stock to saucepan. Whisk in remaining butter and pepper.
Spread squash in centre of plate and place veal slices alongside. Spoon sauce along meat to serve.
Makes 8 servings.
Tip: To toast hazelnuts, place in baking pan in 350 F (180 C) oven for about 8 minutes or until golden and fragrant.
Tip: You can serve the rehydrated mushrooms alongside the veal and sauce if desired.

Toronto Contestant Cole Nicholson anxiously awaiting the results

I was fortunate enough to have a chance to ask our Toronto contestant, Cole Nicholson, a few questions before the competition. He is a young chef at George Brown Chef School here in Toronto and he commutes to school every day from his family's home in Milton.

1. I assume that your training is preparing you for a career in fine dining but you are also a student going to school in downtown Toronto. With that in mind, what is your favourite food to grab for lunch near the school?
Most of the time I end up eating Shawarma or a Gyro or something like that.  There are a lot of great places like that near the school and at the St. Lawrence Market.  I’m constantly hungry and can never stop eating but food like that really fills me up and it’s pretty inexpensive.
2. Many of my chef friends don't cook at home very much. Do you find yourself not wanting to cook for yourself after cooking day after day at school and what is your "go to" meal when you do cook for yourself at home?
I don’t really mind cooking for myself, I find it kind of relaxing, some days I just want something quick and simple.  I really like cooking pasta and there are so many ways of cooking it you can never get bored of it.
3. Toronto is one of the most vibrant food cities in Canada, if not the world. There are so many cultures represented and so many fabulous, authentic restaurants serving great food from other countries. Have you discovered a favourite ethnic cuisine since living here? 
I don’t live in Toronto, I commute from Milton every day, so I don’t really get a chance to eat out that much in Toronto.  However I recently had Dim Sum for the first time in Toronto and it was great.  I like exploring Chinatown, it’s a completely different world with foods that I have never seen or heard of, but you can still look south and see the CN tower and know you’re in Toronto, it’s pretty unique.
4. If you could open a restaurant tomorrow, what would it be called and what kind of food would make?
I know I will open my own restaurant one day but I have no idea as to what I want to do with it right now.  I don’t feel that I know enough or have enough experience yet to even consider it.  I will only open a restaurant when I have absolute certainty that I know what I am doing and it will be a success.
5. You were going to study to be a pharmacist so clearly you understand chemistry etc. Do you have any interest in the whole scientific approach to cooking, a la Heston Blumenthal? Do you think there is a point where cooking becomes too much about new gimmicks or is that the future of food? Basically, are you more excited about molecular gastronomy  or are you more about braising and butter and duck fat and more classic approaches to cooking food?
I have a lot of interest in the scientific aspect of food.  Heston Blumenthal is one of my chef heroes, I really like what Heston Blumenthal does in terms of his approach to cooking and science.  One of my favourite shows is In Search of Perfection, in the beginning of every episode he says that he disagrees with the term molecular gastronomy instead he likes to think of it as “good old fashioned cookery with a bit of science thrown in for good measure.”  I respect him because all of his dishes are classically based and he uses science to develop those dishes and evolve them, there is nothing there that doesn’t have a reason.  I don’t like when people do molecular gastronomy for the sake of doing molecular gastronomy.  I’m excited for cooking with science when it’s done properly and the original dish is still visible.
6. Are you a Kensington Market guy or a St Lawrence Market guy?
I’m a St. Lawrence Market guy.  My favourite place to shop for ingredients in Toronto is the St. Lawrence market.  It is on my way from George Brown to Union Station and I can stop in there and quickly get some good stuff to make dinner with.

Here is Cole's recipe:

Maple Juniper Venison Loin with Chocolate Infused Red Wine Jus, Leek and Potato Mash
Cole Nicholson, The George Brown Chefs School (Toronto)
Creamy leek mashed potatoes are the base for the slightly sweet maple flavoured venison. The taste is enhanced by the true chocolate flavour that sings in the red wine jus. A few Brussel sprouts with carrots would beautifully finish this earthy dish.
1/3 cup (75 mL) pure maple syrup
3 tbsp (45 mL) juniper berries
2 tbsp (30 mL) chopped fresh thyme leaves
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 venison loin or beef tenderloin (about 2 lbs/1 kg)
Pinch each salt and freshly ground black pepper
Chocolate Infused Red Wine Jus:
1/3 cup (75 mL) butter
1 carrot, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 leek, white and light green part, thinly sliced
2 bay leaves
3/4 cup (175 mL) Meritage wine
2 cups (500 mL) beef stock
3 oz (90 g) 90% dark bittersweet chocolate
1 tbsp (15 mL) red wine vinegar
Leek and Potato Puree:
1/2 cup (125 mL) butter 
1 leek, white and light green part, thinly sliced
1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped fresh parsley
1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt 
1 1/4 lb (625 g) Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 tsp (10 mL) chopped fresh thyme leaves 
1/2 cup (125 mL) 35% whipping cream, heated
Leek and Potato Puree: In nonstick skillet heat 1 tbsp (15 mL) of the butter over medium heat and cook leeks for about 10 minutes or until soft and golden. Stir in parsley and salt; set aside.
Bring potatoes and thyme to boil in large pot of salted water for about 20 minutes or until tender. Drain well and mash until smooth. Add cream and remaining butter and stir until smooth and creamy. Add leek and parsley mixture into potatoes and stir to combine well. Set aside and keep warm.
In large shallow dish, combine maple syrup, juniper berries, thyme and garlic. Add loin and turn to coat evenly and let marinate for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Place loin on rack in roasting pan and roast in 450 F (230 C) oven for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 275 F (140 C) and roast for about 1 hour or until meat thermometer reaches 145 F (63 C) for medium rare. Let stand for about 5 minutes before slicing. Slice into 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick slices.
Chocolate Infused Red Wine Jus: In saucepan melt 2 tbsp (30 mL) of the butter over medium high heat and sauté carrot, onion, leek and bay leaves, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes or until softened and browned. Add wine and simmer for about 5 minutes or until reduced by about half. Add beef stock and bring to a simmer for 10 minutes. Strain sauce through fine mesh sieve into clean saucepan. Whisk in chocolate and remaining butter until melted and smooth. Stir in red wine vinegar. 
Place potatoes in line down center of plate and set venison slices along side of potatoes. Spoon sauce around meat on the plate to serve.
Makes 8 servings.
Tip: For a crunchy seared venison, rub loin with maple sugar (available in fine food stores) and sear the loin in a hot skillet before roasting in 275 F (140 C) oven.
Tip: For a smoky addition to your potatoes, add a splash of liquid smoke when stirring together.

We have a winner of our gift certificate for a $150 gift certificate and it's Divy!
I used a random generator from to get a winner and the darned thing wouldn't come up with me as a winner - go figure. Congratulations Divy!

 Thanks Eden Spodek for inviting me to another fun event and to San Pellegrino and Almost Famous Chef for the generous gift.

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