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Danny Smiles, The S Pellegrino Cooking Cup, Cornbread with Shrimp and a Giveaway

Want to hear something crazy?

There is an annual cooking contest held in Venice for the last 14 years called The S Pellegrino Cooking Cup. This year it is happening June 13 and 14 and for the very first time, Canada is entering a chef and that chef is Danny Smiles. You might remember Danny Smiles from Season Three of Top Chef Canada where he made it all the way to the finale, ultimating coming in second place on the show but first place in the hearts of the fans. He isn't called Danny Smiles for nothing.

Well, that kid from Top Chef is now the chef de cuisine at Le Bremner, sister restaurant to Chuck Hughes' Garde Manger in Montreal.

The event is a collaboration with the historic Venetian Yacht Club or Compagnia della Vela and it is crazy. Basically it's a cooking competition that occurs during a regatta, celebrating two things that Italians are passionate about: sailing and fine dining. Can you imagine the F1 version?

The ten chefs who are competing will make a signature dish for the guests and the judges the first evening where there will be a critics choice awards as well as the award given by the actual judges but the fun really starts the next day. That's when each chef goes down into the galley of a sailboat and prepares a dish while the actual sailboat competes in the race. The crown of San Pellegrino Young Chef of the Year will be given at the final gala on the evening of the 14th and that winner is selected by combining the scores from the regatta with those of the Signature Dish portion.

Last year there were competitors from countries where S Pellegrino is sold, like Australia, Austria, China, The UAE, Israel, Belgium, The Netherlands, Russia, the USA and, of course, Italy. This year, represented by Danny Smiles, will be Canada's maiden voyage (pun intended).

If you want to follow the action on twitter and instagram, follow the hashtag #SPCookingCup

So, I had an opportunity to ask Danny some questions about this crazy undertaking and wondered if he thought being on Top Chef Canada would make him more confident and equipped to do something as crazy as try to cook in a racing sailboat. He said that he did think that competing in Top Chef might give him a bit more confidence but that he sees the S Pellegrino Cooking Cup as a much harder challenge with so much talent from around the world competing.

When asked how one would train for such a thing he responded

"I’m training on executing my dish as fast as possible. I know it will take longer in a moving kitchen. I’m trying to bang it out as fast as possible and find the best short cuts so I simplify my life when I get in the galley."
One look at the menu at Le Bremner and it's clear that Mr Smiles knows his way around creatures of the sea while on land so I asked him if he also knew his way around a boat? Was he as comfy ON the sea as he was cooking things that come FROM it and he said

"I'm pretty comfortable. I was only seasick once, but I should be fine"

Get yourself some of those sea bands, eat a good breakfast and godspeed Danny Smiles.

photo: Dominique Lafond

Hey Chef
with Danny Smiles
1 Is there something you hated as a kid that you now love to eat?
I wasn’t a picky kid—I ate everything.
2 If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing?
I’ve always played music so I’d probably be a musician.
3 If you had to get rid of one thing on your menu, what would it be?
I created the menu and I love everything on it—it’s like asking me which one of my children I don’t want.
4 If you could only use one animal from now on in your cooking, which animal would it be?
5 Chinatown or India town?
6 pasta or ramen?
7 dim sum or eggs benny?
Dim sum
8 Name a city that you have not been to that you would like to visit and eat in?
Seoul, Korea
9 Least favourite food trend in the last ten years?
Square plates
10 What food/dish/technique that is no longer in fashion that you would love to resurrect?
11 What do you eat for breakfast?
3 hard-boiled eggs, an orange, a glass of almond milk and a double espresso
12 What non food thing inspires your cooking?
13 What four ingredients will always be in your kitchen?
Za’atar, olive oil, salt, chilis
14 What is your death row meal? 
A hot piece of fresh bread and butter
15 In a fire you are allowed to rescue one thing from your home kitchen. What would it be?
My knives
16 What did you have for dinner last night?
Korean food
17 Where am I most likely to find you eating on your day off?
Maison Publique
18 If you couldn’t head your own kitchen, who would you want to work for?
Daniel Boulud
19 Where would I most likely find you food shopping - Kensington Market Jean Talon or Whole Foods?
Jean Talon
20 If you were offered a million dollar contract to design and promote a McMugget dipping sauce for McDonalds, would you do it?
Questions Exclusive to you
How on earth do you train in preparation for cooking a meal on a fast moving racing boat?  
I’m training on executing my dish as fast as possible. I know it will take longer in a moving kitchen. I’m trying to bang it out as fast as possible and find the best short cuts so I simplify my life when I get in the galley.
Do you think your time spent on Top Chef Canada has made you more confident dealing with crazy situations that are thrown at you without warning?
Yes, definitely
Do you think that you are more able to take on this crazy challenge than you would have been if you had not participated in Top Chef? 
Top Chef definitely helps, but the S. Pellegrino Cooking Cup is a lot harder. There will be a lot of talent attending, with chefs from around the world. It’s a tough competition.
You worked under Chuck Hughes at Le Bremner so we are already aware that you know your way around creatures of the sea but do you know your way around a boat? Are you already comfortable ON the sea?
I’m pretty comfortable. I was only seasick once, but I should be fine.

Now, for the giveaway:

enter to win this great gift basket full of Italian treats, courtesy of S Pellegrino
*contest is open to Canadian residents only

- Martelli Egg noodle pasta
- Garofalo Spaghetti
- Martelli Almond Biscotti
- Martelli Arborio Rice
- Garofalo Bread Sticks
- Garofalo Mafalda Corta Pasta
- Dried Figs
- Martelli Black Olive Pate
- S. Pellegrino Sparkling Water 
- S. Pellegrino Sparkling Fruit Beverage 

Danny Smiles gave me a recipe to use as an example of simple dish you could whip up, say, in the galley of a sailboat that happens to be racing around in Venice. I was going to make this while wearing roller blades to approximate the whole boat out on the water speeding around but Shack wouldn't let me. I can be a bit of a clutz with a knife so I understand his stress. Instead I just got really drunk first.
Just kidding.
Kind of.

Since this is a restaurant recipe it was not really the easiest to follow for a home cook. It said things like "pour the batter into the hot molds". Hmmmm, what kind of molds? What size? How do the molds find themselves to be hot? Hot like Beyonce? 

I made a few changes (for example, leeks were $5 and I only needed a tiny bit so I subbed in some scallion), took a few liberties and made it my own but it was well received and the cornbread was like a butter sponge  - delicious. 

Bremner Cornbread with Shrimp

serves 6


¾ Cup Unsalted Butter
1 ½ Cup Sugar
½ Liter (2 Cups) Of Milk
½ Liter (2 Cups) Of Cornmeal
4 Eggs
¾ Tsp Baking Soda
1 Dash Of Kosher Salt
few sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only

10 0Z Of Florida Rock Shrimp or about 1 lb of 22 count shrimp, shelled, cleaned, deveined
1Oz Cooking Brandy
50G fennel
50G scallion
1/4 tsp chili flake (or to taste)
2 cloves finely chopped garlic
2Tbsp Butter
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions For Cornbread

Preheat oven to 375F 
Place a 12 cup muffin tin in the oven so it can get hot.

In A Sauce pot, Bring To A Boil Butter Sugar And Milk

Once Brought To A Boil, Bring Down To A Low Simmer And Add The Cornmeal And Cook Lightly Until A Thick Consistency. 

In A Separate Bowl Whisk Together Eggs, thyme And Baking Soda.

Once The Cornmeal Mixture Is Thick Add To The Eggs And Continue Mixing. 

Remove muffin tins from the oven and spray with spray oil or oil them
Once Fully Incorporated Pour Into Hot Molds muffin tins And Bake In Oven At 375F For Approx. 20 Min. or until a toothpick comes out clean
makes 12 muffins

Directions For Rock Shrimp

In A Hot Cast Iron Skillet, Sauté Celery, Leeks And Garlic For 2 Min. Add the shrimp and cook for another couple of minutes, until just cooked. Then Deglaze With Cooking Brandy, Once Deglazed “ Montee Au Beurre” Throw In Butter Until Smooth Sauce Consistency Then Season With Salt, Pepper. Pour Over Cornbread And Serve.

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