Written by Aviva Cohen
I arrived 15 minutes after doors opened because Liberty Village is a maze. At one point I crumbled into myself in the snow and cried. I wondered if I would die like Jack Torrance in The Shining sans axe.
Luckily, I found Mildred’s and my Liberty Village journey would be worth it as delicious h’orderves were promised. Oh, and I guess to see the cooking competition.
While standing with the large crowd, fighting for a good sight line of 5 home chefs chopping, sautéing, mashing, cutting and [insert cooking term you learned while watching The Food Network at 1 a.m. to impress your pals] — I overhead an older man say to his partner, “if you had told me 10 years ago that cooking would be a spectator sport, I would have said you were crazy.”
The evening was a replica of Iron Chef, including the secret ingredient of duck. The chefs had an hour to complete 4 dishes for the judges, which included:
Alida Solomon, head chef & proprietor of Tutti Matti Restaurant
Paul Brans, professional big wig chef at Oliver & Bonacini Restaurants
Saverio Marci, master chef of Cibo Wine Bar
The competitors that evening were Meghan Legere, Jill Chen, Gav Martell, Deborah Brewster and Ronn Reaman. Of the chefs taking part, Deborah seemed to have the largest and most enthusiastic cheering section, with friends and family making cut outs of her face and positive signage. I can only imagine the multitude of ways those face cut outs could be used down the road. Ronn Reaman was the only competitor who had a professional chef’s jacket on. I tried to Google him, but came up empty. It makes me wonder if there is a chef out there in Toronto missing their jacket right now. Hmm.
Each chef had their own prep station including a food pantry and cooking station. While chefs were busy prepping their veg (boring…I chop veggies at home too.. this is nothing new), I concentrated on filling my belly with h’orderves. I mean, I paid good money to be here! (Err, or the handy editors of FGFS asked me to spend my precious time covering this event) The trout that came dressed up on a tiny spoon, shot glasses filled with butternut squash soup, fancy bread, and poached pears. The h’orderves train (filled with real people with hopes and dream) had come to a full stop just as the competition did. But then, as if the heavenly gates had opened, the dessert came out. Ginger cookies, chocolate chip cookies, pancake balls (!!!) and other chocolate type confections endlessly flowed from the kitchen.
While I kept an eye on the competition, Ronn was attempting to bribe the judges with booze (Spoiler Alert, Ronn! It didn’t work. Paul Brans also reminded everyone that chefs don’t like ice in their alcohol.) It also seemed like everyone had the same idea, using similar ingredients except for Jill. She was making wraps (from scratch). I thought she was doing a play on a traditional Peking duck dish but in her finished product, the wraps were gigantic which I knew based on my advanced knowledge of watching cooking competitions on TV, that did not bode well for her chances.
Things heated up (good pun) when the chefs went to their cooking stations, using the open concept professional kitchen at Mildred’s. Both Deborah and Gav used mashed potatoes while Meghan had the best looking plate, making a pretty salad bowl with cucumbers. Each judge was given ten minutes to each and judge. Unfortunately, they deliberated in private and promptly announced the winner, which meant we were not privy to why one dish was better than the other. They did remind everyone that seasoning is a chef’s best friend. According to anything I’ve ever read by Anthony Bourdain it’s actually hard drugs.
I however, overheard the judge’s comment on Gav’s dish, which ended up being the winner. Congrats Gav! I overheard that his duck had been cooked perfectly but the grapes he used were a little weird.
I guess the secret to winning a cooking competition goes as follows:
• Are you Morimoto? A1) Are you sure? Did you check the mirror?
• If you are not Morimoto proceed to steps C through E
• Cook protein perfectly
• Season well
• Add some weird ingredient, which will make you seem like an eccentric so the judges will be scared of you and pronounce you the winner.