Tag Archives: bison

A glimpse of Canada’s young talent at the Almost Famous Chef Competition

17 Feb

Almost Famous Chef Competition Dishes

For the past nine years, the S.Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition has given talented culinary school students from across North America the chance to show off their talents. The annual competition is composed of 10 regional contests and a finals competition.

Jenny and I were lucky enough to be invited as media to check out the Canadian regional competition in Toronto last week. Eight students from the George Brown College Chef School, The International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Vancouver, École hôtelière de la Capitale in Québec City and Montreal’s Institut de tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Québec were asked to create their ‘signature’ dish for a panel of judges including restaurant chefs, food writers and blogger David Ort of Food with Legs.

Chefs Working in Kitchen
Almost Famous Chef contestants working in the kitchen

Each competing chef was free to incorporate any ingredients and cooking techniques into their dish, and it was amazing to see what was created, and to hear the students talk to the judges about what inspired them. In most cases, the chefs chose ingredients common to their home province and talked about their passion for Canada’s bounty. Jenny and I were happy to be able to eat many of the foods we love – bison, duck, pork belly, lobster, scallops – served in interesting new ways. And we even had the opportunity to taste something new – salsify, a vegetable I’d heard of but had never tasted, and which showed up in a couple of the chefs’ dishes.

Piglet Belly and Lobster Pasta
Piglet belly with lobster ravioli from Emile Balk at Montreal’s Institut de tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Québec… one of our favorite dishes of the night

The chefs’ focus was also clearly evident in the kitchen. We were able to spend some time watching the students cook. In contrast to the chaos shown in the kitchens of shows like Top Chef and Chopped, the scene in the Calphalon Culinary Center’s professional kitchen was one of quiet intensity.

In addition to preparing composed dishes for each of the judges, plated as they might be served in a restaurant, each competing chef was also tasked with preparing tasting portions of their creations for each of the 100+ invited guests and media to sample. Guests were then asked to choose their favourite dish, with the winner receiving the People’s Choice Award. Christine Amanatidis of the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Vancouver took this honour for her amazing dish of crisp seared duck breast served with a savoury chestnut bread pudding. I’m a huge fan of bread pudding and I’d never tried a savoury version, so Christine’s dish was really inspiring.

Chestnut Bread pudding
Chef Amanatidis’ duck with chestnut bread pudding

But the night’s big winner was Jean-François Daigle of Toronto’s George Brown College Chef School. He wowed the judges with bison tenderloin cooked sous-vide and then pan-seared, which he served with an apple-parsnip-mustard puree, asparagus and a sauce of honey, red wine and beef stock.

Almost Famous Chef contestants in Toropnto
Announcing the winner…

He’ll move on to the finals in California’s Napa Valley from March 11 to 14, for the chance to win the grand prize of $10,000 and the opportunity to work as a paid apprentice for one year with a recognized chef. The finals will be streamed live via the Almost Famous Chef website and Facebook page, so you can follow the action.

Honey-Seared Bison with Apple-Parsnip Puree
Chef Daigle’s honey-seared bison with apple-parsnip puree

In the meantime, why not recreate the winning dishes for yourself? Below are Christine Amanatidis and Jean-François Daigle’s recipes, which they’ve adapted for home cooks. Bon appetit!

Honey Seared Bison Tenderloin with Apple Parsnip Puree
Jean-Francois Daigle, The George Brown Chef’s School (Toronto)

2 cups (500 mL) beef broth
2/3 cup (150 mL) dry red wine
1 cup (250 mL) each diced carrots and onion
3/4 cup (175 mL) diced celery
2 bay leaves
1 tsp (5 mL) whole black peppercorns
1 buffalo or beef tenderloin, about 2 lbs/1 kg, cut into 8 equal portions
Sea salt and pepper
1 tbsp (15 mL) extra virgin olive oil or garlic oil
2 tbsp (25 mL) liquid honey
2 tsp (10 mL) chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp/2 mL dried thyme leaves

Apple Parsnip Puree:

1 lb (500 g) parsnips, peeled and chopped
1 lb (500 g) apples, peeled, cored and chopped
2 tbsp (25 mL) 35% whipping cream, hot
2 tsp (10 mL) Dijon mustard
Salt and white pepper

Apple Parsnip Puree: In pot of boiling water cook parsnips, covered for 15 minutes or until tender. Add apples, cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until very tender. Drain well and puree in a food processor until smooth. Whisk in cream and mustard and season to taste with salt and pepper; keep warm.

Meanwhile, in saucepan bring stock, wine, carrots, celery, onion, bay leaves and peppercorns to a boil and simmer until reduced to 2-1/2 cups (625 mL). Remove bay leaves and discard.

Sprinkle tenderloin with salt and pepper. Heat oil in large skillet, in batches sear both sides of the tenderloin and place on lightly greased baking sheet. Drizzle with honey and sprinkle with thyme. Roast in 425 F (220C) oven for 5 to 7 minutes or until meat thermometer inserted in centre reaches 145 F (63 C) for medium-rare.

Spoon apple parsnip puree in centre of plate and top with tenderloin and spoon vegetable sauce around plate.

Makes 8 servings.

Duck Breast with Chestnut Bread Pudding
Christine Amanatidis, The International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Vancouver

4 boneless duck breasts
Salt and pepper

Chestnut-Chai Bread Pudding:

1 cup (250 mL) chicken broth
1 cinnamon stick
5 each whole cloves and green cardamom pods
3 slices fresh ginger
1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil
1/4 cup (50 mL) minced shallots
1/2 cup (125 mL) whole milk
2 eggs
8 roasted chestnuts, quartered
1/2 tsp (2 mL) freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
8 cups (2 L) 1/2-inch (1 cm) cubed multigrain sourdough bread
2 tbsp (25 mL) butter, broken into tiny pieces

Chestnut-Chai Bread Pudding: In saucepan bring chicken broth, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and ginger to boil. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and steep for 5 minutes. Strain and discard spices.

Meanwhile, in a skillet heat oil over medium heat and cook shallots for about 4 minutes or until lightly browned; set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together milk and eggs. Add steeped chicken broth, shallot, chestnuts, pepper and salt. Stir in bread to coat well. Spread evenly into 13 x 9- inch (3 L) pan lined with parchment paper. Scatter butter on top and bake in 400F (200C) oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until top is golden brown. Let cool slightly before slicing into 8 pieces, approximately 4 x 3- inches (10 cm x 7.5 cm).

Score duck skin in a cross diamond pattern and season with salt and pepper. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and place duck breast skin side down. Reduce heat to medium and let cook for about 5 minutes or until crisp and brown. Turn duck and place in oven for about 8 minutes or until thermometer reaches 155 F (68 C). Let stand before slicing. Place bread pudding on each plate and top with sliced duck.

Makes 8 servings.

Coffee and Cocoa-Rubbed Bison with Sauteed Greens

3 Dec

coffee bison

Living in Winnipeg for five years in my mid-20s gave me more exposure to meats I might not have thought much about if I was living in Toronto, including bison. Winnipeg was where I first tasted something encrusted in coffee – the espresso-crusted seared tuna at Fude restaurant. As much as I’ve always loved bison and proteins cooked with coffee, I’d never personally experimented with either. So when a trip to our favorite Toronto grocery store, Fiesta Farms, turned up a great looking bison striploin I had to buy, and a brainstorm on what to do with the bison made stirred up memories of a dinner we had this summer at Angeline’s in Prince Edward County that included an amazing piece of coffee-crusted halibut, I knew that the rich, slightly sweet bison would match well with the earthy, nutty taste of ground coffee.

Rather than encrusting the bison in a thicker-grind crust, I decide to create a dry rub and pan-sear the meat. After getting a few ideas from recipes posted online, I came up with this recipe combining coffee with cocoa and a bit of heat. The measurements below made enough rub to generously coat a s1/3 lb piece of bison, with some rub leftover.

coffee and cocoa rub for bison

Coffee-Cocoa Rub

1/2 tbs cocoa powder
1/2 tbs ground coffee (I used a medium roast Hawaiian coffee. I’m not sure how other beans might affect the flavour, but this is something I’ll experiment more with.)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp dried chili flakes (I used REALLY hot chilis my sister brought back from India, and they were a bit too much, but I imagine that this amount of ‘regular’ chili flakes would be the right amount of heat)

seared bison

To cook the bison, I covered the meat with a generous amount of rub. I then pre-heat a pan over medium-high heat. From there, it turned into a bit of a guessing game as to when the meat was properly cooked. Initially, I seared it for about 3 minutes per side, based on a few website recommendations and since I knew bison is a low-fat meat that can overcook easily. After testing the meat and finding it still way too rare, I opted to cook it another 3 or 4 minutes on each side. That seemed to do the trick, since after letting it rest loosely tented under foil for 10 minutes and slicing it against the grain, I ended up with nice medium-rare bison. Next time I’ll definitely shoot for a 6 minute sear per side for a thicker cut steak.

bison sliced

Adventures in timing and doneness aside, the bison turned out great. The coffee-cocoa rub gave a really pronounced nutty coffee flavour, while the cocoa added a bit of sweetness and depth and the cayenne and chili flakes added a nice kick.

shallots raisins pine nuts

Jenny created the perfect side dish with a saute that combined chopped broccoli florets, frozen spinach and kale, one chopped shallot, and a handful of pine nuts and raisins. She began by sauteeing the shallot in olive oil on medium heat for several minutes until translucent, then adding the raisins and pine nuts. She cooked those for a few minutes, allowing the raisins to plump up a bit and the pine nuts to brown slightly, before adding in the broccoli and sauteing for another few minutes. Finally, she added the frozen spinach and kale and let it cook down. Once everything was cooked nicely, she squeezed the juice of half a lemon overtop and seasoned with salt. The sweetness of the raisins and the toasted nuttiness of the pine nuts (a classic southern Italian combo) were the perfect compliment to the fresh greens, and the lemon juice brightened up the flavors that came from the combination of simple ingredients.

saute broccoli spinach

I’m not sure why it took me so long to experiment with bison, or with coffee rubs, but I’m definitely going to be cooking more with both in the future. And if anyone has any great bison recipes or tips on great coffee-based rubs, we’d love to hear them – leave a comment below!

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