by Robin Burridge
LITTLE CURRENT—This year not only marked the launch of Taste Of Manitoulin, but also the first ever Culinary Chef Cook-Off.
The cook-off was the brainchild of Lois Keller and Laura Wall-Varey, who both sit on the board of directors for the Manitoulin Tourism Association and are lead organizers of the Taste of Manitoulin. The event featured five chefs from across Manitoulin battling for supremacy.
The various entertainment held in the recreation centre hall on Friday night and Saturday brought in a fair number of individuals, but when I entered event hall on Saturday at 2 pm, I was surprised at the volume of people who had ventured away from the booths to watch the cook-off.
Tammy Albers, a child nutritional coordinator for Noojmowin-Teg and long-time chef hosted the event, adding her personal touch of enthusiasm and experience. The five chefs set up along the front of the hall, demonstrating the creation of their dishes for the audience as Ms. Albers interviewed them each.
Gino Cacciotti from Bidwell, a seasoned chef, baker, stonemason, and farmer, said that “every dinner is a food event in his family.” Mr. Cacciotti does in-home catering and is the owner of Manitoulin’s only wood fire bakery, Wolf Fire Bakery.
Ashley White of Gore Bay said that she “considers herself a humble chef.” She entered the contest to broaden her culinary skills and is currently a chef at Buoy’s in Gore Bay.
Jason Forest discovered his love of cooking while working his way through journalism school as a cook. He recently moved to the Island to live off the land and hopefully open a demi-vegetarian restaurant in Little Current called Captain Vegetable.
Brian Perry has been cooking for over 20 years. He moved to Tehkummah from Guelph and is currently cooking at the Roosteraunt in Mindemoya.
Ruta Tribinevicius, a local chef at Garden’s Gate restaurant in Tehkummah and owner of Rue Studio in Sheguiandah, brought an artistic flare to the competition.
Each chef had prepared their dishes ahead of time for the judges, but their demonstrations helped show a glimpse of the preparation each chef had undertaken in preparing their dish.
The rules were simple: each chef must create a single-dish entrée cooked in one pot or pan using Manitoulin ingredients. Ms. Albers explained that the chefs had helped develop the judges grading sheet and that the dishes would be rated by a 5-point scale in originality, flavour, presentation, use of local foods, and nutrition.
The judges were selected from the audience and included local MP Carol Hughes, Laura Wall and Don Cook, a life-long chef from Little Current.
After the chefs were introduced, the presentations concluded and the judges deliberated behind a blue curtain.
I had previously arranged with event organizers to be present during the judging and even managed to acquire samples of the various dishes.
As the first dish came out by Ms. White, the judges and myself were watering at the mouth having just spent the last hour being teased by the incredible aroma during the cooking presentation. Ms. White prepared a lamb stew, which was served in bread bowl that she made using Manitoulin honey and red fife bread from Loon Song Gardens. Ms. Hughes commented that she didn’t normally eat lamb, but in the stew it was delicious. Mr. Cook discussed the flavour with Ms. White stating that he wanted more from the dish. I felt that the stew was very creamy and smooth, while the bread was wonderfully sweet, but part of me agreed with Mr. Cook that I would have liked a more bold flavour.
Ms. Hughes enjoyed the first dish so much that she jokingly licked her knife after saying, “I didn’t want any flavours to effect the next dish.”
Mr. Perry was next with roasted beef tenderloin from Burt’s Farm prepared with garlic from Gypsy Family Farm, wild asparagus from the ditch near his home, and mashed potatoes which he grew himself in his cellar. Through the cooking presentation and during his presentation to the judges, Mr. Perry was very instructive, explaining the details of how he prepared the dish. He stated that the motivation behind his dish was to, “create something simple that people could make themselves at home.”
The tenderloin was cooked perfectly and the garlic flavours joined the dish very well.
Ms. Tribinevicius prepared wild sunchoke latkes—the sunchokes (also called a Jerusalem artichoke) was gathered by Ms. Tribinevicius in the wild around Manitoulin—topped with shitake mushrooms from her father’s Island farm that she fried in butter, and drizzled a wild leek, maple syrup and sumac juice sauce on top. Ms. Tribinevicius warned the judges that the dish was meant to be consumed slowly because of all the overwhelming flavours. Ms. Hughes commented that she really liked the interplay of textures within the dish. I especially enjoyed all the tastes. Every bite seemed to release a new experience and the predominate flavours of garlic and lemon (from the sumac) were powerful, but still allowed the judges to experience the other flavours.
Mr. Forest brought out the next dish, an asparagus quiche. The aroma of garlic and asparagus were very present in the judging room and Mr. Forest revealed that the asparagus, garlic and chives were all local and the dish was 100 percent vegetarian. He used Loon Song flour, which really gave his crust a nutty flavour and crispy texture. He used Farquhar whipping cream to make the dish that created a very fluffy, creamy consistency. To complement the nutty flavors in the crust, Mr. Forest grated a hint of fresh nutmeg in with the eggs.
Finally, Mr. Cacciotti presented the last dish. He presented a shoulder of pork sautéed and topped with a reduction sauce of fermented apple cider and toasted malted barley served with Jerusalem artichoke and roasted arugala. Ms. Wall commented on the beautiful presentation.
During the cook-off winner announcement, Ms. Nelder said that she was “overwhelmed by the quality of food from the Manitoulin chefs.”
Ms. Albers revealed that the winning chef had almost backed out the night before because she was nervous of the public speaking element. First place for the first ever Taste of Manitoulin Culinary Cook-Off and the $1,000 prize from LAMBAC went to Ruta Tribinevicius for her wild sunchoke latkes. Ms. Tribinevicius was humble about her win, but a large grin filled her face from ear to ear.