Chinched Bistro prepares to take on Canada’s best
Next month, February 8th and 9th, the Canadian Culinary Championships takes place in Kelowna, British Columbia. Our province will be represented by Gold Medal Plates St. John’s gold medallist, Chef Shaun Hussey and his support team: Sous Chef Tyler Gallant, culinary intern, Emily Hancock, and Shaun Hussey’s life and business partner, Chef Michelle LeBlanc.
Hussey and his Chinched compatriots will be competing against the most solidly accomplished group of chefs ever seen at the Canadian Culinary Championships. They are: Chef Daren Bergeron, Fou d’Ici, Montreal, Marc St. Jacques, Auberge du Pommier, Toronto, Jamie Stunt, Oz Café, Ottawa, Östen Rice, Wasabi Sabi, Winnipeg, Milton Rebello, Saskatchewan Radisson Plaza, Regina, Darren Craddock, Riverside Country Club, Saskatoon, Eden Hrabec, Crazyweed Kitchen, Canmore, Nathan Bye, Wildflower Grill Restaurant, Edmonton, and Mark Filatow, Waterfront Restaurant and Wine Bar, Kelowna.
Hussey and Chinched qualified to compete in the national competition by winning gold at Gold Medal Plates St. John’s last November. (I was a judge there, and will be again at Kelowna.) Silver went to Chef Mark McCrowe of Aqua and The Club, and Chef Roary MacPherson of Oppidan at the Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland won bronze.
MacPherson and McCrowe are, in a sense, involved in the Kelowna competition too. Both have been helping Team Chinched raise funds to assist with travel and accommodation costs for the trip to British Columbia. The Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, and its Director, Nancy Brace, have also been giving organizational assistance. St. John’s competitors must travel farther than anyone else, and our restaurants are smaller, with fewer resources. The St. John’s restaurant community is special in the way it comes together to assist fellow restaurateurs and chefs who travel away to represent Newfoundland and Labrador at this particular competition. I tip my hat to them.
Last week’s latest fundraising effort, the Gold Medal Plates Podium Dinner and Auction, was held in the event space on the second floor of Quidi Vidi Brewery. Chefs Hussey, McCrowe and MacPherson reunited to create a six-course meal, paired with beverages, for a roomful of eager foodies. Nancy Brace of the Restaurant Association was there to help serve, as well as Chinched staff. Additional assistance came from auctioneer, Wayne Bartlett, and Randy Feener and Quidi Vidi Brewery.
The evening started as a beverage, prepared especially for the occasion, was served from trays bearing about a dozen each of the bright red apéritif. It featured chilled Iceberg vodka, cranberry juice, and raspberry juice in champagne flutes. After the requisite cocktail chitchat we sat down in anticipation of the meal, which had been spelled out for us in a handsome pamphlet. Coming along would be a fish course, soup, salad, pork, chicken and, finally, dessert.
First course was a very memorable hot smoked salmon rillette with buttery croutons, pickled red onions, mustard seed vinaigrette, and crispy capers. Two things impressed me about the rillette. Obviously the taste was excellent – mild, fresh, smoky edged with no oily aftertaste. Then there was its incredibly pleasant texture. The salmon was minced into thousands of fibres, forming a mass of smooth protein – like pâté. It was not mushy wet, but had a moisture level that allowed the rillette to maintain a degree of firmness. The rillette was paired with Quidi Vidi Iceberg Lager.
Roasted elephant garlic is heaven sent. Turn it into a creamy soup and it becomes something divinely inspired. Certainly that’s what all at our table thought. Officially, it was “elephant garlic bisque with herbed crème fraîche.” In reality it was velvety smooth ambrosia, with just the faintest scent of garlic. Languishing on top, next to a dollop of
crème fraîche was a flat, tempting, buttery crouton. Quidi Vidi Honey Brown ale was paired with the bisque.
The roasted root vegetable and goat cheese salad with greens and dried cranberry gremolata was matched with Arboleda Sauvignon Blanc from Chile. It was one of the simplest and most attractive dishes of the evening. Squares of various colourful root vegetables, including beet, were carefully placed atop one another like building blocks. Underneath was softened goat cheese and swirls of dressing. It was a feast for the eyes, and delivered on taste.
A tasting of Piero Mancini Cannonau di Sardegna from Italy was paired with a substantial Scotch egg. This was rib insulating pub food in all its glory. Half an extra large hard cooked egg, with bright, partially soft, orange yolk, rested tightly inside a casing of homemade sausage coated with deep fried breadcrumbs. The smoked tomato diablo sauce, that filled the rest of the plate, made the dish perfect. It balanced the flavours and its spiciness provided needed zip.
Say “pan roasted chicken with whipped potatoes” and I’m in. It’s the quintessential comfort food / Mom’s home cooking dish. Everyone loves it. We had a French version with bits of pork belly, fragrant pearl onions and green peas topping succulent chicken, which, in turn, topped a mound of creamy whipped potatoes. Henry of Pelham Pinot Noir from Niagara made the course beyond excellent.
Finally, the Gold Medal Plates Podium Dinner concluded with white chocolate and partridgeberry brioche bread pudding served with crème Anglaise. From its crunchy dark brown peaks, dusted with powdered sugar – that resembled miniature mountains – down to its base awash in sweet cream, it was everything a humble bread pudding should be: crunchy, tender, moist and buttery. The pudding was paired with Outport Raspberry Screech Wine.