Best Presentation, education:
The team of Aiken and Howell led an interesting conversation on the topic of sustainability in seafood and the world fishing industry. The crowd was very engaged and this topic came up again and again, along with local and seasonal cooking.
Best presentation, entertainment:
Closing out the show with dry ice, spam, champagne sabering and a mess of a dish, Chefs Lyon and Blackie were clearly intent on going out in a blaze of glory (or rather, a spray of bubbly). Was it cooking? No. Was it the most decorous? No. But they seemed to have fun.
Best Chef Pairing:
Chefs Bowen and Rogalski struck just the right amount of fraternal banter, neither one overpowering the other, playing off each other and making hollandaise “cowboy” style: right over the flame!
Best Wine Pairing:
The Ice Cider from Domaine Pinnacle paired with the Lepine/Cloutier oyster rocked. The oyster was served on a bed of salt crystals. The visual was pleasing: the contrast of the white salt and the deep yellow cider mirrored the contrast of the sweet cider and the tangy oyster. A good match made by Savvy Company.
The cold smoked veal with prawn crisp from Chefs Blackie and Lyon was outstanding. Although the dish was a disaster in the demonstration, it was a success in the tasting. The Toragashi spice powder in the mead-lychee sting combined with the vinegar and sugar to make a phenomenal dip: sweet, tangy and with a nice little kick.
In a tie, I also loved the bison hash with hollandaise from Chefs Bowen and Rogalski. This may be, in part, because they gave some out to taste during the presentation but it probably had more to do with the bacon hollandaise! The finish of the plum gastrique added just the smallest amount of sweetness, cutting the creamy smokiness of the sauce. The portion was one of the most generous and, in a word, “yummy”!
Best Individual Item in a Dish:
The crispy pig’s cheek from the Rocco/Santaguida pairing was amazing. When Chef Santaguida first described it to me, I had my doubts. A guanciale is normally quite salty and crunchy when cooked, a bit like a pancetta. This pig’s cheek was going to be confit, roasted and then pan fried. I was concerned about the texture. The result was fantastic! I can only describe it as “foie gras meets bacon”, smooth in texture, slightly salty and with a little crisp finish…WOW!
David Rocco and Chef Santaguida – they let me interview them for my blog posts and let me hang out back-stage before their presentation. On stage, David invited members of the audience to help out with the risotto, and Chef Santaguida saved the day when his station ran out of the assigned sparkling rosé with a lovely Pilliterri Exclamation white. David spent the better part of four hours smiling and posing for photos and Chef personally finished off each plate. My feet were killing me, I can only imagine how tired they must have been. As a bonus, I got to see that cooking is clearly a family affair at the Santaguida household: Chef’s wife, brother-in-law, sister and parents were all in attendance. Thank you, both.
Final comment – not all the dishes were a hit for me and one of the wine pairings was off (although the wine itself was lovely). It was a long day. In general, though, think it’s an interesting idea. We live in a TV culture where food is entertainment and this event is trying to bridge the gap between TV and reality. I look forward to next year’s event when, I suspect, the host will be more subdued and the Chefs more focused on teaching (if the comments I heard are any indication).