Our wine blogger, Claire, spending a tortuous morning judging eleven confections prepared by some of Ottawa’s more gifted chocolate artisans, I made do. I spent time on the floor, marveling at the professional photographers’ gear and chatting with the competing chefs. Some were dedicated pastry chefs. Others, multi-talented catering chefs. Having covered the Carefor Health Chocolate Competition and Brunch for two years from the judging table (2011 and 2012), it was refreshing participating as a camera wielding attendee.
As for why I recused myself from participating as a judge, I followed Chefs Jason Laurin of Essence Catering (430 Parkdale Ave) and Gianluca Di Costanzo of Empire Grill (47 Clarence Street) as they developed their competition plates. Curiosity got the better of me when Laurin crowd-sourced ideas for his plate. Originally, he was going to make a creme anglaise, flavoured with roasted parsnip. Both Laurin and Chris Tremblay of Epicuria Catering (357 St. Laurent Blvd) active on Twitter, I even stumbled on prototype plate sketches. Constanzo, Empire Grill’s new Executive Chef, was photographed, walking down George Street with large PVC pipes, which he and Sous Omar Rossi admitted were intended to assemble their plate. I had foreknowledge. The Carefor Chocolate Competition is judged blind.
Here are my glimpses from the competition.
Firstly, The Chocolate:
Tulips and Maple Catering (1980 Merivale Road)
Having successfully trademarked “catertaining” (“where catering meets entertainment”), Chefs Devin Marhue and Benoit Gellinote set up their display at the Centurion Conference & Event Centre (170 Colonnade Road), painting chocolate on canvas and assembling myriad textures on steel plates. Inspired by how famed Chicago Chef Grant Achatz plates dessert table-side and family-style, they aimed to uniquely showcase chocolate. The stainless steel plates were custom-made to resemble a workbench.
While putting finishing touches on plates for the judges, Gellinote proudly said he and Marhue were planning to adapt a similar chocolate dish for events. He and Marhue want to replicate the Achatz experience for their clients.
An intricate plate, there was a bitter sweet chocolate cremeux, made with maldon salt; white chocolate and licorice gel; water-chocolate mousse (“chocolate chantilly” according to Heston Blumenthal); “nutella” snow; black olive nougatine; concorde grape syrup; and an isomalt olive oil drop.
Empire Grill (47 Clarence Street)
Empire Grill, having turned 15 years young on February 23, 2013, hired Chef Constanzo last August. In a heavy Italian accent, he explained his creation was essentially layered textures, each one created separately and then stacked together in an acetate tube.
“It represents globalization,” said Costanzo.
During the two months he conceptualized his plate, he treated the competition as an opportunity to demonstrate how so many languages, countries, and cultures have come together, essentially producing “new humanity.”
Costanzo and Omar Rossi didn’t quite say their creation would make it onto the menu at their restaurant as it takes time to prepare, assemble, and plate.
Chartwell Seniors Housing (70 Stonehaven Drive)
When asked what was the inspiration for their whimsical take on an iconic North American pasta dish, Chef Angie Chihura pointed out, despite their display consisting of Italian cookbooks, spaghetti and meatballs is comfort food for their residents.
“It’s who we are!”
[Chocolate brownie meatball with white chocolate noodles, chocolate fork, and chocolate shaving "pepper"]
Interestingly, those edible chocolate forks? Chihura and Rebeccaa Sakiyama made hundreds of them for the Carefor event.
Firestone Restaurant Group
Marie Ford explained she represented three restaurants (Luxe (47 York Street), Blue Cactus (2 ByWard Market), Stella Osteria (81 Clarence Street)), working as their pastry chef. Inspired by pearls and sea salt, she decided to put together a beach concept for the competition. Naming off her plate’s components, she seemed sheepish when she explained the sand. Chefs from notable restaurants, like Denmark’s Noma, have been simulating dirt, only edible. The sand was just brown sugar.
Unnecessarily modest, her beach scene consisted of fleur de sel ganache with toffee, white chocolate mousse, and white chocolate truffles rolled in pearl dust.
Top of the Hill Bakery (385 Tompkins Avenue)
Defending “people’s choice” and “judges’ choice” champion from last year’s competition, Chef Jeff Stoveld decided to also showcase textures of chocolate. Only, he used a “plate as [his] canvas.”
Stoveld’s creation was layered. At its base was a chocolate and almond daquoise. Jellied strawberry coulis and milk chocolate caramel sprinkled with chocolate cookie crumbs were added. Then, everything was hand-dipped in tempered dark chocolate. The competition plate was brushed with a milk chocolate creme anglaise. White chocolate foam, caramel dust, strawberry (sodium alginate) pearls, and an edible cornflower garnished.
“It’s meant to be balanced: acidity of strawberries, nutty chewiness of the daquoise, and crunch of chocolate cookie crumbs.”
His entry took the people’s choice award.
Essence Catering (430 Parkdale Avenue)
Chef Laurin admitted, somewhat reluctantly that, despite weeks of experimenting, he was forced to pull his dish together “on the spot.” He decided to feature his catering company’s flourless chocolate cake and the classic hazelnut and chocolate combination.
[Hazelnut and chocolate turned out to be quite the theme this competition...]
Laurin and fellow catering chef Tremblay invented the tuille recipe, tweaking it as they went along.
Wanting to support Hintonburg brewery Beyond the Pale (5 Hamilton Avenue), they opted to employ beer in the pastry cream.
[Flourless chocolate cake, hazelnut ganache, hazelnut tuille, beyond the pale darkness pastry cream, house nutella]
“I don’t do pastry often,” Laurin said. “I just want to show well.”
His entry took the judges’ choice award.
Hilton Garden Inn Airport Hotel (2400 Alert Road)
As I interviewed the other competitors, Chef Henry Strong of the Hilton Garden Inn marveled at the more modernist components of his fellow competitors’ plates. He admitted his plate was more classical, he having been unable to secure the required chemical ingredients to create his own molecular flourishes. Instead, inspired by a magazine on New Brunswick, he decided to replicate east coast oysters on a half shell in chocolate.
[70% Columbian chocolate pot de crema, cocoa nib biscotti shell, raspberry pearls, and sea salt]
Chef Renee Savage’s entry was likewise simple, a chocolate brownie with “baci” (chocolate and hazelnut) topping. She assured me it would be served at Fratelli restaurants as an occasional dessert special.
["decadent three layer chocolate hazelnut bar"]
Todric’s Fine Dining and Catering (10 McArthur Avenue)
Having participated in the Carefor competition for four years now, Chef Eric Patenaude decided to make something of which he could “easily serve four hundred samples.”
[schnapps-flavoured cake paired with strawberry preserves-infused cream cheese icing]
On first glance, I mistook his dish for a strawberry shortcake. Patenaude was none too pleased.
DISH Catering (119 Ross Avenue)
Owner Erin Clatney explained her dish was a re-visioned chocolate éclair, employing a favourite ingredient: duck. Starting with a seared foie gras chocolate mousse, port and almonds were added. For additional earthiness, a roasted beet and raspberry puree was brushed across the competition plate. For acidity, a red wine vinegar powder was sprinkled atop.
Like Stoveld, Clatney and her chefs (Ryan Janssens, David Schaub, and Tanya Skeates) decided to add an edible corn flower flourish.
[dark chocolate, duck, beet and raspberry, borage]
Social Restaurant and Lounge (537 Sussex Drive)
Chef Matt Hall of Social prepared a take on the chocolate brownie. His compressed, soft, and dark chocolate brownie was topped with toasted peanut brittle and thickened concord grape gel.
This year’s judging panel was chef-studded.
Said Chef Korecki after submitting his scores, “There were some hits and some spectacular misses. One of the dishes was so very intricate. But, in the end, this competition was about the chocolate.”
This year’s competition was emceed by the very charismatic duo from Rogers Daytime Ottawa, Lois Lee and Derick Fage. They were largely responsible for maintaining the energy in the room. Fage also turned out to be a rather talented live auctioneer.
Interestingly, they pointed out the winners, both judges’ choice and people’s choice were recent guests on their show.
Speaking of which, The Winners:
Many congratulations to Chefs Stoveld and Laurin.
It is always an honour for foodiePrints to be invited to participate in the Carefor Chocolate Brunch and Competition.
To read Claire’s highlights, click here for “I ate 11 chocolate desserts two weekends ago: Carefor Chocolate Competition.”
We look forward to next year’s, which will mark the 10th anniversary of the annual fundraiser.
If you like chocolate, you should consider attending too!
Addendum: Chef Laurin very generously shared his recipe for the nutella component of his winning plate.
Essence Catering’s Nutella
2.5 cups hazelnut roasted and skinned
3 tbsp hazelnut oil (or other nut oil, neutral flavoured)
1/4 cup sugar
3 tbsp glucose
1 pound chocolate 65%+
1/2 cup (1 stick) [butter]
1+ cup heavy cream (depends on how thick you want it)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Grind hazelnuts with oil till a reasonably smooth paste.
Cook sugar and glucose till melted.
Add hazelnuts and mix well.
Melt chocolate over double boiler and stir to make sure it is smooth.
Add chocolate [to] nuts.
Bring cream to a boil and take off heat.
Add butter to chocolate mixture and pulse with a hand blender.
Add as much cream while blending to get the consistency you like. Keep in mind it will thicken once cooled.
Tags: Carefor Brunch and Chocolate Competition, chocolate, Essence Catering, featured, nutella