Carefor Chocolate Competition – Behind The Scenes
The scent of chocolate was overwhelming as they threw open the doors to the ticket buying public at the 9th Annual Carefor Chocolate Competition in Ottawa’s Centurion Centre on Saturday. Competitors brought their best game, judges brought their discerning palates and guests brought unbridled enthusiasm for the food of the Gods.
The sold out crowd raised approximately $37,000 in this, Carefor Community Health’s signature event of the year. A non-profit organization providing home and community support services in Ottawa for 115 years; Carefor relies on the generous support of the community at large to keep their programs alive.
This year, they faced new challenges, when some scoundrel stole the company van. “The van was stolen in November” reports Delphine Hasle Carefor’s Communication and Fundraising Specialist. “Because it was an older van, the insurance is not covering the replacement cost. But now, with the funds raised at the Carefor Chocolate Competition, we’re getting a new van to transport the clients living with dementia that attend the Adult Day Program. We are very thankful for the generous people who made this event a success.”
This is a double level competition, first there is the adjudicated plate scored by a panel of judges; Chef Jonathan Korecki, finalist from the Food Network’s Top Chef Canada & Executive Chef at SideDoor Restaurant, Chef Tim Wasylko, Executive Chef to the Official Residences of the Prime Minister of Canada, Chef Michael Blackie, former Executive Chef at The National Arts Center and co-partner at NEXT Restaurant, Ron Eade, food journalist, former food editor of the Ottawa Citizen, Chef Herve Chabert, Chef Instructor in Pâtisserie at Le Cordon Bleu CulinaryArts Institute and Claire Fowles (sommeliere), local blogger from FoodiePrints.com.
The judges received a plated, finished dessert, a description and a number. Judging blind, they scored on plating, originality and taste to select the Judge’s Choice. (For great views of the judge’s plates check out Ron Eade’s blog: www.roneade.com)
The second level of the Carefor Chocolate Competition is decided by ticket holders in the People’s Choice award. Tasting all entries an mass in sample size, guests are asked to select their favorite sample based on taste, table presentation and creativity.
Behind the velvet ropes…
Regular readers of Food Gypsy may see a familiar name among the competitors, Chef Benoit Gelinotte (AKA Chef B), the Chef in my life and Food Gypsy regular. We work in the same kitchen at Tulips & Maple Catering, along with Executive Chef Devin Marhue. There I had the opportunity to witness their contest development process first hand. It’s an interesting project to be a part of, even if your only roll is to voice an opinion on countless samples (oh, the hardship!) and load squeeze bottles with various sticky substances at 6AM the day of the competition.
Chefs are a unique breed, they have a deep abiding passion for food and, they love a little friendly competition. It’s good for the soul, it makes you think, it makes you stretch and, it makes you try things you might never have tried before. So rather than give you the same old round up; I took this opportunity to go behind the velvet ropes that keep display tables safe, to ask competing chefs a three questions.
What was your chocolate inspiration? What was their entry development process and how long did it take? And (most importantly), will their submission be offered on their various menus so those unable to attend might enjoy a little sweetness at another time? Inquiring minds want to know.
Competitor: Chartwell Senior Housing
Entry: Chocolate Spaghetti & Meatballs
Angie Chihuri and Rebecca Sakiyama – Food Service Managers at Cartwell were inspired by comfort food. “Spaghetti and meatballs is a favorite for our residents so we thought we’d play on that” said Angie. Their pasta inspired cupcake was topped with chocolate spaghetti and a raspberry ‘meatball’ wrapped around a chocolate fork. “We’d been playing with some ideas for about a month but the final version took us about two weeks. Our emphasis was on how the flavours came together.”
Competitor: DISH Catering
Erin Clatney and the team at Dish Catering Ryan Janssens, David Schaub and Tanya Skeateswas were inspired by colourful Japanese paper and a need to see some spring on the plate. (It’s been a long, white winter in Ottawa) “We were also conscious of the saturation factor. With so much chocolate to taste, we thought we’d offer something different.” Dish’s samples were simply gorgeous and the foie gras, dark chocolate, beet, raspberry and borage combination was – indeed – a very different flavour profile. Will this be offered to Dish customers in future? “Maybe, our menu is constantly changing.”
Competitor: The Empire Grill
Entry: Chocolate Mocha Hazelnut Crunch Cake
Executive Chef Gianluca Di Costanzo of the Empire grill was a man with a philosophy. “They told us to pick a theme and my theme was globalization. The eggs you see represent birth then included many different layers, colours and textures to represent the many different colours of humanity, working in harmony.” Like many chefs he started with an idea that bounced around in his head for about a month then whipped it up in about ten days. “Many of the elements are recipes that we’ve used before, it was just a matter of how it all worked together.” Diners at the Empire Grill can look forward to a version of Chef Di Costanzo’s cake on the spring menu, it’s a mile high cake with crunch, a hint of berry flavor and layers of chocolate.
Competitor: Essence Catering
Entry: Chocolate Hazelnut
“I like to use ingredients in as many ways as possible, so I used chocolate and hazelnut in everyway I could think of to come up with this.” Chef Jason Laurin’s upbeat take on a classic chocolate combination featured a flourless chocolate cake, hazelnut ganache, hazelnut tuille, his ‘beyond the pale darkness’ pastry cream (made with beer), house nutella snow. From a recipe development stand point the beer pastry cream was a challenge. “We looked it up on the internet and they said it couldn’t be done and we thought … f&ck that noise.” Nothing if not colourful, Laurin was determined to make it work and after about a week, he found the balance that created a full, rich butter cream.
Will we see this creation offered at Essance? “My ADHD pretty much prevents me from doing anything twice” laughed Laurin “but we always offer a version of the flourless cake to customers.” And where does he draw inspiration from? “Drugs and alcohol” he joked “I’m just gonna’ feed you.” Rich and fudgey, Chef Laurin fed us well.
Competitor: Firestone Restaurant Group
Entry: Chocolate Treasure Islands
Pastry Chef Marie Ford of the Firestone Restaurant Group is the mind behind sweet treats offered at Ottawa’s Lux Bistro, Blue Cactus Bar & Grill & Stella Osteria, her inspiration came from the sea. “I was inspired by the idea of a pearl and I wanted a salty, bite of the ocean to go along with it.” Her fleur de sel ganache-devil’s food cake-caramel base was finished with a white Chocolate truffle. Each of the ‘pearl’ truffles on her dessert were hand rolled then dipped in pearl dust to give them that opalescent shine.
“I had the idea of a pearl against an ocean for about a month. We did some test recipes and settled on this one.” Will this be something customers can look forward to? She rolled her eyes“I don’t know, those truffles were a lot of work!” Tooth-achingly sweet, this was a chocolate overload with a pretty pearl topper.
Competitor: Fratelli Restaurants
Entry: Homemade ‘BACI’ Chocolate
Renee Savage & helpmate Stephania were asked to create for Fratelli around the following framework: Baci, hazelnut & chocolate. “Basically, the Italian dessert keywords” joked Stephania. “We wanted to offer something in a homemade style, something Nona might have made” smiled Savage. Their entry of a three layer chocolate hazelnut bar was true Italian fare.“Recipe development was a little different for us because we’re a restaurant with a few small desserts at a time, not a big hotel. It basically took us about a week just to get it right” said Savage. “We’ll probably offer this as a dessert special and see what customers think before adding it to the menu.”
Competitor: Hilton Garden Inn Ottawa Airport
Entry: Chocolate on a Half-shell
“I was home [in New Brunswick] reading Saltscapes Magazine about oysters when the idea ‘chocolate on the half-shell’ popped into my head, so I went with it” explained Chef Henry Strong of Ottawa’s Hilton Garden Inn. “It needed crunch and salt for that ocean bite, the savory biscotti is made with cocoa nibs, the dried, fermented seed of cacao, before it becomes cocoa solids and cocoa butter to make chocolate.” The crisp biscotti cookie was topped with a rich pot de creme made with 70% Colombian chocolate, raspberry pearls, and sea salt for a salty-sweet treat.
Competitor: Social Restaurant & Lounge
Entry: Nouveau Chocolate Brownie
“I am a closet chocoholic” confessed Chef Matt Hall of Social. “I have a secret stash of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups…” Their simple approach was to create a brownie based on Matt’s chocolate obsession using a compressed, soft, dark chocolate brownie, toasted peanut brittle coupled with a naturally thickened concord grape gel. “Our research and development took a couple of weeks, and a few small batch tests where we borrowed components from menus in the past, but our primary focus was to come out and help Carefor raise some money! We like to get involved and support the community where ever we can.” His was a tasty treat, classic peanut butter and chocolate taste with a hint of caramel.
Competitor: Todric’s Restaurant and Catering
Entry: Pretty in Pink Cake
Chef Eric Patenaude, whom I almost knocked over tripping over the velvet ropes that create a buffer for ticket holders to view the table presentations, was most forgiving. (I must have apologized a dozen times.) Not his first Carefor entry, this year he wanted to offer a fresh approach. Their strawberry laden table was a delicious relief of colour on display. “The cake is flavoured with schnapps and paired with a strawberry fruit and preserve-infused cream cheese icing. Our testing only took a few days, but sometimes it takes much longer” said Chef Patenaude. Will customers be able to enjoy a little ‘Pretty in Pink’ on the menu? “Yes! It’s not a fixed menu, it changes all the time.”
Competitor: Top of the Hill Bakery
Chef Jeff Stoveld of Top of the Hill Bakery is a competitive guy – “don’t stay comfortable, if you’re not pushing you’re not trying.” Stoveld’s background as a world class figure skater makes him push hard. “We don’t come here to win, we come to compete” he smiled. Had reason to smile, he had titles to defend, in 2012 Top of The Hill Bakery walked away with trophies for judges choice and people’s choice. That’s a hard act to follow. “This year our theme was balance . We worked to create a chocolate desert with milk chocolate , caramel, a touch of acidity with the strawberry, a layer of almond daquoise and cookie crumble for crunch.” I ditched the fork for this one and ate it like a chocolate bar… a really good chocolate bar.
Competitor: Tulips and Maple Catering
Entry: The Textures of Chocolate
Last on the list, number one in my heart, Tulips & Maple. “We were inspired by Normand Laprise (Le Toqué, Montreal), Grant Achatz (Alinéa, Chicago) and the Voltaggio brothers (VOLTink, Los Angeles) and wanted to showcase chocolate in a way that some people may have never seen before” said Executive Chef Devin Marhue. “The idea is to offer this to our catering clients at table-side, plated family style, to make it fun and interesting. We’re a catering company, we get to do something different every day” offered Chef Beniot Gelinotte.
Their composition featured all three chocolates: a dark chocolate cremeux with Maldon sea salt, white chocolate-liquorice gel, milk chocolate-noisette snow, pure chocolate and water mousse, concorde grape syrup, black olive nougatine, encapsulated Spanish olive oil, and basil-mint caviar. “Not bad for a couple of schmucks from Ottawa” quibbed Gelinotte. Completely different from everything else on the plate – not bad at all.
The judges certainly had their work cut out for them. How they made their decision I’ll never know. I was in chocolate overload by the seventh entry, I’m sure I mixed up flags due to the sugar induced buzz and a warm-fuzzy glow that accompanies great chocolate. But in the end there are only two trophies to take home.
This year’s winners from left to right:
People’s Choice winners – Top of the Hill Bakery – Chefs Ashlyn Bredewold and Jeff Stoveld. Judge’s Choice winners – Essence Catering – Chef Jason Laurin with Chris Trembly, clutching trophies and ginnin’ like fools. Each trophy comes a long with a cheque for $500 and bragging rights for the year.
“We couldn’t have done it without our generous volunteers,” said Carefor’s Delphine Hasle “our presenting sponsors Minitel Communications and the amazing competitors who donate their talent, time and… chocolate.”
The competitors take home a trophy, but it’s Carefor Community Services and their clients who walk away the real winners. And then there are the rest of us, who leave with a sugar high that lasts for days.