We were invited to compete in an Iron Chef style competition at the Centrex food and hospitality trade show. Eight restaurants competing for the exhalted title of Iron Chef Centrex. On the first day we are paired off into for contests. Our first battle was against Provence Bistro. The winners on the first day go on to battle the each other on the monday until two teams are chosen to enter the final battle.
The "battle of the bistros" as it was billed started at 12:00 noon. Half an hour before the battle started, we were told that the mystery ingredient was tomatoes. We were give a lovely basket of romas, beefsteaks, bruno rossas, orange, yellow, campari and grape tomatoes. We were pretty excited about this ingredient, you can do a lot with tomatoes. The goal is to do as many dishes as you can in that time. You are judged on quality, presentation, originality and how organized your kitchen is. The safe approach would be to shoot for five dishes, we decided to do seven with an optional eighth dish.
The eighth dish, which we never got to, was going to be chicken noodle soup. We had a stock on from the chicken carcass we deboned and we had noodle scraps from the ravioli, we were just going to throw in some fresh chopped yellow, orange and red tomatoes, some fresh herbs and voila. But we just ran out of time.
Time is deceiving. Time is elusive. Time is fleeting.
Half an hour into the battle, it felt like we were just starting. Fourty minutes in, Provence puts out their first dish. A tomato bisque. We still had nothing near completion. We had to kick it into high gear. In the last ten minutes we plated 7 dishes, with the last plate hitting the table as "time" was called. High fives all around. Someone from Big Rock brings us all a can of beer, which goes down nice.
Our first dish was a trio of all the yummy parts of the chicken. The parts that the chef saves for himself when carving. We did the drumette with a dry curry spice on a mango and brunnorossa bbq sauce, we did the oyster with a balsamic camapari and the popes nose roasted crisp with a black bean and yellow tomato salsa.
We smoked salmon with a shaved pineapple, cherry tomato and red onion salad. Raw beef carpaccio wrapped around a beet and tomato slaw, came next. This was going to be served with a yellow tomato sorbet but the sorbet wasn't freezing. I decided to use the unfrozen sorbet as a sauce instead. But as I am scooping I realise their is plenty of frozen sorbet stuck to the side of the ice cream maker. I dump it out and scape the sides to get two scoops for the plate. then came ravioli stuffed with chicken livers with a roma tomato and sundried tomato sauce, this was followed by spinach gnudi with grape tomatoes and a chicken and yellow tomato sausage. Then we did a chicken "saltimbocca" with goat cheese and smoked tomatoes. We were going to serve it with fries but they just weren't ready on time. Of course, we had to do dessert. We made a rice pudding, and candied yellow tomatoes to the consistency of dried fruit. We mixed that into the rice pudding, served that in our little copper pots, and garnished it with more candied tomato. Boom, seven dishes! a flurry of plating, right down to the wire, but we did it.
We won this competition, just barely. We would be competing in the semis tomorrow.
As the fairmont was setting up, I went to them and said, "I have one piece of advice, realize that an hour is not a lot of time".
"oh we know," was their reply, "we timed it out in our practice runs"
They practiced? Really? I think they might be taking this all a bit too seriously. Practice runs, don't they have a restaurant to run?
So, we find out that Monday morning we would be up against the fairmont. The little bistro that could against the mighty fairmont. This is like cameroon competing against brazil at the world cup. This is David and Goliath. I better remember to bring my sling shot.
We knew we would have to step up our game. We needed more burners, so we brought three of our own. We needed to have water boiling, deep fryer oil heating and wood chips smoking right off the top. Mostly we needed to hit the ground running. About ten minutes before we start, I start to wind up the crew. I start jumping, pep talking, clapping my hands randomly, quoting Gordon Ramsay in a bad accent, and just a little trash talking. As we start, I say "we need our bistro music." Clint, J-9 and I all start singing our versions of our favourite bistro hits. We were singing three different songs, but somehow it all worked.
Our secret ingredient was scallops. This threw us off for a minute. We were convinced we were going to get pork, or maybe turkey. Adapt, adopt and improve. The big question was, can we do a dessert with scallops?
First thing, I cut up onions, celery and garlic for a few different dishes. My cutting board is filling up, I know I am going to get dinged points for mess, but I had a lot of things on the go.
Changing strategy a little from the first round, I decide to throw out dishes earlier. Twenty minutes in our first dish goes out: Black bean soup with smoked bay scallops.
I decide we have a good start so I declare, "we are doing the risotto!" We are going to complete 8 dishes.
Then in rapid succession: scallop and salmon seviche with a carrot and apple salad (all orange and yellow), Pan seared scallops with a mango salsa, spicy surf and turf skewers with beef filet, pineapple and scallop. The beef and pineapple was cut in the same size and shape as the scallop. This we served with a cucumber, lime and pernod shooter.
On the way to the convention centre, we stopped at Dollarama. we needed squeeze bottles. At the store, I found these horrible shot glasses shaped like a curvaceous woman's torso wearing a bikini. I new we were going to do a shooter, so I grabbed these. I didn't know if we would have the cajones to use these tacky glasses. But of course, we did. Team Bistro has cajones to spare.
After the first competition, I decided that we would do Cassoulet. When I saw the ingredient, my heart sunk, scallop cassoulet? But why not? I smoked some chicken breast, seasoned and roasted a drumstick, and made a scallop sausage. Put all this together with the tasty white beans I had made in our little copper pots, topped with buttered bread crumbs and roasted until crusty and yummy. While I was doing this, Clint made a quick pickle with lemon juice (we had no vineger to work with) and tarragon which we put into our mini-pickle jars. We served our cassoulet with "cornichons" on the side.
We then put out a scallop slider with bannock "buns", goat cheese and a quick mayonaise. This time, the frites were ready on time. Our dessert was a ricotta and orange tart, which we covered with thin slices of scallop. We covered this with sugar, and "brulleed" the sugar. This dessert was served with an apricot compote.
"Time?!" We had four minutes left. The risotto wasn't quite ready, the grilled scallops were still raw. How much time now? "Three minutes." "Where's the parmesan? I need butter!" I plate the risotto. Beet risotto with grilled scallops garnished with a candied beets and a beet syrup. "how much time left?" We had done eight dishes with two minutes to spare.
We all looked at each other, do we have time to do one more dish? "hell ya!" J-9 shouts out, "cucumber, cream cheese scallops!" Clint slices and arranges the cucmbers, J-9 grabs the cream cheese, I slice the raw scallop. we arrange this on the plates, garnish with a sliver of sundried tomato. A little coarse salt, done. 9 plates!
Well, today David doesn't slay Goliath. Goliath goes on to win the whole competetion, but it was a battle well fought. We had a ton of fun, banged out a lot of dishes, and carried oursleves with style. Thanks to Clint Ducharme and Janine Meijer for their hard work and creativity, you rock! And thanks to Danielle, my partner for her love and support.
Thanks Junior CCFC for inviting us to compete in this fun event!