One year ago, I was invited by Karen Hamilton of tinybites.com to join her and a group of local food bloggers for the 11th Annual Healthy Chef Competition. I had quite an awesome time sampling some amazing food, drinking random green things (since it was St. Patrick’s Day) and chatting with people that I otherwise only knew from the internet. Unfortunately, many of the folks that attended last year, including Karen, were otherwise occupied. I also wasn’t seated next to Mijune from Follow Me Foodie this year, which is an obvious disadvantage as Mijune gathers plates of food like the table needs supplies for hibernation. I mean, I’m quick and all but even I can’t think of things like eating desserts that were previously the display model or eating spoonfuls of delicious random foam while standing at a chef’s table. Lesley Chang came with me this year and fortunately, she was recently cured of her vegetarianism.
Most of you, myself included, see images of raw celery or steamed tofu when you think of healthy but as last year’s Healthy Chef showed, there are a heck of a lot of ways to make fish, lamb and even pork good for you. This is more of a way to promote healthy eating through fresh, local vegetables and sustainable meat that hasn’t been Frankenstein-ed up. Knowing where your food came from and what goes in it is a good start to eating better.
There were several members of the B.C. Lions in attendance as well as part of the fundraiser for the Canadian Cancer Society. I forgot the snap a picture of them but quarterback Travis Lulay and lineman Angus Reid were there. I’ve heard stories of Reid eating an entire Elvis platter (intended for four people) at Memphis Blues before so I can only imagine what happens when you put a plate of carrots and zucchini in front of him.
We started with this, a confit salmon roulade with fresh herbs and a baby vegetable salad in a citrus emulsion, made by the Hyatt Regency. Light and refreshing but slightly uninteresting. I sort of understand why this was our starter since they had to make ten times as many compared to the entrees but after last year’s mushrooms and sweetbreads, it’s just not as exciting.
My first entree was from The International Culinary School, a sous vide loin of New Zealand lamb served with sunchoke barigoule, mint spring pea puree, pickled Nameko mushrooms in a red wine reduction. The lamb was delicious, perfectly tender and a beautiful medium rare. Cooking it sous vide gives it a smooth, silky texture that goes well with the red wine reduction. Also, nice touch with the Nameko mushrooms. I first had these at Kanda Yabu Soba in Tokyo three years ago in a soba dish and they blew my mind with the amount of flavor nature has packed into these tiny little mushrooms. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy the other veggies on my plate. They were a bit undercooked for my liking and the quinoa served as a side didn’t do anything for me.
The second entree I tried was from the Chinese Canadian Chef Association. The room was buzzing about how colorful the dish was but unfortunately, everyone I spoke to after they ate it was disappointed by the dish. On my plate, the scallops lacked flavor. Lesley and I also found that they weren’t quite as fresh as they could be. I enjoyed the prawns more but they weren’t particularly special either. The soba noodles on the plate had no particular flavor and what was on my plate was very overcooked…to the point of basically falling apart to mush. Very pretty plate…but lots to work on.
I also tried a bunch of Lesley’s dishes as well. Her first entree was from Goldfish Pacific Kitchen, a yuzu marmalade-glazed Gelderman Farm’s pork loin with five vegetable pave, roasted sunchoke puree in a maple bourbon gastrique. It’s quite easy to dry out pork loin but this dish manages to stay moist and flavorful.
She also had the Rabbit’s Feast from The Well, which was one of the favorite dishes at our table. It features a roulade of rabbit, pulled leg, and Dutch sausage with braised red cabbage, slow cooked cherry tomatos, roasted golden beets, sauteed zucchini and squash, honey glazed carrots, farro and cauliflower puree, in a natural reduction Another delicious dish that looked quite healthy but was packed with flavor, which goes to show that healthy food shouldn’t be bland. The rabbit meat was melt-in-your-mouth and the veggies were crisp. I actually really enjoy beets prepared like this.
Between us, we tried five of the desserts.
Executive Hotel’s dessert is a Parfait Pyramid with pistachio and chocolate parfait with minted mango, melon, and strawberry salsa as well as mandarin brandy glaze and raspberry coulis. I found the salsa a bit too sour but when you eat it with the ice cream, it goes quite well.
The chocolate is dark and rich but the pistachio was lacking. Maybe it wasn’t frozen right because beneath a thin layer of ice cream, the rest was melted and quickly disintegrated when I poked at it. This is the display above but as you can see, the structural integrity problem isn’t isolated to the one I had.
People are surprised when I tell them that Vancouver Community College is no slouch in this competition and that they’ve won the last two years. They’re at it again this year with this carmella mousse and hazelnut cake with apple tarte tatin and cranberry and citrus sorbet. The cake was crisp and wafer-like with plenty of hazelnutty flavor but that apple tarte tatin was the star for me. Those ribbons of caramelized apples were like a great slice of apple pie and would’ve been even better if it was warm.
Honestly, I couldn’t tell which berry flavor the cranberry and citrus sorbet was but it was refreshing…and gone before we got to the apple tarte.
Although it looks like a portrait from space, this is actually “bacon and eggs” by the River Rock Casino Resort. Not actually bacon and eggs…since that would probably be gross for dessert but a number of things that look like the breakfast. The “yolks” are mango and the “whites” are coconut tapioca. It’s a striking presentation but didn’t work for me taste-wise. The blueberries were mouth-puckeringly sour while the cubes of “bacon” didn’t have enough flavor. Putting multiple elements of the plate together didn’t yield any better results. I applaud the effort but this wasn’t one of my favorites.
A few familiar elements in the Chinese Canadian Chef Association’s dessert. I recognized the egg tart immediately but I was informed by the chef that it was a strawberry egg tart, to go with the other strawberry elements of the dish like a strawberry mousse and strawberry/lychee jelly. The egg tart didn’t have a particularly strong strawberry flavor but it was there. Of the three, I think I liked the mousse the best. An average dessert…I had no real complaints but it wasn’t as memorable as some of the others.
Our favorite dessert came from The Well. This is a Tropical Pavlova with coconut sorbet, orange gel, kiwi coulis, rum-glazed pineapple, and a tropical fruit salad. That coconut sorbet is excellent. At first I thought it was just a milk sorbet but my second time around, I got the coconut. It was a hit with everyone I talked to. Mike Schurko from our table was so blown away that he ate plates! Mijune didn’t even bother with the plates and went straight to The Well’s booth.
Unfortunately, none of the dishes I had this year won any awards! The Healthy Plate Award went to the River Rock for this modern art-looking dish, consisting of braised sea cucumber with shiitake mushrooms, pea sprouts, prawns, a garden pea puree, lily bulbs garnished with beet powder and chive oil. I can see how this won the Healthy Plate Award. It doesn’t have a traditional protein, instead going with sea cucumber which is extremely low in calories and fat. Sea cucumber might not be everyone’s bag but I actually really enjoy it.
Although…to be honest, there isn’t really much on the plate, certainly not enough for a whole meal for the average person. I can’t imagine anyone eating a couple mushrooms and half a slice of sea cucumber and not thinking they’ll be hungry in 10 minutes. It seems more like an appetizer.
Best Entree went to our hosts the Hyatt Regency Vancouver for this tandoori rubbed beef tenderloin with Aloo tikki (…what?) spring vegetables, mint chutney and beet coulis. I don’t quite remember this dish at the event but after seeing the picture of it when I got home, I wish I got this! That tenderloin looks stunning…cooked just the way I like it. In case you were like me and wondering what on earth Aloo tikki is…click here.
Best Dessert came from Goldfish. This is a trio of desserts: a pineapple yogurt mousse with fresh pineapple garnish and coconut brittle, a white chocolate apple soft cake with apple compote and lavender anglaise) and a strawberry panna cotta with peanut butter shortbread and strawberry gastrique.
Some of the other dishes served:
Executive Hotel’s seared rare tuna and Berkshire pork belly served with a Yukon gold potato roll, a grilled vegetable napoleon and Fraser Valley pea shoots.
Steamed lettuce-wrapped wild salmon with mussels in a lemongrass gastrique from Delizia Fusion Cuisine.
Vancouver Community College’s entree, a fillet of beef, stew braised brisket and mushroom spinach ravioli served with a saute of root vegetables in a sherry vinegar jus.
Delizia’s dessert, called Panna Cotta Mi Amore. It’s a light version of panna cotta, made with Almond Breeze, Amaretto di Saronno and agave nectar, Served in Tuiles Amandine, garnished with forest berries and drizzled with Chambord Royale coulis
Dessert from the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Vancouver is a ginger-spiced “Healthy Apple Bar” with vanilla-scented rice, honey panna cotta, Gewurztraminer braised pear and cardamom tuile.
Hyatt Regency Vancouver’s Trio of Strawberries: a strawberry shooter, marinated strawberries on meringue and a strawberry tart.
Unfortunately, I do not have any pictures of the two dishes from Dynasty Seafood Restaurant. They did not have a display up at the time I was taking pictures, probably because the judges were around tasting their dishes at the time. Their entree was a steamed pomegranate chicken with assorted rice wrapped in lotus leaf and their dessert was a trio of Chinese pastries: moonlight rabbit, osmanthus and apple pudding and hedgehog pastries.
Like last year, we received a box of fresh produce to take home with us to make our own healthy meals. Lots of great stuff like banana squash, cucumber and fresh herbs in there. Also like last year, it was a fun event to sample some amazing food and chat with people, especially the local foodie scene at my table and the one right behind us. I’m already looking forward to next year…March 15th, 2012!