A frenzy of food

The village was a veritable hive of activity this weekend, as locals and tourists took advantage of the beautiful weather, languishing on patios, sipping their drinks as they watched people somersault down the bike park, or lounging on the shores of our lakes. Some even wandered down to check out all of the barbecue action at Creekside as part of the annual Canadian National BBQ Championships; others made a point of visiting the epicurean Feast in the Mountains on Sunday.

But there was plenty of foodie fun on offer smack-dab in the centre of the village on Saturday afternoon, as Watermark hosted another Chef's Challenge, with talented culinary teams facing off for all to see in an open-air kitchen.

Watermark has hosted the competition three times before, but this time, Executive Chef Scott Dolbee of the Four Seasons stepped in to tweak the format. Previous Challenges have been sort of a round-robin style, with multiple teams going through qualifying heats to make it to the finals. This time around, organizers decided to go more "Iron Chef"-style, pitting just two teams against one another: the Four Seasons and Bearfoot Bistro. Each restaurant assembled a three-person culinary team to create five dishes from the mystery ingredient, all in just one hour. Yep, that's right - 60 minutes, five original dishes, one surprise ingredient, and lots of people watching. No pressure.

I happen to believe that industry competitions like the Chef's Challenge are fantastic; there are so many talented people working behind-the-scenes in our bars and restaurants - chefs and mixologists - and we so often only see the final product; never the work that goes into creating it. Competitions like this are a great way to showcase these unsung heroes, while encouraging them to continue to elevate standards in the industry, which ultimately benefits everyone.

So, when organizers asked me to help with the judging, I reluctantly agreed. See, I'm not too keen on making big decisions, especially not when there's a lot on the line - like $500 cash and, perhaps more importantly, bragging rights.

Just 15 minutes before the clock started ticking the mystery ingredient - two massive slabs of Canadian Prime Rib Eye - was revealed to the teams. They rushed to their stations to start boiling water and mapping out their respective plans of attack. At the start of the one-hour mark, the frenzy began. Well, frenzy may be the wrong way to describe the ensuing action. It was more like a slightly chaotic culinary ballet, with the six chefs slicing and dicing their way around the compact kitchen. At the 15-minute mark the pace really started to pick up, as the chefs put on the extra push to make sure they had plated, garnished and presented their five dishes before time was up.

With a pantry stocked with ingredients like quail eggs and champagne, those of us on the judging panel were guaranteed some impressive dishes to sample. And we weren't disappointed.

The Bearfoot produced some unbelievable creations: a mouthwatering tuna and beef tataki; stuffed hart of palm with a prime beef cap, grilled eggplant, fresh ginger and jalapeno; beef tartar with quail egg; and my absolute favourite: tempura beef with yuzu beets.

The Four Seasons also came up with some impressive and creative concoctions: a sushi roll of truffle paste, ginger, wasabi and soy yuzu, with beef replacing rice; a sumptuous steak tartar with carpaccio and tempura quail egg; ravioli made out of beef, rather than pasta; and an innovative take on a traditional roast dinner, with a chop of rib eye, turnip, caramelized onion and a gruyere cheese popover.

We knew these teams were pretty evenly matched from the get-go, but we were shocked - and some were disappointed - by the outcome, which saw them finish in a dead tie.

Seriously. Aside from taking a minute to chat about the dishes after the sampling them the three judges scored each team totally independently - up to 10 points for taste, five points for originality, and five points for presentation. And the result was a score of 49 points for each team, which meant that they split the prize.

Both teams were understandably frustrated that there wasn't a clear winner, and to be quite frank, I think that next time, there should be an official tie-breaking process, because the teams put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into preparing and participating in these competitions, and it must be hugely disappointing to have no one emerge victorious, in the end.

Does anyone else smell a rematch?




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