Mildred’s Temple Kitchen got it right, last night, with their inaugural Winterlicious Tin Chef contest–no Gordon Ramsay theatrics or 18-month-pregnant pauses before announcing the winner, just supportive judges, a warm vibe, an engrossed audience, and a focus on the food. (OK, a few extra rounds of appetizers would have gone down well with the straight-from-work crowd, but belly rumbles coupled with tantalizing cooking aromas aside, it was such a fun event!)
I was at the Toronto restaurant to support my
friend heroine, Roti Queen Deborah Brewster.
The pressure was palpable, as the contenders–five home cooks–had just one hour to create something original and delicious.
Under this kind of scrutiny, I would probably have crawled under the table and rocked back and forth, waving a carving knife at anyone who tried to coax me out.
Not Debbie. Competitors had a surprise black-box ingredient (duck) and the contents of a well-stocked pantry to work with. She quickly figured out her game plan and darted from workstation to pantry to stove like she owned that fancy restaurant.
Executive chef Donna Dooher, her kitchen staff and the three judges–Alida Solomon from Tutti Matti, Paul Brans from Oliver & Bonacini and Saverio Marci from Cibo Wine Bar–were circulating to ask questions, take notes, help contestants use the eyebrow-scorching commercial gas stoves, and run to the kitchen for extra ingredients, when required.
They joked around throughout, finding a balance between respecting the cooks’ need to focus and keeping things animated for the crowd.
Our gal, Deborah, made blackberry-glazed duck breast with mashed potato (secret ingredient: egg yolk), charred cherry tomatoes, and some sprigs of parsley for good luck.
And while she didn’t take first place–this time–she did her fans proud.
Top honours went to Gav Martell for his pan-seared, garam masala-spiced duck breast with Irish mashed potatoes and a reduction of balsamic vinegar, cinnamon, duck fat, honey and grapes.
Gav looked surprised and modest and delighted when they called out his name. As for Debbie, she proved she could absolutely handle being up for an Academy Award, whichever way it went. (Our next project?)
Donna Dooher said the scoring was close, and in the end mastery of salt and pepper was Gav’s superpower.
There was a ticker-tape flurry of joy to honour Toronto’s first Tin Chef.
Then after that there was a lot of hugging, before everyone headed out into the snowy night–judge Paul Brans still clutching his very own Debbie-on-a-Stick.
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Duck is a delicious, meaty bird–juicy and moist when done right. In honour of our Tin Chef contenders, I’ve gathered some expert tips on cooking it to perfection:
♥ “Only a genuine duckling–a bird under 6 months old–is good for roasting.”–Julia Child, The French Chef Cookbook
♥ “Slow-roasting means the skin goes really crispy, and you cook out loads of fat… the meat becomes tender, sticky and fantastically rich.”–Jamie Oliver, Happy Days with the Naked Chef
♥ “Salt and season the duck at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours ahead. This salting ahead does two things: adds flavour and makes it moister. It also produces crispy skin that we love.”–Chef John Ash, Culinary Birds
♥ “Duck, having all that fat to keep it afloat, needs a little care if it is not to be greasy. Tear out the lumps of soft, white fat from inside the carcass and prick the duck’s skin all over, so that some fat escapes during roasting.”–Nigel Slater, Appetite
♥ “Hang on to your duck fat. Fried potatoes love duck fat!”–Lynn Crawford, At Home with Lynn Crawford
Got any of your own tips to share? Post them in the comments section!