Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Test of Our "Metal"!

Ah, yes... I am finally getting myself around to posting all the details from the wonderfully gaudy, edging-on-Food Network status, crazy Monday afternoon that was this year's Copper Chef competition! I actually wrote most of this post on FRIDAY, but since Blogger is oh-so-cooperative these days I wasn't able to upload any of my photos until this afternoon! (Does anybody know if Wordpress is any better, and if you're on FoodBuzz, was it easy to switch over? I don't want to mess up my contract with them!).

So, a group of three of us CAFPer's registered for this Copper Chef competitive event as one of the four schools competing (we were up against Ryerson, George Brown, and Guelph). As you know from my earlier whining opining, we had to write a menu of appetizer and main with a "sexy" theme. After menus and recipes were written (by yours truly, and riskily, I may add - I had never cooked a thing I wrote on the menu, and all my recipes were from scratch - not to mention I wouldn't be able to taste test and tweak) and submitted to the powers that be, our team (me and my two awesome friends Johana and Sabrina, who indulged me in this venture) convened at my house for a test run with Andrew as our awesome and adventuresome taste-tester!

With the exception of a few minor tweaks, mostly when it came to task division and garnish (thank you Sabrina for the ideas!), the recipes were a resounding success amongst all who partook in the eating! The girls took home portions of the leftovers and Andrew polished off his plate without hesitation, and even asked me if we could make the soup together the next weekend so he could have it all to himself. That didn't wind up happening, but as I catch up on the reams of recipes I've done since I was posting regularly you will see why!!

So, bouyed with all the good feelings of a job well done in the test kitchen, basic tasks and tips ingrained in our minds and all our uniforms pressed and packed with my arsenal of stuff, we headed down to Toronto's Delta Chelsea hotel and ventured into the (mostly) unknown!

This was the table of awesomeness that awaited us (surrounded, as you may note, by ever so subtle T-Fal product placements which were also our provided kitchen equipment and prizes... [and yes, the same, "wiped out" ones]). The amount of food was stunning, but not AS stunning as our secret ingredient was - if you can't see them well in this shot, take a look on my Flickr page! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the vegetarian's paradise that is exotic fungi awaited us as our secret ingredient! I won't lie, I squealed when I saw them - Black Trumpets, Shiitakes, Hen of the Woods and (my personal favourite) Hedgehog mushrooms were available to us in no small quantities!

The hour we were given to cook flew by, and was divided into appetizer / main timeframes designed to stagger all the schools' submissions to the judges, which definitely helped when it came to delivering hot food especially when we only had one burner! Thank God I a) remembered both my food processor and immersion blender (and if you make this recipe you will want at least the food pro unless you love grating carrots!) and b) the soup appetizer itself is pretty quick-cooking, as was our chicken entree. Actually, the veggies took the longest to cook, and only because we used the newest technology from the sponsor. While I'm not knocking the capability to fry things more healthfully, the ActiFry does take a longer time than stir-frying in a pan - our original idea (and still our preference). For French fries or anything you want to "stir-cook" without hawking over it, though... go at it. Apparently it's just as good for things like soup and risotto too.

As we were cooking, our team of supporters arrived and began the table rounds, stopping only briefly at our station to greet and cheer us on. Both my parents were there along with my grandma (Grandpa had offered to pick up my sister from school but had sent his luck along), and our Psych prof Stan from last semester (who I've waxed poetic about previously) came down with his friend too! Apparently his friend was only there for the free food - and he must have enjoyed our leftover veggies since he hardly offered anyone else the plate! Even our Nutrition professor Ami was there! Thanks everyone!

Presentation time fell to me... apparently I was the unofficial "head chef" of the operation! Fine by me, I can get creative! Playing up the whole "sexy" angle of the competition, I chose to have some fun with my soup's description by mentioning the particular shape of the base ingredient (carrot) and garnish (asparagus). I in fact spoke quite certainly of their phallic natures... and yes, I did use that word! Then the adjectives velvety, silky and creamy followed - sending the women into titters (oops!) and the men into a very interested state. Then, just because I couldn't have just left it at that, when one of the judges complimented the recipe I responded with "well, I served it to my fiance last night and I know he approved!". Sigh, could you tell it had been a long day??

In the end, the judges agreed with Andrew's palate! Though I didn't say for the dinner meeting (and subsequent awards ceremony), Johana called me the next morning to tell me that we won the food taste/texture category! Unfortunately, due to the prowess of the George Brown chef school students' plating ability, we lost the presentation and "People's Choice" areas to them. But second place - to a CHEF SCHOOL no less - I'll take that! As individual prizes, each of us scored an (ever so slightly used and dirty) electric fondue pot and a free apron. Officially, that is... after the cooking and judging were over and done with, we were clued in by our "Mentor Chef" (a sous at the Delta who got us a few extra goodies like awesome smoked paprika and our pre-requested but un-delivered flour!) that the leftovers on the ingredient island were ours for the picking! Oh. My. God. We left with more stuff than we brought - avocadoes, tomatoes, a big bag of salad mix, restaurant-grade flavour purees (I got an Ancho chili one), lemons, herbs, sour cream, yogurt, butter, bell peppers... oh yeah, and a half kilo of mushroomy goodness!!

So yeah - even though we didn't come out tops according to the official stats, I think we most definitely won what mattered. At the very least, we had a blast (and about a million requests for the recipes!).

As a nutrition student, my total caveat for all these beautiful recipes is this - they are not in any way diet food. This was a CHEF competition, after all, and as Ms. Deen, Mr. Batali and Ms. Garten all say, fat is flavour. But flavour... I dare you to tell me it's lacking!

Curried Carrot – Ginger Soup
Serves 4
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp flour
½ tbsp curry powder
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 ½ cups chicken broth
350 g carrots, grated
1 cup cream
½ tsp kosher salt (omit if salted butter)
¼ tsp black pepper
  1. Melt butter over medium heat.
  2. Stir in flour, curry powder, cinnamon and ginger.
  3. Cook until fragrant and thick, 2 – 3 minutes.
  4. Stir in chicken broth, followed by carrots, and bring to a simmer.
  5. Cook, stirring often, 15 minutes, until slightly reduced.
  6. Remove from heat.
  7. Slowly stir in cream, salt (if using) and pepper.
  8. Return to heat and warm through (do not let boil).

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 335.9
Total Fat: 29.0 g
Cholesterol: 97.7 mg
Sodium: 713.2 mg
Total Carbs: 13.8 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.6 g
Protein: 6.7 g

Sautéed Asparagus and Mushrooms in a Lemon – Thyme Butter
Serves 4
½ tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp unsalted butter
6 oz asparagus spears, trimmed of woody ends and sliced on diagonal to 1” thick
2/3 lb button mushrooms, sliced
½ tbsp fresh thyme
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
½ tsp lemon juice
Salt and pepper, to taste

  1. Heat olive oil and butter together in a sauté pan until butter melts and is bubbling slightly.
  2. Add asparagus and cook 1 – 2 minutes, until bright green.
  3. Add mushrooms to the pan and toss lightly to mix.
  4. Continue to sauté 4 – 6 minutes, until mushrooms are browned and asparagus is tender.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 66.9
Total Fat: 4.9 g
Cholesterol: 7.6 mg
Sodium: 24.3 mg
Total Carbs: 4.4 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.8 g
Protein: 3.3 g

Paprika – Painted Chicken Breast
Serves 2
2 tsp olive oil
10 oz boneless, skinless chicken breast, in 2 portions
Salt and pepper, to taste

  1. Heat olive oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat.
  2. Lay chicken out on a board and sprinkle each side with salt and pepper.
  3. Place chicken in the pan and cook 10 minutes. Do not move the meat.
  4. After 6 minutes, flip chicken over and continue cooking (again without moving the meat) for a further 6-7 minutes, until no longer pink and 165F in the thickest part of the meat.
  5. Remove chicken to a plate, cover with foil and allow to rest 5 minutes.
  6. Slice each breast into 5 strips.
  7. Dip a (clean) paint or pastry brush into a small dish of paprika, tapping off excess.
  8. Dry – brush the cut side of each chicken slice with paprika.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 195.6
Total Fat: 6.3 g
Cholesterol: 82.2 mg
Sodium: 92.1 mg
Total Carbs: 0.0 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.0 g
Protein: 32.7 g

Pan – Grilled Bruschetta Pomodoro
Serves 4
1 large tomato, seeded and diced fine
¼ tsp lemon juice
½ tsp fresh thyme
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 small bias-cut slices baguette bread
2 tsp olive oil
1 large clove garlic, halved

  1. Preheat a grill pan over high heat.
  2. Combine chopped tomato, lemon juice, thyme and seasoning in a small bowl, set aside.
  3. Lightly brush each side of the baguette slices with olive oil.
  4. Place slices on the grill pan and cook without moving 1 minute.
  5. Flip slices and cook one minute further, until toasty brown.
  6. Immediately rub one side of each slice with the cut side of garlic.
  7. Top each slice with equal amounts of the tomato mixture and serve immediately

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 117.1
Total Fat: 3.4 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 199.0 mg
Total Carbs: 18.7 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.5 g
Protein: 3.2 g


  1. I love carrot-ginger soup. Whole Foods sells one and the smell is especially amazing.

  2. Congrats! What a great event. Re: Foodbuzz, I thought that wordpress free blogs don't allow ads at all. . . at least, last time I asked. Maybe it's changed.


Thanks for the feedback!