Celebrity Chefs of Canada wrap-up (also known as the day I ate tuna, elk, pig, lobster, lamb, clam, rabbit and three parts of a duck)

What an amazing day of food, friends and fun.

Oh gosh, where to begin.

Well, as you know from previous blog posts, I was asked to be one of the official bloggers for the second-annual Celebrity Chefs of Canada event happening on March 25 at the National Arts Centre here in Ottawa.

I had a blast.

Since there are too many things that happened throughout the day for me to write any sort of cohesive blog post, I’m mostly going to post a few pictures with a short description underneath each of them. Hopefully that will help you get a snapshot of the day’s festivities.

Girl bloggers! Claire from foodiePrints, Jen from foodiePrints, Jodi from Simply Fresh, Paula from Ottawa at Home magazine, Kelly from The Gouda Life and me (looking waaaay too excited)! (photo credit: Don from foodiePrints)

But wait! First, I’d like to give a HUGE shout-out to Chef Michael Blackie who did a tremendous job of organizing the entire day. Everything ran so smoothly and I thought the tasting reception after the demos was laid out well and satisfying.

PS: Unlike the photos that I normally have on Hilary Makes, you can click through each image to access the larger file. That way you can have your favourite chef/dish combination as your desktop background!*

*do it!!!!!

The first chef team up was Chef Marc Lepine of Atelier and Chef Quang Dang of West Restaurant in Vancouver. Since they were my team (rah rah!) I knew what to expect from their citrus marinated B.C. geoduck with Ocean emulsion dish. For those of you who have never seen a geoduck clam (which I’m guessing is pretty much everyone), it is a hilarious-looking piece of seafood that resembles a cross between a snuffaluffagus nose and a rather large male appendage. Here is a photo that someone posted on Twitter, just to illustrate.

The impressive thing about this dish was that regardless of how many ingredients went into it (lots), you could still remarkably taste the flavours independently. I also really liked the pomelo ash and piece of beet paper jello that it was served with.

Ah yes, the famous Chef Susur Lee! I think we were all in awe as this statuesque chef took the stage for his demo with Restaurant Ei8hteen’s Chef Matthew Carmichael. This was a really interesting chef pairing, I thought, since the two chefs used to work together. It was the reunion of the apprentice and the master.

Their dish was a “chorizo style” St. Canut suckling pig, Parmesan crusted fennel and lobster salad with saffron mayonnaise. Get this – my first time ever trying lobster, it was prepared by one of the Ten Chefs of the Millennium. Will future lobster experiences ever be able to top that?

Last but CERTAINLY not least was the braised elk ribs-cream polenta-tasty crispy bits dish that was created by Chef Jason Duffy of ARC Lounge and Chef Jason Bangerter of Luma in Toronto. This was definitely my favourite dish of the day.

When it was presented after the demo session, the elk rib was sitting atop a long wooden plank – it was a beautiful serving method and looked rustic and warm. When I actually got around to tasting their creation, I could have died and gone to heaven. The elk meat melted off the bone and the crispy bits (as Chef Duffy said while serving the plate) were an essential part of the overall dish. It was so, so good.

There were also some cool displays of magical kitchen mastery, and the scenes above made me feel like I was back in chemistry class. In the picture on the left, Chef Jason Parsons of Peller Estates Winery Restaurant in Niagara-on-the-Lake used what looked like a hookah to smoke the duck breast using peach essence. It smelled amazing.

In the picture on the right, Chef Marc Lepine (king of kitchen gizmos and gadgets, not to mention molecular gastronomy), used liquid nitrogen to insta-freeze the pomelo. The cameramen loved filming that – anything with smoke makes for good footage.

As bloggers, we also got kick ass, second-row seats for the afternoon demo session. That meant that I could take cool, close-up pictures like these without rushing up to the front every two seconds. That’s Chef Jason Bangerter on the left and Chef Jonathan Korecki from Side Door on the right. Recognize Chef Korecki? That’s because he (and his homemade silk-screen-printed bandanas) is a contestant on season two of Top Chef Canada!!! It’s kind of one of my favourite tv shows…

To end off, it was such a great opportunity to see all the chefs doing what they do best! They all came out at the end for the grand finale – here’s a few of them up at the front.

I am SO happy I got to chance to go to this event, meet some great people and (of course) eat some beyond-delicious food. Happy stomach. I already wait in anticipation of next year’s event.

Celebrity Chefs of Canada profile: Chef Marc Lepine of Atelier

This is the second post in a series I’m writing about the second annual Celebrity Chefs of Canada event. Confused? Find out more details in my original post!

A word to the wise – if you ever ask Chef Marc Lepine to describe one of his dishes to you, the answer will not be short.

Chef Marc Lepine in his Ottawa restaurant, Atelier

I should have known better, as I asked Chef Lepine to describe his favourite dish of the moment. It’s the scallop plate that he first prepared for February’s Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna (where, in case you haven’t heard, he blew the competition away).

The five minute answer that followed made me gape in awe, and feel terribly guilty for having him recite all 20 ingredients on the spot. The dish involves ingredients ranging from celery compressed with sambuca to an aerated potato and truffle puree to tonka beans (one of his favourite ingredients at the moment that is actually banned in the United States). Even with his impressive naming of most of the ingredients, Chef Lepine had to email me a few hours later because he forgot to mention porcini mushroom powder.

A sampling of Chef Lepine's Atelier dishes: (top left) an elk tenderloin plate with trumpet mushrooms, (bottom left) a beet and citrus dish with walnut, (right) a chocolate, pomegranate, banana, and passion fruit dessert

It is this attention to detail and use of creative techniques and flavours that make Chef Lepine unique. The creations that come from his kitchen are equal parts complex and obscure, creating a memorable mix of innovation (smoking chocolate cake with a pipe) and homespun “guilty pleasure food goes gourmet” (Dorrito gnocchi, anyone?).

Chef Lepine beat out nine other chefs to win the sixth Canadian Culinary Championships

Despite recent culinary wins, Chef Lepine is still incredibly down to earth. He offers me a mug of green tea to match his own and we sit near the front window of his gastronomy kingdom, Atelier. When I ask to take pictures, he self-consciously points at a small brown stain on the front of his otherwise pristine chef jacket. I tell him to hold his restaurant’s Holy Grail – the large Canadian Culinary Championships trophy – in front of it. It works.

With Celebrity Chefs of Canada three weeks away, Chef Lepine is looking forward to participating for his second year.

For him, the highlight of the annual event is simple: it’s all about the chef-to-chef interaction.

“I look forward to it more than a lot of other events. Meeting some of the chefs from the other cities is really cool and something I enjoy,” he says. “You get to learn a lot.”

This year he’s paired with Chef Quang Dang of West Restaurant in Vancouver. The two have been collaborating over email for the past few weeks, bouncing ideas back and forth before finally settling on a guidock clam dish.

“I’ve never worked with that product so I’m really excited to watch him and learn,” Chef Lepine says about their choice of protein. “It was one of the ingredients that I was scared might turn up during black box challenge out in Kelowna.”

As for his pairing, Chef Lepine says he can sense Chef Dang’s passion for food through his emails.

On the day of, Chef Dang will be responsible for the clam, while Chef Lepine will work on the rest of the plate. That plate involves jalapeno, beets, herbs, and a charred citrus pomello ash, all served with a side of Lepine-style creativity. Case in point: the latter is created by burning the leftover pomello rind to produce a special, charred coal. That coal is then ground into an ash, which Chef Lepine says is incredibly fragrant.

“Chef Dang was really intrigued by that technique and apparently he’s doing something similar with apple cores and chives. He’s getting excited about the dish,” Chef Lepine says.

Though I mention that he seems to be achieving a sense of national notoriety following his big Kelowna win, Chef Lepine remains modest and humbled by others’ talents.

We’ve had our success here in Ottawa and last month’s win probably helped people in other parts of the country get to know us a little better, but the caliber of chefs this year – it’s quite the roster,” he says. “I’m really looking forward to it.”