A new culinarian was crowned king this weekend during an Iron Chef competition at the Winnipeg Convention Centre.
The main event and every bit as crowd pleasing as the free meat treats handed out by several exhibitors, the competition took place as part of Centrex, Manitoba’s largest trade show for hotels, restaurants, bars and food service providers.
Eight restaurants competed for a grand prize of $1000, a set of new embroidered uniforms, and bragging rights, through a series of head to head battles over two days.
As in the Food Network namesake, Centrex Iron Chef competitors were given one hour to deliver as many dishes as they could using a secret ingredient. Teams were, however, permitted 30 minutes to brainstorm before cooking commenced.
The judges, selected from Winnipeg media outlets, restaurants and culinary organizations, were given the oh so arduous task of tasting the unique creations of some of the city’s best chefs. Teams were awarded points for presentation, composition, originality and organization.
Starting with the round robins on Sunday, chef Jon Royal, who led the Fairmont team to victory last year, this time fought for the honour of La P’tite France in a match up with Provence Bistro of Niakwa Country Club. Cauliflower proved a challenging ingredient, both teams lamenting the lack of protein.
Chef John Feliciano of Glendale Golf and Country Club created a massive upset in battle pear when his team defeated Iron Chef 2009 champions The Fairmont in spite of the calm, cool and collected leadership of chef Michael Fitzhenry.
Diversity Food Services battled Bonfire Bistro with eggplant as the reluctant star. Not only did chef Ben Kramer overcome the adversity of being one sous chef short, he later admitted to not even liking the secret ingredient. Neither of these apparent disadvantages seemed to matter as the Diversity team triumphed, advancing to Monday’s semi final.
Breakfast barely forgotten for many, event organizers pulled out all the stops Monday morning, announcing duck as the secret ingredient. As if that’s not rich enough for 11am, they anted up by giving the chefs foie gras and Grand Marnier as bonus items.
Chef Kramer found extra talent to fill the empty sous spot close to home…really close. His wife stepped in at the last minute. For some of us (ahem) this would be a recipe for disaster (too many chefs as the saying goes).
Playing in perfect harmony, however, Diversity drummed up a duck crepe with foie gras, and struck a Canadian chord with a duck and foie gras poutine. Were I a judge (HINT HINT) those dishes might have won/stopped my heart.
Knowing they had to do more than beat the odds, Ben went all in, playing the molecular gastronomy card. Using a tapioca malto dextrin powder, which can absorb its own proportions in fat at a ratio of 5 to 1 (where flour, for instance, absorbs at only 1 or 2:1) he created an ingenious powdered foie gras with Grand Marnier shooter. The powdered foie reverts to liquid state when it hits the tongue. Well played. Diversity advanced with a competition round record score of 64 points.
In battle turkey, teams were again given the option of using foie gras and Grand Marnier…which they did. Good job they switched up the judges for this one or they’d have needed some paramedics standing by with emergency angioplasty kits.
Not to be outdone by Diversity, Bistro 7 1/4 earned another kitchen stadium record in the next face off, beating Glendale Golf and Country Club.
Chef Sylvester Dudek of St Charles Country Club, Marco DeLuca of DeLuca’s and Ron Dobrinski of the Canadian Culinary Federation Winnipeg chapter presided over judging for the final round. The secret ingredient…a regrettably seldom seen protein on Winnipeg menus…rabbit.
Battle bunny was every bit a retelling of the classic old turtle and hare story. Bistro 7 1/4 set a blistering pace delivering dish after dish, while the Diversity team took it slow and steady.
This was one round I didn’t envy the judges for. They were barely able to down a morsel from each plating and record their scores before B725 called yet again for service and the runners deposited another composition for consideration. Even in the last few minutes, chef Alex sent up three dishes, including a dessert.
When time had elapsed, Bistro delivered ten takes on rabbit for the judges deliberation, Diversity five. But the outcome would prove true to the old adage, slow and steady wins the race. Ben Kramer, head of the University of Winnipeg’s Diversity Food Services, reigned supreme as Winnipeg’s Iron Chef 2010.