Saturday, January 8, 2011


“We’re too nice,” says Tim Bedford, chef de partie for Canada’s 2011 Bocuse D’or team. This, according to Bedford, is what separates our nation’s outings at the international event, even though we’ve almost always placed within the top ten since its history.

Chef Ryan Stone's monkfish platter
Despite Canada’s relatively strong performance since the competition’s inception in 1987, relatively few people have heard of the event this side of the Atlantic (it likely doesn’t help that the Americans have yet to finish on the podium). Founded by namesake chef Paul Bocuse, twenty-four countries (whittled down from over fifty during regional qualifying rounds) compete in Lyon every two years, with chefs often taking years off to prepare. The contestants are provided with two or three main proteins that they must use to prepare two elaborate platters – one fish, one meat, each of which has to have three other ‘garnishes’ or sides of the chef’s choice – within five hours and thirty minutes, which are paraded in front of a panel of twenty-four of the world’s top chefs and gourmands, and then judged on taste, presentation, team work, organization and numerous other criteria.

The competition has not been without its controversies or drama. It has often been accused of being overly Eurocentric, and biased towards the French in particular (though the Scandanavian countries have done extremely well). Spain, in particular, has never placed within the top three, despite its prominence (or dominance) in the culinary world: the heartwrenching documentary El Pollo, El Pez y El Cangrejo Real (the Chicken, the Fish and the King Crab) takes this as its central theme, following the 2007 Spanish contestant Jesus Almagro through a year of preparation (if you can understand Spanish, the full movie can be viewed online here). There have been accusations of cheating, with mysterious vials being delivered to the French team in 2007 mid-competition (with a few exceptions, none of the components can be pre-made). In the same year, a French dishwasher ate elements off the American platter before its entrance, thinking that they were cast-offs from the plate. It’s years of back-breaking, spirit-crushing work, all focused down to mere hours of intense labour, and one of the most exciting competitions around.

Chef Ryan Stone's lamb platter

We recently watched the team finish the final hour of making both platters, one of umpteen practice rounds to gear up for the competition, less than a month away. It’s meticulous and intense work, with each task scheduled down to the minute, all within tight quarters that make the Iron Chef competition laughable.

The 2011 Canadian team, headed by Chef Ryan Stone (West Coast Fishing Club in BC’s Queen Charlotte Islands) and sponsored by Moxie’s, competes at the end of the month in Lyon, France on January 26th. The team has been preparing for the past two years, with Stone having left work in September to devote his life to the competition, 24/7. Only two chefs are allowed to cook during the 5:30, and the second commis chef must be under the age of 22: Stone is accompanied by Talib Hudda, from Burnaby’s Pear Tree, whose owner/chef Scott Jaeger acting as the mentor chef (Jaeger competed in 2007).

This year’s competition focuses on Scottish lamb saddle and monkfish. Here’s a rundown of the monkfish platter:

  • Kulen wrapped monkfish. The kulen, made locally, features beef brisket, scallop mousse and ham hock put together into a near-paste and wrapped around the kullen. These were placed inside glass tubes on the platter, as one of the biggest challenges is keeping the food warm before serving:
    • A Scottish crab and dashi terrine, with the hot dashi cream gel in the middle as well as a confited butternut squash at the base.
    • A sturgeon caviar and cauliflower mousse, which features a hot cauliflower foam, served with a potato on the bottom confited in clarified butter, all topped with the sturgeon caviar.
    • A hot tomato consommé with a slight bacon flavour, made into a gel with a braised celery root floating in the centre, all crowned with langoustines.
    • A pea tart with an onion anglaise within the shell, and a ‘bubble’ of pea soup on top, which bursts in the mouth.

    Here's the lamb platter:

    • Herb & mustard wrapped lamb, with the lamb loin and the lamb tenderloin glued together, encasing a lamb-fat poached portabello mushroom in the centre, all of which is wrapped within a chicken/pork skin sheet made with spinach powder, rosemary, parsley, mustard seed.
    • A lamb steak and kidney sausage, with chicken, foie gras, kidney and sirloin.
    • A potato and sweetbread tart, with a base of confitted potato, a middle layer of French onion gel, roasted shallot and sweetbreads on top, and garnished with dehydrated potato and fried herbs for crunch.
    • A golden beet soup ‘bubble’ is placed atop a tiny metal podium, while the base holds a puree of eggplant, poached apple and pinenut, with pickled golden beet on the base, and a “pinenut pill” made of chopped pinenuts, pinenut oil, chopped and fried herbs, and lemon zest. The two are meant to be ‘shot’ at once, with the bubble bursting in the mouth.
    • A sunchoke custard with white truffle puree and white truffle juice, wrapped with a tuille made of brioche, and served atop sauteed black trumpet mushrooms, hedgehog mushrooms and chantrelle mushrooms.
    Consider making all of that with only one person to help in five hours and thirty-five minutes, and you’ll get a better appreciate for what’s involved. The Mexican team has been known to have mariachi bands show up to cheer them on, in an environment that’s already plenty lively with thousands of other fans. And in the middle of that, we’ve got our "nice" Canadian team, who are hoping to finish on the podium for the first time. Give’em a little cheer.

    (PS Here's the trailer for El Pollo, El Pez y El Cangrejo Real)
    the clutterer Web Developer


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