Saltscapes: The Cutting Edge

Saltscapes

For three days I walked down what my friend Iain called the “Trans Canada Emergency Exit”—the hallway that bypassed everybody’s favourite drive-thru, New Brunswick, and brought you straight to the other Atlantic Provinces in the sprawling back room of the Saltscapes Expo set-up at Exhibition Park. For three days I would always stop and take a gander of the projection of fish that hazily swam above on a gauzy strip of fabric. I honestly have no idea what they were promoting, but it’s one of my favourite images of the weekend. Good work, fish!

The reason I was at Saltscapes for three days was to act as head judge of Taste of Nova Scotia‘s Cutting Edge Chef Competition, a black box competition that brought 10 chefs from across the province together to use some wonderful local ingredients and show off their skills and spontaneity in a lighthearted competition.

A herd, or dazzle, or murder, or whatever you call a bunch of people who judge chef contests of… well, of other people who judge chef contests took turns sitting in the other two seats throughout the weekend. Over the weekend I was joined by the likes of Slow Food Nova Scotia‘s Lia Rinaldo, Nicholetta Bokolas from the lovely blog Pepper + Paint, Patrick Sullivan from NS Tourism, Global Maritimes’ early rising Morning News weather gal, Jill Chappell, and some other thoughtful food fans from other blogs, media and food and tourism organizations. Although I avoided making any Pamchenko jokes based on the tragic and incomprehensible lack of traction my Cutting Edge joke made on Twitter—and perhaps because I avoided that—lots of laughs were had as we watched the chefs sweat it out on stage. The Kilted Chef, Alain Bossé makes that pretty easy. He and Christine from Taste of Nova Scotia have the unique kind of hosting chemistry you need to keep people engaged and entertained at an event like this. They did great.

So here’s the deal: two chefs would face off with four surprise ingredients that had to be included in their dish. They were gifted a sous chef from the audience to cook with, and then while they were trying to push out a cohesive dish in a half hour, they were also harangued by Christine and Alain the entire time, expected to answer questions and entertain. The most common answer heard by the chefs all weekend was “uh… what? uh… what? was the? question?” which was admittedly a better way to engage the audience than saying the “would you fuck off already?! I’M TRYING TO COOK.” they probably wanted to say.

The first match was Chef Christopher Ware from Seasons by Atlantica and Chef Craig Flinn from Chives. Their black box ingredients were snow crab from Victoria Co-op, double-smoked bacon from Meadowbrook Meat Market, quark from Fox Hill Cheese House and Passito, the first red wine—a blend of Marechal Foch, Leon Millot, and Luci Kuhlmann grapes.

On day two, Chef Shelley Steventon from The Old Fish Factory and Chef Matthew Krizan from Mateus Bistro had a bit of a South Shore battle, representing Lunenburg and Mahone Bay, respectively. They had to use Meadowbrook Meat Market chorizo sausage, Propeller & Garrison IPA, rainbow carrots from Dominion Produce, and some of Sugar Moon Farm’s delicious maple syrup.

Later that day, Chef Roger Joharchy from Atlantica Hotel & Marina Oak Island and Chef Jon Geneau from Rhubarb in Indian Harbour out there at beautiful Peggy’s Cove were lucky enough to use some of the province’s best seafood—cooked lobster from Fishermen’s Market and fresh mussels from AquaPrime Mussel Ranch—along with Tiday Bay from both Luckett Vineyards & Avondale Sky Winery, and Valley Flaxflour flax flour. Chef Geneau, in my opinion, got the pick of the bunch when it came to sous chefs. The lady that worked with him was such a delight to watch; at times it felt like he could have just sat down and had a beer. She chopped and stirred and was clearly having such a joyful time on stage. If I could have picked a winner for everything that weekend, I would have picked her. She was like a little plaid ray of sunshine.

On the final day of competition Chef Chris Velden from Tantallon’s Flying Apron Cookery battled with his protege Chef Jason Townes from Halifax’s Press Gang, where I assume Christina Hendricks was probably shucking oysters a few months back if I’m reading between the lines of FLARE Magazine correctly. Once again Meadowbrook provided the meat: free range chicken. Their box also had Haksap juice from LaHave Natural Farms, Scotian Gold apples and Farmer John’s summer savoury.

The last battle was straight out of the wild west: Chef Dale Nichols from Digby Pines and Chef Rolad Glauser from Shelburne’s Charlotte Lane rustled up a couple of plates with Digby scallops supplied by Clearwater, Cornect Family Farm honey, Terra Beata’s dried cranberries, and a bottle of rum from Ironworks Distillery. Glauser, a previous winner, really nailed the audience participation, bringing one of those cool Industrial Revolution Ice Cream Balls with him, and making an amazing savoury ice cream by filling it up and having the crowd toss it around until it was ready.

At the end, Glauser’s showmanship brought him to a 2nd place finish, with Jon Geneau coming in a close third. Just edging them out for the win was Matthew Krizan from Mateus Bistro in Mahone Bay. He made a chorizo meatball stuffed with quark, which he served on a risotto made with IPA and some caramelized rainbow carrots. It was delicious. It all was.

But if I had one suggestion to make to chefs who want to win next year’s competition, it would be: TOE PICK!

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