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Almost Famous Chef Competition Cookbook

I was particularly pleased two years ago when I won the competition to be the blogger judge for the San Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition Canadian regional competition. It meant sitting on a judging panel with James Chatto and Claire Tansey, but also getting to meet and talk to some of Canada’s best aspiring culinary talent.

As part of this year’s programme a collection of the recipes from the 2011 and 2012 entrants has been published as a free e-cookbook. I had a chance to spend some time reading and cooking from the book and want to share my thoughts about it.

Culinary school students–especially when they enter competitions–seem to choose recipes that lean towards the fancy and French. For better or worse, that means no tacos. And it also (generally) means a central protein, supporting starch, and vegetable only as garnish. A minority of the recipes break this mold, but for the most part this is a lineup of classics that we don’t often see recipes for.

The 13 main recipes cover uncommon meat options like bison, duck, foie, and cod. We’re also introduced to cool and unusual techniques like tea-smoking for scallops and flavoured rice.

Not easily bothered by the thought that I might sound like a broken record I’ll say again: More Canadian recipes need to list more of their ingredients with measures by weight. Brown sugar, butter, and flour are all musts and others like vegetables (particularly for ones like onions, cabbage, and carrots that can vary drastically in size) would be better off that way. I hope the fact that some recipes in this collection give weights for things like pancetta and potatoes indicates an improving trend.

A second, more practical complaint is that I get the feeling that all of the specified internal temperatures have been goosed upwards to meet silly, government-suggested standards. For instance, duck breast will absolutely not be medium-rare if cooked to 155 F (a reliable forum thread on puts medium-rare (where I would) in the low-130s, after resting). I get it, chefs and experienced students will shrug and say that they cook small pieces of meat to touch doneness, but that doesn’t cut it here. If you’re going to put out a cookbook for home use either it should tell us how to do it your way or have temperatures that will deliver the stated results.

If you’re cooking in a situation that requires extra care consult your own reference, but I’d pull the duck at 128 F, veal and bison at 130 F, lamb at 127 F, and pork at 135 F to get them to the stated level of done-ness by the time they finish resting. Venison is a special case that needs to be treated differently if (and this is unusual) it is actually wild rather than farmed.

I played around with the recipes from Winston Lin for pork tenderloin and braised cabbage; and Jean-Francois Daigle for Honey Seared Bison Tenderloin with Apple Parsnip Puree. Both are clearly written and helped me produce delicious meals. The cabbage and apple and parnsip puree could both serve as standard preparations in most rotations.

This is a thoughtful collection of recipes that are worth trying and you can’t argue with the price (free). The cookbook and the competition are great ideas worthy of our applause. Having met many of the participating students and tasted their food I’m confident that Canada is blessed with a deep pool of culinary talent.

The Canadian regional competition happens at the end of this month and I’m happy to get the ball rolling with a contest for a $150 gift certificate to Lee Restaurant. Download the free e-cookbook, have a read and tell me which recipe you’re planning to try. One randomly-selected winner will get a $150 gift certificate for Susur Lee’s King West restaurant Lee courtesy of the San Pellegrino team.

Follow me and @AFChefComp and tweet the following: Hi @ortdavid from the @AFChefComp cookbook I’m going to try the YOUR RECIPE HERE. Please enter me to win $150 at Lee.¬†

Replace YOUR RECIPE HERE with a brief version of the name of the recipe you’re interested in trying. One entry per person. The contest will close on Friday, February 15, 2013 at 5 PM. Good luck.

Fine print: One entry per person over the whole length of the contest. (I reserve the right, at my own discretion, to disqualify entries that appear to use tomfoolery (e.g. multiple Twitter accounts for one person) to make an end-run around this provision.) If you already follow me you need only complete the second half of the task to be eligible. I will use to select a number and, counting from the first entry, that will determine who wins. I will get in touch with the eventual Winner to handle prize fulfillment.


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