At the Judges’ Table: the Fourth Annual Culinary Arts Cook-Off

Mack and I had the privilege of being asked to be a part of the judges’ panel for the fourth annual Culinary Arts Cook-Off, a fundraiser for Mount Royal School. It’s a great, volunteer-driven event; a convergence of talented chefs and good food all in the name of arts education. Samples of the dishes are just $2, so it’s easy to understand why the event has attracted large crowds over the years.

2015 Culinary Arts Cook-Off

Live auction portion of the Culinary Cook-Off

I’d attended the Cook-Off before as a patron, but never as a judge. Our panel was made up of Mack and I, Tina Faiz from CBC and the Edmonton Journal, and returning judges Jennie Marshall from Yelp and Stanley Townsend from NAIT. In addition to the Judges’ Choice award, the chosen chef would also have the chance to compete in the pasta category of the Canadian Food Championships in July – talk about high stakes!

Each of the adult judges had also been paired with a student from Mount Royal, who had each written a winning essay to earn their spot at the table. The student judge I had been paired with is a foodie in his own right, and shared with me that he wants to become a chef one day.

The theme at this year’s event was “noodles and doodles”, and nearly all nine entries featured pasta. Student servers brought each of the dishes in succession to us, accompanied by the chef who created them. We rated each dish on appearance, consistency and taste, and during the process, some of us had also wished for a category to cover creativity!

Lux had one of the more innovative dishes, a pasta take on the Reuben sandwich. Crafted with handmade rye noodles, gruyere caraway cream sauce, housemade pastrami and pickled mustard seeds, it was a unique dish that prompted many favourable comments around the table.

2015 Culinary Arts Cook-Off

Reuben sandwich-inspired pasta from Lux

Zinc had many of us doing a double take – their dessert pasta version of tiramisu (with pasta cooked in sugar water layered in between lady fingers and vanilla and espresso creams) was the first non-savoury pasta for most of the judges.

2015 Culinary Arts Cook-Off

Tiramisu pasta from Zinc

Noodlebox’s entry of vindaloo pasta wok-fried with pulled pork and topped with crushed naan bread came as a pleasant surprise for many of us. The consensus was positive for the layered flavours and multiple textures.

2015 Culinary Arts Cook-Off

Vindaloo pasta from Noodlebox

Northlands contributed the only non-pasta dish of the bunch, a generous bowl of ramen in dashi broth, roasted garlic corn, egg and chicken kara-age. Although the noodles set them apart, the broth unfortunately lacked that expected umami.

2015 Culinary Arts Cook-Off

Ramen from Northlands

Pazzo Pazzo ended up earning the Kids’ Choice award for their traditional and tasty Pasticcio, comprised of four different kinds of pasta, alfredo and tomato sauces and cheese. In the words of one of the student judges – “It’s just plain good.”

2015 Culinary Arts Cook-Off

Pasticcio from Pazzo Pazzo

The big winner of the afternoon was Chef Lindsay Porter of El Cortez, who walked away with both the Judges’ Choice and People’s Choice awards. Her tortilla soup ravioli stood out even at first glance, as she had brought her own pottery bowls for plating. I really enjoyed the layers she built, with a spicy soup base, beans, Mexican cheeses, and a touch of corn chip crunch. Best of luck to Chef Porter as she competes in the Canadian Food Championships this summer!

2015 Culinary Arts Cook-Off

Tortilla soup ravioli from El Cortez

2015 Culinary Arts Cook-Off

Chef Townsend hands the well-deserved award to Chef Porter

In total (combined with the silent and live auction sales), the Culinary Arts Cook-off raised $18,305 this year, an amazing feat for a single-day event. Congratulations to all of the volunteers and students involved! Thanks again to the organizers for having us as judges; it was a blast!

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