Century Hospitality Group’s “Top Chef”

It seems reality cooking competition shows are all the rage as of late, and with Top Chef Canada currently airing on Food Network, there is no doubt the profile of some of our nation’s chefs will definitely be raised in the process.

But did you know that Edmonton will soon be crowning a “Top Chef” of its very own? For a second year running, Century Hospitality Group (which runs Century Grill, Delux, Hundred and Lux, as well as a catering business) is showcasing its kitchen talent through an in-house culinary competition, dubbed “CHG Top Chef”.

This year though, the cooking throwdown is bigger and better. Not only will the finale be open to the public, but members of the external food community have been asked to help with judging duties. Mack and I were thrilled (and humbled) to be asked to be a part of a group of judges that includes Valerie of A Canadian Foodie, Mary Bailey of The Tomato, Liane Faulder of the Journal, and Chefs Blair Lebsack and Andrew Fung. It should be fun!

For some more background about why Century Hospitality decided to host such a tournament, I asked CHG Corporate Chef Paul Shufelt a few questions:

1. Why the “Top Chef” format?

We used the term “Top Chef” for the tournament, but, perhaps, it’s a hybrid of the Top Chef style challenges and the head to head competition of Iron Chef, or similar style cooking contests. We are holding a single elimination tournament, where 16 of our top young chefs are competing head to head, with the winner of each bracket going through to the next round. Each week the challenges will become more involved, with Top Chef style twists coming as the weeks go by.

2. What do you think are the qualities of a “CHG Top Chef” champion?

A CHG Top Chef, will be the person who best exemplifies the skills of a great chef. Often on cooking shows, it’s all about the dish they make and that’s it. Little value is given to other keys that make a chef great. Throughout the challenges we will be testing the chefs abilities to “sell” their dish, their ability to pair it with wine, and in the final challenge 20% of the total score will involve their ability to lead a team, which will include a competitor that they beat along the way, and a guest judge, who may know a lot about food, but little about the expectations of cooking a 3 course dinner for 50+ people. They will also be judged on organization of their time, use/waste of ingredients, cleanliness of work environment, etc. So the goal with this challenge is to determine who can not only prepare a great meal, but handle leading a team, manage a kitchen, and successfully feed 50 happy people. A little more involved than making dinner for four judges.  The successful chef will have to be creative, passionate about food, organized, poised, and possess strong leadership skills to win this competition.

3. Given we’re now in spring, and Lux’s recent foray into farmers’ market dinners, will seasonal ingredients be incorporated into the challenges?

The simple answer is Yes! Last week, we kept things very simple, because the time was limited and I was more concerned with seeing quality cooking, rather than overly complicated failures, but this week we will be adding a little something picked up from the downtown market before things get started. For next week, we will be incorporating even more ingredients from the market, and the secret ingredient for the dessert course in the Finale will be from the market, not to mention a foray of other great springtime ingredients picked fresh the day of. To take it a step further we have decided to provide the finalists with a $100 budget and an extra 30 minutes to peruse the downtown market to find complimentary ingredients for their dishes.

4. What can people expect from the finale on May 28? Why should they buy tickets?

People can expect a fantastic six course meal prepared by two of our most talented upcoming chefs, plated right before their eyes, in the company of other great food lovers. I can’t share with you what the secret ingredients are, but I can tell you they will be incredible. This will really be a foodie’s night! They will also get to be an active part of the decision process, as each guest will have one vote for their favourite chef. The total judges’ score will only be 100, so with 50 guests, and each one of their votes counting for one bonus point, they can really sway the decision. This will be a great evening of not just great food, but some fantastic entertainment, topped off with the crowning of Century Hospitality Group’s Top Chef.

I think this tournament will help to not only raise the profile of young chefs in Edmonton, but also help diners further understand and appreciate what goes into every plate at a restaurant. A girl can dream, but perhaps this will set the stage for a city-wide Top Chef competition to take place…

You can read more about the CHG Top Chef tournament on their blog. And if you want to buy tickets to the showdown, you’ll have to act fast – there are only 5 remaining as I write this!