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!

The Culinary Arts Cook-Off: April 18, 2015

If you don’t yet have plans for next Saturday afternoon, consider attending the fourth annual Culinary Arts Cook-Off at Mount Royal School. The event is a convergence of talented chefs and good food all in the name of arts education.

What: Culinary Arts Cook-Off
When: Saturday, April 18, 2015
Time: 11am-2pm
Where: Mount Royal School, 11303 55 Street

Every year, several community-minded chefs donate food and their time to contribute towards fundraising dollars to support arts core programming offered at Mount Royal School. The public is invited to attend and indulge their taste buds for a good cause – samples of the themed dishes are just $2 each, with all donations going towards the school. Of course, there is a competitive element involved, with chefs vying for awards in several categories: people’s choice, judges’ choice and kids’ choice.

Culinary Cook-off 2013

2013 Culinary Cook-Off

I attended back in 2013, when the competition centred around sliders. It was clear the chefs had a great time flexing their creativity, and we found that the taster sizes were definitely generous. The Cook-Off was also a resounding success; the school raised over $16,000 that year.

Culinary Cook-off 2013

The Marc’s contribution

This year, the theme is “noodles and doodles” – it’ll be interesting to see how the participating chefs interpret this, though I’m expecting at least a few versions of mac ‘n’ cheese. The ten restaurants on deck this year are: Craft Beer Market, El Cortez Tequila Bar & Kitchen, Lux Steakhouse & Bar, Noodlebox, Northlands, Pazzo Pazzo, The Red Piano, Smokehouse BBQ, Von’s, and Zinc.

To amp up the stakes even further, the winner of the judges’ choice category this year will also receive paid entry into the pasta category of the Canadian Food Championships in July. Ultimately, the winner of that competition will receive $2,500 and a trip to Florida to compete in the World Food Championships in November 2015.

I’m excited to share that Mack and I will be among the judges who will be tasked with selecting that winner on Saturday. Along with Tina Faiz, we’ll be joining some experienced judges who I’m sure will help show us the ropes. Good luck to all involved!

Hope to see you at Mount Royal School on Saturday!

The Second Annual Culinary Cook-Off, Slider Edition!

On a snowy Saturday, Felicia and I headed to Mount Royal Arts Core School in Highlands to attend the second annual Culinary Cook-Off. A brainchild of Karlynn Johnson (aka The Kitchen Magpie), the Cook-Off is a great way to engage the wider community, raise awareness of Mount Royal’s arts programming, and of course, raise funds for the school! In its inaugural year, the cook-off featured mac and cheese (which we sadly missed); this year, the competition centred around sliders. Given the blustery conditions, comfort food was the perfect way to warm up!

We arrived about an hour into the event, and the school was buzzing with activity. We were given a handy map as soon as we walked in, charting out where we could find the ticket cashier, silent auction items and the slider contenders. My only minor suggestion would be that a listing of slider names next to each competitor would have been appreciated – it was hard to keep them straight by the end!

Culinary Cook-off 2013

One busy gym!

Each slider was priced at only $2, so for $16, Felicia and I were able to try all eight options. It was incredibly affordable, and I can imagine organizers could increase the price in years to come with minimum consequence.

We loved that all competitors were easily identifiable with banners above their station, and a few of the tables featured signage indicating the name and ingredients featured in their creation. I’m sure the chefs without such signage tired of having to repeat this very basic information, so hopefully all competitors will be encouraged to have these details readily on display.

Culinary Cook-off 2013

Culinary Cook-Off

Sliders were comprised of pulled pork, beef and seafood, and it was great to see the creativity inherent in all of them. We were also impressed to find out that most restaurants baked their own buns for the competition!

Culinary Cook-off 2013

Felicia chows down

Standouts for us included The Marc’s ground sirloin and bacon slider, topped with bacon jam and sauerkraut (we loved the sweetness) and Harvest Catering’s Creole shrimp and salmon slider (the cornbread bun definitely set it apart).

Culinary Cook-off 2013

“The Big Marc” from The Marc

Culinary Cook-off 2013

Creole shrimp and salmon slider from Harvest Catering

Our favourite, however, had to be the dim sum slider offered by Murrieta’s. Inspired by siu mai, the pork and shrimp patty was topped with daikon, a fried wonton chip, and served on a honey bun.

Culinary Cook-off 2013

The dim sum slider from Murrieta’s

We stayed for the announcement of winners in the three categories:

  • Judges Choice: Murrieta’s
  • People’s Choice: The Marc
  • Kids Choice: The Manor, with their top sirloin slider, featuring a slice of fried potato

We really enjoyed ourselves – bravo to the organizers, participating restaurants and volunteers for a wonderful event. Here’s looking forward to next year!

Check out my full photoset here.