Mildred’s Kitchen Temple was the backdrop for the Citrus Cook off challenge that had some of Canada’s most talented culinary students competed against each other.
I’ve lived in Toronto for the better part of my life, but even though I’ve lived here, on the periphery to be exact, I’m still a tourist in my own town. My formative years were spent away at school in a different city, so moving back after four years away really lets me see the city in a new light. This time around, I trekked to Mildred’s Kitchen in the Liberty Village—shocking as it maybe, this was my first time in the area.
On February 8th, Mildred’s Kitchen Temple was the backdrop for the Citrus Cook off challenge that had some of Canada’s most talented culinary students competed against each other. The Iron Chef-esque competition, that had Michael Baskerville, Alex Sielmann and Lauren Van DixHoorn compete for a $2000 grand prize, and a collection of kitchen supplies. The secret ingredient wasn’t a secret at all, but nonetheless, the contestants were judged on the best use of Florida Citrus. Each student had to create one appetizer, entree and dessert, featuring grapefruits and oranges.
Sounds easy right? Well, I thought so too, until I subjectively tried some of the dishes off the citrus tasting menu that Chef du Cuisine, Taylor McMeekin put together for the audience. Grapefruit has that distinct bitter, tangy profile that makes it challenging to successfully pair in both savory and sweet dishes. I really wanted to love the dishes off the taster menu, but I couldn’t justify the use of citrus in some of the dishes. The menu was under-thought, over-ambitious, and too diverse given the main ingredient.
[Alex Sielmann (Stratford Chef School) and Lauren Van DixHoorn (Niagara College) discussing strategy prior to the competition]
There were highlights: the second course, an orange gnocchi dish, was surprising, and interacted nicely with the other components on the plate. With that being said, my plate missed a critical element; the kitchen staff overlooked the jalapeno grapefruit beurre blanc on my plate (ops!), this ops aside, it was still delicious. The chocolate and coffee dusted hanger steak was perfectly cooked. The sweet potato galette that accompanied it was tender, sweet, and well done—unfortunately, the burtn orange glaze that it was paired with, was overwhelming. Not to say it wasn’t interesting, because it was, but my plate was drowned in it.
Unfortunately, the disappointments outweighed the aforementioned successes: the carbonated grapefruit avocado salad was, for the lack of a better adjective, terrible. It was texturally unappealing, and worse, the flavor was bitter, only masked by the pungent firm raw brined (?perhaps) red onions. The dessert, a rooibos crème brûlée, orange almond biscotti, and grapefruit chili sorbet, was in a battle with itself. The orange biscotti was far too bland and friable, the orange crème brûlée was passable, but not spectacular, and the chili grapefruit sorbet had no place on that plate. Individually, the components were mediocre, and when paired, they hinted amateur deft. There were far too many obstacles to make this meal pleasantly memorable. Grapefruit proved to be a challenge to pair with both savory and sweet courses, and the 7-dish taster menu prepared for the fully occupied dining room didn’t help.
[The judging panel, consisting of: Christine Cushing (TV personality, Food Network Canada), Anthony Walsh (Executive Chef, Canoe), Anne Yarymowich (Executive Chef, Frank @ the AGO), Ivana Raca (Executive Chef, McKewan) and Daniel Muia (Chef and Owner, Mogette Bistro)]
Given the judges critiques, the challengers had a similar test. Christine Cushing hinted at highs and lows for all of the competitors, but as a whole, the judges ultimately decided Lauren the winner. I appreciated the genuine and honest critique from the judges—I was pleasantly shocked by the bluntness and extremely entertained by some of the comments. Critiques aside, the evening was fun. I had a great time, and inspired by the student chefs.
[Challengers: Alex Sielmann, Lauren Van DixHoorn and Michael Baskerville]
I asked all three contenders for advice on culinary school. Alex advised me to ‘read in between the lines’. He said it wasn’t so much about regurgitating what you learn, but learning how to think critically and push boundaries. Michael told me to dream big, and to get the most out of the experience. Finally, Lauren reminded me that its important to take risks—its what gets you noticed.
Thanks for the advice guys, and good luck!