Some days, I really love being a food writer, and today was definitely one of those days. I was overjoyed to be asked to return for a second year to judge the 28th Annual Winterlude Stew Cook-Off in the ByWard Market.
The event takes place in a giant tent on York Street. Inside, 14 participating restaurants and organizations, including the Ottawa Mission and Shepherds of Good Hope, presided over giant cauldrons of stew, ladling out tasty creations to a large crowd of happy people (over 500 turned up this year). It’s the best lunch hour of the winter, and it’s only 10 dollars per person for unlimited stew, plus delicious bread donated by Rideau Bakery. Better yet, the proceeds support the Lowertown Community Resource Centre. All the restaurants donate their time and food to this event.
I joined a panel of seven local “celebrity” judges that included Henry Burris, former quarterback for the Ottawa Redblacks and current CTV host, and Executive Chef Denis Girard of the Casino du Lac Leamy. Judges received a tasting portion of each stew and gave it a score out of five in each of three categories: presentation, flavour, and composition.
As you’d expect, many entries were a take on the classic beef and root veg stew, but there were some very creative efforts including a seafood and corn chowder, an Indian vegetable curry, and a “stew croquette”: a deep-fried ball filled with seasoned ground beef and topped with a dab of mustard.
The Judge’s Choice winners were revealed at the end of the event: third place this year was taken by the Heart and Crown, for its duck confit and truffled white bean stew; in second place was Tucker’s Marketplace with its Marrakech Hot Pot, a Moroccan-spiced chicken and chickpea stew; and in first place was the Courtyard Restaurant with Beau’s beer-braised pork belly, smoked bacon, and sweet potato stew.
The event also hands out the Top Shelf Distillers People’s Choice Awards, voted on by attendees. This year’s awards went to Tucker’s Marketplace (first place), the Fish Market (second place), and the Heart and Crown (third place).
Congratulations and thank you to all the participating restaurants and chefs! If you didn’t make it out to this year’s cook-off, take my advice: don’t miss it next year.