By Chris Cline and Yasmin Nissim
This Monday night local chefs will ‘meat’ their match in a head to head, high-‘steaks’ cook-off extravaganza! The Duelling Chefs return for a second year to entice attendees with fast-paced culinary creations from some of Ottawa’s top gastronomic gurus.
Last year, Juniper Wine Bar and Kitchen launched the first ever Duelling Chefs competition, intended to bring together top chefs from around Ottawa to compete in some friendly competition and raise money for local charities. This year, Juniper returns again with 10 new challengers set to throw down for the right to claim the evening’s victory and raise at least $40,000 for six local charities.
Between February 21st and June 6th, a team of three for each competing restaurant will be expected to create four courses of edible ingenuity – but there is a catch! The competing teams will have to complete each course within a set amount of time and incorporate a “secret ingredient” into at least two of those four courses, with top points being awarded if all four courses have a pinch of this mysterious morsel. And, to add a little more spice to the evening, all dishes must be expedited within 10 minutes or no points will be awarded for that course. Are your taste buds tingling yet?
If this fast-paced, gourmet race-to-the-top sounds like your cup of tea, head to the Duelling Chefs website for all the tasty details, including the competitors and the full set of rules. Tickets are $200 per person, per duel and include all food, wine, taxes and gratuities. Juniper will host the event as they did last year, with the evening’s events beginning at 6:30pm, and service beginning at 7pm.
In the spirit of competition, we interviewed the chefs from the first duel set to take place February 21st. Juniper’s own Norm Aitken and Chris Deraiche of Wellington Gastropub were kind enough to grant us quick phone interviews about their upcoming friendly, culinary combat. Responses were edited for length.
Apt613: Do you have a unique style or technique that you feel really defines you as a chef?
Chris Deraiche: We don’t really do anything far out at the restaurant. The biggest difference between us and a lot of restaurants is that we change the menu every day. That’s something that was really difficult and challenging at the beginning, but we’ve really grown into it over the years.
Apt613: Do you feel that the Duelling Chefs competition is helping to turn the spotlight onto some of the exciting culinary experiences available in Ottawa?
CD: I’d say it’s something different that Ottawa hasn’t really seen before. It’s a good opportunity for people to try a different medium for dinner, rather than just going out and having dinner like they would normally. The fact that you get to try two different restaurants in one sitting, and do it in a creative environment, is a bonus.
Apt613: Tell us a bit about your team members.
CD: Our sous-chef is named Chris Lord, and he’s been with us for almost two years. Our pastry chef, Adriana Babineau, has been with us since the restaurant opened four and a half years ago.
Apt613: You competed in the Duelling Chefs competition last year. Did you have a chance to gauge the crowd’s reaction to your creations?
Norm Aitken: We were kind of stuck in the kitchen, but we did see their reactions to a certain degree. I’d say everyone was pretty impressed, because the food we were pumping out was above and beyond. The competition really brings out the best in the chefs.
Apt613: A 10 minute window for expediting each course is pretty tight. How do you and your team cope with that pressure?
NA: Usually we design our courses with a pre-plated element to them, so they’re all laid out in advance. When the timer starts, we’re basically just adding the finishing elements. Last year, some of the visiting chefs were coming down to the wire, and they started to freak out a little bit.
Apt613: Can you tell us about any of the themes or inspirations for the dishes you’ll be preparing?
NA: It’s hard to say without a list of ingredients, which we won’t receive until the Saturday before each event. But as soon as we get those ingredients, we’ll start brainstorming. For example, if the secret ingredient is soy sauce, we might take the dish in an Asian direction, but heirloom squash would take us down a completely different path.
Apt613: Do you have any fighting words for your competition?
NA: I hope they bring their best! We’re here to learn too. Last year during Duelling Chefs we learned a lot of new tricks. That’s the whole point of this competition.
- Feb 21st: Chris Deraiche, Wellington Gastropub
- March 7th: Glen Sansome, Petit Bill’s Bistro
- March 21st: Serge Rourré, Le Baccara
- March 28th: Gino Mastellotto, Flying Piggy’s Bistro Italiano
- April 4th: Rene Rodriguez, Navarra Restaurant
- April 18th: Ben Baird, Urban Pear
- May 2nd: John Taylor, Domus
- May 16th: Jonathan Korecki, Eighteen
- May 30th: Michael Farber, Farbs Kitchen & Wine Bar
- June 6th: Patricia Larkin, Black Cat Bistro