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South Delta Leader Chef Showdown 2013
When it comes to holiday cooking, it can be difficult to keep guests interested in the same Christmas standards. So this year, the South Delta Leader challenged four of Ladner and Tsawwassen’s finest chefs to come up with four creative takes on the same dish, using the same secret set of ingredients, for our annual Chef Showdown.
The event, hosted at Illuminaté Restorante in Tsawwassen, featured Beach Grove Golf Club executive chef Froilan Alejo, Coast Tsawwassen Inn executive chef Cindy Anderson, Urban Village Catering owner/operator Wes Levesque, and River House Restaurant and Pub executive chef Jamie Smail. The chefs were tasked with creating a signature dish based around a duck breast, supplied by Two Rivers Specialty Meats. Along with the featured protein, the chefs had a wide variety of fresh, locally-grown vegetables to incorporate into their dish, including Klondike rose potatoes, golden beets, rutabaga, and graffiti eggplant from BCfresh, as well as cherry tomatoes and peppers from BC Hot House.
Each chef was given an hour to prepare their dish for the esteemed panel of judges, which included BCfresh vice president of sales and marketing Brian Faulkner, Keg Steakhouse and Bar franchise owner Kurt Landert, South Delta Leader editor Robert Mangelsdorf, and Illuminaté Restorante owner and chef, Roland Smith.
Chef Showdown 2013 competitors, from left to right: Jamie Smail (River House Restaurant and Pub), Wes Levesque (Urban Village Catering), Cindy Anderson (Coast Tsawwassen Inn), and Froilan Alejo (Beach Grove Golf Club). Rob Newell photo
Chef showdown judges panel
Brian Faulkner knows a thing or two about fresh produce. As the vice president of marketing for BCfresh, B.C.’s largest potato grower, he’s intimately familiar with the dozens of varieties the consortium of 50 family growers produces. In addition to potatoes, BCfresh also produces dozens of other locally grown vegetables, including squash, beets, carrots, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, and rutabagas.
Faulkner got his start in the produce business with BC Hot House, and chose the secret ingredients for this year’s Chef Showdown, which were provided by BCfresh, BC Hot House, and Two Rivers Specialty Meats.
Keg Steakhouse and Bar
Kurt Landert began his formal chef’s training at the age of 15 in his native Switzerland. After a stint cooking in Sydney, Australia, he came to Canada in 1973 to become the executive chef at the Plaza International Hotel in North Vancouver. In 1974 he joined the Keg group as the burgeoning chain’s executive chef and later vice president of food service, and was responsible for helping develop the menu, as well as training and instructional material for the chain’s kitchen staff.
Today, Landert is the owner of four Keg franchises in the Lower Mainland, with restaurants in Richmond, Surrey, Langley and Abbotsford, and still loves a good steak.
South Delta Leader
Prior to his career in journalism, Robert Mangelsdorf spent close to a decade slaving away in the trenches of various kitchens throughout the Lower Mainland. Mangelsdorf’s first job was as a dishwasher at a Red Robin’s restaurant in Burnaby at 14 years old. While attending Langara College’s journalism program, he cooked under Top Chef Canada contestant Kunal Ghose at Sash Restaurant on Commercial Drive in Vancouver.
Mangelsdorf is an avid home cook and eats far too much.
Roland Smith was born and raised in Sweden, and got his start cooking in the kitchen of private men’s club in Stockholm. Smith travelled to the United States in his early 20s, where he studied at the French Culinary Institute in New York. After a stint at il Terazzo Carmine in Seattle, Smith came north to Vancouver to work at celebrity chef Umberto Menghi’s il Giardino. After rising to the position of executive chef at il Giardino, Smith decided to bring the flavours of Tuscany to Tsawwassen, opening Illuminaté Restorante with his wife Joeqyna in 2005, creating one of South Delta’s premier fine dining restaurants.
Chef Showdown 2013 judges, from left to right: Roland Smith (Illuminaté Restorante), Brian Faulkner (BCfresh), Kurt Landert (Keg Steakhouse and Bar), and Robert Mangelsdorf (South Delta Leader). Rob Newell photo
Froilan Alejo, Beach Grove Golf Club
Originally hailing from the Philippines, chef Froilan Alejo immigrated to Canada at the age of 17, and brought his love of bold flavours and spices with him.
Alejo first got his start in the kitchen washing dishes at the Red Robin’s restaurant at Metrotown in Burnaby, before going on to attend Vancouver Community College’s culinary arts program. Alejo did his apprenticeship at the Beach House Restaurant and Lounge in West Vancouver and went on to become the chef of the fine dining restaurant Pinnacle Grill on the Holland America cruise lines.
“I worked on the cruise ships for four years,” he says. “I got to travel the world and see all different sorts of ingredients.”
Upon returning to Vancouver, Alejo further developed his talents at Richmond’s Quilchena Golf Club and Frankie’s Italian Kitchen in Vancouver.
For the past two years, Alejo has been the executive chef at the Beach Grove Golf Club in Tsawwassen, where he runs the club’s restaurant and catering kitchen, cooking a diverse assortment of cuisines.
“Because Beach Grove is a private club, we have a lot of the same clientele,” says Alejo. “That’s why it is important to offer a wide variety. Our menu is changing all the time.”
In addition to French- and Italian-inspired classics, Alejo is also comfortable serving up Asian and West Coast fusion cuisine.
“We cater to anybody, because we have multicultural members,” he says.
Alejo recently competed in the Top Chef B.C., finishing in second place, and is currently trying to qualify for the Bocuse d’Or, the famed international culinary Olympics which next take place in 2016 in Lyon, France.
Alejo’s dish combined bold spices with sweet and savoury elements, creating a Tuscan-inspired dish that was right at home at Illuminaté Restorante.
“I looked at all the ingredients and tried to incorporate them as best as I could,” says Alejo. “Rösti, I know, goes very well with duck breast. These aren’t ingredients you normally see with duck breast, so I tried to come up with a Mediterranean-style dish.”
Cindy Anderson, Coast Tsawwassen Inn
Cindy Anderson grew up with very plain, bland foods in her Scottish mother’s kitchen, something she says pushed her to discover bold and exciting flavours from around the world.
“My mom was never a great cook - sorry mummy,” she says. “I was the middle child… and it’s funny, because all three of [us] have this leaning towards ethnic food. I’ve always been into multicultural foods, and I’m a great lover of spice.”
Anderson’s culinary adventure began after graduating high school, when she decided to travel to Italy, a trip she financed by working at a Chinese restaurant.
In Italy she discovered the joys of fresh continental cuisine, and the wide world of pasta.
“That was the biggest inspiration for me,” she says. “I discovered there was more to life than spaghetti and meatballs.”
Anderson started out in the restaurant business running a concession stand, and soon opened the Main Espress Café in Vancouver, which she owned and operated for six years.
After a stint with Elizabeth’s Gourmet Delights in Ladner, Anderson took the sous chef position at Beach Grove Golf Club where she cut her teeth under executive chef Garth Greenleaves.
“He really pushed me to get ticketed and do this as a career,” says Anderson. “I’m forever indebted to him.”
For the past three years, Anderson has been executive chef at the Coast Tsawwassen Inn, where she regularly cooks for hundreds of party goers and guests.
“It’s basically a three-star hotel, so you get great band for your buck,” she says. “We have some great menus and great staff to facilitate any party or occasion.”
Anderson says she’s always loved the fast-paced nature of professional cooking, as well as the creativity it allows her.
“I’ve always had a passion for food, it’s a fun artistic medium,” she says. “And I really like the intensity of it all [in the kitchen], because when its all over, and you’ve executed it with success, it feels great.”
Anderson’s dish was as colourful as it was flavourful, incorporating bold curry and ginger notes.
“There was a lot to work with, so I did my best to make it all work together,” she says.
Wes Levesque, Urban Village Catering
Urban Village Catering owner and operator Wes Levesque knew since he was five-years-old he wanted to be a chef. Largely self taught, he opened his first restaurant, the Hilltop Café on English Bluff Road, at the age of 20.
“I grew up reading cook books and learning hands on,” he says. “I’ve wanted to be a chef as long as I can remember.”
Two years ago, Levesque sold his former eatery, to get into the catering business and take over operations of KinVillage Café at Tsawwassen’s KinVillage Community Centre.
In addition to running his catering company, Levesque is the host of Superfood Chef on DeltaTV, and currently working on building his own line of Superfood retail products.
Levesque is a strong believer that to make the best food , it needs to be local and organic, and he sources most of his ingredients from a dozen or so local companies.
“That’s one of the pushes we’ve made lately, to source locally,” he says. “And if we can’t get it local, at least get it organic.”
Levesque says more young people are discovering that organic food not only tastes better, it is better for you.
“My generation is making a huge push and it’s a push in a positive direction.”
Buying local is about more than supporting farms in your community. Levesque says the further a fruit or vegetable has to travel the more nutrients are lost.
That’s why you usually won’t find exotic fruits in Levesque’s dishes. Sometimes that means working with ingenuity.
Levesque’s Morroccan-flavoured dish is gluten-free and dairy-free, but it certainly isn’t lacking in flavour.
A former student of nutrition in college, he talked to nutritionists who told him avoiding dairy and gluten is easier on the digestive system.
As someone who has suffered from digestion problems in the past, Levesque says making the dietary switch has greatly improved his health.
“It’s just a healthier way of cooking,” he says.
Jamie Smail, River House Restaurant
At 25-years-old, Jamie Smail is the youngest of the four competitors in this year’s Chef Showdown.
But while he may not yet have the experience of some of the older chefs in the competition, Smail is certainly a chef who’s star is on the rise. Despite his youth, Smail was named the executive chef at the River House Restaurant and Pub in Ladner last year, and has quickly made a name for himself with his locally-inspired dishes.
Smail’s first taste of kitchen life was as a dishwasher at a pub while he was still in high school, and soon moved up to the kitchen where was flipping burgers and working the fryers. Smail was first able to truly develop his cooking skills when he joined the team at Felicos Greek restaurant in Richmond.
“I got a little bit more experience and kind of learned some techniques there, the Greek cooking,” he says.
But Smail knew he still many flavours he had yet to taste, so he set off to eat his way around Europe, sampling the many varied cuisines the continent has to offer. On his return to Canada, Smail landed at the River House, initially as a line cook, and soon worked his way up the ranks. But after three years, Smail left the restaurant to spend a year at the prestigious Vancouver steakhouse Black+Blue, an experience which further helped him develop as a chef.
“I learned a lot there, especially about time management, working high volume,” he says.
He returned to River House last year as the restaurant’s new executive chef, and has been working to put more local food on the menu.
“We try to use fresh, local ingredients, so the menu is constantly changing and there’s new stuff every week,” he says. “That keeps life interesting.”
Smail’s dish took its cues from the assortment of root vegetables provided, as he created a rustic dish, perfect for a cold winter’s evening.
“I wanted to keep it simple and not overdo it,” he says. “It’s comfort food.”
Chef Showdown 2013 winner: Froilan Alejo
Executive chef Froilan Alejo of Beach Grove Golf Club was named the Chef Showdown 2013 champion for his winning dish of five-spice duck breast, with vegetables napoleon, potato rösti, and roasted tomato chili coulis.
The judges found Alejo’s dish offered a wonderful balance of flavours and textures, in addition to being plated beautifully. The sweetness and spice of the coulis brought out the best in the vegetable napoleon, while its acidity married well with his perfectly-cooked duck breast. Meanwhile the crispy rösti provided a welcome change in texture.
“All of the competitors’ dishes were impressive in their own way, but Froilan’s stood out as the best,” said judge Robert Mangelsdorf.