Layers of traditional comfort food flavours, from cheesey squash risotto through gently-braised oxtails in a rich Merlot sauce were topped off by a crisp bite of earthy wild mushroom cracker and a broiled bite of Sauvagine cheese.
And that was just one of the 10 or so dishes prepared for an enthusiastic audience at the Alexis de Portneuf Young Chefs’ competition at Okanagan College during the Fall Okanagan Wine Festival.
Sponsored by a championship Quebec-based cheese maker, the apprentices and young chefs were challenged to create new dishes, appetizer, main or dessert, using the company’s cheeses.
They then offered their creations for tasting by the public, who accompanied the dishes with fine wines provided by local wineries.
The new chefs also prepared dishes for a pair of judges, who were charged with selecting a winner among the young chefs, and between the three teams of apprentice chefs.
This year, the people’s choice was won by young chef Hayden Duval, who works under executive chef Stuart Klassen at the Delta Grand Okanagan. He began with Okanagan boar bacon, which he had smoked himself, then incorporated into both mixed greens with a cheesy dressing, and a tiny stuffed local pepper. It was accompanied by a crisp cheesy cracker.
Executive chef Roger Planiden and Capital News food writer Judie Steeves, author of Jude’s Kitchen, served as official judges for the event, and both admitted it was a difficult task to choose amongst the many excellent creations.
They judged the above-described dish of young chef Zachary Drake of the Hotel Eldorado, to be tops among the group of seven young chefs and he was presented with both a trophy and money prize from the cheese company.
The creations of the apprentice team of four students of Chef Perry Bentley of the Okanagan College Culinary Arts Program were selected as tops among three apprentice chef teams and also received a trophy and prize money.
They prepared a bite of chocolate cheesecake with a smoked Caciocavallo cheese and a hint of chili; a double chocolate quinoa cake with a Capriny goat cheese; and a coffee-flavoured macaron with a Caronzola ganache and brush of black currant.
The event capped two weeks of activities as part of the 33rd annual fall festival.
Blair Baldwin, general manager of the Okanagan Wine Festival Society said it was an extremely busy couple of weeks that featured great weather and record attendance at a number of the larger events.
Each night, it seemed there were larger numbers than ever before at signature events such as the Young Chefs’ competition, he commented.
“We’re very pleased and we’re now planning for the festivals in 2014,” he added.