A culinary celebration

Karl Wells
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"Ladies and gentlemen, my mother thanks you, my father thanks you, my sister thanks you, and I thank you!"

George M. Cohan

Over 400 people gathered at the Delta Hotel on Saturday evening for the 25th annual Canadian Culinary Federation's (St. John's) dinner and dance. Even the grand lobby of the hotel - decked out with colourful lard sculptures - was given over to the special event.

Dining out - "Ladies and gentlemen, my mother thanks you, my father thanks you, my sister thanks you, and I thank you!"

George M. Cohan

Over 400 people gathered at the Delta Hotel on Saturday evening for the 25th annual Canadian Culinary Federation's (St. John's) dinner and dance. Even the grand lobby of the hotel - decked out with colourful lard sculptures - was given over to the special event.

The $135 (double) event featured a multi-course meal and presentation of awards to CCF members. (It should be noted that not all St. John's chefs are members of the federation as membership is optional.)

Big winner

The highlight of the event was the presentation of the Sam Dealhoy Chef of the Year Award to 34-year-old St. John's chef/restaurateur, Fred Reardon. Reardon has co-owned and operated Classic Café since December 2004. There has been a noticeable improvement in the food at Classic Café since his ownership.

Reardon worked his way to the top honour from modest beginnings. As a novice, he worked as a dishwasher at the Chateau Park Hotel. Then he trained as a cook under Patricia Dooley and Gerry Crewe at the College of the North Atlantic. Much of his fine dining experience was gained by working for Brian Abbott (Culinarian of the Year, 2008) at many of Abbott's past restaurants.

To say Reardon is passionate about cooking would be an understatement. He has even awakened his wife at night talking food in his sleep. One night she woke to screams of, "Don't overcook the pasta!" (By the way, I expect to find only al dente pasta at Classic Café.)

Although the competition for Chef of the Year is open exclusively to CCF members, I'm told the competition was stiff. There were originally eight nominees for the award, which eventually got whittled down to two in the voting process (where only members vote.) Then there was a tie, but ultimately the members decided to award the trophy to Fred Reardon. He was beaming when he appeared onstage to accept the accolade.

I asked Reardon why he thought he'd edged out the competition: "I do a lot for the local branch. Whenever they call, I go and help where I can. I'm not afraid to roll up my sleeves and start washing dishes or to take a leadership role. Whatever they want, I try to do."

If you'd like to see Reardon's very large and very heavy trophy, it is sitting quite conspicuously on top of the counter at Classic Café. And, I suspect it won't move from there until Reardon hands it over (perhaps a little reluctantly) to next year's winner in January 2009.

The menu

The menu for Saturday's celebration featured five courses and was devised by federation chefs and prepared by them and cooking students from College of the North Atlantic and Academy Canada. It made for a long meal - approximately four hours - which was lengthened by the addition of a palate cleanser, champagne sorbet with wedge of key lime. Personally, I thought the palate cleanser unnecessary. However, it did add a certain degree of formality to the meal and many diners like that sort of thing.

The salad opener was a bit of a departure for this particular event, in that it was Asian influenced. I have always found the CCF choices to be predominantly occidental. Plenty of five-spice powder was used in the preparation of the tasty Brome Lake duck and dark Thai noodle salad.

Local CCF chefs love their "en croute" dishes, so I was not the least surprised to find a cream of potato and leek soup en croute as second course. My problem with en croute is quite personal. Every year, without fail, I manage to fill my place with hundreds of flakes from the puff pastry while everyone else manages to maintain the pristine white of the tablecloth in front of them. There is a technique to consuming such a course properly that I obviously haven't learned.

The fish course this year was really a dairy course. Set neatly beside an organic leafy salad was a cookie-sized square of cream cheese flavoured with smoked salmon. This riff on salmon with cream cheese was a heavy lead-in to the entrée. I would have gone with more smoked salmon and much less cream cheese.

The surf and turf entrée of sliced roast striploin, salt-crusted scallop with bread pudding and braised bok choy in hoisin demiglace was very delicious. Next to prime rib, striploin is about the tastiest cut of meat you can get.

Finally, we were served a variety dessert consisting of a Tim-bit sized white cheddar fritter atop frozen apple mousse, a spoonful of superb caramelized apple with fresh mint and a small helping of orange curd with toasted almond topping.

Putting together a massive dinner with so many courses, for literally hundreds, is a project that requires an army of skilled cooks. Congratulations to members of the Canadian Culinary Federation (St. John's) and all the young chefs of tomorrow from College of the North Atlantic and Academy Canada who pulled off another highly successful event.

Some news

On a slightly newsy note ... while attending the CCF dinner I was seated at a table with the new general manager of the Delta Hotel, Doug Loucks, and his wife Corinne. They arrived here in August. Doug Loucks has worked for Fortis Properties for some time now, having last managed their Holiday Inn at Sarnia, Ont. where he oversaw a large expansion of that property.

He told me he is currently working with architects to redesign the Delta's main food service area. They want to create a dining room that can serve their breakfast diners (apparently hundreds) but that also encompasses a brighter, pleasant dining area for dinner guests.

Karl Wells is a restaurant panellist with enRoute magazine. To reach him, log on to his website: www.karlwells.com.

Organizations: College of the North Atlantic and Academy Canada, Canadian Culinary Federation, Delta Hotel Chateau Park Hotel Fortis Properties Holiday Inn

Geographic location: St. John's, Brome Lake, Sarnia

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