From this Rock awards presented after 'brilliantly executed' dinner

Karl Wells
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The Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador presented its second annual From this Rock awards dinner recently. The St. John’s dinner — held at the Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland — was the culmination of a cross-island series of dinners prepared by chefs using locally grown produce from the very area in which each dinner took place.

Representatives of the provincial government, a From this Rock sponsor, went along on the tour to assist the chefs in sourcing their ingredients for each dinner. According to participating chef Roary MacPherson of the Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland, a sold-out crowd attended most events.

Emcee for the night was comedian Shaun Majumder of 22 Minutes, who, in addition to adding some spicy humour to the evening, took the opportunity to plug his not-for-profit summertime initiative in Burlington called The Gathering, and his TV show, “Majumder Manor.”

Charlene Johnson, minister of Innovation, Business and Rural Development, opened the evening with a brief address explaining the government’s commitment to initiatives, like From this Rock, that place a strong focus on local farms and local producers. Premier Kathy Dunderdale and several other government officials also attended the dinner.

Awards

The first award of the night was presented to the current president of the Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, Michelle LeBlanc and her spouse, Chef Shaun Hussey, who together own Chinched Bistro. They received an award for serving and promoting locally grown, sustainable food at their restaurant.

Chris Rusted, long-time owner of Manna Bakery, received the evening’s most anticipated honour. He was inducted into the Restaurant Association’s Hall of Fame.

Rusted was one of the association’s first members and has been active in the industry since the ’60s. Kentucky Fried Chicken is what brought Chris Rusted into food service. That was back in the day when founder Col. Harland Sanders was still alive and waving his cane; Rusted was working with the late Leo Marquis running numerous Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets across Newfoundland.

Tables for eight filled the ballroom where the grand finale was held. I was fortunate to be seated beside two people who really appreciate good food and cooking: Barbara Garland of Mount Pearl and her daughter, Kelly. I asked if they were there for any special reason or connected with the industry in some way.

“No,” said Barbara, “We just love food.”

Crème brulée

After a cranberry and ginger ale cocktail spiked with Iceberg vodka, we were served an unusually large amuse bouche, carrot crème brulée. It had been prepared by Chef Ivan Kyutukchiev, recently elevated to the position of executive chef at Bacalao.

Having looked at the menu beforehand, I had wondered how Kyutukchiev would present crème brulée in hors-d’oeuvres form. It did not look as I’d anticipated. It was not presented in a ramekin as most are, but rather as a rectangular, free-standing block — some might say it looked like a stick of butter.

The Garland girls wondered where the brulée was — that’s the caramelized and slightly burnt sugary cap on a crème brulée. Kyutukchiev had presented a riff on crème brulée. Being one of the top chefs in the province, having won gold at the first Gold Medal Plates event held in St. John’s, Kyutukchiev is a freestyle thinker.

The pudding part of the dish was a velvety smooth, slightly firm carrot cream. It was topped with some crispy bacon (the brulée) and strips of candied carrot. A swirl of reduced blood orange juice decorated the white plate. This was a sophisticated and delicious opening to our eight-part meal.

More fresh and intense root vegetable flavour followed with spiced parsnip and carrot soup by Holiday Inn Chef Andrew Hodge. The soup was puréed and with a good dollop of crème fraiche placed in the middle of the bowl. The crème was described as “turnip green.” I believe there were some finely chopped greens mixed through it. Partridgeberry gastrique, a reduced sauce, was swirled around the crème to provide extra colour.  

Salad

Garde manger chef (cold dish chef) for the evening was Chef Roger Andrews of Relish. He was responsible for the salad course which consisted of a very pleasant mixture of local farm-grown product and hazelnuts. Red and yellow beets, edible flowers, micro sprouts and daubs of tangy cream dressing gave lots of colour, taste and excitement to this plate.

Next it was local charcuterie, from the charcuterie king himself, Chef Shaun Hussey of Chinched, 2012 gold medallist at Gold Medal Plates. Hussey had created a pork and rosemary sausage. He did something similar for the wine pairing challenge at the Canadian Culinary Championships in B.C., which I had judged in February. This time, the sausage was matched up with pickled winter chanterelles, parsnip purée and chicharron — Mexican-style fried pork rind.

Our fish course was butter-poached local cod by Chef Gary Gosse of Harbour Breeze Catering, Harbour Grace. My friends Barbara and Kelly loved this one. There was a lot happening on the plate, but essentially, Gosse easily had me with two words: butter and cod.

Here are the other elements used to, as they say, gild the lily: crispy white pudding crumble, roasted tomato and bakeapple relish, roasted root-vegetable hash, bacon-braised turnip greens and crispy fried scrunchions.

Pork

Hans Uebel, the sous chef at the Sheraton, created a meat course of cider brined roast pork loin. Like most meats that are brined, Uebel’s pork tenderloin was especially moist and tender. Raised in Point Lemington, the pork was also savoury and flush with flavour. I don’t think it’s possible to have a better condiment to accompany pork than Uebel’s charred apple chutney.

Dessert, as prepared by Jillian Lake, chef de partie (pastry) of the Sheraton, was a trio of sweets consisting of a partridgeberry macaron, vanilla bean panna cotta with cranberry and flourless chocolate cake. Every item was impressive here. Macaroons are popular these days in St. John’s. Making a really good one isn’t that easy, but Lake has obviously perfected the technique. If I had to pick my favourite part of the trio, that would be it.

Finishing off the From this Rock St. John’s meal was a plate of crumb-coated soft artisanal cheese by Five Brothers Cheese.

Beside and contrasting with the white and golden cheese presentation were nine chocolate truffles made by the Newfoundland Chocolate Company.

Every course at this year’s From this Rock finale was executed brilliantly. Newfoundland and Labrador has some very good chefs. Well done.

• • •

For regular updates on “One Chef One Critic,” my Telegram Dining Out column and the latest developments on the local culinary scene please follow me on Twitter @karl_wells.

Karl Wells is an accredited personal chef and recipient of awards from the national body of the Canadian Culinary Federation and the Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador. He is also a restaurant panellist with enRoute Magazine. Contact him through his website, www.karlwells.com.

Organizations: Sheraton, Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, Kentucky Fried Chicken Rural Development Holiday Inn Canadian Culinary Federation

Geographic location: Burlington, Newfoundland and Labrador, Point Lemington

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