Burger meister Roger Andrews wins Olympic fundraiser
It was Chef Rogers Andrews, owner of Relish, the St. John’s gourmet burger restaurant, who made it to the top tier of the winners’ podium at Gold Medal Plates St. John’s recently.
When tears began flowing down Andrews’ cheeks, I think most who attended were surprised. The annual culinary competition has certainly seen emotion displayed by winners in the past, but never to the point of tears.
Later, Andrews explained that his initial reaction “stemmed from the passion of wanting to win so badly and putting a lot of time and effort into the dish.”
His extraordinary dish was the unanimous first place choice of all seven judges. It featured breast of squab (domestic pigeon) stuffed with pistachio nuts and black chanterelle mushrooms. Sauce for the squab was made of jus flavoured with Labrador Tea (a low lying evergreen shrub) and pine mushrooms. Served alongside the squab was a wild rice salad consisting of puffed wild rice, blueberries, bakeapples and edible flowers. The salad was dressed with hibiscus vinaigrette. Finally, there was squash purée spiced with cumin and cayenne and pressed apples with green onions infused with maple and clove.
The dish was paired with medium bodied, cherry-scented 2012 Pinot Noir by Norman Hardie Wines.
I asked Andrews how he went about creating his dish.
“I look at all the different things on the plate from a standpoint of contrasting textures, colours, flavours and aromas. I try to tap into elements of taste like something sweet, salty, spicy, umami (meaty or savoury taste) and sour. There are also textural components like crunch and softness. Judges tend to enjoy little surprises, as well, like the addition of something not on the menu, or something they expect but then when they taste, it’s different.”
Months in the making
Andrews started work on creating his dish back in April. Then he spent six months refining it.
He will not have that long to prepare for his next and ultimate challenge in the Gold Medal Plates universe, the Canadian Culinary Championships to be held Feb. 7 and 8 in Kelowna, B.C. There he will be required to have his skills tested at three different events: a wine pairing challenge, a black box competition (where ingredients are not known until the test begins) and the grand finale where a chef’s signature plate is served.
His approach to Kelowna will be pragmatic.
“I’ll study the winning dishes over the past couple of years, study the competition, try and make arrangements for food procurement from contacts I have in Kelowna. I’ll also draw up a selection of base plates where I can implement different black box items and items for the wine pairing event. I’ll try and have an organized and structured plan that I can execute once the madness starts.”
Andrews has had an interest in competing in Gold Medal Plates for years. However, having had no association with a restaurant until recently, he was ineligible to compete.
Now that he holds down the job of running Relish, as well as teaching culinary arts at the College of the North Atlantic, he is able to compete in both Gold Medal Plates and the Canadian Culinary Championships. He says he had something to prove in this recent event.
“It's pretty special and something I had my eyes on since the first time I heard about it. I take it pretty seriously once I commit to a competition and I don't compete in St John’s much anymore. I guess I had something to prove as I don't get to showcase some of the skills I’ve learned over the years.
“Often people feel that cooking instructors can't cook at the same level as a restaurant chef. I wanted to prove otherwise. It was also special as there were so many former students from the College of the North Atlantic or people I have coached over the years who were there helping chefs or competing themselves. That in itself is very rewarding for me as an instructor.”
This year’s second place winner was Chef Ruth Wigman of Bistro Sofia. Her dish, paired with Coyote’s Run Red Paw 2011 Pinot Noir, starred pork belly. The pork was lacquered with citrus and Korean chili powder. The plate also featured Peking-style duck tortellini with Szechuan foam, as well as pickled radish, brussels sprouts topped with pork crackling, and sour pear.
Wigman also distinguished herself by being the first woman to compete in Gold Medal Plates St. John’s. Although more women are entering culinary schools these days, female chefs are still in the minority. This is especially true in smaller centres.
The bronze medal went to Chef Andrew Hodge of Holiday Inn. Hodge’s pork dish had several elements: a croquette of puréed sous vide pork liver and heart, yellow and red beet jam, roasted pork ragout, braised pork ravioli, balsamic fig reduction, braised cabbage roll with hickory sticks, pickled carrot and roasted apple carrot purée.
Hodge paired his plate of pork with Cave Springs 2009 Riesling. The wine’s acidity helped penetrate the richness of the dish while its tree fruit flavours complimented and enhanced the taste of the pork.
To help defray the cost of Andrews’ trip to Kelowna in February, a group of chefs, restaurants and industry friends have come together to help him. They will organize various fundraising events over the next few months.
One, spearheaded by Chef Roary MacPherson of the Sheraton, is a pop-up Italian lunchtime deli. It’s scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 18, at the Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland, 115 Cavendish Square from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. A variety of Italian dishes will be served for the very reasonable price of $10.
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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.