Last year was the first year we threw a Kitchen Party in Moncton, and it was a triumph, bringing together a hugely talented assembly of chefs from across New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. This year, we cast the same wide, bi-provincial net but took our catch to a new venue – the glamorous Molson Canadian Centre, conveniently connected to Moncton’s enticing casino – and once again the KP team hit it out of the park. Heather Moyse was our emcee, delighting the sold-out crowd of 400, and drawing out medal memories from the Olympic, Paralympic and pro athletes she brought on stage (including such Canadian legends as Curt Harnett, Geneviève Lalonde and Rheal Cormier). The great Tom Cochrane headlined our concert, together with guitar guru Bill Bell, singer-songwriter and master of the cello Kevin Fox, and a local quartet called the Lumber Jills, four young women who blew the room away with their fiddles and keyboard and traditional square dancing then backed up Mr. Cochrane on Life is a Highway like the coolest of rockers. It was a brilliant party, full of fun and energy and there will be many couples from NB and PEI on our trips next year!
Walking around before the event began, saying hello to the all-star line-up of chefs and discussing the dishes they would later present, I found they had brought just as much enthusiasm and intensity to our event. So did the judges, I might add. I was lucky to share the judicial table with a mighty impressive group of professional palates. New Brunswick is a bilingual province so the Kitchen Party proudly boasts two co-Senior Judges, both chefs and educators, one franco, one anglo, and of equal rank. I asked them and the other judges to provide their own 12-word autobiography, faithfully presented here in parenthesis. We were Evan Smith (chef, educator, determined, creative, driven, resilient, passionate), Emmanuel Charretier (culinary Canada/France…world. Wild, sensitive, outdoor, nasty but friendly… family), Chris Aerni (chef-owner Rossmount Inn, world citizen, slow cook, fast driver, snob locavore foody!), Stefan Mueller (Executive Chef, The Windjammer, Delta by Marriott – Beausejour Hotel), Susan O’Keefe (retired lawyer, co-chair World Wine and Food Expo and passionate home chef), Tammy Brideau (sommelière, foodie, executive director Food & Beverage Atlantic, lives to eat and drink!) and of course Chef Irwin MacKinnon, Moncton’s gold medallist from 2018, who started the evening off with some splendid hors d’oeuvres at the VIP reception.
Some Kitchen Party results can be too close to call until the judges’ numbers are crunched. Last night, we retired to our deliberation room with a winner already clear in every mind. But let me tell you about the bronze medallist. It was Alyssa Dignard, the chef of both HopYard and Sugar Skull Cantina in Charlottetown, PEI. She braised pork belly in a bulgogi spice mix of Asian pear, soy, garlic and yuzu then deep-fried it, leaving the meat tender and unctuous inside a crisp surface. A jumble of maitake and oyster mushrooms had been cut into thick slivers and fried with a hint of black garlic, then set beside a spoonful of politely aromatic kimchi. Smoked pork hocks gave the deep umame flavour to a glossy gochujang demi-glace while a moment of creamy ramen aïoli offered an alternative sauce. For garnishes Chef presented thick slices of lightly pickled cucumber and ethereal shards of a golden crisp made from pig skin seasoned with palm vinegar and chilies and togarashi-cured duck eggs. As a whole, the dish showed a great balance of salty, spicy and sweet and was very well matched with a floral, aromatic, tangy Muscat from Grand Pré winery in Nova Scotia.
Alex Haun of Kingsbrae Garden in St. Andrews by-the-Sea, New Brunswick, won the silver medal with an elevated take on the steak and eggs beakfast he loves to eat before a day’s hunting. His “steak” last night was venison tenderloin seared rare and so tender it seemed to melt in the mouth. Chef rolled it in pungent fresh sage, thyme and rosemary leaves then set two thick slices at either side of the plate. Between them were two chunks of deliciously chewy, crunchy bannock and a whole egg yolk set to a sort of fondant texture by time spent in a circulator at 63oC. Chef described his fourth element as “chanterelle rillettes” and they turned out to be dainty little squares of finely chopped chanterelles bound with cream and full of woodsy flavour. Pickled mustard seeds, microgreens and a dab of horseradish crema garnished the creation. Meanwhile the sauce, a sweet-tart reduction made from lacto-fermented redcurrants from the restaurant’s garden, formed a perfect bridge into the chosen wine, Pelee Island’s Reserve Pinot Noir from Ontario.
Our gold medallist was Matt Pennell from Legends, the restaurant at the Moncton Coliseum. And for the first time in living memory, the judges’ favourite was also the People’s Choice! Indeed, Chef Pennell won the trifecta as his accompanying wine was also voted best of show by David Lawrason and his wine judges. The dish itself was named Salt Water Joys, a moniker taken from the song by Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellers, apparently very popular in the Pennell household when Chef was a lad. At its heart was a piece of superb Nova Scotian lamb loin that had been brined in seawater, cooked sous vide and was served crusted with a delicate basil powder. Beside it, as a bonus, was a thick slice of slow-roasted lamb belly, layered with delectable fat and creating a lovely contrast with the lean loin. Tuna was an unexpected companion but chef had worked magic, curing then air-drying it for a month until it was more like a funky bresaola than fish, then slicing it into little curls. Part of the clever presentation involved piping a D of yuzu-flavoured egg custard onto the plate and then filling in the yellow outline with a rich lamb jus. We also found a thin slice of lightly smoked and preserved king mushroom and dots of puréed kimchi that brought a nice fermented note to the proceedings. Crisp fragments of deep-fried green kelp were the final saltwater reference. Cenred around that spectacular lamb, it was a most accomplished dish, surprisingly but beautifully paired with a sparkling wine made mostly from L’Acadie grapes, the Brut Classic from Motts Landing in Cambridge Narrows, New Brunswick.
Huge congratulations to Chef Pennell, who won the silver last year and will now be heading to Ottawa for the Candian Culinary Championships. He was the brightest star on an altogether dazzling night. Next week we pick up the pace a little with a Great Kitchen Party in Winnipeg and another in St. John’s. I can’t wait!