A black box competition is seemingly in full swing at the same time emcee Chef Michael Smith is giving the eager crowd the play by play. The action is frenetic and the four chosen culinary students – the gladiators hand-picked to do battle – are working feverishly on their creations utilizing the secret basket of ingredients and a few special foraged ingredients to add a twist to the competition. Ladies and gents, presenting the Prince Edward Island Cook-Off Challenge!
The event, held at Mildred’s Temple, is the brain child of the Tourism PEI, whose initiative is to highlight the culinary beauty of PEI through education and the genuine passion and love that emanates from their spokesperson, Chef Michael Smith.
Talking to all of the students prior to the competition, it was very clear that all were confident and eager to begin cooking. The four handpicked students were Chrystalla Papachristou of Humber College; Keith Hubbard of Fanshawe College; Lorelei Simbulan of Liaison College; Trevor Littlejohn of Niagara College. The four dueled it out in a classic culinary competition that utilizes their knowledge, creativity, speed and skills to create tasty dishes to the best of their ability. The mystery basket ingredients consisted of mussels, rib-eye steak, and a pantry of shared ingredients plus the foraged “twists” to the competition which challenged every competitor and this chef/writer included – spruce tips, cattail, dulse and fiddleheads. Challenge accepted!
It is no coincidence that Chef Michael Smith was asked to be the host, as he has made PEI his home and is synonymous for promoting the beauty, flavours and culture of the east coast. Even more fitting, Chef Michael was just named as one of the judges on Food Network Canada’s Chopped. When asked about the future of Canada’s culinary talent, he said, “Judging by the talent here and on the TV show, the future is very bright.” He also said that, after having filmed a few episodes of Chopped, he has “witnessed some great up and coming talents.”
At the end, the four students created beautiful dishes highlighting each of the key ingredients masterfully; however, it was Lorelei Simbulan from Liaison College who reigned supreme on this day with her duo of pan-seared medallions of beef seasoned with salt, pepper and spruce shoots served over Dijon and chive mashed potatoes with panko, dulse, mussels and a garlic butter sauce. With that dish, she took home bragging rights and a cheque for $500 dollars. The event was a great success and hopefully not a one-off as this was a nice notch in spreading the word through our stomachs about how wonderful PEI and the whole of Canada is for its diversity of people and tastes.