The third installment of Abbey’s Kitchen Stadium (AKS) took centre stage at The Mod Club on Sunday afternoon as the crowd went bananas for apple sauce in a Toronto culinary battle for the ages. Inspired by Food Network shows like Iron Chef and Chopped, the wonderfully talented Abbey Sharp brought out four of Toronto’s top chefs to compete in a live cooking competition of laudable proportions.
The hungry masses were out in full force and as soon as the doors opened there was a rush to the bar – starting off Sunday Funday properly with a bottle of Sam Adams, a sweet glass of Rosewood Mead or a finely crafted Forty Creek Whisky cocktail. Once our whistles were whetted and the secret ingredient was announced – a deliciously sweet Ontario Apple Sauce from All the Best Fine Foods – lines formed at the cooking tables to sample the sweet and savoury goods from the four competing chefs. At $5 a dish, the event was perfectly paired with a partner’s stomach, and your heart could be full, too, knowing that all the proceeds benefited the My Food My Way charity, engaging youth in nutritional education programs.
My gastronomic reflex was to proceed ASAP to the table of The Stockyards – my hands down favourite smokehouse in Toronto – to see what Thomas Davis was cooking up. An intriguing smoked duck spam was the only bold flavor atop a too bland “simple mash” and appleless “apple mushroom gravy.” His deep fried Korean quail with apple chili glaze was tasty and expertly breaded, but overly gamey. The biscuit was surprisingly bland, as well. While this wasn’t the strongest entry, I know all too well of the tummy pleasing talents of Thomas at The Stockyards, and this will not impact my great love for his food.
On to the much talked about (around the event) pork ribs prepared by Top Chef Canada winner, Carl Heinrich of Richmond Station. Fall off the bone, perfectly braised and tossed in a sweet azz apple BBQ sauce, it took Chef Heinrich over 8 months of saving to accrue enough pork ribs for this event. Paired with a tangy apple, cabbage and corn slaw, it was worth the effort! A dynamite apple creamsicle with gingerbread and apple crumble was a perfect finish.
Next up was the second coming of the quail at AKS #3 as Dustin Gallagher of Acadia took the tiny bird and gave it big flavor with his apple BBQ sauce and a side of apple and sorrel slaw. The texture of the quail was beyond impressive – tender, juicy, flavourful – fantastic! An apple tarte tatin with smoked crème anglaise could be smelled as you walked in the door… in a really good way.
Of course I saved the most filling of the four for my finale. Playa Cabana’s Chef Dave Sidhu made a monster plate of two types of tamales – a yellow corn tamale with braised lamb and a blue corn masa with Chihuahua cheese and salsa manzana. Spicy, sweet, beautifully braised lamb meat, salty fried cheese, soft, smooth tamale – these were by far the best tamales I’d ever tasted! And the churros with apple sauce folded into the dough, then piped with apple sauce, placed over cajeta (goat’s milk caramel sauce) and topped with crumbled queso fresco – well now there’s a fitting end for a food competition!
Though full in the belly, and of compliments for the competitors, there could only be one winner. Congrats to Dustin Gallagher and the Acadia team for making it on to the Abbey’s Kitchen Stadium finale, taking place at the Delicious Food Show on October 27th.
Though the Acadia team took home the title for the day, there’s still some time left to vote for the “wild card” entry into the finals online! See you at the next AKS… I’ll be the other guy stuffing his face next to you.