BY MEGHAN WEATHERALL
Students in Conestoga’s two-year culinary management program went head-to-head in a cook-off on Feb. 9, all hoping to win the Iron Chef title or People’s Choice award.
Ten local restaurants accepted the opportunity to work with the students to create a dish that featured pork. Students who volunteered to participate were teamed up with restaurant chefs to give them real-life experience.
“Tonight is like our only chance to work with experienced chefs,” said Rita Renjith, a second-year culinary management student. “The chef was very helpful and innovating from the start until the end.”
Teammate Baylee Bourke agreed that this opportunity puts the skills they’ve been learning for two years to the test.
“You learn about it in class,” said Bourke. “You’re seeing demos, but you don’t really experience it and learn it until you are doing it yourself.”
Renjith and Bourke, along with their classmate Soyoung Kim, were partnered with Jeritt Raney, executive chef, and Dem Neumann, banquet chef, from Proof Kitchen and Lounge.
Each restaurant participating was given creative freedom on how to dress their pork and present it to the judges. TWH Social chose to make theirs into a tasty taco loaded with flavour.
“Tonight we are making braised pork shoulder on bantik flatbread,” said Tyler Adams, chef. “It’s a griddled cooked bread with pork shoulder that was cured overnight, cold smoked, roasted with avocado, sriracha and crispy pork skin. There is pickled apple and celery.”
Once the clock struck 7 p.m., locals who bought tickets to the event made lines at the different cooking stations for their chance to try out the food. At the same time, seated near the stage, the two celebrity judges, Anne Yarymowich of Food Network’s Chopped Canada, and Jason Bangerter, executive chef at Langdon Hall, were joined by guest judge, Amy Cronin, an Ontario Pork board of director, to start the blind taste testing. The judges were given a piece of paper to rate each dish on. The only information given was each number corresponded with one of the teams.
“I am really looking forward to judging tonight and to be able to go talk with the culinary students and see how they are preparing pork in different ways,” said Cronin. “I am going to look at the way it is presented, the way that it tastes. As I am tasting it, I’m going to see if it’s moist or dry.”
Bangerter said, “There are a lot of things I’m looking for. The main thing is taste. Taste is the winner every time. What I found tonight is that everything is completely different, which is very exciting. There is everything from tourtiere to traditional barbecue, but then also Korean influence and other Asian influences.”
The event was sponsored by Ontario Pork and raised $16,000 for scholarships for the college’s culinary students.
Two prizes were awarded. The Iron Chef 2017 title was won by Lancaster Smokehouse BBQ Restaurant and Caterer and their students; the runner-up was Borealis Grille and Bar. Taking home the People’s Choice award was Borealis Grille and Bar. The Bauer Kitchen was the runner-up.
“Pork, cabbage and potato,” said Yarymowich about the winning team’s dish. “It was like a marriage. It honoured the region and pork. This dish really showed skill. The students who were working with this team must have learned a lot.”
Though the event was focused on the food, they were also celebrating Canada’s 150 birthday. Julia Dowling, an event management student, and her group pitched the idea #CelebrateTheEh.
“This has literally been my baby since October,” said Dowling. “It got chosen and then we elected our project managers, and the class elected me and Maxine.”
Conestoga’s hospitality students were also on hand, keeping the place clean for attendees and assisting them if there were any questions.