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Nickel City Chef = I’m sold on fine dining in Buffalo (yep, time to forgo those wings)

The Coin Toss

The Coin Toss between Chef Forster and Chef Goetz

If you get sweaty palms watching  the cooking intensity of Iron Chef you’ll know how excited I was to be part of the 5th annual Nickel City Chef cook-off in Buffalo this year.  Taking place over four weekends, I was asked to be a judge for the final competition on April 14th.
Chef Adam Goetz and sous-chef trying to beat the clock.

Chef Adam Goetz and sous-chef  Adam Cook trying to beat the clock.

The chefs in the challenge both wield impressive resumes of training and cooking internationally and across the US. Chef Adam Goetz who was days away from opening a new resto called Crave has previously been Executive Chef Saucier at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
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Challenging Chef Edward Forster of Mike A @ Hotel Lafayette has trained under chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten at Vong’s in London and been sous-chef under Chicago’s Graham Elliott.
The beautiful kitchen turned studio where the Nickle City Chef Competiton was held

The beautiful kitchen turned studio where the Nickle City Chef Competiton is held

The event took place in stunning and  fully restored turn-of-the-century warehouse on Buffalo’s west side.  My fellow judges were fellow Torontonian Chef John Horne of Canoe (@ChefHorne) and Buffalo Spree journalist/food writer Alan Bedenko  (@buffalopundit).

The judges- with John Horne of Canoe and Buffalo Spree journalist/food writer Alan Bedenko

Organized by  Feed Your Soul Productions which was founded by food writer Christa Glennie Seychew, I spoke to Christa about the food scene in Buffalo-and what she hopes to achieve through the competition.
What do you want people to know about the food scene and chefs in Buffalo?
I want visitors to understand that while we may be known for chicken wings, limiting the understanding of our food scene to a common bar snack is not unlike assuming NYC is made of nothing but pizza. We share the same terroir as Ontario, so those restaurants that focus on local, seasonal fare are as adept and capable as a good Toronto restaurant. We also have more independent restaurants per capita, than many other cities our size, with very few chains located within the city limits. An abundance of young, engaged, well-traveled chefs have returned to open their own restaurants here, and while it may not obvious to those who come to Buffalo to see a game or shop at the mall, there is a groundswell of passion here for the excellent dining experiences that can be had.
What frustrates you about people’s perception of the Buffalo culinary scene?
It makes me sad to think that visitors choose to eat at chain restaurants. If I thought that Toronto was only the few blocks surrounding the Air Canada Centre or the inside the Eaton Centre, I’d have missed out on so many amazing, delicious meals! And while it would be wrong of us not to embrace the Buffalo chicken wing as part of our city’s edible history, it is not the summation of our region.

What is your goal with Nickel City Chef?

Nickel City Chef seeks to showcase Buffalo’s culinary talent, giving a proper stage to our hardworking chefs and skilled farmers.

The secret ingredient was fresh cheese: mozzarella and burrata from Nickel City Cheese and Mercantile

Felix picking cheese at Nickle City Cheese

Felix making choices at Nickel City Cheese

 As for the menu, here it is.  Both were outstanding, especially given the limited time but Chef Edward Forster won the competition…this time.

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Nickel City Chef Adam Goetz, Crave
Nickel City Sous Chef DJ Cook

Course 1:

adam 1

Fresh Mozzarella and OrangeAgnolotti
Braised swiss chard, tomato, pecans, brown butter

Crispy Sweetbreads
Pancetta, fine herbes, carrot mousse, peppered buratta medallion
adam 2

Course 2:

Rack of Lamb
Burrata polenta, asparagus, red pearl onion, spicy squash, beech mushroom, fried mozzarella, tomato beurre rouge, herbed burrata quenelle

adam 3

Course 3:
Cheese Course
Buratta, wild mushroom crostini, tomato strawberry chutney, herbed parmesan shortbread, balsamic,  fresh mozzarella, pine nut brittle, compressed watermelon, kalamata powder


Challenging Chef Edward Forster, Mike A @ Hotel Lafayette
Challenging Sous Chef Scott Crombie

Course 1:

Fresh Mozzarella Salad  ( I LOVED THIS)

ed 1

Pine nuts, herbs, hay smoked mozzarella, olive tapenade

ed 2

Course 2:

Mozzarella-stuffed Quail

Braised barley, English peas, black barley burrata, pea-stained whey broth

ed 3

Course 3:

Warm Mozzarella Tart

Rhubarb and strawberry compote, long pepper, almond

Mansion on Delaware

The Mansion (of my dreams) on Delaware

And one last thing–for an amazing weekend getaway, book some dinners in this emerging culinary destination and stay at the Mansion on Delaware.  So beautiful, so comfy, so luxurious….the service impeccable but relaxed.  Amazing buffet breakfast and lovely happy hour in the beautiful sitting rooms.  We will be back as soon as we can.  Leaving is not easy.

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Truffle Salt- my new addiction

Avocado on Toast with Truffle Salt

This week’s gourmet in a flash recipe in Globe Life. Avocado and truffle salt on toast.

How did I not discover truffle salt before?  It was in California visiting my brother that I got slightly obsessed.  Dave and Erin had received some for Christmas from Erin’s food loving brother Chris.  Soon we were sprinkling it on everything– on eggs to finish pizza (amazing–why have any other toppings in fact) and even on our steak fajitas and what better on popcorn?   And you can always just go with plain Tuscan butter, baguette and truffle salt.

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This week we featured it the weekly  quick gourmet recipe for the Globe.  My new favourite lunch, see above.

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Truffle salt from Williams- Sonoma

Not all truffle salts are created equal I have discovered, some taste more like salt with some black specs that might be truffle– but the one I got from Williams Sonoma is amazingly earthy and rich–the smell is fantastic.  Keep it in your bag–smelling salts for foodies.  Not cheap–about $35.00 but you really don’t have to use much at all.  Maybe a nice host or hostess gift even, if you really the people.  Otherwise stick with the Yellowtail….kidding!  (Unless you always bring Yellowtail and it works, then yah, def stick with it.)

Pass on any good truffle salt uses you have found if you like it too.  Because you know, using it a zillion times a day just isn’t enough.

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Zuni Cafe, Hope and Anchor and boy is it hard to park in San Francisco

The beginning of San Francisco

The beginning of San Francisco

We drove to the Zuni Cafe straight from the airport with loads of time to get there.  Or so we thought since we allowed not too much thought for finding parking (you’d think coming from Toronto…) but I suppose we were in vacation mode.

Anyway, 40 minutes later, many one way streets and devastating parking spot “sightings” that were not parking spots because the street cleaner has priority wed between 12-2pm we found a place.  And headed down to the Zuni Cafe

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The famous made-to-order Caesar salad and house cured anchovies.

Here’s a little excerpt of history from the website–read the whole thing it’s quite a great story….

“Billy West opened Zuni Café in 1979, with a huge heart and exactly ten thousand dollars. In the early years, the restaurant consisted of a narrow storefront with a creaky mezzanine, roughly one quarter of its current size. To capitalize on the neighboring and highly visible corner cactus shop, (where Billy had been a partner, until it became clear cactus sales wouldn’t support three partners), he hand-plastered the walls and banquettes of his new space to give it a southwestern adobe-look. He chose the name Zuni, after the native American tribe, and decided to offer mostly simple and authentic Mexican food, drawing inspiration from Diana Kennedy’s cookbooks. A Weber grill was an important early investment, and was rolled on to the back sidewalk for each day’s service. Next came an espresso machine, which doubled as a stove since you could scramble eggs with the milk steamer.”

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Tad’s lunch: roasted quail…

I started with a glass of white wine (my actual request was local and not excessively oaky) and ended up with a lovely glass of minerally Zuni Chardonnay which hails from a vinyard in Santa Cruz.  Felix has the best apple juice he’s ever sipped-organic, fresh pressed.  Tad had an Anchor Steam beer.  His main was the Wolfe Ranch quail with quail egg, pan-fried sweet potatoes, kale salad and harissa.

It looked a lot less phallic when it was on the table in front of me I promise you.

I really was torn about posting my lunch photo which was described as house-made  Llano Seco Ranch fennel sausage (so juicy and delicately flavoured it was heavenly) with escarole, roasted Yellow Finn potatoes, cracklings, watermelon radish and caper-shallot vinaigrette— but somehow my photo has turned it into something phallic.  Avert your eyes if you have to.

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So while Felix used the best manners at his disposal to finish his pasta and tomato sauce (with a side of fennel sausage) Tad and I decided we made the wrong decision by skipping the fresh oysters and remedied the situation.

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We shared a pair of Pacific Hog Island Oysters (bottom, from Tomales Bay just north of San Fran) and Marin Miyagi’s (top, also from Tomales Bay).  Here is a great blog piece about the Tomales Bay oysters and area.  We liked the Hog Island the best, lighter and a little sweeter but both were lovely–the ocean in your hand.

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And then dessert.  Meringue crisps, coffee and chocolate whipped cream with chocolate sauce and toasted almonds.  With a coffee.  And Felix only ate a bit–too full.  Spoils for me.

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Moe proof we were in San Francisco–Felix watching the cable car being turned.

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Anchor and Hope on Minna Street

Our second day we went for lunch at the Anchor and Hope (thanks Janice!)  Here is their lunch menu-there was definitely a business lunch scene happening but the overall atmosphere is casual, open and funky space with huge nautical ropes strung around the ceiling beams.

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Kettle Chips and garlicky aioli arrive when seated.

And would have been nice had we all been there at the same time–again not knowing the parking secrets, it took Tad about 35 minutes to park and finally Felix and I had to order without him.  I had the Cubano, roasted pork, jamon de paris, swiss cheese, pickles, Dijon, taro chips and Tad had their extremely juicy burger.  Felix had their fries, aioli and ketchup. (yes, I just gave in to maintaining calm child while people negotiated business around us.)

The beer menu was impressive and long and a satisfying read in itself if you like beer.

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S’long San Francisco…..may we only ever take the amazing vintage style trolley next time we visit.

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Scrambling for Valentine’s gifts Toronto? Relax, have some chocolate…cheese..and a saucy cookbook or two.

XocoCava will have you swooning before you even take a bite.

Swoon before you even take a bite.  Xococava’s milk chocolate with espresso bean, candied lemon and fleur de sel.

Remember that old Blondie song “Rapture”?  Well, I think it was written about the above hand-made chocolates from Xoxocava.  (Also, my friend Rina and I won a lip-sync contest in high school singing that song–my hair was big and that was pre-perm.)

Usually when I buy some good chocolate to keep squirreled away in the cupboard I buy a bar of something delicious like the salted dark chocolate from Stubbe (when I can get a west-end friend to pick it up).  Somehow buying individual pieces like this for myself never occurred to me until I was knocking these back……like the lady I am.

And if that wasn't enough to make you drool...

Drool! Dark chocolate with sour cherries, pistachio and candied rose petal. (xococava)

Beautiful, individual chocolates have been fortuitously dropping into my lap lately.  A friend of mine gave us a box of nine caramel-themed chocolates from Soma (Distillery District) which contained morsels such as Fleur de Sel, Caramel Kiss and Pecan Butter Crunch.

Honestly, you cannot ever eat a Smartie again after that kind of delicious.  Now that Xococava and Soma have spoiled me and made me a xoco-snob  I may head to the Belgian Chocolate Shop on Queen East to check out chocolate making in my hood.  (anyone been there?)

chocolate xoxocava bag

The above gorgeous chocolates come delivered in this cute, witty package ($14.75/bag and there are over a dozen pieces)

I think an easy but spectacular finale to a romantic dinner (for those non-bakers) would be a plate of the above chocolates served with a beautiful, creamy cheese.

Neufchatel with red pepper jelly

Neufchatel with red pepper jelly

And if you want to be thematic with your Valentine cheeseboard you’ll grab this heart-shaped Neufchatel from France’s Normandy region.  It’s a Camembert style cheese that’s creamy, decadent and perfect for sharing.

La Sauvagine, QC

La Sauvagine, QC

And there’s the triple cream, La Sauvagine.  (If it rhymes it’s poetry right?)  I just wrote about this guy for The Wedge so here’s the cheat sheet.

Sauvagine and friends...

Sauvagine and friends…

Or you can get a few petit fours to accompany your cheese fetish.

cheese markers knives

If you would like to bring a gift to your cheese lover, I adore my stainless steel cheese markers (you stick them into your cheese to identify them–sometimes I just write “back off” on my favourites).   This set from Lee Valley comes with a set of 6 cheese knives and a cool case.

Cheese Tiles

Cheese Tiles-write on, wipe off

I was also sent an email about this cute little guys.  Same function as the stainless steel markers but they’re called cheese tiles.

Cheese tiles

Cheese tiles

They come in a variety of styles such as Fleur-di-Lis, Shell, Vine and more. Retails for $29.95 for a set of 4, they can be purchased online at www.placetile.com

And finally, what you’ve all been waiting for, give the ultimate in S&M themed foodie gifts….

Fifty Shades of Chicken

I mean, it’s pretty hilarious right?

I got in touch with Toronto’s Cookbook Store and asked what they would recommend and apparently this 50 Shades of Chicken was a hot stocking stuffer for 2012, but if you didn’t grab it then, now is your chance.  (I took this picture from amazon.ca where you can also order it).

Fork me, Spoon Me

And they also recommended these two options……(it’s going to be a long winter right?)

Intercourses

So, I think you’re set for gifts and food for this coming February 14th.  (FYI, the xoco cava chocolates are great bites while you wait for toast to brown in the morning, just sayin’)

 How is that lady pigging out at the fridge so skinny?

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2012 Chef’s Challenge-the ultimate foodie fundraiser (I’m going! I’m tweeting!!)

2012 Chef’s Challenge

I am totally pumped to have been invited to be a Chef’s Challenge social media reporter for this Saturday’s event. 

If you haven’t heard about it, the Chef’s Challenge is an amazing fundraiser for Mt. Sinai Hospital focusing on women’s health and raising money for breast and ovarian cancer research.

He’ll totally be meaner than this on Saturday.

Picture a kitchen stadium where celebrity chefs Lynn Crawford, Chuck Hughes, Mark McEwan, David Rocco and Michael Smith work with foodie fundraisers to battle it out during a three-course meal service under the eagle eye of  Guy Fieri who will be commenting through the event (hopefully there will be some yelling and mockery even).  Each course must be delivered to a set of celebrity judges that will score the plates on taste, presentation and the crew’s work style and skill.   There will be cameras, there will be commotion.

To attend the event you have to qualify by raising a minimum $2500 each.  The Top 50 fundraisers get to test their kitchen skills on stage with one of the above Chef’s as team leaders.

Personally this sounds beyond stressful and I’ve worked in a kitchen, so I am eager to see how everyone fares under pressure.  It was a love/hate deal for me.  Maybe more hate.

Chef McEwan with Chef’s Challenge co-chair Simmie Antflick (photo courtesy of  Nick Lee)

There were several pre-events leading up to this Saturday, one was hosted by reigning champion Chef McEwan.  Click here for more deets.

The hour of judgement for Chuck Hughes (photo courtesy of Nick Lee)

Then there was the cookie battle judged by Chuck Hughes (cookies! Chuck Hughes! can this be a monthly thing? Or even daily?)

It’s a kitchen party… (photo courtesy of Nick Lee)

And the very first event was at Chef John Cirillo’s Culinary Academy where some aspiring chefs got a few lessons in the kitchen.

Hopefully I have peaked your interest and you can follow my tweets  Saturday night (@sueriedl) and also sign up to follow @chefschallenge for daily updates.  The radiant Ivy Knight (  I was torn between radiant and luminescent)  is part of the team organizing this event and you can follow her @ivyknight or at @Swallow_Food

For more information on the event please go to:

chefschallengeforacure.com

facebook.com/ChefsChallengeCanada

twitter.com/ChefsChallenge

Huge thanks to Nick Lee for letting me use his photos of the events.

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Sustenance and Sustainable for Brunch….Think Red Fish.

Havin’ a Fish Fry at Red Fish

Last Sunday night a bunch of friends and I popped by Red Fish for a fish fry.  You can see Chef David Friedman back there (in the photo)  bringing out platters of lightly battered, crispy fish;  yellow perch, catfish and spelt all wild, all from Lake Erie.  Sides were creamy coleslaw, herb seasoned fries and a great green salad in a tasty vinaigrette (and if you think you can get a well-seasoned vinaigrette just anywhere –you’d think, right?– you’d be wrong).

Inside!

Red Fish is at 890 College, west of the lovely La Fromagerie (in case you need to pick up some 14 Arpents cheese) and they also serve brunch.  All the seafood at Red Fish is seasonal and sustainable, they are a partner with Ocean Wise.

While there I perused the dinner and brunch menus which looked pretty delish.  So thought I’d throw it out there on a SNOWY (snowy!) Sunday morning.

Brunch Menu Red FIsh

Steelhead Trout rillettes, comforting fish cakes and a steamy BC Albacore Tuna Melt all sound pretty good to me.  And don’t worry, you can still get house made scones and double smoked bacon.

And here’s part of the dinner menu while I’m at it…

So now, you really only have to make yourself breakfast.  A few spoons of peanut butter straight from the jar?  Yep, that counts.

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Toast Post: Vicky’s FlatBread and 14 Arpents Cheese

14 Arpents cheese from Fromagerie Médard in Quebec

***NOTE:  I am retweeting this as the 14 Arpent article was not yet out when first posted.  Enjoy.  La Fromagerie on College also now carries the cheese.

The creamy and luxurious 14 Arpents cheese from Fromagerie Médard  is the subject of The Wedge today (with recent changes to the Globe Arts and Life section, The Spread is now The Wedge). Other than promoting this lovely cheese all over the place the blog allows me to give a shout-out to a great new artisinal product I recently tried,Vicky’s Flatbreads.

Made in Toronto, the flat breads are named after the wife of creator Richard Bedford.  They come in two flavours: Original and Rosemary.

Quite addictive, you first experience the crisp CRUNCH followed by great flavour– I can taste the sesame seeds, poppy seeds and olive oil that go into them.

Yet, the flavour is not so pronounced that they wouldn’t make an excellent showcase for cheese, dips, or pates.

And considering they’re healthy (low in salt, no sugar, no preservatives or trans fats AND Kosher) you can eat as many as you want!  Or so I tell myself.

Look for them at small retailers in Toronto such as Alex Farm Products on Bayview Ave., Culinarium, Harvest Wagon, Summerhill Market and Pusateri’s, Olympic Cheese and Scheffler’s Delicatessen in St. Lawrence Market.  You’ll also find them at The Village Grocer in Markham and Vincenzo’s in Waterloo.

Here is a link to a short piece with a little more background on Richard and Vicky’s Flatbreads.

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