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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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Toast Post: Alberta’s Farmstead Buffalo Mozzarella

I had the pleasure of not only feasting on the above delicacy from Old West Ranch in Alberta, but I also had an amazing conversation with farmer and cheesemaker James Meservy.  At the end of it I was convinced he should host his own radio show, the man is a natural story teller.   But part of it is that he has an amazing story to tell.

You can read the piece in my article  in today’s Globe and Mail, but I never have the space I wish I had to full tell a cheesemaker’s story…….so here’s a little bit about James, his wife Debbie and their journey to cheesemakerdom (they started off as beef farmers) which didn’t make it into the piece.

Patch the Water Buffalo, in the rain. Photo by James Meservy.

In 2003 “mad cow disease” had killed the beef industry and by 2007 the Meservy’s were selling off cattle to make bank payments (therefore cutting revenue at the same time).  They had to do something drastic, “So naturally I thought, we’ll get water buffalo, isn’t that what everyone does?”  says Mr. Meservy.  He’d been fascinated with the animals since he discovered mozzarella was made from their milk during a childhood game of Trivial Pursuit and had already been researching the idea for a number of years. The couple encountered many stumbling blocks—from difficulty sourcing the water buffalos and once acquired, losing precious animals to illness.  When he finally saw his big, spunky beasts for the first time, Mr. Meservy only half-jokes that his stomach sank “ I thought, I’m going to get killed, I can’t survive that.”

With no formal training other than a home cheese book and a half-day spent at a Vermont mozzarella plant he made his first batch of cheese in March 2010.  Popping 10 balls of mozzarella into a jar he started canvassing Calgary restaurants.  The response was overwhelmingly positive, his mozzarella is now on the menu at the renowned River Café (among others) and sold at Janice Beaton Fine Cheese

James’ (and his family’s) perseverence seems like it could move mountains.  Perhaps typical of many agricultural families.   His cheese is pretty amazing.  James says he’s not trying to replicate the Italian version, he’s doing his own thing.  His goal was to create a more robust expression of the flavours normally found in buffalo mozarella and I think he really succeeded.

Take the lid off one of the containers of his cheese and just the wonderful, fresh, milky aroma will convert you.

Contact James Meservy at farm@oldwestranch.ca

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Filed under Cheese/Cheese Related, Toast Posts, Travel and Food