Some 450 food enthusiasts gathered at The Fairmont Royal York Hotel Dec. 1 for the third annual Chef’s Challenge – The Ultimate Battle For a Cure, held by the Mount Sinai Hospital Auxiliary.
Participants in the challenge cooked alongside host and celebrity chef, Guy Fieri, along with Food Network Canada star chefs Lynn Crawford, Chuck Hughes, Mark McEwan, David Rocco and Michael Smith.
“This cause is very important to me. I lost my sister, Morgan, to cancer, a year and a half ago. It doesn’t matter who you are: cancer has no prejudice,” said Fieri, the evening’s host, who is known for his hit series Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
No tickets were sold for the event, but spectators and participants were required to raise a minimum of $2,500. The top 50 fundraisers earned a spot to compete on stage, and the top 25 attended a VIP brunch at a private home the next day, together with top sponsors and celebrity chefs. The evening also included a live and a silent auction.
Funds raised at the event, co-chaired by Simmie Frieberg Antflick and Ivy Knight and presented by World MasterCard, will be used for breast and ovarian cancer research and education at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute and the Marvelle Koffler Breast Centre at Mount Sinai Hospital.
Fieri’s five-course dinner began with Crispy Tartare Trio and included Pepito Crusted Halibut, Niagara ice wine, pomegranate sorbet, steak Diane and Baklava Cigars. Meanwhile, the competition was unfolding on stage.
For the competition, the top 50 fundraisers were divided into five teams. Each celebrity chef was randomly assigned 10 culinary participants who competed in the battle, which involved the preparation of three courses within a given time limit.
The chefs were not allowed to touch the food or the equipment, although they were able to give instructions.
In the past two competitions, participants worked from a recipe supplied by the hosting chef, but this year, teams had to create their recipe on the spot.
The twist was a mystery ingredient that had to be included in each dish, announced by Fieri at the beginning of each round.
After every round, the team chef leaders presented their creations to the panel of celebrity judges, media personalities Kris Reyes, Antony Robart, Michele Henry, Amy Rosen and John Moore, who scored the dish based on taste, creativity, and presentation. All tasting was blind – the judges did not know who prepared any dishes.
Chef Lynn Crawford and her team won the challenge for the second time. She also won in 2010.
Food Network chef Corbin Tomaszeski said that food should do one of two things: “create memorable experiences or remind oneself of an unforgettable time.”
He followed that principle when he led the audience in a cupcake challenge in which guests decorated cupcakes with a supply of confectionery.
Participant Tania Chugani Green, a lawyer from Montreal who is passionate about cooking, said, “I am proud to [be] a participant in the Chef’s Challenge since its inception and am one of the top 10 fundraisers this year. You meet amazing people from all walks of life who have a common passion. There is nothing like it. The fun factor is huge, but we still have that competitive edge.”
“If you want to work in this industry, you have to be passionate, it’s a labour of love,” said chef Hughes.
Chef Michael Smith, an advocate for simple, sustainable home cooking, recommended his Stovetop Mac and Cheese with Broccoli recipe because it is “Easy to make, healthy and perfect for families.”
STOVETOP MAC AND CHEESE WITH BROCCOLI
2 tbsp. butter
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/3 cup flour
2 cups any milk
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 tbsp. of your favourite paprika
1 tsp. of salt
1/2 tsp. of your favourite hot sauce
1 lb. of your favourite aged cheddar cheese, shredded
1 lb. elbow macaroni
2 bunches of broccoli, cut into small florets
First, bring a large pot of salted water to a full boil.
Then make the sauce. Melt the butter in your favourite medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and sizzle briefly before whisking in the flour, making a thickish paste. Pour in the milk, whisking and heating until thickened. Whisk in the mustard, paprika, salt and hot sauce. Sprinkle in the cheese and continue whisking until smooth. Remove from heat.
Now, cook the pasta. Toss the macaroni into the boiling water and begin timing carefully. In exactly 7 minutes throw in the broccoli. Continue cooking until the pasta is tender and the broccoli is bright green and tender, about 3 minutes more. Drain and pour into the sauce. Toss, serve and share. Serves 4 to 6.