Road to the Royal Chef Challenge
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When judging a culinary challenge, one must arrive hungry. With that in mind, I drove my growling stomach to the Barrie Fair to eat my way through the Egg Farmers of Ontario Road to the Royal (Agricultural Winter Fair) Chef Challenge in late August.
With the sweet aroma of funnel cakes in the air, I made my way past tractors, a canine show, the midway and stalls of chickens, sheep and cattle before arriving at the culinary stage.
As the chefs busily prepared their stations, I caught up with event host and award-winning chef and grilling guru Ted Reader. As always, Reader was super friendly and happy to serve up the event details. “Along with highlighting local talent, the competition challenges the chefs to use fresh local ingredients to create delicious dishes on stage,” he explained. “It's about having fun and being creative.”
The chefs compete in two 30-minute rounds – one for an entrée and one for dessert. Each dish has to include “secret ingredients” selected from locally grown or produced food products and provided to the chefs at the start of the event.
“I tell the chefs to give it their all and make it tasty,” said Reader. “How they get from A to Z doesn't matter; all that matters is that it tastes delicious.”
The chef lineup included Dennis Thornton, chef at Urban Dish Grill & Wine Bar (and last year's Road To The Royal Champion at the Barrie Fair) and sous chef Mike Saunders; Karen Latanville, chef at Davidson's Country Dining and sous chef Nancy Guthrie; and Marco Ormonde and sous chef Spencer Boight.
While preparing his station, Thornton admitted to having nervous energy about the event. “I definitely tossed and turned a bit last night,” he confessed with a chuckle. “But it's all good.”
Thornton enjoys cooking in black box competitions because it keeps him on his toes. “We brainstormed ahead of time about base recipes we can use for the event. Even though we don't know what the secret ingredients are, we come in with a game plan and go from there.”
Chef Karen Latanville took a similar approach. “We spent about two weeks preparing for this competition,” said the chef. “We have our entrée and dessert recipes ready to go. The challenge will be figuring out how to incorporate the secret ingredients into the dishes as best as we can.”
With the competition underway at 1 p.m., Reader announced the much-anticipated three secret ingredients — 2014 Royal Agricultural Winter Fair's Grand Champion Raspberry Chocolate Jam, President's Choice Woolwich Dairy goat cheese and Ontario eggs.
Then the chefs got to work.
The competition was fierce and the judges (including yours truly) had a tough time tallying the scores. But in the end, Ormonde was the front runner. 
Despite the win, the cooking competition had a shaky start for the local chef and owner of the North Restaurant in Barrie. He arrived minutes before the match, brought incompatible pans for the induction cooktop (other competitors lent him equipment) and had to contend with a fussy oven.
But he didn't seem too stressed by the culinary roadblocks. “We had some challenges, but we made it work,” admitted Ormonde who competed with sous chef Spencer Boight. “It was on-the-spot cooking and it was fun.”  
Ormonde won for his rack of lamb entrée with a mushroom, raspberry and chocolate jam jus (served with goat cheese gnocchi and baby summer vegetables). For dessert, he served up a first prize duo plate featuring a half eggshell filled with fresh berries and a raspberry and chocolate jam sabayon and a phyllo banana and berry custard tart. 
Along with the Barrie Fair, the Royal hosted culinary competitions at other regional fairs and festivals. The winners of these competitions will participate in the final round of the Road To The Royal Chef Challenge at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in November.
The 93rd Royal Agricultural Winter Fair was Nov. 6-15 at Exhibition Place in Toronto.
For more information, visit
Ormonde said he's looking forward to the final competition at the Royal. “Toronto is my old stomping ground so it will be fun.”
As for this judge? Let's just say I enjoyed every bite and didn't need any dinner that night.

Recipe courtesy of chef Dennis Thornton of the Urban Dish in Barrie

For the competition, this tasty pork dish was also served with a smoked tomato jam and paired with vanilla whipped mash and zucchini fritters.

250 grams smoked bacon, sliced into small piece
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 medium onion
2 Tbsp brown sugar
Tabasco sauce, to taste (optional)
1/2 cup brewed coffee
1⁄8 cup apple cider vinegar
1⁄8 cup maple syrup
black pepper

In a non-stick pan, fry the bacon until lightly browned and just starting to get crispy.
Fry the onion and garlic in the bacon fat on medium heat until translucent.Transfer the bacon, onion and garlic into a heavy bottomed pot and add the rest of the ingredients except for the water.
Simmer for 2 hours adding 1/4 of a cup of water every 25-30 minutes or so and stirring.
When ready, cool for about 15-20 minutes and then place in a food processor. Pulse to a somewhat smooth texture.

1 pork tenderloin, trimmed
Bacon jam (see attached recipe)
8 -10 pieces prosciutto, thinly sliced   
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
salt & pepper

Marinate the pork in the bacon jam for 1 hour.
Preheat your oven to 450F. Line a baking sheet with foil and set a wire rack on top of it.
Rinse and pat dry the pork tenderloin. Season with salt and pepper.
Then wrap tenderloin in prosciutto.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat in a skillet or braiser. Brown each side of your tenderloin, approximately 5-7 minutes per side. Transfer meat to wire rack set in foil lined baking sheet. Bake until meat registers 145F, approximately 15-18 minutes.
Meanwhile make the cheese fondue.
Allow tenderloin to stand for a few minutes before slicing.

250 grams Swiss Cheese, grated
1/4 cup goat cheese, crumbled
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 clove garlic
1-1/4 cup dry white wine
1-1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 Tbsp brandy

Combine cheeses and cornstarch. Rub the inside of copper bottom pot with the garlic clove and then discard.
Over medium heat bring wine and lemon juice to a gentle simmer.
Melt cheese gradually to the liquid to encourage a smooth fondue. Once smooth stir in mustard, rosemary and brandy. Pour over sliced pork tenderloin.

4 egg whites (save yolks for sabayon)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp cream of tartar

Beat egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Add the sugar and beat until very stiff. Do not under beat.

4 egg yolks
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup champagne

Heat a saucepan of water to medium heat (do not boil). In stainless steel bowl over the pan, beat the egg yolks and sugar until blended. Add in champagne and whisk constantly until thickened.


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