I had the opportunity of attending the latest installment of the Rising Star Chef Series at The Chefs' House last week. At The Chefs' House, we're dedicated to supporting emerging talent in the culinary and hospitality industry. It's a great, monthly event that showcases cutting-edge Canadian chefs who already have a reputation for innovation and creativity. Guest chefs are featured in the kitchen, working alongside students (both back- and front-of-house from the George Brown College's School of Hospitality and Culinary Arts) and serve guests a four-course meal.
This month's featured guest chef was The Chefs' House's own Chef Riley Bennett. Hailing from the Okanagan Valley in B.C. and a graduate of SAIT College in Calgary, Chef Bennett had stints at Sooke Harbour House on Vancouver Island and Mission State Family Estate Winery in Kelowna. Chef Bennett joined The Chefs' House this past July as a Chef Technologist, mentoring the next generation of culinary stars.
Despite the downpour last Tuesday night, the restaurant was already a fairly packed house when I arrived. Upon being shown my table, servers came around offering nibbles of cheese puffs and chilled watermelon soup to snack on before the dinner began, along with glasses of rose. All wines that evening were from the Mission Hill Winery.
Dinner opened with a few quick words from Chef John Higgins, Director of the Chef School, and from Chef Bennett himself.
First course began with crab ravioli with radish, pumpkin (or butternut squash) puree, pine nuts and pickled cauliflower, paired with a 2008 Reserve Pinot Blanc.
Second course was pork from Beretta Organic Farms and Atlantic lobster. The pork was prepared two ways—a terrine encased in pastry and pork belly braised until tender and melt-in-your-mouth. This was paired with a 2009 Reserve Chardonnay.
Main course for the evening featured wildflower honey grilled lamb loin (also from Beretta Organic Farms) in two sauces, with some beautiful late summer vegetables (courtesy of Cookstown Greens) and polenta. A blended Bordeaux, 2007 Compedium, was served alongside.
Chef Bennett served an intermezzo between the main and the dessert as a palate cleanser. Carbonated plums in cilantro syrup was what the waiter explained to me. Interesting in concept, but I'm not sure how well of a palate cleanser it was, with the syrup being far too sweet. Perhaps if it was turned into a granita, it would have been more refreshing. Kudos for being creative though.
Dessert was a winter melon gateau with parsley & ginger ice cream and almonds. I wasn't sure what to think of this dish. While the cake tasted good on its own, I wasn't really a fan of the ice cream. Again, it was far too sweet and thus overpowered the gateau if paired together. The meal finished with some 2008 Reserve Riesling Icewine.
All in all, it was a lovely evening showcasing some great food and in support of a a fantastic culinary school and its talented students. It was clear that Chef Bennett put a lot of thought putting this menu together, and the students did a great job preparing, cooking, and serving the food. I did find that there was a lot going on on each plate—a lot of sauces and garnishes. It comes down to personal preference, and I'm from the camp of less-is-more, where you let the ingredients shine on its own with little bells and whistles needed. The plates did look pretty, but with so much on the plate, it sometimes was a little overwhelming visually and taste-wise. My dish was probably the second course, with the least going on and really allowing the ingredients (the fabulous pork and lobster) speak for themselves.
The Chefs' House sent all the guests home with a little take-away gift? Upon opening up the box when I got home, I was pleasantly surprised to find a beautiful cookie—buttery shortbread sandwiched with raspberry jam and topped with chocolate ganache. A perfect late-night treat as I was editing through my photos.
A big thank you to The Chefs' House for the invitation, and to Chef Bennett and all the students who put on an excellent dinner service. I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot more of Chef Bennett in the future!
Be sure to check out this great series if you have a chance. Next month's guest will be Chef Luis Valenzuela from Torito Tapas Bar. For more information on this or future events, visit www.thechefshouse.com/risingstar.html.
And be sure to stop by my Flickr page to see the full photo set from the evening.