Chefs enjoy the ‘battle’

By Chris Abbott, Postmedia Network

The annual Bid for Kids Sake, which includes live and silent auctions, annually raises a significant amount of funds for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ingersoll, Tillsonburg and Area.

But the showcase at Friday night’s fundraiser was the Battle of the Hors D’Oeuvres, which saw six chefs prepare savoury ‘maple-flavoured’ hors d’oeuvres for 200-plus ticket holders.

“We’ve got Smoked Pork Belly Bites,” said J.P. Mooney of JP’s Barbecue and Catering from Otterville.

Mooney’s entry featured slow-smoked, deep-fried pork bellies with a secret batter.

“Toss them into our chipotle barbecue sauce, then finish it off with a maple drizzle,” said Mooney, defending champion of both the People’s Choice Trophy and Critic’s Award.

“We have a smoked salmon and beet puree, a little bit of kelp caviar, which is a seaweed caviar, and then a soy maple glaze over top,” said Sean Pike of Quinton’s Catering from Ingersoll.

The colours of the Smoked Salmon, Beet & Maple Crostini – bright pink and lime green – helped give it vibrancy, said Pike.

“You get the earthiness, you get the saltiness… it’s kind of like East Coast and Ontario, my two culinary backgrounds basically, bringing them together and serving it.”

“You want to make sure the cheese melts,” said Amarjit Singh, general manager of Local Dairy from Ingersoll, adding his Maple Grilled Cheese to a plate filling up with hors d’oeuvres.

Singh said his goal was to create something sweet and spicy.

“We wanted to have both the tastes come out,” said Singh, who created the maple grilled cheese especially for Friday’s Battle, “and be really good, hopefully.”

Singh’s maple dulce ‘secret weapon’ didn’t quite make it, however.

“I spent seven hours working on it last night… and forgot it in the fridge,” he laughed. “It’s like a maple dipping – an ice cream topping. Milk and maple, that’s the two ingredients.”

Kelsey’s Tillsonburg, represented Friday by Jenn and Kristen Coffin, proudly served Pork Maple Meatballs in a sweet chili sauce.

In past years, Kelsey’s presented items straight from their regular menu – each excellent in their own way – but the theme this year, in keeping with Canada’s 150th, was maple. That inspired a special Kelsey’s entry with chili sauce, chives, soy sauce, ground mustard, bacon and pork. And the all-important ingredient… maple. It was a classic hit.

“One of the cooks made it special tonight for the maple theme,” noted Jenn Coffin, who said early feedback was quite good.

“I’ve heard they like it,” she nodded.

Tyler Curran-Cone, a chef at The Bridges at Tillsonburg, presented his signature Maple Pulled Pork Potato Shells. Simple in design and packed with flavour, Curran-Cone assembled each hors d’oeuvre Friday night dropping pulled pork into a deep-fried potato shell, and topping it with sour cream and rosemary.

“My idea,” Curran-Cone nodded. “I’ve always liked potatoes – I’m Irish.”

Jed Lau from All About You Catering in Woodstock presented Maple Pork Kimchi Canapes.

“It’s a Korean dish – pork tenderloin with kimchi, and also it has some maple bourbon glaze on it. Give it a try!”

Lau, who in past years was inspired by overseas vacations, said he took inspiration this year from a special Korean kitchen tool.

All of the chefs had their sights set on one entry – JP’s Barbecue, winner of the 2016 People’s Choice and Critic’s Awards, continuing a winning trend (2015 People’s Choice) after a couple of ‘bridesmaid’ years. Mooney was the first to win the double since 2011 (Food Affair Catering) and 2010 (Ron Thoma).

Pike from Quinton’s Catering said he was aiming to topple JP’s.

“I hope so, I’m pushing for it,” he laughed. “How mine turned out was not exactly the way I wanted it, but we’re going for it!”

There was no pressure to win, Lau stressed.

“No, may the best man win,” he smiled. “It doesn’t matter, it’s just a lot of fun.”

“A little bit (of pressure), people say stuff,” said Mooney. “But we use the same process. Come up with an idea, then make it. And if everyone likes it, you win. Everyone likes it I guess. It’s definitely always fun to do twice.”

When the winners were announced, Lau’s All About You Catering was the Critic’s Choice winner, selected by a panel of judges. Quinton’s Catering finished second, The Bridges at Tillsonburg third.

The Bridges also brought home the hardware taking third in the People’s Choice voting, but top honours were shared this year, a first in the history of the Battle of the Hors D’Oeuvres, between JP’s Barbecue and Catering and Quinton’s Catering.

“Getting closer,” said Curran-Cone after his second Battle. “I took a little bit more time with this one in the preparation and the idea.”

“It’s always fun,” said Lau, who has been supporting the Big Brothers Big Sisters fundraiser for the past six or seven years.

“That was awesome,” said Mooney. “It’s pork belly. It wasn’t the prettiest one, but it had the flavour. That’s what we went for – we always go for the people, give them what they need. I was happy. It was a great competition, everything else was awesome.”