It seems like just yesterday that I visited Jerome’s Appliance Gallery for the annual GE Monogram sponsored Top Chef event with Trevor Bird. I joined the crowd to watch the season two runner up demonstrate his chef skills to a captive audience. Then last year I had the pleasure of watching season three’s third place chef Jonathan Goodyear cook alongside Calgary’s own Nicole Gomez. Even though I was really excited to be a part of the event again this year, I knew it would be bittersweet because there will be no more seasons of Top Chef Canada. Still, season four winner René Rodriquez really rocked Jerome’s kitchen and fed us well.
Ottawa born, with culinary beginnings in Mexico, Renè Rodriguez grew up with an affinity for Spanish cuisine. He spends time in Spain every year, consistently learning and honing his Spanish culinary skills which he translates into an outstanding menu at Navarra. I’m not kidding…have a look for yourself! Ottawa is certainly very lucky to benefit from his talent for using bright and warming flavours…food that feeds the soul.
The Top Chef Canada event at Jerome’s began with a quick introduction by our emcee, John Gilchrist. René explained each process that went into the creation of our two tapas dishes beginning with the seared duck breast. The prep for the duck breasts had started the night before with removal of the attached sinews and a thorough layer of salt. The duck breasts were then left uncovered to air dry in the cold fridge. This technique draws out some of the moisture and enables the flavour of the duck to become quite concentrated. To sear the breasts, a thin layer of oil is heated in a large frying pan. Once the pan is really hot the breast is placed in it, fat side down and stays there for about 15 minutes, or until it gets a nice crispy layer. The breast is flipped onto it’s other side for just a quick minute and finished in the oven. The duck breasts they used for the demo were from the absolutely huge Pekin variety of ducks from Brome Lake Ducks which are also prized for their foie gras. Once the breasts come out of the oven, they are rested then sliced and placed over a delicious ancho chile/poached quince sauce. To make the sauce René takes the dried ancho chiles and sears them slightly, then reconstitutes them in water. Quinces require cooking to be edible and for the sauce they get poached, slightly pickled and then sautéed in a brown butter. These two ingredients marry beautifully and compliment the duck really well. The sliced duck was then topped with sun chokes pickled simply with brown sugar and white vinegar. The splash of green is baby sorrel.
Our second tapas was a lot simpler in nature but had outstanding flavour. René cut large wedges of Manchego and added a chorizo meatball. One quick garnish of baby cilantro and the dish was done.While this dish was being prepared, John explained that Manchego is a Spanish sheep’s milk cheese that comes in various stages of ripeness, sort of like Swiss Gouda I guess. They didn’t say but I’m guessing by the texture of the Manchego we were served, it must have been aged for at least 9 months.I was thrilled to have been a part of Jerome’s Top Chef event again this year. Excited to add another ‘famous Canadian chef’ photo to my collection, though it’s a bit out of focus. Huge thanks to GE Monogram and Jerome’s Appliance Gallery for putting these great Top Chef events on, to John Gilchrist for being such an entertaining emcee, and to René for taking time away from his family to cook for us in Calgary.