Tuesday, February 8, 2011

guest blogger: mix & match dinner

I'm pretty excited.

The Urban Element has started hosting a pretty cool event. It's this take on an Iron Chef evening - two chefs, one theme, and 4 courses... each. Marc Lepine had mentioned he was participating in the event when I interviewed him for the Celebrity Chef Event. As soon as he said the magic words: Urban Element + Trish Larkin + Marc Lepine = I just knew I had to be there.

It was sold out.

Of course it was! Who wouldn't want to attend a dinner cooked by two of Ottawa's most notable Chefs?

So I called Carley and asked if I could come and just take pictures. I promised to stay out of the way. I never even dreamed of tasting the food. She agreed and invited me to arrive while the Chefs were setting up. Perfect.

I arrived and was met with probably the calmest kitchen environment ever. Trish and Marc were calm and cool as they organized their prep and set out their plates. Both were laughing and smiling as they directed their assistants (A.J., Trish's sous-Chef at the Black Cat bistro and Luis, one of Marc's cooks at Atelier). Super laid back, lots of fun, incredibly professional and talented - that's what I would take away from my evening.

Carley greeted the 20 Urban Element guests and introduced the Chefs - who then explained the menu.

The theme was Underwater.

Trish had thought it up at about 4 am one morning (sleepless nights result in inspiration), called Marc up and he agreed. They then figured out their ingredients for each course: oysters, caviar, tuna, and cranberries.

Once those ingredients had been selected both Chefs went off on their merry way ... the next time they would discuss their plates would be that night, at the Urban Element.

One might think that might not work. It might be a disaster. That each two dishes per course wouldn't work together.

One couldn't be more wrong. Both of their menus were successes.

Every single plate was DELICIOUS. Simple. Beautiful. Flavourful. Exciting. It was everything you hope one of these events will be: mouth-watering food that leaves your pallet eagerly anticipating the next course.

And the Chefs ... well ... they were just plain super nice to hang out with. No drama, no tense moments - everything was lighthearted and fun - even when a 1/4 full tray of tuna fell on the ground - nothing. Just pick it up, toss it out and grab some uncut seared tuna from another tray. Done and Done. Even when a dessert wasn't being plated as quickly as the Chef had hoped - no big deal - work as fast and as efficiently as is possible ... and then do a demo so that everyone could see exactly what was required to get that plate to the table (let me tell you - no one minded either ... it was a pretty cool demo).

My task in all of this was simple: take pictures, chat with the chefs and taste the food (yes there was enough to allow me to sample). I anticipated liking either Trish or Marc's food better - I wasn't sure who's - but I was certain there was going to be a stand-out.

It didn't happen.

Each course was an adventure - and I think everyone would agree it was a fun one: where one Chef would serve us something delicate and mild in flavour; the other would then shock us with a spicy kick, or something more complex. But neither one seemed wrong - they both worked. It was AWESOME.

While the guests were enjoying their meal, I got to hang out with Trish and Marc in the kitchen - where they would both talk me through their dishes.

Marc used some liquid nitrogen (too cool for words ... especially when he used it on dessert), he also excitedly told me about his microwave cake (batter to cooked in 40 seconds!!!) that was then dehydrated and became this addictive crispy ginger thing (it almost resembled the texture of a crouton ... but way better and looked more like coral).

Trish was able to use the event to make dishes she wouldn't make at the restaurant - lots of little details, lots of flavour, all the components adding to the whole effect. She pulled out this pancetta that still makes my mouth water just thinking about it. It was probably the best pig product I've ever tasted. Oh yeah - and then she served a rich, creamy panna cotta that would make a person swoon.

I'm glad I wasn't asked to pick my favourites. But if I had ... well it would have been a close draw ...


Trish: sea angel oyster, preserved lemon & horseradish-foam


Marc: raw oyster with bacon, apple, and jalapeno


Trish: whitefish & salmon caviar, creme fraiche, smoked potato & cranberries
Marc: potato and dill salad with black olives and whitefish caviar


Trish: albacore tuna, BCB pancetta, charred tomato and olives

Marc: thai curry dish with tuna (lime, coconut, cilantro)


Trish: sour cream panna cotta, cranberry jelly, white chocolate ice cream & almond biscotti (apologies ... I didn't take a picture of the plate with the ice cream on it ... it was melting at I just wanted to eat it)

Marc: chocolate, cranberry, tonka bean

this is what happens to Marc's dessert when he allows it to melt ... :0)

The evening was a brilliant success. If the Urban Element wants to host another evening with Trish and Marc - count me in. Seriously.

I took rather more pictures that what you see here (almost 500 pictures prior to editing ... but I still have a large amount ... so I'll link up my flickr album to my own blog the twisted chef - feel free to check those pictures out as well)

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