Eating-up Stratford
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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

In the Classroom at the Stratford Chefs School!

This week I headed over to Rundles, the stunning riverside restaurant that transforms every winter into a classroom for the Stratford Chefs School. I was invited to come evaluate student presentations as a guest judge!

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about the Winter Warm Up cooking class I attended at the Stone Maiden Inn with Chef Mark Brown. No wonder the comfort food I learned how to make that day was so good - we were in very good hands... 

...since Chef Brown is an instructor at the Stratford Chefs School!

Chef Mark is a SCS Alumni (above, those are this years' students in the Rundles classroom) and now he teaches Food Costing & Culinary Math as well as Nutrition class. I believe the Stratford Chefs School is unique in its provision of business and industry training for chefs - graduates have been schooled in all the realities of the food service industry and many go on to open their own restaurants.

I came to help judge presentations by eight groups of future chefs. Each group of four created a catering company and brand image (e.g. 'Top Hat', above), and presented detailed quotes for a fifty person reception. The coolest part was the catering outfit the judges picked scored a real, paying gig in the new year (so in a couple of months I'll to follow this post up with one where I attend the event!).

The 'Saisonnier' catering company impressed with their seasonal "Food for thought" menu featuring mid-winter local product used in creative dishes. One of their strengths was their strategy to let us judges taste their creations for ourselves - the Red Beet Ice Cream (based on a recipe by Thomas Keller) demonstrated that winter food can be as vibrant and clever as any other season!

Another group who really impressed us called their catering outfit 'Carnival': from the perspective of creating the funnest party food scene these folks ran away with the prize. Their dishes elevated fall fair Carnie food to a whole nother level, with items like Foie Gras Cotton Candy pops (above) and Chick Pea Corn Dogs.

After the first four presentations were over, the judges had a little break. Chef Mark and my fellow guest-judge Emily Chandler (culinary consultant with the Stratford Tourist Alliance) chatted about the presentations in the front window of Rundles (above), with its spectacular view overlooking the icy river. Other judges included the events coordinator for Homer Watson House and Gallery in Waterloo and a former Stratford restaurateur who now manages 100 Mile Market, as well as my brother-in-blog Andrew Coppolino (from Waterloo Region Eats) who continues to reign as our area's King-of-All-Food-Media with his radio show The Food Show on 570AM and a regular TV spot on Grand River Living.

The second wave of presentations were equally impressive. 'The Traineez' name was inspired by the Chefs School students' vision of their educational journey as a train, "The school is like a train and it will take us where we want to go." 

'Ragouter' (translation: "To give appetite") got serious brownie points from me by serving the judges a glass of really refreshing Featherstone Black Sheep Riesling (above); they explained how they based their choice on what they tasted during their in-person visit to the Niagara winery earlier this semester. 

But out of all the groups I was most impressed by the simple but beautiful menu proposed by 'Dulcinea'. After visiting Barcelona recently I admit I have become highly-biased towards the Spanish tapas approach they chose, but I also noticed their low food cost. I really thought they had the potential to pull-off the challenge of catering a great reception with good value for the client (by which I mean killer food) with the important potential for them to earn profit. 

We will see if the other judges agree - I will post the name of the winning group in the comments section of this post when I find out who got the gig, and stay tuned in February for my blog about attending the winners' event!

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