Dinner, Theatre: After 10 years, Saskatoon’s Chefs’ Gala is more glamorous than ever

By Jordan Rutherford

When Anthony McCarthy, executive chef at the Saskatoon Club, organized Saskatoon’s first Chefs’ Gala and Showcase a little over 10 years ago, he had humble hopes, dreams and aspirations — a nice supper with some friends and family where the local culinary arts could be celebrated through fine dining and awards, courtesy of the Saskatoon Chefs’ Association.

Today, the event is more than just an amazing culinary experience. It has become a fundraiser and showcase for some of Saskatoon’s top independent arts groups, including Little Opera on the Prairie (co-founded and lead by McCarthy’s wife, Anastasia Winterhalt), Live Five Independent Theatre and Ritornello Chamber Music Festival. Both McCarthy and Winterhalt, who co-hosted, knew they wanted to push the envelope this year — to go bigger, to do a little extra — in celebration of a decade of galas. Part of this meant calling on the top local culinary talent to do something extraordinary for the evening’s seven courses.

Seven-Act Play

The soup course, the first course of evening, was prepared by chef Todd Clark of Boffins Public House. This was Clark’s fourth year at the gala and his first not creating the dessert. Recalling a dish he was introduced to while training in France, Clark prepared an artichoke velouté with a black breadcrumb dumpling filled with foie gras pâté, cream and Saskatchewan-picked morel mushrooms, all finished with a touch of chive oil. The rich, flavourful dish was a perfect first course for the evening.

The salad course was prepared by chef Eliot Lang of the World Trade Center Saskatoon at Prairieland Park. Red, white, gold and candy cane beets were topped with a touch of goat cheese, slivered almonds, watermelon radish, locally-grown radish shoots and finished with an orange vinaigrette. This non-green salad was light and refreshing on the palate.

McCarthy and chef Dana Chadorf of the Saskatoon Club were up next with the appetizer course, which was one of the evening’s most visually stunning and technically crafted plates. It featured albacore tuna ceviche with scallop puffs, poached shrimp, squid ink caviar, calamansi gel, micro wasabi, fennel custard and more. Each bite offered a new flavour combination to explore.

Joseph Jackson, manager of OLiV Tasting Room was called up next to deliver the palate cleanser. Jackson concocted a strawberry-peach balsamic that he drizzled over a gin and tonic sorbet. In Jackson’s own words, it was “simple, elegant, had liquor and was great.”

Chef Layne Ardell’s, corporate chef from the event’s title sponsor, Prairie Meats, took on the main course. Since Ardell represented a family-run butcher shop, there was a bit of excitement that this course would deliver the meaty goods, which he met with a generous plating of cold-smoked, peppercorn Canadian beef striploin alongside dauphinoise potato; local, organic, braised lentils; candy cane beets; acorn squash and a merlot-butter jus.

Chef Scott Torgerson from Delta Hotels by Marriott and the Radisson’s Chris Corkum took on dessert. The pair opted for a take on an opera torte, building up layers of hazelnut joconde, coffee butter cream and chocolate ganache. The plate also featured a blood orange and Grand Marnier sauce, hazelnut-chocolate feuilletine crumble with caramelized sugar and an aerated chocolate ganache. It was decadent, accessible and a delightful exclamation mark on the night.

A cheese course, the last of the evening, was prepared by chefs Chris Hill and Steve Squirer of Taste Restaurant Group (Squirer, sadly, wasn’t available to present the dish). A trio of cheeses, including manchego, brie and a Champagne cheddar, was accompanied by a sour cherry gel flavoured with hibiscus tea, black tea and star anise; pickled local mustard; mustard micro greens and an everything-spice lavash cracker. The Taste Group team delivered a plate rich with flavour and worthy of exploration.

Although the names above were the highlighted chefs of the evening, not enough thanks and compliments can be paid to the culinary arts students of Saskatchewan Polytechnic who stuck around after working the live appetizer stations during the cocktail hour to help each course come together. It was a great opportunity for the students to learn in the moment and rub elbows with the region’s top culinary talent.

Rounds of Applause

If an amazing seven-course meal and high-quality entertainment weren’t enough, the gala also serves as an awards platform for the Saskatoon Chefs’ Association. Awards are handed out to culinary students and full-time working chefs alike.

Culinary Federation president Simon Smotkowicz, duly impressed by the quality of the evening’s courses, presented Dana Chadorf, junior sous chef at the Saskatoon Club, as the Saskatoon Culinary Association Chef of the Year, the first female winner in the history of this award. The Junior Chef of the Year award went to Casey Smart, a second-year culinary student who demonstrated active participation and passion working alongside junior and senior chefs in the name of learning.

A People’s Choice award for the most-loved course of the evening was also voted on. Tables had to come to a group decision as to what course they would vote for. It was no easy task considering the quality on offer, but chef Todd Clark’s soup course won the evening, marking the first time a soup course has won the People’s Choice at the Saskatoon Chefs’ Gala.

Chefs weren’t the only winners though. There was a silent auction with offerings from over 40 sponsors. Many guests went home with something in hand, while three arts organizations were also winners as funds from ticket sales and the silent auction went to support their efforts. A special auction was also held where guests could bid on a special night of dining — 10 courses for 10 guests, cooked by two of Saskatoon’s top chefs. McCarthy played auctioneer, and the bidding went to $2,400. Generous, yes, but truly a steal of a deal. A second dinner was sold for the same price raising the special auction fundraising to $4,800.

Epilogue

Generosity and graciousness — these important characteristics are integral to the success of the Saskatoon Chefs’ Gala and Showcase. The generosity of all those who provided their time, effort and dollars to making the event a success for chefs, entertainers, organizers, sponsors and donors. And with such generosity, comes much humility and graciousness.

McCarthy was thankful to all those in attendance, who shared kind words and who contributed to the night’s success. The Saskatoon Chefs’ Gala and Showcase may be a fusion of culinary and entertainment artistry, but its success is in the community McCarthy and Winterhalt have surrounded themselves with. It’s what keeps them coming back year after year to make this event even better.

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