This Super Bowl Sunday, we weren’t watching the pigskin—we were eating it.
While most of the people in the city were watching the ol’ pigskin being tossed around Sunday evening, we were eating it at the third annual Groundhog Day cook-off in which seven chefs had to prepare a dish made of ground hog (the pig, not the actual animal that determines the weather).
The sold-out event (tickets were $85 for seven courses, and they were all snapped up in less than an hour) was held at Cava restaurant. Each chef introduced their dish to the crowd, who then voted for their favourite.
But the audience’s pick didn’t win the trophy—a lovely cutting board with a pig’s skull attached to one end, like something your eccentric uncle would totally have in his attic. Instead, three judges including myself, Suresh Doss (organizer of the Food Truck events) and John Higgins (director of the George Brown Chef School) determined who took the prize home. To do this fairly, we weren’t allowed to see who made what, so we were sequestered next door to Cava’s sister chocolate shop, Xococava, where we probably ate as much chocolate as we did pork. (Side note: Xococava is open till 10 p.m. every day, so customers were dropping in while we were doing the tasting. The what-the-hell-is-going-on expression on their faces made the night.
Here’s what everyone made:
Representing Compass Group (the company that handles the food at tourist sites like C5, the Toronto Zoo and the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa) was Ted Corrado. He made a tamale stuffed with andouille and a guajillo chili tomato sauce.
Dish two belonged to Guy Rawlings (currently in the kitchens of Lucien but will soon be moving on to the Bellwoods Brewery when it opens) with a trio of salami, terrine and rillette.
Teo Paul from Union cooked up a pig’s head and salt cod terrine with curry beef sausage and roti. (This one was the audience’s favourite).
From Albert Ponzo of Le Select Bistro: a super Frenchy headcheese foie-gras terrine with aspic (gelatin) containing a soft-poached quail egg and guanciale, as well as a duck skin and walnut crumble.
Carl Heinrich from neighbouring restaurant Marben made a whimsical pate en croute with radish and pickled vegetables. It looks vaguely like a kid’s crayon drawing come to life.
The second last dish is a cotechino with lentils, frise and a pickled cherry-bomb pepper from Cowbell owner and chef Mark Cutrara.
For dessert, third-time competitor and sole non-Torontonian Ryan Crawford from Niagara’s Stone Road Grille made a maple bacon ice cream (note the curly pig tail coming out of it) with a side of apple, bacon mousse and maple-bacon popcorn.
In the end, us judges gave the freaky cutting board to Crawford for bringing the “wow” factor and having fun with the dish. (It was also delicious, of course.) Heinrichs came in a close second with his colourful and playful interpretation of the challenge.
So, who won the Super Bowl, anyway?