2019 marks the 20th annual “Healthy Chef Competition”. It is a gala, dinner, competition, and fundraiser all roll into one fun filled night. Co-hosted by the “BC Produce Marketing Association” and the “BC Chefs’ Association (BCCA). And tonight it all took place at the host hotel, “Hyatt Regency”, in Vancouver, BC. The “Hyatt” on Burrard would welcome myself and 500+ guests to its 3rd floor banquet room.

Here, ten participating restaurants each created an entree and a dessert for the guests to try. And in each, fresh produce was the star of the plate, and any protein only played a supporting role.

Everyone gets a different meal as determined by the mystery envelope placed at each table setting. In it a card indicating which property you will be claiming your entree from and which different restaurant will hand you your dessert. And speaking from personal experience, there is plenty of both to go around that many diners are able to go back from seconds at the booth of their choosing.

I was one of the media judges tonight, and started the evening ranking each property. The judging criteria included their use of all the produce available to them, how well kept their station was, and how creative I found the presentation of their showcase. The accumulation of our votes, the chef judges tastings, and attendees voting in real time yielded the following winners.

The following is a list of the winners and all this others who competed. Unfortunately I didn’t try them everything, and what I did have was a shared tasting, therefore my notes on each plate will be sparse, if any.

The “People’s choice winner” was “White Spot restaurant”. Their entree featured duck served two ways. Their table was themed like a wild clearing with dried vegetation and raw vegetables put together. It was decorated like a setting that you would find two stuffed ducks at.

“Duck two ways”. Sous vide duck breast in prosciutto with a sherry duck glaze and crispy duck skin sand. And a duck fois gras and porcini globe with oven dried tomato. Both served with purple potato, heirloom carrots, cauliflower chips, and pea purée. I appreciated the thick chunk of duck paired with the perfectly prepared firm vegetables. And liked how they gave you more meaty water fowl pulled and stuffed into a cabbage roll.

The “Cucumber Panna Cotta” was their dessert. An ambrosia apple and celery salad, with mint gelato, lime syrup, and meringue. It was refreshing with the minty ice cream feel. Some compared it to tooth paste, but I found it the idea palette refresher. I passed on the salad though, finding the strong flavour of celery obtrusive to the sweet of a would be dessert.

Winning both the “Best entree” and the “Best table showcase” was “The Wild Fig”. The first accolade was totalled by the chef judges who tasted all the plates and the latter from the media judge, (like myself), who enjoyed their presentation. A whimsical jungle scape that included bananas ducks simmering in a bubbling pond, and a mountain of fruit guarded by a monkey with a cantaloupe body, an apple head, and a zucchini top hat.

Their entree was a “Red beet infused, dry aged AAA striploin”. It was aged for 35 days, and proud to be hormone free. It was accompanied by a sweet potato roulade, baby nugget purée, baby beets, caulilini, cipollini, purple brussel, squash purée, nasturtium (a species of annual and perennial herbaceous flowering plant), dark mesh tuile, and Madagascar peppercorn sauce. This was such a dynamic plate with all the rainbow coloured vegetables.

Their dessert was “The real taste of banana” and it was a favourite amongst my table. A white chocolate banana mousse cake tube, cocoa butter, banana compote, hazelnut dacquiose, dolce de leche, fizzy fruit berries, and edible gold dust. This was a clever presentation and a fun play on food. Super tasty with the real flavour of banana coming through in the mousse and in the chocolate shell.

“VCC – Vancouver Community College” won for the “Best dessert”, shame I missed on trying it. The “Rhubarb bar” included dehydrated vanilla, meringue, and a kombucha fluid gel.

Their main course was a “Braised Pork Cheek” with sunchoke and an ambrosia sour radish amaranth. This too I missed out on trying.

Their display was a dehydrated garden which was completely edible as is, including the soil made of soy. Dehydrated fennel, kale, asparagus, and mushrooms.

“Wild Forager Catering” had a fun booth. They created a cabin on the table with a garden out front. In the soil, potatoes spelled out the restaurant’s name. And behind it, a glass window gave you a look at their two available dishes.

Their main course was the “Pig in the cabbage patch”. Gelderman farms roast pork loin, fried sauerkraut cauliflower and link fondue, fingerling potato, and olive oil sous-vide grape tomato.

For dessert they offered up a “BC Ambrosia Apple pie gelee”. Sable tart, maple Dijon Chantilly cream, apple cider tuiles, Cointreau caramel, and mint infused strawberry. A classic apple tart: comforting, tart, and buttery.

This was “Cedar Feast House Catering’s” first year in attendance. Not only did their table display their food, but it also presented their heritage with a collection of carved artwork: canoe paddles and masks.

Their main course was a “Maple pumpkin crusted cod” on a bed of rapini, with apple chutney, potato pave, roasted beet, butternut squash, and corn purée. I didn’t get a taste of this or their dessert below.

And a shame too cause the “Bannock Truffle” would have been a fun fusion creation to try. Made with coconut dark chocolate potato, beet ginger ice cream on a wafer crisp, and an ambrosia apple chip and blueberry purée on top. This gave you your serving of vegetables in a whole new way.

“Beach Grove Club House” gave us a collection of fresh fruit and carved watermelons.

Their entree was “Sundried tomato crusted baja scallops” with blue skin baby potato filled with yam purée, asparagus, baby carrots, and baby beet roots; served over a red cabbage miso purée, and a soy orange butter sauce. It was nice to have some scallops here, you don’t often think to order them cause you don’t get much on the plate. But the great flavours here are worth it getting a smaller serving for.

For dessert they had a “molten cake filled with chocolate and raspberry sauce”, but it was the sides that decorated it, that impressed me the most. Chocolate dirt, whipped vanilla panna cotta, mango fruit gel drops, a crystallized pear chip, and an edible orchid. I have never eaten an orchid before, it was memorable and surprisingly delicious. So much so that I wanted to take a box of them home with me.

“Acqua Restaurant” from “Executive Suites Hotel Metro Vancouver” offered up a “Star anise kumquat duck” for their main course. Staranise brined duck, kumquat glace de viande, smoked red kuri squash, black ink crisps, shimeji mushrooms, pickled mustard fennel kimchi, crispy lotus chips, black garlic sesame puree, and fennel tops.

And dessert was “Yuzu meringue pie” with Meyer lemon, yuzu, dulche de leche, purple tapioca crisp, maceraed berries, and blue berry meringue. This was a beautiful plate light, that was breezy in colour and taste.

From “75 West Coast Grill” at the “Vancouver Airport Marriott” they created a pasta wonderland. Colourful noodles in shells, spirals and strands became bouquets of flowers, ready for spring.

They were also the only ones to offer a “Sous vide octopus” with romesco and manchego cheese cannelloni, charred corn segments, sweet corn foam, avocado purée, and mole sauce. The tender pieces of octopus were zesty with spice, it paired well with the sweetness from all the corn elements.

For dessert they had an “Ambrosia apple gateau basque” with walnut milk spheres, charred lemon curd, pistachio cream, green grape soil, fruit leather, apple fluid gel, and amaretto berry variations. This was a fulsome dessert that I sadly missed out on.

“Delta Hotels By Marriott Burnaby Conference center” gave diners a full vegetarian plate. “Fermented pine mushroom celeriac”, housemade pumpkin seed miso farro, pumpkin seed dukkah, pea puree, celeriac puree, vegetable demi, smoked fingerling potatoes, pickled daikon, shaved fennel, and compressed granny smith apple.

For dessert they served a “Strawberry Panna Cotta” with almond cocoa nib granola, compressed strawberries, sorrel yogurt sherbet, and minted skim milk whip cream. It was fun to slurp up in the strand that it was served in. It had the texture of Panna Cotta, but in a new format, and was fresh like a fruit purée.

And last but not least were the dishes from “Hyatt Regency Hotel”, our host hotel. Their presentation including a collection of the produce they were using, presented in glass cylinders and wooden boxes.

Lamb with fingerling potatoes, sun choke, English peas, foraged mushrooms, fermented wild blueberry, and apple bordelaise sauce. A beautifully crafted, and fulsome plate.

I especially enjoyed their “Dark chocolate Forest” dessert. Chocolate moss, spruce infused milk chocolate mousse, chocolate soil, meringue mushrooms, and pistachio streusel. This was a plate full of great textures. Not too sweet, but well balanced with juicy, airy, and saucy elements.

The kitchen team from “Hyatt Regency Hotel” also offered everyone a starter plate. A “Kampachi & Salmon sashimi” with scallion, apple, fingerling potato chips, and sunflower
sprouts; all soaking in a chilled white shoyu dashi. It was a tasty serving that everyone unanimously enjoyed at our table.

They also offered a vegetarian starter plate option and a vegetarian main course option, as well as roaming appetizers during reception. As we all ate everyone had the opportunity to explore all of the showcases, chat up the chefs behind them, then cast in their People’s Choice vote. There was also entertainment, music, and auctions, with tonight’s dinner event hosted by CTV’s weathercaster Mark Driescchen. Auctions included a silent and live version. With proceeds going to support programs at the Canadian Cancer Society, BC Heart and Stroke, and the BCCA Scholarship Program.

And at the end of the night everyone went home with a gift bag and box of fresh produce. Plus their pineapple place setting, and any of the prizes they won through raffles and draws.

Given that it has been 20 years since this event first started and how well run and successful it is and was on this night, I am surprised that I haven’t heard of them until last year. But this is not an event to miss. Therefore make sure you bookmark the site and check back early spring of 2020 to secure your tickets. But be warned, tickets sell out fast, and this is without the extra advertising, that they don’t need. Those in the know, know that this is the must attend foodie event for early spring! And as I post this review, I am still working my way through the produce box I was gifted. And with each piece of fruit that I peel and each vegetable I chop, I am looking forward to next year!