YYC Pizza Week Blogger Challenge: A Taste of Britain and Canada

imageYesterday marked the beginning of YYC Pizza Week, a week-long celebration of all things pizza here in Calgary. Over 40 restaurants are busy churning out pizzas that range from the ordinary to rice-crust, from duck on onion pancake crusts to Montreal smoked meat on a potato latke crust, pie connoisseurs will be in heaven, with a portion of sales donated to Meals on Wheels, a local charity that provides meals to those with limited mobility, and others.

But while the restaurants are locked in fierce combat, we bloggers and food writers aren’t going to be left out of the fun. As part of the festivities, me and 8 others writers have been challenged to create our own pizzas, with the caveat that we must use at least one of the following three ingredients:

– Fire-Roasted Tomatoes (Boring!);
– Anchovies (Fuck Meh! If I wanted to make Stinky Tofu Pizza maybe…wait a tick…), and;
– Sweet Chestnut Purée.

In the end, I decided to go with the last one with the intention of making a dessert pizza. But immediately I was hit with the stark realization that I’ve never had the stuff before. And then, my brain went into total panic mode.

No, I told myself firmly, I have made my bed, so I was going to lie in it.

A little research and a bit of tasting later, and it seemed like maybe, just maybe, there could be an Asian twist to this? Chestnuts were sold freshly roasted on the street corners near where I grew up as a snack but what else could I pair it with? And then, it hit me. If I was going to do a dessert, why not base it on a cheese plate? I had one the last time I was at Winebar Kensington, so why the hell not?

So then the task began. What cheese? And what else would go well with that cheese. I had immensely enjoyed a Blue cheese once when I was flying home to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific’s Business Class. It was a Cambizola from what I remembered (it was almost six years ago, which for my ADHD addled brain is an eternity), but nevertheless, I knew blue cheese would be a massive piece of my puzzle.

So then, what went with blue cheese? Apparently pears do. That’s it! Pear, blue cheese, and…wait, now I needed something crunchy. Walnuts? Sweetened walnuts? With maple? Well now. Maybe I was on to something! Sure, it wasn’t Asian, but I can say it’s inspired by something Asian, right? And to cut down on the sweetness, a touch of salt for the maple walnuts. (I originally wanted to make brittle, but my candy making skills is another thing entirely…)

More research on crust and a shopping trip after work at Calgary Co-op later, I had my ingredients. After a bit of work later, my pear, Stilton and maple walnut pizza was born. As for the name? Stilton is British, and the maple walnut is Canadian. A little taste of Britain, with a few flashes of Asian inspiration, coupled with a little taste of Canada. For a transplanted Hong Konger, it’s rather apropos, isn’t it not?

Pizza on the grill. Yes, you can!

Pizza on the grill. Yes, you can!

Since I designed this pie to be a dessert, I made it 6-inches, with a thin crust. You can serve it in wedges or squares, as a hors d’oeuvre, or even as a vegetarian meal. I also cooked it in the grill (since the weather was still so nice outside!), which gave it a nice crisp texture for the crust. And if are not a fan of blue cheese, you can substitute it with cheddar. But if my dad (who does not like cheese) said, “hey, this isn’t bad.” — well, you get the idea! The recipe is below, so feel free to adapt and change as you like. As a wise man said, “the recipe is only the starting point. The flavour lies within your heart.”

(Oh, and did I mention that it’s vegetarian friendly? As a meatatarian, I’m kinda proud that the tofu-loving side of me can come out and play!)

Oh, and before I forget, there is a vote on which of the nine of us has the best pizza, so drop me a lifeline here and support my bid for ultimate YYC Pizza Week blogger pizza supremacy! (Insert Bela Lugosi-esque evil laughter here…)

Enjoy!

UPDATE: It seems SOMEONE (no names) has also entered a pear pizza as well…and as we all know, mine is definitely better, so…please vote for me! Not for that other pizza!)

Pie's ready!

Pie’s ready!

A TASTE OF BRITAIN & CANADA
(PEAR, STILTON AND MAPLE WALNUT PIZZA)

Crust Ingredients (makes 4x 6″ pies):
– 3 cups flour
– 1 2/3 cup water
– 1 satchel instant yeast
– 1 tsp sugar
– 1 tbsp olive oil
– 1 tsp salt

Topping Ingredients (For 1 pizza):
– 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
– pinch salt
– 1/4 cup maple syrup
– 4 tablespoons chestnut purée
– 1 Bartlett pear, sliced thin
– 1/2 cup Stilton cheese, crumbled
– 1/2 cup Aged cheddar, grated (optional)

Directions:
1. Combine yeast and sugar with lukewarm water, and let sit for a few minutes until it begins to bubble.
2. Add water to flour and salt, then the oil. Mix well until dough ball forms.
3. Knead dough until elastic, and set aside to rise for about 1.5 hours.
4. Slice pears thin, and toss with a little lemon juice to prevent browning.
5. Toast walnuts to a crunchy texture, and toss with salt and maple syrup, and set aside.
6. Once dough is risen cut apart and divide into 4 portions. Roll out each portion to approximately 6″ pies.
7. Brush on chestnut purée, and place pear slices on top. Crumble on cheese(s).
8. Preheat your BBQ grill to 500°F; once it’s close to that temperature turn off all burners except the two on the side, crank those bad boys to medium.
9. Cook pies with lid down for 10-12 minutes. until crust is brown.
10. Sprinkle walnuts on pies, and serve!

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A Night at the Circus (Concessions): Circle the Wagons

It’s no secret that I enjoy street food immensenly, and when Calgary’s street food revolution took off I am proud to say that I was (and still is) swept up in the fervor. But these days, I’ve gone from merely eating street food to making it.

These past few months on Sundays, I’ve been spending time working under Chef Jay del Corro at his Eats of Asia booth inside the Market on Macleod (formerly called the Kingsland Farmers Market), learning the ins and outs of various Asian street food dishes, as well as learning how to cook on a line in a small kitchen. So far, this has also taken me to events like the Food Lovers Urban Market and the first ever Hawkers Market held in Calgary.

Last Saturday, however, was a new frontier for me as Jay and I served Asian street food at the first ever Circle the Wagons.

Jay and I arrived early to the site, the Marda Loop Community Centre. Our friend and market neighbour Margaret from Primal Soup was already there, not for the event but for the Marda Loop Farmers’ Market. The scene was serene and calm, until of course the parade of food trucks arrived around 9:30am, led by the BassBus.

The food trucks arrive...

The food trucks arrive…

Once the trucks had pulled into the park and settled, it was time to get the trailer ready before hungry patrons arrived to take in the circus atmosphere and the various music acts. Getting the power generator on, getting the equipment fired up and ready, and getting the ingredients ready for service — it was a lot to get done in 90 minutes in a small space, but we got it ready.

The hungry masses...

The hungry masses…

And when service finally began, it was go-go-go. Like in any kitchen, the words “stop” or “break” does not exist when you are serving hundreds of hungry patrons eager to try out your wares…especially if it’s something that they’ve never seen before, and you’re eager to introduce them. And by and large, I think we succeeded in making quite the impression on the festivalgoers especially with our cooked-to-order, hand pulled biang biang noodles in a sesame dandan sauce, as well as the kimchi dirty fries.

By the time Jay’s brother David (also a fellow aspiring chef) and sister Jenny arrived to help out after they had closed up at the market, the dinner rush was already on when they arrived, and let’s just say incoming calvalry is always a welcome sight, especially when the chits are lining up. And lined up they were — at certain points, we were six or seven orders deep, with even more folks waiting.

It's a beach volleyball court. In a hockey rink.

It’s a beach volleyball court. In a hockey rink.

Despite it being busy, I did find a bit of time to check out some of the other vendors. Our market friends from Billingsgate was nearby selling fresh sashimi, while others brought their own unique items like Shogun Grill’s takoyaki (Japanese squid donuts) to Family Squeezed Lemonade’s lemonade with mint, Happy Fish’s seafood tacos and Ranch BBQ’s pulled pork made on-board their truck. And that is on top of the purple hippo that spewed fire, the acrobats, the fire dancers and did I mention the various indie music acts?

#StackPaper!

#StackPaper!

In a small space and with a crew of four, we sent dozens upon dozens of hungry festivalgoers away happy. By the time we closed, all of us were exhausted but we had a blast doing it. Sure, the space may just be a smidge bigger than our usual accommodations at the market, and MUCH smaller than the kitchen at Co-op, but it was fun. It was an exhiliarating, long 16 hour day, but the smiles and the “Oh my Glob look at that noodle being stretched!!” made it all worth it. It kinda almost makes me want to open my own food truck…oh right, that’s what I want to do!

This is definitely not the last event I’ll be working in temporary kitchens. Rumour has it there will be a Hawkers Market on October 25th and 26th at the Commonwealth Bar — maybe I’ll see you there?

Why I Chose To Be A Chef’s Apprentice

There is an old Chinese saying, roughly translated, that says, “It’s better to have traveled a thousand miles than to have read a thousand books.”

Not to knock on all you book readers out there, but there is a certain truth to that old statement. And when you apply it to cooking, is it better to have read a thousand recipe books or is it better to have cooked (and learned) from those same books? Surely you’d agree that the latter is probably much more rewarding, and a lot tastier.

While many of my fellow MasterChef Canada contestants have returned to their everyday lives, some have plunged head-long into their culinary dreams. While I have joined the latter group, I’m taking a different route.

I am not afraid to say it: I am not ready for prime time. While folks like Danny have opened his own food truck, Dora opening up her new restaurant, Josh and Carly burning up the Vancouver food scene, they are ready for it. I however, am not.

In my life, I’ve been known to speed through things. From the time I was in elementary school all the way to now, I’ve prided myself on being speedy. Sometimes, that is great. Other times, it’s caused me nothing but grief from teachers, my parents and even friends. Based on that, I knew that jumping headlong into the culinary world would be a disaster of epic proportions. (Plus being broke doesn’t help matters much, either.)

Above all, I have far too much learning, and too much tasting and experimenting left to do. The first thing I needed to do was to learn never to make the same mistake that got me sent home from MasterChef Canada: undercooking chicken. On the plane ride home, I vowed that the next time either of the three judges would taste my food, they will not get a pink piece of chicken (or undercooked anything for that matter). The question then popped up — where would I learn it, if I wanted to be a pro?

And that is where one Chef Troy Raugust stepped in.

When I first met him, he was the Head Chef at the newly built Fresh-to-Go Kitchen inside the Calgary Co-op in Crowfoot. By the time I met him, I was still looking for my way in the door. He hired me on the spot after talking to him, and within a few days was working in a kitchen. It’s not a completely full-fledged restaurant one, but the work involved in running it is no less intense. From preparing a fresh salad bar, to serving the line, cooking rotisserie chickens to the perfect doneness, and finally to preparing the various dishes being served, it was a lot to take in each day at work.

And somehow, after a few months of working there, I impressed him and the other Chefs enough to have him offer me the chance to be his apprentice. But truth be told, I had misgivings at first. It would mean more schooling (having graduated with a university degree and a broadcasting diploma) — but with my broadcasting career going nowhere fast, it was pretty much a no-brainer. For the second time in my life, I enjoyed what I did for work. Broadcasting is great, but it simply didn’t give me the ways to pay the bills. Cooking had always been a passion of mine, and for the first time it offered a way out of the rut.

Spurred on by my friends, I took the chance. And as they say, the rest is history.

And as I near a year working there, I’ve been blessed to have so many teachers that have been incredibly patient with me and my foibles. My time working as an apprentice showed me not just what I still needed to learn to be the culinary star that I will be, but also of what I am capable of. I’ve made mistakes seasoned chefs would consider amateurish, but on the other hands I have also dazzled those same chefs as well with the skills I do have.

But most of all, I am doing things that as recently as two years ago would never have dreamed of being able to do; like stand in front of a crowd at Stampede Park doing a demo with our new Head Chef, go back to my old alma mater William Aberhart High School and teach not one, not two but three Foods Studies classes, and wow crowds with newly acquired noodle-pulling skills at various markets around Calgary (But those are stories best left for another day.)

So in a nutshell, that is why I chose to be an apprentice. To learn, to grow and to evolve into the best chef and human being that I can be. It might sound clichéd, but it is the truth…and I’m sure as hell sticking by it!

Then, and now...the evolution continues.

Then, and now…the evolution continues.