Anyone who’s seen me dealing with the last-minute preparations for a dinner party will tell you I am definitely not cut out for the professional culinary world. Grace under fire, I most definitely am not. As a result, I have the utmost respect for anyone who decides to take on a career as a chef, and even more so for anyone who’s willing to put their skills to the test in a culinary competition.
That’s one of the reasons I’m really excited to be attending this year’s Canadian regional finals for the S. Pellegrino® AlmostFamous Chef Competition taking place at Cirilio’s Culinary Academy in Toronto next Monday, February 25th.
The competition will feature 7 up and coming culinary students from across the country, each of whom will have just two hours to prepare a unique specialty dish to be judged by a panel of chefs and food media experts.
The winner will then move on to the finals in Napa, California in March, where they’ll join the other regional winners to compete for the chance to be crowned the gastronomic world’s next big star (not to mention a $10,000 cash prize and a chance to work for a nationally recognized chef for one year).
This is my first year attending the competition, but I’m already excited about the opportunity to sample the competitor’s creations, thanks in part to S. Pellegrino’s free recipe ebook featuring favourite dishes from past Canadian competitions, all of which have been adapted for the home cook.
There are several fabulous yet surprisingly approachable recipes featured in the book, but there was one in particular that I just couldn’t pass up – the Stuffed Chicken Medallions with Rapini and Walnut Spelt by Wendy Mah of Toronto’s George Brown Chef’s School.
The version below is my take on Wendy’s delicious-looking recipe, complete with the small adjustments I made to accommodate for our personal tastes and our pantry – I used baby kale in lieu of rapini, since The Boy is picky when it comes to bitter greens, and I replaced the spelt with pearl barley because I simply because that’s what my grocery store happened to have.
Despite my creative liberties, it’s still a lovely dish. The barley risotto, in particular, is so good it could stand on its own as a quick weeknight dinner – it’s like risotto’s bolder, louder cousin, with the same creamy, comforting quality but a wonderful blend of flavours and textures, from the chewy, nutty barley to the crunchy toasted walnuts to the salty punch of pancetta. When topped with the chicken breast medallions with their savoury pork-and-liver stuffing and served with a robust glass of red, though, it’s elevated to company-worthy status.
And if this dish is any sign of what I can expect next Monday, then I’m very excited indeed! I’ll be sharing the fun (but sadly, not the food or the calories) via Twitter and throughout the event, so keep your eyes peeled.
- 6 boneless skinless chicken breasts, butterflied and pounded thin
- ½ lb boneless pork shoulder
- ¼ lb chicken livers
- 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh sage
- 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
- 1½ tsp finely chopped fresh thyme
- 1½ tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- Salt and pepper
- ½ cup diced pancetta
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 small shallot, minced
- 1 stalk celery, finely diced
- 1 bay leaf
- 1½ cups pearl barley
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 1½ cups baby kale (or roughly chopped kale)
- ¾ cup toasted walnuts, roughly chopped
- ½ cup grated Parmesan
- Preheat oven to 375F.
- In the bowl of a food processor, pulse pork and chicken livers until minced. Add sage, parsley, thyme, rosemary, fennel and garlic, and pulse again until the seasonings are evenly distributed. Season generously with salt and pepper.
- Season the chicken breasts on both sides with a little salt and pepper. Divide the stuffing mixture evenly between the breasts, then fold over the chicken breast to enclose the filling and tie up securely with kitchen twine.
- Arrange the chicken breasts on a baking sheet, and roast in preheated oven for 40-45 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads an internal temperature of 175F. Let stand for 5 minutes, then slice into thick medallions.
- While the chicken breasts are roasting, begin on the risotto.
- In a large saucepan set over medium heat, cook pancetta and garlic for 5-7 minutes or until the pancetta is crispy and most of the fat has rendered off. Add shallot and celery, and continue cooking for 5-7 minutes longer or until softened but not browned. Add bay leaf and barley, and cook 1 minute longer.
- Stir in the stock and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes or until the barley is soft and most of the liquid has been absorbed.
- Stir in the kale, walnuts and Parmesan. Let stand for a few minutes to allow the kale to wilt, then spoon into shallow serving bowls and top with chicken medallions. Serve immediately.