What does $3.15 get you?
If you’re Harriet Clunie, winner of this year’s Poor Chefs Competition, it gets you a year’s worth of free knife sharpening from the fine folks at Knifewear (knifewear.com). It also gives you the glory of seeing your name on a shiny silver cup. And probably bragging rights that a plate of butternut squash, brown rice, and a poached egg can get you the trophy.
This was the sophomore year of the Poor Chefs Competition, a brilliant charity event in support Operation Come Home and the advocacy and support work they do for homeless youth in this city. The Poor Chefs is a playful contest meant to highlight how tough it can be to prepare a nutritious, delicious meal on a severely limited budget. It also highlights the remarkable generosity of the chefs in this city who step up to give back constantly.
Three dollars and fifteen cents was the budget. With that paltry sum, the task given each of the five competing chefs was to come up with a pretty plate of tasty, nourishing food, using three items of ‘commonly donated ingredients’ to the Food Bank, each plate to cost no more than $3.15 to make. Competition plates were marked for taste, presentation and creativity by a panel of six judges. (I had the honour of being one of them.)
Low budget cookery is nothing new for ingenious cooks – making delicious food with limited funds is something they do every day. Although possibly not this limited… and for Clunie, clearly a rushed reader, ridiculously so.
“I misread the rules,” Clunie announced. “I really just glanced at them and got shopping.” The chef of The Beechwood Gastropub had thought the $3.15 budget was to cover all 6 plates. Which was probably why we were eating poached eggs. Clunie’s three ‘commonly donated’ ingredients were squash, eggs and spinach. She bought a cup of brown rice, a handful of chickpeas, a radish, a chile, and probably a quarter’s worth of harissa spices – cumin, coriander, caraway, paprika… – from Bulk Barn. She roasted off cubes of the squash and whipped up a silken purée, aromatic with the warming spices she had bought. She made a brown rice pilaf threaded with wilted spinach and spicy chickpeas, and crowned the dish with a perfectly poached egg dusted with toasted spices and topped with a chiffonade of radish.
All the dishes were remarkable. Clunie’s, in its utter simplicity, was flawless.
Congratulations to the organizers and supporters of the competition, to chef Chris Lord of Knifewear Ottawa, and to the five competing chefs who stepped up – Darren Flowers of Union Local 613, Ryan Edwards of Salt Dining & Lounge, Lizardo Becerra from Andaz Ottawa, Victor Coloma from Johnny Farina, and Harriet Clunie of the Beechwood Gastropub, whose name is now next to that of Stephen LaSalle, the 2016 winner of the Poor Chefs cup.