The national finals for the 2014 USA Pears “Pear Excellence” Canadian Culinary Student Recipe Competition were held April 8 at The Dirty Apron Cooking School in Vancouver. Five culinary student finalists from highly competitive regional competitions faced off before a panel of esteemed judges for the National Grand Prize title.
The members of the final judging event’s renowned judging panel were Joe Chow, sales manager of The Produce Terminal and president of the BC Produce Marketing Association;Anya Levykh, food columnist, CBC On The Coast; David Robertson, chef and owner of The Dirty Apron Cooking School; and Trevor Bird, chef and owner of Fable Kitchen and "Top Chef Canada" season two contestant.
The student competitors won an all-expenses-paid trip to Vancouver to participate in the national competition, which was held just after the Canadian Produce Marketing Association Convention & Expo took place in Vancouver. The national grand prize winner earned a cash award, and the remaining students each took home a smaller cash award to recognize their regional titles. Each finalist’s school also received scholarship funds in honor of their prize. Event attendees, including culinary students, food bloggers, and foodservice professionals, sampled each dish and voted on their favorite to select the People’s Choice award. This year, the award was given to finalist Melissa Evans of the British Columbia/Northwest Territories region for her Pear Ravioli Three Ways with Vanilla Chardonnay Buerre Blanc. Twitter was used to dispatch play-by-play updates from @USApears live during the finals with the tag #PearExcellence.
Michelle McAllen, an 18-year-old culinary student from New Brunswick Community College St. Andrews, representing the Maritimes Region, won top honors from the judges with her “Fresh and Cured with Compliments of Pears,” a plate featuring a crusted pork tenderloin stuffed with caramelized pears, prosciutto cups with pears, and an acorn squash and white chocolate puree. The judges noted that the dish looked amazing, had great flavor and showcased the versatile pear in a variety of excellent uses.
McAllen’s worthy competitors were Melissa Evans, from Vancouver Island University, representing the British Columbia/Northwest Territories region; Janine Sumner Traverse, from The Paterson GlobalFoods Institute at Red River College, representing the Prairies region; Samantha Katharine Hudon-Sue, from LaSalle College, representing the Québec region; and Joel Carta, from Centennial College Progress Campus, representing the Ontario region.
McAllen said that she chose the combination of pears and pork because the natural sweetness of the pears matches well with the salty flavors of the pork. “Pears just add such a nice flavor to the dish," she said. "You can’t go wrong with fresh fruit." Her savory entree combines sautéed Anjou pears with Canadian prosciutto, gremolata-crusted pork, squash and white chocolate puree, and pear cream brandy sauce, garnished with pear leather. The judges lauded the dish, saying they enjoyed it start to finish and ate every bite.
When asked what her aspirations are, McAllen said she plans to travel to the United Kingdom next year to work abroad for a year. Ideally, she sees herself working in foodservice for a hotel chain so that she can travel.
Now in its 17th year of engaging Canadian culinary students nationwide with this annual pear recipe contest, Pear Bureau Northwest recognizes the country’s most-talented student chefs for their pear prowess.
“We are proud to be able to increase pear consumption at the foodservice level by continuing the tradition of educating student chefs nationwide about USA Pears," Kevin Moffitt, president and chief executive officer of Pear Bureau Northwest, said in a press release. "Canada is one of our top export markets, and we’re glad to have inspired a lifelong love for pears in these up-and-coming individuals as they start their promising careers.”