This past Sunday marked the first installment of the newest food event to hit Toronto, Abbey’s Kitchen Stadium (AKS). Modeled loosely after the Iron Chef model, AKS was designed to showcase some of Toronto’s hottest chef talent, sample incredible drinks, and ultimately, to raise money for the new local food initiative, My Food My Way (MFMW).
As both a hardcore food lover and a Registered Dietitian, I feel a personal and professional obligation to help inspire others to find as much pleasure and passion through food as I experience every day at every meal. And while these sentiments can surely develop at any stage in life, I believe we should be concentrating our efforts on youth and tailoring our messages in a way that makes sense to them. That means no hand-slapping, finger-wagging “eat this, not that, good food, bad food” dogma that “food police” dietitians are often accused of. But rather, it should be about creating a space for young people to have their say, get involved, feel invested, and, ultimately, make a change that’s meaningful to them.
Embodying my food philosophies to the letter, MFMW is a Toronto-based food charity that does just that. This young initiative sees that elementary students work with school officials to develop school culinary and nutrition curriculum, develop and prepare cafeteria school lunches, learn about food systems from a variety of experiential learning modalities, and ultimately, build life-long healthy relationships with food. I was determined to spread the word and help raise funds for this initiative, and knew that getting our vibrant Toronto food community involved through AKS would be the ideal incubator for the job.
Structured as a four-part series, this season of AKS features three competitions at the MOD Club and a championship event where the winner from each of the three events, plus a viewer-voted wild card will battle it out one last time on the Delicious Food Show‘s Food Network Celebrity Stage.
The heavily anticipated unveiling of the Secret Ingredient marked the kick off to Battle One where the Neal Brothers’ Sweet & Smoky BBQ, Pink Himalayan Salt, and Pink Salt &Vinegar potato chips awaited the royal culinary treatment. Within seconds, the competing chefs, Matt Basile (Fidel Gastros, Lisa Marie), Matt Pettit (Rock Lobster Co), Rocco Agostino (Pizzeria Libretto, Enoteca Sociale) and Bruce Woods (Woods Restaurant) rushed to their respective stations and began to cook, serve, and sell alongside youth from Thistletown Collegiate, one of the pilot elementary schools supported by the MFMW mission. Here’s a little #foodporn overview of the goods these guys pumped out.
Bruce Woods: Neal Brothers Sweet & Smoky BBQ Chip with Duck Confit, Poached Quail Egg and Bernaise Sauce
Bruce Woods: Maple and Brown Butter Glazed Donut with White Chocolate and Bacon coated with Neal Brothers Pink Salt and Vinegar Chips
Matt Basile: Himalayan Marrow Mash with Buttermilk Fried Onions & Neal Brothers Pink Sea Salt chips
Matt Basile: Sweet & Smokey Potato Pork Sausage with Caramelized Onion Aioli
Rocco Agostino: Neal Brothers Pink Sea Salt & Vinegar chip Gnocchi with Eggplant Caponata and Salmoriglio
Rocco Agostino: Neal Brothers Pink Sea Salt chip Ice Cream with Potato Chip Praline
Matt Pettit: Cowboy Corn: Corn with Butter, Neal Brothers Sweet Smoky BBQ Chips, Cilantro Crema and Micro Greens
Matt Pettit: Not Your Momma’s Peanut Brittle with Neal Brothers Pink Salt and Vinegar chips
As the guests tasted their way through the offerings, hemming and hawing over their top picks, tasty libations were poured to ease the decision making burden. Presenting Sponsor, Forty Creek served up a beautifully balanced Forty Apples cocktail using their Copper Pot Whisky, Sam Adams was whipping through cases of their Boston Lager, and Beamsville’s own Dillon’s Distillery was pumping out the smoothest G + Ts around. And for those still recovering from a rocky Saturday night, there was also refreshing Limonana for purchase, as well as good-for-you samples of the Tea Emporium’s hot and cold line of teas.
But boozed up or sober, everyone was pulling out their wallets when it came time for our raffle, where hundreds of dollars of donated food products, cookware, and gift cards were dispensed in the name of charity.
Following the raffle, the chefs were invited on stage to present their two dishes to the celebrity judge panel that included Bruce Croxon (Dragon’s Den), James Cunningham (Eat St. Food Network), Jordan Hastings (Alexisonfire, Dine Alone Records) and Peter Neal (Neal Brothers). Understanding that judging four top Toronto chefs could very well be anxiety provoking, Oliver Stern from the Toronto Temperance Society offered a little liquid relief. Each judge received four Forty Creek Copper Pot Whisky signature cocktails, each one appropriately paired with a competitor’s creation.
And while Chef Bruce Woods may have gone home with bragging rights (and a Lagostina 10 piece cook set), the biggest winners of the day were My Food My Way and the four teenagers who got the opportunity to work with the city’s best, three of which were offered jobs in their mentors’ restaurants! What a beautiful example of how the MFMW and AKS partnership is going above and beyond a simple fundraiser.
So as we reflect on the afternoon in anticipation of Battle 2 on July 21st, you can bet it’s just going to get bigger, better, and more refined from here. Mark your calendars, folks- I hope to see you all at the next epic battle!
All photos from this post are courtesy of Scott Ramsay Photography.
* This article was posted as part of Toronto Standard’s media sponsorship of Abbey’s Kitchen Stadium.
Abbey Sharp is a Dietitian (RD), home chef, food writer, blogger & media personality. Follow her on Twitter at @AbbeysKitchen.