Why Top Chef Canada Judges Are Still Raving About Trista’s Pot-au-Feu

A chance to overcome past humiliation with a few humble ingredients was on the menu as some of Canada’s best chefs returned to Top Chef Canada seeking redemption, and the opportunity to be named the best of the all-stars. The first elimination round saw chefs forced to revisit the ingredients that had been their downfall in their original appearances on the show.

Trista looks less than thrilled to see her past on a plate.

For Trista Sheen, who made it to the 10th episode on Season 2, it wasn’t the chicken, carrots and peas that sent her packing; it was a piece of plastic wrap that made it onto the judges’ plate.

Trista faces the judges in the tenth episode of season 2.

There’s something deliciously poetic and just plain delicious, that for her chance at redemption, Trista went with a humble dish with plenty of history for a challenge about facing the past.

Her “Scarborough” pot-au-feu played on a classic French dish of braised meat and broth, but she infused it with her own history, taking the flavours from the neighbourhood where she grew up.

Trista preparing her elimination challenge dish in the Lavelle kitchen.

By definition, pot-au-feu — literally translated as “pot on the fire” — is an age-old French dish made with meat and vegetables, cooked in water that slowly turns into a broth. Picture a bubbling pot set over a fire in a kitchen fireplace, and you’ve got a sense of its origins. (Not to be confused with a soup or stew, the broth from a pot-au-feu is not generally served as the main part of the meal.)

Traditionally made from a mix of inexpensive cuts of beef such as short ribs, brisket and shanks (ones that benefit from being cooked for long periods of time) pot-au-feu also includes root vegetables, along with simple seasonings of garlic and herbs. That slow braise of meat and the later addition of onions, potatoes, carrots and turnips — and, in some cases, leeks and cabbage — creates a deeply flavoured, clear broth. Recipes often call for marrow bones, which add even more richness.

A traditional pot-au-feu made with different cuts of beef.

Although cooked in one pot, it’s dished out as a multi-course meal. The rich broth is customarily served on its own as the first course, or with the marrow bones; a prized part of the meal as people scoop out the buttery marrow onto toast, and eat it alongside.  After that, the meats, neatly portioned, and vegetables are dished up family-style on a large platter with standard garnishes of tangy mustards, crunchy cornichons and salt. Some versions include a recipe for pistou, a blend of oil, garlic and herbs, to be added to the table for drizzling over the dish, while others suggest serving it with a bit of horseradish.

Trista’s elegantly presented “Scarborough” pot-au-feu.

Trista’s take was a nod to the neighbourhood of Scarborough, a Toronto suburb with a vibrant immigrant community that has translated into the area being known for its ethnic cuisines, including Caribbean, Chinese and African.

“I loved the soul and the personality behind that dish; that really stuck with me,” judge, Chris Nuttall-Smith said. “I hope that dish doesn’t end with this competition; I hope she continues to serve it and works with it.”

The base of her dish was the same as any pot-au-feu: meat and vegetables. But she then gave it a Jamaican twist by adding jerk flavours, with the heat of spicy peppers and warming spices like allspice, nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon. She served it up with a carrot, chard and corn pistou — a take on the more traditional basil-oil version — and a jerk aioli, all artfully presented.

“She nailed it on the first round. Beautiful, the presentation, the flavours, it was gorgeous,” said judge Mijune Pak, who still raved about this dish, months after tasting it.

Watch the Top Chef Canada: All-Stars premiere online.

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