Amazing chefs + amazing cheese = awesome tasting dishes

Chef Jamie Kennedy serves Braised Oxtail Poutine with two Black River cheddars at the Cooks & Curds Gala at the inaugural Great Canadian Cheese Festival in 2011.

The Cooks & Curds Gala is the culinary and social highlight of The Great Canadian Cheese Festival held annually in Picton, Ontario, in the heart of Prince Edward County.

Eight leading chefs from across Canada use Canadian cheeses to create tasting dishes that are paired with Canadian wine, craft beer and cider. The strolling dinner on Saturday evening, June 2, concludes with an after-dinner cheese board presented by Dairy Farmers of Canada, sweets, sparkling wine, ice wine, port, coffee and tea.

From British Columbia to Newfoundland, here are the Gala chefs:

Jimmy Stewart, Bearfoot Bistro, Whistler, British Columbia

Top Chef Canada contestant Jimmy Stewart is the sous chef at the Bearfoot Bistro in Whistler, British Columbia. With strong beliefs in foraging and a love for Canadian products and ingredients, he is driven by modern Canadian cuisine.

Top Chef Canada contestant Jimmy Stewart of Whistler, B.C.

Talia Syrie, The Tallest Poppy, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Classically trained in her grandmother’s kitchen, Talia Syrie’s nouveau Baba-style deli food combines the traditional Shtetl recipes of her people and the southern country cooking that she loves.  Hailing from the North End of Winnipeg Talia’s intimate café, The Tallest Poppy, is loved by the community.

Jamie Kennedy, Jamie Kennedy Kitchens, Toronto

For over three decades, Jamie Kennedy has been instrumental in shaping the culinary landscape in Canada. His innovative approach to gastronomy, commitment to sustainable agriculture and advocacy of local food have been unwavering.

Chef Kennedy has applied the slow food philosophy in every aspect of his acclaimed restaurants and his flourishing catering business. His seasonal methods of cooking and involvement with the local food movement continue to inspire progress in agricultural and gastronomical communities across Canada.

Michael Blackie, National Arts Centre, Ottawa

Born in Leicestershire, England, and raised in Montreal, Quebec, Chef Michael Blackie has been cooking for 25 years on three continents. Among his many career highlights, Chef Blackie held executive sous chef and acting chef positions at the prestigious and world-renowned Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong. He joined the artistic leadership team at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa three years ago.

A unique feta and elk dish created by Chef Blackie expressly for The Great Canadian Cheese Festival was voted the most popular dish by close to 400 guests at the inaugural Cooks & Curds Gala in 2011.

Marc Cohen, Lawrence, Montreal

Originally from the U.K., Marc Cohen studied cooking at Leiths School of Food and Wine in London. After moving to Montreal, Marc quickly established himself on the city’s culinary scene running the kitchen at The Sparrow before opening Lawrence in 2010. Chef Cohen emphasizes the use of sustainable products from local farmers, in-house butchery and nose-to-tail cooking.

Top Chef Canada contestant Francois Gagnon of Montreal.

Francois Gagnon, Ædifica, Montreal

Top Chef Canada contestant François Gagnon, a seasoned chef who has worked in top restaurants in Quebec, France and Vancouver, currently is private chef for Ædifica, a prestigious architectural firm in Montreal, where the design culture stimulates his use of color, texture, technique and flavours to produce visually and conceptually inspiring meals daily.

Just before joining Ædifica in 2011, Chef Gagnon took part in the first season of Top Chef Canada on the Food Network, finishing in the top 5. In the future, he plans to partner in the opening of a gourmet sandwich shop in downtown Montreal.

Domenic Serio, Inn at Bay Fortune, Bay Fortune, Prince Edward Island

For more 20 years, the Inn At Bay Fortune has been serving its guests the best that Prince Edward Island has to offer.

Chef Domenic Serio and Team Cuisine draw heavily on the Inn’s extensive herb and vegetable garden ensuring fresh and season driven cuisine. As well as working directly with local farmers, Chef Serio can be seen at the Charlottetown and Cardigan Farmers Market taking advantage of all the wonderful organic produce that is available. Together, this all adds up to a truly remarkable dining experience where guest get to enjoy Chef’s and his team’s passion for true farm-to-table cooking.

Katie Hayes, Bonavista Social Club, Upper Amherst Cove, Newfoundland

The Bonavista Social Club, located in the small community of Upper Amherst Cove on the Bonavista Peninsula, harnesses the established farm gardens, animal husbandry and self-sufficient lifestyle at work in Upper Amherst Cove to provide a truly unique experience of rural Newfoundland. The restaurant is home to the only commercial wood-fired bread oven in Newfoundland and Labrador. The bread oven is the centrepiece of an open kitchen.

The eight chefs have been selected and announced. Now starts the much-anticipated challenge for event organizers to match and pair the chefs and their ideas for tasting dishes with the most appropriate cheeses from the Canadian producers featured at the Festival. Karin Desveaux is the Festival’s executive director, Ivy Knight is chef co-ordinator and Jackie Armet is cheese co-ordinator. Menu details will be announced as soon they become available, with recommended wine pairings by David Lawrason.

The Great Canadian Cheese Festival is produced by Cheese Lover Productions with the generous support of Celebrate Ontario. Dairy Farmers of Canada is Diamond Sponsor, Ontario’s Artisan Food and Beverage Region (FAB) is Gold Sponsor. A portion of Festival proceeds will benefit a Cheese Scholarship Fund to encourage young Canadians to pursue careers in cheese.

Advance tickets are sold online at In order to assure a high-quality experience for chefs and guests, Cheese Gala ticket sales will be limited, so don’t delay in ordering tickets by clicking here.

Michael Blackie has a ball with feta and elk at Cooks/Curds

People's Choice at Cooks & Curds. Photo by If Music Be Food of Love, Play On.

A unique feta and elk dish created by Chef Michael Blackie expressly for The Great Canadian Cheese Festival was voted the most popular dish by close to 400 guests at Cooks & Curds Cheese Gala, the social and gastronomic highlight of the Festival.

Chef Blackie, head of cuisine at National Arts Centre in Ottawa, named his creation Clarmell Feta Cheese Pistachio Crusted Sphere with Pulled Lip Sticky Chipotle-Saskatoonberry Elk.

Plainly put, Chef Blackie, using two kinds of rice flour, made a crusted ball with goat feta from Clarmell Farms and served it on a bed of pulled elk.

In reality, a fusion of flavours—rice, pistachio, olives, chipotle, brown sugar, honey, carrots, celery, onion and garlic—powered the dish to People’s Choice honours, with a scattering of Saskatoon berries providing a lovely Canadian finish.

Paired with a fruity, silky St. Laurent 2007 from Prince Edward County’s Harwood Estate Vineyards, Chef Blackie’s creation was a standout among standouts at the Gala in historic Crystal Palace. See the menu below.

Michael Blackie’s name is widely known because of his prestigious position at the National Arts Centre, but what is Clarmell Feta?

Clarmell Farms is a fifth-generation dairy farm on the Rideau River in Manotick, within Ottawa’s city limits, that moved from cow’s milk into goat’s milk two years ago. The Clarmell Farms feta and chevre are made with single-herd milk by Margaret Morris-Peters at nearby Glengarry Cheesemaking and Dairy Supply.

Quantities are limited, so buy it when you can at the farm’s store, open Mondays to Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., at 3401 River Road (within Ottawa’s city limits) or at Nicastro’s Food Emporium, 1558 Merivale Road, and Manotick Village Butcher, 2-5556 Manotick Main Street.

Chef Michael Blackie of National Arts Centre, Ottawa.

Chef Blackie was born in Leicestershire, England, and raised in Montreal. Following his apprenticeship, he worked as chef with Jamie Kennedy at the Founders Club, a private food establishment at Toronto’s SkyDome (now the Rogers Centre).

Chef Blackie also held positions as sous-chef at Toronto’s Westin Harbour Castle; Executive Chef at the Pierre Marques in Mexico; executive sous-chef at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hong Kong, which was voted “Best Hotel in Hong Kong” by Asiamoney Magazine and won both the “Gold List Award” and “Best Hotel in Asia” awards by Condé Nast; and executive chef at the Oberoi in Bali, Indonesia-a five-star hotel that was given the highest overall score in the “Leading Hotels of the World” Quality Awards.

Chef Blackie visited Shanghai, Hong Kong and Macau in 2008 as guest chef on the “Canadian Asian Cuisine Tour,” and was a host chef on the “Exposing Canadian Cuisine” tour to Munich, Frankfurt, Hamburg and Zurich, sponsored by Ontario Tourism and Air Canada. In 2007, he won the Silver Medal in the Canadian Culinary Championship in Whistler, B.C., and prior to taking the helm at National Arts Centre two years ago, Chef Blackie was the culinary mastermind behind Perspectives Restaurant at the Brookstreet resort in Kanata, one of Canada’s top restaurants.

Click to view larger image of the Cooks & Curds menu.

The Cooks & Curds Cheese Gala at The Great Canadian Cheese Festival was co-ordinated by the singular Ivy Knight.

Photo of the People’s Choice winner by If Music Be the Food of Love, Play On. Read the review of Cooks & Curds.