A couple weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised to find an email in my inbox from local food critic John Gilchrist, asking if I wanted to be a judge for Sundown Chowdown, a food truck event at the Calgary Farmers’ Market. I was just a stand-in, and I was only going to help judge the market vendors, not the trucks, but I was still pumped for the opportunity to try a lot of different foods at the Market with some of my fellow foodie friends.
The judges were split into two groups and each group judged the dishes/products from three categories. Our group got “Best Use of Local Ingredients”, “Best Gut-Buster” and “Best Sweet” while the other group got “Most Creative”, “Best Meat Dish” and “Best Non-Meat Dish”.
Best Use of Local Ingredients
The first competitor in this category was Silver Sage Beef with their Rib Steak.
This was a solid piece of beef – cooked to the rarer side of medium-rare, it was juicy, melt-in-your-mouth tender and very flavourful. So good that Julie took a second helping.
Despite how tasty it was, the guy who was carving up the steak and serving us kept talking about how simple their “dish” was, and was just meant to showcase the product, so I couldn’t help but dock off some “originality” points when it came to judging.
The next dish was Yum Bakery‘s Okanagan Chardonnay Poached Pear Tart.
I liked the shortbread crust on the tart and the filling was so good – not too sweet with a hint of wine flavour. The crumble on top added a bit of sweetness and crunch and made the tart a little more rustic. We decided that the Okanagan is not exactly local, so we docked some marks off for that.
The winner of the Golden Spatula for Best Use of Local Ingredients was the Market Vegetable Galette from Le Petit Mousse.
I hadn’t expected much from the galette when fellow judge Dan brought it to the table, especially since the staff didn’t even seem to know that we were coming to judge! Everything was still hot and fresh when we dug in to the thin buckwheat pancake, filled with hot, crisp vegetables, all from the market – mushrooms, green beans, onions, tomato… This thing was packed! A deserving win.
I think people generally associate the farmers’ market with eating local and healthy, some of the vendors turned out some decidedly indulgent treats for this category!
First up was the tiramisu from Crazy Pasta. While I would’ve thought to enter this in the “Best Sweet” category, it was obvious why they decided to enter it as a “gut-buster” – the portions were generous and there was a lot of thick, creamy mascarpone cheese!
The Wombat Combat Fries from Big D’s Smokehouse was a true gut buster! The 1.3 lb behemoth was fries layered with pulled pork, brisket, cheddar, monterey jack and coleslaw, topped with a scoop of gravy and a sprinkle of green onions.
Although it was the only real gut-buster in this category, we couldn’t give it the win just because it didn’t quite cut it taste-wise. The flavours of the components didn’t really mesh together, and it leaned a little toward the salty side.
Compared to the Wombat Combat Fries, the poutine from A Taste of Quebec seemed quite tame. It tasted OK, but the fries and gravy were nothing out of the ordinary, and the cheese curds didn’t even squeak! The judges from the other group did note that their smoked meat sandwiches (Best Meat Dish category) were very delicious.
The winner of the Golden Spatula for Best Gut-Buster was 2 Greek Gals’s moussaka.
I wouldn’t say it was a gut-buster, but in terms of taste, our eyes just lit up when we tasted the moussaka. I would’ve eaten my entire portion if I didn’t have other dishes to judge! The eggplant was well-cooked and soft, the mashed potatoes were buttery with a thin, crispy crust on top and everything was seasoned perfectly. Definitely the best savoury dish of the day for me.
This was a huge category, and as someone who doesn’t really have a sweet tooth, it was at times a little overwhelming to judge!
We kicked things off at Cruffs, who went out of their way to make special dishes just for Sundown Chowdown. We got four plates on their take on a réligieuse, a French pastry that is essentially two cream puffs stacked on top of each other, with the one on the bottom being larger. The arrangement is supposed to look like a nun (“réligieuse” in French) wearing a habit. The other group got to try a savoury, duck confit cream puff.
I was very impressed by the presentation and the cream puffs themselves were quite nice – the pastry was light, and the filling was not too rich and not too sweet. They definitely set the bar high right from the start!
Next up was the galaktoboureko from Two Greek Gals.
If the moussaka was my favourite dish of the day, this was sadly my least favourite. I must admit I didn’t know what galaktoboureko is supposed to taste like, but seeing the phyllo pastry, I thought it would be similar to baklava. Instead, the dessert was very bland, with a slightly curdly custard filling.
I unfortunately wasn’t able to snap a photo of Miss P’s Gluten Free‘s Peanut Butter Chocolate Cupcake. It definitely rivalled the cupcakes at any cupcake shop in both appearance and taste, with its tender, moist chocolate base and mile-high swirl of peanut butter icing sprinkled with chocolate crumbs. I definitely would not have guessed that it was gluten-free!
Next we tasted the blintzes from Margarita’s Dishes. If you don’t look carefully, you might think that Margarita’s is a Mexican restaurant (especially since it’s right by Los Chilitos in the food court), but Margarita is actually the lovely lady who serves up Eastern European comfort food like borscht and perogies along with her son who mans the till.
The blintzes were like crepes, filled with homemade cottage cheese filling and topped with a homemade jam sauce. They were still nice and warm when we got them – true comfort food indeed.
The presentation of the Persian-Spiced Apple Turnover from Orchid Pastry, a French-Persian fusion patisserie, was beautiful and delicate.
You can taste just a whisper of the saffron, pistachio and other flavours in the traditional apple turnover. This was one of Dan’s favourites, and certainly one of the more creative desserts of the bunch.
Yum Bakery’s entry into the Best Sweet category was their Chocolate Caramel Tart with Australian Sea Salt, which I drool over (but had never tried) every time I walk by their display at the market.
This tart had the same buttery shortbread crust as the pear tart, but this time, the shells are spread with a thick caramel sauce before they are “flooded” (owner’s word) with a rich dark chocolate ganache. The flakes of sea salt add just a touch of flavour and texture to balance everything out. I would’ve given this the win, except *spoiler alert* there was a better chocolate dessert at the end…
Éclair de Lune entered two desserts in the “Best Sweets” category, the first being a lemon tart which reminded me of one I had at Manuel Latruwe. It was quite well-received by lemon dessert lover Gwendolyn, but I personally found it a little too sweet.
The winner for me (and everyone else, apparently) was Éclair de Lune’s second entry, the Chocolate Mousse & Hazelnut Praline Cake (there is a fancy French name that they have for it, but I don’t remember what it is)
It quite literally tastes like a giant Ferrero Rocher. The thin layer of chocolate ganache on top gives way to a rich, decadent chocolate mousse. The thin pieces of hazelnut cookie and the praline at the bottom gives the cake a bit of crunch and nuttiness. So. Good. Everyone was squirrelling away leftovers of the galette and the tart and I only got the last leftover, which was this. Totally worth it.
Like I said, I am totally grateful to John for inviting me to be a judge, and to Amanda at the Farmers’ Market for organizing the event from the vendor judging to the food trucks! It was awesome to have the opportunity to try all these foods that I typically wouldn’t stop to eat! Although I didn’t get to judge the trucks, I did pop by before my kickboxing class that day and had a few bites before rushing off
As to how the other judges made out, joining the above vendors for the Golden Spatulas:
Most Creative Dish – Stuffed Beef Heart from Silver Sage Beef (I had a bite of this after the rib steak and it was really good!
Best Meat Dish – Grilled Platter from Shef’s Fiery Kitchen
Best Non-Meat Dish – Borscht from Margarita’s Kitchen
As for the trucks, the Golden Hubcaps went to:
Most Creative Dish – Herc Burger from Vasili’s
Best Use of Local Ingredients – The Panchy Pig from The Naaco Truck
Best Meat Dish – Chicken and Chorizo Enfrijoladas from Los Compadres
Best Non-Meat Dish – Deep Fried Pickles from The Blue’s Can