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Operation Come Home big winner in annual Poor Chef Competition

Alumni of Algonquin’s culinary management program figured prominently in a competition designed to challenge chefs to squeeze every penny out of a very tight food budget.

Chefs Stephen La Salle, opening chef at Andaz in the ByWard Market, graduated in 2008 and Harriet Clunie, owner of Beechwood Gastropub graduated in 2006 from the culinary management program at Algonquin. They were defending their titles won in 2016 and 2017 respectively, in the third annual Poor Chef Competition held at Ottawa City Hall Feb. 22.

They both put forward interesting dishes that made the judges’ job of picking a winner more difficult. After doing all six dishes for $3.15 and winning last year’s competition, Clunie challenged herself to do all six dishes for around $6 this year.

Clunie’s dish was open-faced ravioli, TVP (textured vegetable protein) ‘meatball’, homemade ricotta, smoked almonds, spinach and a charred pepper sauce.

Kris Kshonze of Soif Bar à vin was ultimately crowned the winner. His dish was a bean and mushroom stew with a bit of bone marrow fat and whipped oyster cream.

“I guess I started out with seeing what were some of the basic ingredients we were allowed to use, and beans was one of them so I always like my beans in a stewy preparation,” said Kshonze. “And with the smoked oyster cream, I just came up with something that was like, the cans of smoked oysters (which) are pretty cheap and they have a lot of flavour and that was just there to accentuate flavours in the dish. It’s kind of thought of as an expensive and exotic ingredient but you can get it on the cheap, if you look for it.”

And getting it done on the cheap was what the competition was all about.

Kshonze spent just under the $3.15 allowed per plate by Operation Come Home’s rules and the two staples he picked from the list of 10 commonly donated items to the Food Bank were beans and soda crackers.

The three other chefs, Joey Boileau of the Senate Tavern, Jessica Willis of Big Easy and David Schaub of The Ketchup Project, also came up with really intriguing dishes including a ramen noodle dish, a meatless version of a Hoppin’ John and an apple pie with no apples. With each dish, one member from the audience was picked to join the judges and enjoy a dish.

Reva Berman, one of the lucky audience members and a close friend of Clunie, got to enjoy the apple-less apple pie.

“The dessert dish I got to try was real comfort food and reminded me of my grandmother,” Berman said later.

The judges included prominent figures from the Ottawa community: Paula Roy, food editor for Ottawa at Home, Catherine McKenna, MP for Somerset Ward, Sandra Plagakis, DJ for Kiss 105.3, Anne Debrisay, Capital Dining, and Rachel Wilson, director of mentorship at the Food Bank. They had the tough job of sampling all the food prepared by the chefs and deciding on a winner.

“After reviewing all the dishes,” said Roy, “we feel that Kris’ dish was not only the most creative but the most flavourful and we really applauded his attention to the spirit of the competition.”

The Poor Chef Competition brings together and spotlights the many initiatives that Operation Come Home has to help youth learn essential skills and stretch their food dollars as far as possible. The chef’s challenge is a fun way to bring awareness to the very real issues of food securities for everyone, not just homeless youth: students struggling to make healthy meals, family budgets not going as far as they used to, and elderly living on fixed incomes.

Operation Come Home’s director of development, Lynda Franc is hoping the event will continue to grow. She has big plans in the future to include recipe books for the guests, to try to find ways to allow the audience to enjoy the meals the chefs prepare and perhaps open up a sub-competition for home chefs to participate.

From the competition’s humble beginning in 2016, it has already grown so much. Operation Come Home’s Poor Chef Competition raised about $500 in 2017 and this year it raised $3,722.

“I think it was great, a huge turnout,” said Franc. “The chefs’ dishes were amazing, people seemed very engaged so I’m happy with how it played out.”

To read more about Clunie and La Salle follow this link:


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