Last week, I was fortunate enough to attend the Toronto regional finals for the S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chefs Competition where we saw Daniela Molettieri take the prize for her Filet of Veal Stuffed with Wild Mushrooms, served with Butternut Squash and Roasted Hazelnut Puree. Well Daniela’s was my second favourite dish that night – my most favourite being George Brown Chefs School representative Cole Nicholson’s Maple Juniper Venison Loin with Chocolate Infused Red Wine Jus, Leek and Potato Mash. Fortunately for me, I was provided with the finalists’ recipes, adapted for the home cook and I set about recreating Cole’s dish this weekend, using a small beef tenderloin instead of venison. On the night, Cole’s dish (as recreated by the Calphalon Culinary Centre chefs) was outstanding, though I couldn’t really taste the chocolate in the jus so I made that my goal. The beef was easy to cook – for a short time on very high heat, then low and slow for the remainder of the cooking time. Whilst the beef cooked, I prepared the jus and the mashed potatoes and because I only cooked just shy of a pound of meat, the whole thing from start to finish was ready in just over an hour. Not bad!
I really think I nailed the chocolatey jus….
Here’s the recipe – don’t panic – it looks way more complicated than it is!! Just be methodical with each step.
Cole Nicholson, The George Brown Chefs School (Toronto)
Creamy leek mashed potatoes are the base for the slightly sweet maple flavoured venison. The taste is enhanced by the true chocolate flavour that sings in the red wine jus. A few Brussel sprouts with carrots would beautifully finish this earthy dish.
1/3 cup (75 mL) pure maple syrup
3 tbsp (45 mL) juniper berries
2 tbsp (30 mL) chopped fresh thyme leaves
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 venison loin or beef tenderloin (about 2 lbs/1 kg)
Pinch each salt and freshly ground black pepper
Chocolate Infused Red Wine Jus:
1/3 cup (75 mL) butter
1 carrot, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 leek, white and light green part, thinly sliced
2 bay leaves
3/4 cup (175 mL) Meritage wine
2 cups (500 mL) beef stock
3 oz (90 g) 90% dark bittersweet chocolate
1 tbsp (15 mL) red wine vinegar
Leek and Potato Puree:
1/2 cup (125 mL) butter
1 leek, white and light green part, thinly sliced
1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped fresh parsley
1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
1 1/4 lb (625 g) Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 tsp (10 mL) chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup (125 mL) 35% whipping cream, heated
Leek and Potato Puree: In nonstick skillet heat 1 tbsp (15 mL) of the butter over medium heat and cook leeks for about 10 minutes or until soft and golden. Stir in parsley and salt; set aside. Bring potatoes and thyme to boil in large pot of salted water for about 20 minutes or until tender. Drain well and mash until smooth. Add cream and remaining butter and stir until smooth and creamy. Add leek and parsley mixture into potatoes and stir to combine well. Set aside and keep warm.
Maple juniper beef tenderloin: In large shallow dish, combine maple syrup, juniper berries, thyme and garlic. Add loin and turn to coat evenly and let marinate for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place loin on rack in roasting pan and roast in 450 F (230 C) oven for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 275 F (140 C) and roast for about 1 hour or until meat thermometer reaches 145 F (63 C) for medium rare. Let stand for about 5 minutes before slicing. Slice into 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick slices.
Chocolate Infused Red Wine Jus: In saucepan melt 2 tbsp (30 mL) of the butter over medium high heat and sauté carrot, onion, leek and bay leaves, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes or until softened and browned. Add wine and simmer for about 5 minutes or until reduced by about half. Add beef stock and bring to a simmer for 10 minutes. Strain sauce through fine mesh sieve into clean saucepan. Whisk in chocolate and remaining butter until melted and smooth. Stir in red wine vinegar.
Place potatoes in line down center of plate and set venison slices along side of potatoes. Spoon sauce around meat on the plate to serve.
Tip: For a crunchy seared venison, rub loin with maple sugar (available in fine food stores) and sear the loin in a hot skillet before roasting in 275 F (140 C) oven.
Tip: For a smoky addition to your potatoes, add a splash of liquid smoke when stirring together
Yeah, it’s a bit of an extravagance for a Sunday lunch for two but oh wow. I will definitely be making this again – I forgot the liquid smoke in the potatoes at the last minute but would definitely add it next time. The chocolate jus was sweet without being cloying or overpowering and the potatoes creamy and fluffy. The beef was cooked to perfection. Thank Cole for what I am sure will be appearing on a dinner party menu soon – it’s one of those dishes that looks and tastes like you spent way longer in the kitchen than you actually did!
I also had the opportunity to interview Cole via email and I asked him, out of interest what the top 3 restaurants on his “must eat at” list (anywhere in the world) are and why? His first pick? The French Laundry – Cole says it would be incredible to eat at the place that he reads about all the time and the place that he aspires to work at. His second pick? The Fat Duck. Cole’s pretty big into science and has a lot of respect for Heston Blumenthal’s approach to cooking. Third on his “must eat” list is Alinea, since he has always been interested in Grant Achatz and Alinea but after reading his book Life on the Line, he wants to eat there even more! Unsurprisingly, given this “top 3” list, the chef Cole has the biggest admiration for is Thomas Keller. Cole has had the opportunity to meet him and hear him speak when he was in Toronto a few years ago and this completely changed his whole mentality and approach to food. Cole believes Keller’s whole approach to food and respect for ingredients and people is something to learn from. The French Laundry cookbook is like his bible, not for the recipes necessarily, but for the philosophy and wisdom.
I was so interested to hear Cole’s responses about where he would like to eat, work and who he admires that for my Lee restaurant giveaway, I asked people to tell me where their top 3 “must eat” restaurants were. The Fat Duck featured prominently in people’s responses, along with Alinea, Noma and Per Se while Le Chateaubriand in Paris got a few flags and there were a few nice Canadian shoutouts too – The Black Hoof, Vij’s and Charlie’s Burger to name but a few. I really enjoyed reading all your responses and, indeed, they made me add a few “must try” places to my own list 😉 Random.org picked the winner last night – congrats to Norm (whose choices were Noma, Momofuku Ko in New York and Rafa’s in Spain). I hope you enjoy dinner at Lee! I’ll get in touch with you via email very shortly