Queen of Kensington reigns in Vegas
By Cam WoodFeatures Profiles
Canadian Pizza Magazine’s 2007 Chef of the Year wins big in Las Vegas
Canadian chefs scored big in competition this spring,
with Canadian Pizza Magazine’s 2007 Chef of the Year Liliane Sibonney
placing first in Las Vegas, and 2005/2006 Chef of the Year Diana Coutu
emerged as the best pizza chef from North America in Italy.
While Coutu’s beer crust soars in Salsomaggiore
Canadian chefs scored big in competition this spring, with Canadian Pizza Magazine’s 2007 Chef of the Year Liliane Sibonney placing first in Las Vegas, and 2005/2006 Chef of the Year Diana Coutu emerged as the best pizza chef from North America in Italy.
Sibonney, who has become affectionately known as the Queen of Kensington – a title reflecting the popular television series starring Al Waxman as The King of Kensington – beat out a restaurateur from Scotland in the finals of the Italian Chef Wars in March.
The 27-year-old Toronto-based chef, who was the youngest competitor, advanced to the final round at the International Pizza Expo competition after edging out chefs from the United States, Italy and New Zealand.
In the finals against Scotland, both chefs battled technical issues and the 90-minute time limit in an attempt to impress the panel of judges and win the coveted title and $2,000 prize.
“I tried not to be over-ambitious … 90 minutes is not a lot of time. Rather than going extravagant I went classic Italian but modernized the recipes and added my own personal touches,” Sibonney said. Her recipes were the same ones she used to win the Canadian title and the opportunity to represent her country at the competition.
Since her victory, her restaurant has become a hotbed of activity in the already busy neighbourhood of Kensington Market.
“It has been a great medium to re-acquiring Toronto’s respect and acknowledgment of Kensington Market,” she said. The Market is one of Canada’s most storied neighbourhoods, home to an eclectic mix of shops, people and produce.
And while the rewards have been marvelous since her return from the Italian Chef Wars, Sibonney is already reflecting on what will be next. She is hopeful that more Canadian chefs will see how these competitions can bring greater awareness to what they have to offer, and also enhance Canada’s appeal for tourism.
As for the competitive aspect, she points out that communication is the key. Her cousin Annette assisted in the competition (each chef was allowed an assistant to help during the 90 minutes), and with the pressure on, Sibonney said it was important for them to each fully understand the approach.
“Neither of us had competed before, so we agreed to be an extension of each other’s hands … that we could be interchangeable at any second … we were not working on one thing, but both working at everything at the same time toward the exact same goal. It’s the same process as at work in the restaurant with my staff. Having that communication is the key.”
Meanwhile, Canada’s representative for the previous two years, Diana Coutu, was presenting her entry into the Pizza Festiva contest at the Las Vegas competition before flying to the World Pizza Championships in Salsomaggiore, Italy.
Coutu went into the Festiva competition as one of the top five pizzaiolos in North America, and the only Canadian. Her Havarti Heaven gourmet pizza is best described by the chef herself as “slightly spicy” with “an amazing taste.”
And, while she wasn’t able to bring home the top prize this year, it should be noted that the 2004 Festiva winner, Doug Ferriman from Massachusetts, emerged as the second pizzaiolo to become a two-time champion.
Coutu turned this experience into much bigger results overseas two weeks later. The owner of Diana’s Gourmet Pizzeria in Winnipeg, Man., placed as the top Canadian in the Pizza Classica cate-gory with her Ultimate Pepperoni with garlic and chive havarti on a Moosehead beer crust. She also ranked in the top 30 in the world and scored highest among competitors from North America overall.
Cory Medd, co-owner of Two Guys and a Pizza in Lethbridge, Alta., placed in the top 50 at the International Pizza Expo in the first-ever International Pizza Challenge. Following the competition, the Albertan reflected on some areas of improvement for the 2008 competition and recommended that Canadian pizzaiolos be prepared to explain the difference of food costs – especially how cheese prices can affect margins – to the panel of American judges.•
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