by Malcolm Jolley

On February 2nd North Americans from Pennsylvania to the Bruce Peninsula and beyond learned they could looked forward to six more weeks of winter. Chef Chris MacDonald also remarked, tongue-in-cheek, that evening that his brothers (and sisters) in toques could look forward to 10 more days of Winterlicious. Something had to be done to break up the monotony, so McDonald and Cava co-owner and Chef Doug Penfold came up with ‘Ground Hog Day’. They would supply paella and wine (generously supplied by  Henry of Pelham), if six young chefs brought their best cold pork dish in competition. Thus Cava’s 1st Annual Ground Hog Invitational Challenge was born. Artist Robert Sprachman was commissioned to create a trophy: a plaque, adonred with the feet of used Ibireca hams, on which the name of each years winner will be engraved.

Answering the call to glory were six young chefs from Toronto and one from Niagara-on-the-Lake: Fabio Bondi from Local Kitchen,  Ted Corrado from C5, Ryan Crawford from NOTL’s Stone Road Grille, Mark Cutrara from Cowbell Restaurant, Michael Steh and Matthew Swift from Reds and Grant Van Gameren from The Black Hoof. All of them renown for their charcuterie and general prowess with salty pig parts.

Your humble correspondent was invited to be part of a four person judging panel that would taste the six pork dished blind. My fellow members of the porcine judiciary were Michael Schmidt, whose campaign for raw milk had just been vindicated by the courts and who farmed pigs himself, Sasha Chapman, the famous food writer and Daniel Speck who all were happy to see, having brought the refreshments from  Henry of Pelham, which he runs with his two brothers, Paul and Matthew. The rest of the diners, who packed the house on a cold Tuesday night, were also given judging sheets to elect a “People’s Choice” winner.

In the end Steh and Swift captured the judge’s award, though the people elected Van Gameren. All agreed each dish was delicious in any event, and photos and descriptions of each follow…

Appetisers courtesy of Cava including their signature chicharróns (pork rinds)

Pre-competition revelry. Chris McDonald welcomes Toronto Star columnist Corey Mintz and Black Hoof owner Jen Agg.

Serious judging going on: food writer Sasha Chapman and Henry of Pelham's Daniel Speck are sequestered next door at XocoCava.

From C5: Pork Confit with Housemade Kimchi in a Steamed Bun

From Reds: Suckling Pig Porchetta with Cured Meats. (Not shown: an accompaniment of Pizza Bianco and Apple Mustard.)

From Cowbell: Pickled Pear wrapped in Lardo with Chopped Pig Liver and Radishes on a Red Fife Croute

Judge Michael Schmidt from Glencolton Farms, McDonald, Speck, Chapman and your humble correspondent.

From Local Kitchen: Smoked Pancetta with Maple Syrup

From Stone Road Grille: Ground Hog Dog. (Not shown: Housemade Ketchup, Mustard and Relish.)

From The Black Hoof: Smoked Andouille of Calabrese Sausage, Jowl and Tripe with Fennel Salad.

Chefs Steh and Swift are presented with the coveted Ground Hog plaque.

Dessert from XocoCava: Maple Bacon Toffee and Chorizo Truffles.

Malcolm Jolley is the Editor of Good Food Revolution.