There are just two awards given out at the annual Empty Bowls Platinum Ladles Competition, a fundraiser for Bethlehem Housing and Support Services.
This year, Alex Mahamuni, OLiV’s executive chef, and his team won both.
It was the 15th anniversary of the event, and Mahamuni was one of just 12 local chefs chosen to enter a soup in the sold-out event that attracted more than 500 people.
The two categories are Judges’ and Peoples’ Choice, and it’s a rare occurrence that a single entry has won both categories, says Rick Jorgensen, owner of OLiV. The announcement resulted in cheers from the audience and chants of OLiV! OLiV!, and also created long lines of people wanting to taste Mahamuni’s soup.
“It was really a team effort, and I really want to thank my OLiV team,” says the chef.
The winning soup, he says, is cream of wild mushroom, with black truffles and elk three ways. He used elk stock, and put elk tartar on crostini as well as elk jerky floating on top of the soup, asking the guests to tap the crusting with their spoon to release the flavours in the soup.
It was a soup he’d never made before, and to be sure it was unique, checked online for something similar, finding nothing.
Mushrooms are one of his favourite ingredients to work with, he says.
“I’m very competitive, and I knew right away I’d be using mushrooms. I was second-guessing myself, worrying that it was a bit of a risk with the elk, but it’s very organic and not at all gamey. There were so many elements, and the flavour, especially the wild mushrooms, was very rich and decadent.”
He was excited and very pleased to see the reaction of the audience, and will continue partnering with Bethlehem Housing to raise money for the work they do, he says.
The competition was held last Wednesday at a sold-out event at the Americana Conference Centre in Niagara Falls.
Jorgensen says he tried unsuccessfully to enter the competition last year, but applied again and was chosen this year — fitting as the OLiV Tapas Bar and Restaurant celebrates its fifth year at Strewn Winery.
To win in both categories was the icing on the cake — or in this case, the elk on the soup — as it doesn’t happen often.
“It was quite exciting for us, to have 500 people here and everyone shouting our name. The chef was very moved by that,” says Jorgensen.
The win shows Mahamuni’s creativity, he says, adding his chefs have told him how pleased they are to be able to create products with OLiV’s intense oils and vinegars, as one said, “like a painter with a palette of colours to choose from. It allows them to create new flavours.”
OLiV will be serving the award-winning soup, while supplies last, March 12 to 15 at the Tapas Bar and Restaurant at Strewn Winery.