On the list of 10 competitors for this year’s Gold Medal Plates being held in Ottawa on November 14 (the event is now sold out), there is one name that may be less familiar to City Bites readers: Lili Sullivan.
Sullivan is currently the executive chef at East & Main Bistro in Wellington in Prince Edward County. I contacted Chef Lili to learn more about her and find out how she’s preparing for the big night.
Q: How did you react to the news that you were invited to compete at Ottawa’s GMP?
I was of course thrilled that they had chosen me and a little overwhelmed. Then I started getting nervous thinking about it. I knew it would be right in the middle of Countylicious and we have spent the whole summer building a new restaurant next door, which is also scheduled to open the same week as GMP.
Q: Can you give us a little snapshot of your culinary background?
I completed the culinary management graduate program at George Brown College and spent years at Toronto’s Auberge du Pommier. I then became head chef at Chapeau Bistro and The Rebel House. For almost two decades, I have been committed to the organic and slow-food movement in Ontario. I spent nine years on the board of directors of Organic Advocates and Feast of Fields.
Q: How well do you know Ottawa? Are you familiar with any of your competitors or their restaurants?
I have been to Ottawa only a few times, mostly visiting the museums with my kids. I am not familiar with any of the other participants, although I did have the opportunity to meet Michael Blackie when he came to Picton to do the cheese show. That was great because he was full of information and really helped set my mind at ease as to what happens and what the expectations will be. I have been so busy that I have been unable to go to Ottawa prior to the event so that day will be my first visit there.
Q: Have you participated in competitive cooking events before?
I have never been in any competition, but I have served at many large events as well as catered events. I’m nervous, but also quite relaxed and will not become bent out of shape about it. I am preparing a dish in my own style and keeping it real with my passion for where I come from in Prince Edward County, and the amazing foods we have access to. I am not going to get caught up in a style I am not familiar with like the molecular or deconstructed styles.
Q: How are you preparing for the competition?
I have spent a lot of time thinking about what would be in season and available locally at this time, putting together a dish that reflects my style and that of our restaurant. I am preparing a dish with simple ingredients all prepared two ways.
Q: What are your biggest challenges related to GMP?
Time and distance. We are right in the middle of Countylicious and this is a busy campaign for us. We’re closing the restaurant for the day and we will turn away over 100 customers in order to bring my staff to Ottawa.
Q: What are you most looking forward to?
The experience of being at the event itself. This is a big fundraiser — it’s not just about the chefs but also about the athletes. I have been part of another large fundraiser for The Willow in Toronto, which is a support and resource centre for women with breast cancer for which I have participated for 15 years and this is a cause close to my heart. I am excited about meeting the other chefs and checking out their food.
Q: How would you describe your approach to food and cooking in general?
Clean and simple — I don’t want to fuss too much with my food. I want to let the textures and flavours shine. I also like to play with my food and inject a little humour into my dishes. My family emigrated from Europe in 1968 and we have always eaten with the seasons. My father was a hunter and angler and always purchased whole animals from the farm for the family to eat at home. I continue to live my life that way with my chef husband and children. Locally grown is not a trend but a lifestyle.
Q: On your day off, what’s your favourite thing to cook or eat?
I could eat pasta or good Cantonese food every day. When I want comfort I make my father’s smoked pork and oxtail braise or my mom’s chicken paprikas.
Q: Do you have a pet ingredient – something you just couldn’t live without?
Fat and lilies in the kitchen; my mother taught me to cook everything with onions and garlic and, of course, everything tastes better with bacon or butter in it.
Q: How would you describe the relationship between Ottawa and Prince Edward County?
We see a lot of business from Ottawa all year round. Since it is only a two-hour plus drive to Prince Edward County, it is a great weekend destination getaway. The County also has a strong presence at your Wine & Food Festival.
Q: Tell us a bit about Countylicious and how you and your restaurant are participating.
Countylicious is the celebration of fine dining in Prince Edward County. This year we have 10 participating restaurants. It began on Nov.2 and runs until Nov.26 (reservations are recommended). We are offering a 3-course prix fixe menu for $30 featuring local ingredients and we have an excellent wine list offering the best of local wines, cider, and beer.
Gold Medal Plates 2011 Competing Chefs
Matthew Brearley – Castlegarth Restaurant
Matthew Carmichael – E18hteen
Ross Fraser and Simon Fraser – Fraser Café
Michael Hay – Courtyard Restaurant
Caroline Ishii – ZenKitchen
Patricia Larkin – Black Cat Bistro
Marc Lepine – Atelier
Charles Part – Restaurant Les Fougères
Lili Sullivan – East & Main
Steve Wall – Luxe Bistro