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Canadian cuisine meets local culture at Elliston

Dale McKay needed a few extra minutes' grace.

Two year old Maggie Rose Holden of St. John’s was eager for the dish created by Jassica Pelland at the Roots, Rants and Roars food hike in Elliston on Saturday. Pelland, executive chef at Charbar Restaurant and Rooftop Patio in Calgary, was one of the chefs who travelled to Elliston this year for the festival that celebrates Canadian cuisine and local culture.

The chef from Saskatoon was one of four culinary experts at the Roots, Rants and Roars food hike on Saturday in Elliston.

His station was the first stop on a hike that was supposed to start at 11:30 a.m.

And the main ingredient for his meal had been late arriving.

Cod - fresh out of the water - had been a little more difficult to come by than he had planned.

A stiff breeze on the bay had delayed the catch.

He was almost ready to move on to plan B.

"Without the cod, I would have offered up vegetarian dish," he told the Packet later that day, after all the crowds were fed and all the codfish succotash had been devoured.

"But I really wanted to use fresh cod, to add local flavor to the succotash recipe."

The wait was worth it.

Imagine a lightly-season cod fillet served on a bed of succotash - corn niblets and kale blended with mascarpone cheese and shredded lime - topped with bacon and a creole crust, with a dollop of lobster oil to finish it off.

You have just imagined cod like you've never had it served before.

Despite the somewhat nerve-wracking start to the day, MacKay was excited to be part of the food hike and the Roots, Rants and Roars festival.

"This place is just beautiful," said MacKay, who holds the title of Canada's first Top Chef, and is a protégé of chef Gordon Ramsay. This was his first time at the Roots, Rants and Roars event and he commended the organizers for a great event.

"I've participated in food events before, but this is unique," he said of the backdrop of the outdoors, the ocean for a food event.

"I love it here," agreed his son, Ayden, who travelled with his father from Saskatoon and was helping serve the cod.

A little further up the trail, it was non-stop for executive chef Matty Matheson, who is usually busy serving up cuisine at Parts and Labour in Toronto.

Matheson actually had to go to Plan B for his station for the food hike.

He originally had planned to use the roasted pig for a dish that focused mainly on the pork.

However, when he learned that chef Anthony Walsh was planning to use meat - braised, smoked lamb - as the centerpiece of his creation at the next station, Matheson decided to change up his plans.

He took a Newfoundland staple dish - baked beans - baked with pork rind and seasonings that added a spicy touch.

Huge dollops of butter on molasses bread - a recipe he grabbed from the Internet - added the finishing touch.

The lineup for Matheson's beans and pork was long, and by the time the last customer was served Matheson - who'd had a late night baking bread and a 6 a.m. rise to bake the beans - was ready for a well-earned rest, reclining on a grassy knoll near the root cellars at the Puffin site.

Matheson also had praise for the event.

"This is very unique," he said. "I've done lots of events before, of course, but you're usually confined to indoors and the buffets are a lot closer together. But this is really neat, the idea of having a chance to hike and take in the local scenery in between food stations."

He figures he might want to come back.

Heidi French from Toronto, Ontario, was one of the many who came out to Elliston for the weekend.

"I didn't know what to expect," said the Roots, Rants and Roars newcomer, who was encouraged by her friend Kim Best of St. John's to make it a 'girls' weekend."

French told The Packet on Saturday afternoon, after completing the food hike.

"This is amazing, the scenery, the food, everything is just great. I've never been to anything like it.

"It's fantastic that all these chefs, these well-known Canadian chefs, would come out here and cook for this event."

Cheri Monteith and Marie Dunn also made up the foursome for the girls weekend.

"Spectacular!" said Monteith. "What sticks out for me is the food and the music. I love the whole idea of having food, together with entertainment."

Marie Dunn added, "This exceeded my expectations," adding, "Next year it's not going to be just a girls' weekend away. Next year, we're bringing the men with us."

The weekend kicked off Friday night with the Cod Wars competition.

That event saw Newfoundland and Labrador chefs Chris Chafe, Todd Perrin and Roger Dewling face off to see who could produce the most crowd-pleasing dish, using cod.

Perrin was defending his title from last year.

When the votes were tallied at the end of Friday evening, the crowd chose Chafe as this year's King of Cod.

Chafe used cod fried in cornmeal, with sweet corn, bacon and a tomato black bean jam and a chili pepper fritter to wow the crowds and collect the votes.

Chafe, who can be found serving up perfection at the Doctor's House Inn and Spa, is just 26 and already is building an impressive resumé.

"I don't really cook recipes, to be honest with you," he said. "I add, taste and tweak."

To round out the festival on Sunday, visitors had a chance to catch their own fresh cod.

Bruce Miller took guests by boat to his favourite cod fishing grounds off Bonaventure.

For this year's festival, the events moved beyond Elliston to the Random Passage Site near Bonaventure.

The cod caught with Miller was cooked up by chef Kyle Puddister. Following a tour of the Random Passage site, folks enjoyed a picnic lunch of partridgeberry muffins and gingerbread.

It's not Chris Sheppard's first Roots, Rants and Roars, but it is his first year as organizer of the event.

He said from all accounts, the weekend went well.

"The chefs were amazing (and) from the food and entertainment perspective, the people were much more engaged. Once the food was done they really got into the entertainment. There was lots of singing and dancing, it was great."

Sheppard, who shares his knowledge of cuisine with students at the College of the North Atlantic in Bonavista, says this event couldn't have been possible without the help and support of a lot of people, like Tourism Elliston, Legendary Coasts and the College of the North Atlantic.

"It takes a lot of effort to put off an event like this and we are lucky that we have so many supporters and volunteers."

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