A life consumed by food. A lifetime consuming food.
I was lucky enough to score three tickets to the Sans Fin Soup Contest organized by Shark Truth on October 13th. Shark Truth is a grass roots organization that hopes to raise awareness and ban the consumption of shark fin within Canada. To make get the message across they held a contest for local chefs willing to create an alternative to the shark fin soups which are so popular at Chinese banquets. On the judging panel was a collection of chefs, bloggers, politicians, and a local columnist. I very briefly met one of the judges, YouTube sensation CarlosDouh, and he was kind enough to take this photo with me.
The event was held at the Renaissance Hotel Vancouver at the top of the building in their revolving tower. It was a sold out event, and I only managed to get my tickets after putting myself on the waiting list. On the evening of the event, my Michaels cake decorating class kept me from making it to the contest on time, so I missed the opening ceremonies lion dance. That didn’t bother me though. What I was bothered by was the possibility that I some of the soups may have been “sold out” before I got a chance to taste them.
Finally I had arrived, after signing in at the reception, I was presented with three voting tickets and a bundle of utensils wrapped in a cloth napkin. I quickly hustled to the first table where Tom Lee of Edible Vancouver at the Market and his chefs were only serving hor d’ourves. Thankfully it wasn’t because they were sold out, instead they were preparing more soup in the kitchen. I gobbled up one of their Shrimp and Crab Cakes and immediately moved on, vowing to return.
Of the finalists that night, almost every chef had a line up of people waiting to sample their creations. Montgomery Lau from the Westin Wall Centre was serving Triple Chicken Ham Stock Consomme with a Drunken Chicken Rillette. To be honest I didn’t get a good taste of the rillete because I idiotically inhaled an ingredient on the rillette and choked on it a little. I guess I was still in panic mode from trying to rush from the class down to the hotel. However, I was able to taste Chef Lau’s fin free soup without someone needing to do the Heimlich maneuver on me. His soup was served with pearlized vinegar which I found a bit overpowering.
The soups that really stood out for me were the recipes that were closer to what I would find at an actual banquet. William Tse of The Sandbar prepared one of those soups, and it was also the one that the judges preferred. William simply called it Sans Fin Soup and was the only chef who included imitation shark fin as an ingredient.
Edmund Yee is the chef at p2b, the restaurant which is located inside the Renaissance. Obviously the contest was rigged so that he would win the Sans Soup Star award that evening since he was in home turf. All jokes aside, I think he did deserve the award. I found his Abalone and Crab Soup & Fried Scallop Terrine (one dish) to be rich with the aromas of dried scallop. I like just about anything with dried scallop because I think of it as my grandmother’s signature ingredient.
The chef that I cast two of my votes for was John Mok, who was a former chef at Ming Yuen, a restaurant that used to be by Cambie and 25th Avenue. I knew it would be a long shot that he would win because his soup was merely a broth. But, even though his soup didn’t have the same razzle dazzle as some of the other ones did, it was by far my favourite. It was so good that I had to help myself to a second bowl! You would likely find this style of soup at the more expensive restaurants that do not have to mask the poorer grades of shark fin with crab, chicken, mushrooms, etc.. It was full bodied from the ducks, pigeons, and pork that went into the stock. The addition of ham lent another element of smokiness to the otherwise clear liquid soup. John didn’t win any awards, but he certainly won my respect.
That evening, I learned that the shark population is critically endangered from all the fishing that is being done. I already knew that fishermen use inhumane and unneccessary practices to maximize profits. I have to admit, I have had the real shark fin soup featured at Chinese banquets and I have enjoyed it too. But, after eating all of those delicious bowls of soup that evening, I can’t say that any one bowl would have been made better by the slaughtering of sharks.