The annual Battle of the Hors D'oeuvres brings out the best from local chefs and caterers - and helps raise funds for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ingersoll, Tillsonburg and Area.
Combined with Bid for Kids Sake - silent and live bidding (with the always-entertaining Jared Pettman) auctions - this year's event will be held at the Tillsonburg Community Centre Lions Auditorium on Friday, Nov. 25.
"There's always a good splash of different stuff," said Heather Brekelmans, BBBS Resource Coordinator.
This year's confirmed 'Battle' contestants are a mix of returning and new restaurants/caterers. Participants include JP’s Barbeque & Catering, Indigo Lounge, Kelsey’s Tillsonburg, Boston Pizza Tillsonburg, Quinton’s Catering, It's All About You Catering, Corey's Restaurant and Angel St. Gelais Cakes, and The Bridges at Tillsonburg.
"I'm hoping to raise the number to eight, nine or 10," said Brekelmans, noting they have had 5-7 restaurants/caterers in recent years.
Woodstock-based caterer Jed Lau, It's All About You Catering, has been participating for at least a half dozen years. He won the Critic's Choice Award at last year's Battle with 'Party in the Mouth', a southeast Asian kueh pah ti hors d'oeuvre - mango salad with grilled lemon grass chicken in a pastry cup.
"I was so glad last year that JP (Mooney) won People's Choice last year," said Lau. "Was it poutine or pulled pork?"
"He (Mooney) has been runner-up so many years," said Heather Brekelmans. "I think it was pulled pork last year? And it involved a bun..."
They were close - it was JP's Beef Brisket Poutine in 2015 with fresh cut fries from Godelie Family Farms, beef brisket from locally raised cows, Bright's cheese curds, and JP's Signature Gravy and Barbecue Sauce.
"I didn't get to try it... he ran out," said Lau.
Lau also won the People's Choice Award in 2014 with Oxford Hot Brown, inspired by the Kentucky Hot Brown after a trip to Nashville. That same year JP's BBQ and Catering was third in the Critic Award with Beef Brisket Sliders, and Tillsonburg's Indigo Lounge second with Organic Thai Quinoa on Cucumber Cracker.
"We'll know in the next week or two what they'll be doing this year," said Brekelmans. "We will, right?"
"You will?" Lau laughed. "I hope to get inspired when I go to France. And Italy, too, so I'm hoping to get something...
"Last year I had just come back from southeast Asia. Actually, it was the very last day and I said, 'I want to do that one.' I was running around Singapore looking to buy the special tool to make it - and I found it literally hours before the flight. This year we'll see what I can get from Italy or France."
The Bridges at Tillsonburg is a new entry for the 2016 Battle of the Hors D'oeuvres, headed by Chef Vasco Serrador, who has participated in past Battles with other restaurants.
"We're still bouncing back for ideas," said Tyler Curran-Cone, sous chef at The Bridges at Tillsonburg golf course, which remains open until December, but closes for two months (January-February) in 2017. "I think we're going to do a..."
"Go with your idea," Lau interjected, noting Curran-Cone was his co-op student six years ago.
"We're thinking about a mini potato cheeseburger, but using the potato as the bun," said Curran-Cone.
"Ooh they're going to love that," said Brekelmans.
Curran-Cone, who was at The Bridges when Ron Thoma won with deep-fried cheesecake, recalled competing in an Iron Chef competition while at Conestoga College, using local pork.
"No, I didn't win," he smiled.
"But he's going to win this year," said Lau. "Right?"
The idea of a pork or bacon theme appealed to Lau, who briefly thought about doing bacon-wrapped tater tots. "It tastes really good - it's like a Breakfast in the Mouth.
"Just the other day I did Christmas Crackers - crackers with caramel sauce, chocolate - and on top, you know what else I put in it? Bacon! It was so, so good. I said, 'oh my goodness this is like heaven.' Sweet and savoury, it was so delicious. I just had the last piece this morning... it's like breakfast, right?"
"Bacon just makes a breakfast," Curran-Cone smiled.
"I've also put bacon in muffins," said Lau. "It works really well. You can't really go wrong with bacon..."
"Like putting bacon in apple pie," nodded Curran-Cone. "Oh yeah, bacon apple pie with a little bit of old cheddar cheese on top..."
"You should have one year that's a bacon theme," Lau suggested.
"I think so too," Brekelmans nodded. "Next year, maybe."
Tickets to the 2016 Battle of the Hors D'oeuvres and Bid for Kids Sake are $30/person, available online through www.sharethefun.org or call the Big Brothers Big Sisters office to reserve a table of eight. Contact Brekelmans to inquire about sponsorship opportunities at 519-485-1801 or 519-842-9000.