Episode 1: On the premiere episode of “Chef Artois,” it’s paella or bust
Celebrating the return of restaurants with a new culinary miniseries
“Chef Artois” is a new limited series that’s inviting diners back inside Toronto’s top restaurants. On this bite-sized cooking show—episodes are a satisfying 10 minutes long and the city’s chefs aren’t doing the cooking. Instead, diners are donning aprons and letting chefs judge their culinary chops.
The series was created in support of Rally for Restaurants, an initiative founded by Stella Artois to help support the restaurant industry as it rebuilds in the wake of the pandemic.
In each weekly episode, two Torontonians will step inside the kitchen of a Toronto restaurant to compete for the title of Chef Artois and win a $1,000 prize pack that includes Stella Artois and Toronto Life goodies, a restaurant gift card and a 200-series K-Sabatier Chef’s Knife. The premiere takes us inside Madrina Bar y Tapas, located in the cobblestoned Distillery District. Here, chef Ramon Simarro joins “Chef Artois” series host Pay Chen to welcome contestants Brittany Karac and Sonny Patel. Their task: impress Simarro by executing a perfect seafood paella in an hour or less.
According to the Barcelona-born chef, “the easiest mistake for the contestants to make is over cooking the paella.” The dish demands perfect timing: a few minutes too many and the rice is mush and the seafood turns to rubber. Simarro’s standards are high; he’s worked in Michelin-starred restaurants and has been lauded by local critics for his excellent tapas, including a terrific mille-feuille take on patatas bravas that Toronto Life called the “city’s fanciest fried potatoes.”
For Patel and Karac, two home cooks with no professional training, the pressure’s on and the countdown hasn’t even started. With 60 minutes on the clock, the contenders step into the kitchen to be presented with their ingredients, including bomba rice imported from Spain and spot prawns and clams from British Columbia.
On the chef’s mark, the frenzy of chopping, stirring and sautéing begins. It’s anyone’s prize to win. Patel, who works as a magician, might be used to performing for a crowd, but Karac looks calm… maybe even a little cocky. She’s made paella before. Will her confidence get the best of him? Or will the magician have a trick up his sleeve? It’s anyone’s cookoff to win.
Tune in here to find out who will be being named the first-ever “Chef Artois.”
How to make Chef Ramon Simarro’s Seafood Paella
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 3 threads of saffron
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 teaspoon sweet Spanish paprika
- 3 parsley leaves, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp crushed tomatoes
- 150 grams bomba rice
- 600 milliliters fish stock, boiling
- 2 spot prawns
- 2 manila clams
- 2 mussels
- Salt to taste
- Half a lemon
- Place an olive oil-slicked paella pan over a medium heat. Once hot, it’s time to fry the spot prawns. Cook on both sides until golden brown. About 70 seconds a side. Set aside for later.
- Add the garlic and saffron to the same pan. Within about 10 seconds, the garlic will begin to brown. Once it begins to change colour, immediately add the parsley, stir, and then add the paprika and the crushed tomatoes. It’s imperative to act quickly during this step, if the aromatics burn they’ll add an undesirable bitterness to the dish.
- Continue to cook the seasoned tomatoes over a low heat for three minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the bomba rice to the paella pan. Stir to integrate the rice with the tomatoes, and cook the mixture for two minutes.
- Add the boiling hot fish stock.
- Add salt to taste (a generous pinch will do), and then let the paella simmer for 12 minutes. “Do not stir the rice,” says Chef Simarro, emphatically. “Instead, simply give the pan a little shake every two to three minutes to keep the rice from sticking.”
- Once 12 minutes has passed, arrange seafood on top of the rice. Let everything cook together for another five minutes. On “Chef Artois,” Simarro used B.C. spot prawns, B.C. manila clams and Salt Springs mussels, but a good fishmonger can help you source adequate substitutes, if needed.
- Remove from heat and let the paella rest for two minutes. Concurrently, slice the lemon into wedges and use it to garnish.
- Place the paella in the center of your table and serve it straight from the pan.