Coconut Lagoon chef and owner Joe Thottungal said he was "thrilled" to win Ottawa's Gold Medal Plates competition Monday night and earn a place at the Canadian Culinary Championships. And despite a late night, he still went to work the next day to serve the lunchtime crowd.
The unassuming Thottungal won over eight judges with a halibut poached in spiced oil with fish curry crumbs, woodland mushroom aviyal and a lentil emulsion.
"Just thrilled, excited, and my staff was overjoyed," said Thottungal to Alan Neal on All in a Day. "I went home yesterday at around 11, 11:30 [at night] and then woke up today... then I came to work."
"Tomorrow I take off, for sure," he said.
Thottungal's St. Laurent Boulevard restaurant serves food true to his roots, from the south Indian state of Kerala.
But for the competition — which requires the chef to serve about 600 people — he added a few Canadian touches to his meal, choosing halibut for the fish and making the traditional aviyal vegetable dish with six kinds of in-season local mushrooms.
'Without the taste there is no point'
He said it took a month to settle on the meal to create.
"It has to be colourful, because people see with their eyes first before they taste it. Then we have to focus on the taste, because without the taste there is no point," he said.
The most difficult task, he said, was making the curry crumbs, which he did after much experimentation by dehydrating a traditional Indian curry in the oven for 12 hours.
"It was a little bit hard but finally it turned out very well," he said.
Jamie Stunt, a previous winner and a chef at Soif Bar a Vin in Gatineau, finished second, and Mark Doiron, a chef at Town on Elgin Street, placed third.
Thottungal will represent the Ottawa area at the Canadian Culinary Championships next February in Kelowna, B.C.