It was an episode of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay's U.K. series Gordon Ramsay: Shark Bait that convinced Vancouver chef and Edible Canada sous chef Tom Lee to enter Shark Truth's Sans Fin Soup Contest, which took place at the Renaissance Vancouver Hotel Harbourside (1133 West Hastings Street) on October 13.
"I had heard about it [Sans Fin Soup Contest] through Facebook," Lee told the Georgia Straight while serving up samples of his fin-free version of the controversial soup. "But after I stumbled upon Ramsey's episode on shark finning, that's when I got in touch with the organizer and decided to be on board."
More than 300 guests, including a panel of judges, which included Vancouver city councilor Kerry Jang and B.C. Chefs' Association president Edgar Rahal, attended the event to sample shark-free soups by seven finalists. The contest was organized by Shark Truth—a Vancouver-based nonprofit group hoping to stop the consumption of shark-fin soup by raising awareness of its alternatives—and competing local chefs were asked to submit a recipe for an alternative to shark-fin soup.
"I made a variation rather than trying to mimic the soup," Lee said. "I did a roasted ginger duck soup, with soba noodles, scallions, B.C. wild mushrooms, and duck confit."
Lee's creation, which featured a dark-brown broth and a gingery zing, won the People's Choice award.
Entries by The Sandbar Restaurant executive chef William Tse and p2b Bistro Bar executive chef Edmund Yee also took home prizes (the Harry's Favourite and Sans Fin Soup Star awards, respectively). Tse's fin-free alternative was a seafood-based soup that used gelatin to mimic the texture of shark fin. Meanwhile, Yee used abalone and crab as the specialty ingredients in his soup.
"For me, all soups come from the base, so I came up with a few special, favourite ingredients of mine to come up with my creation," Yee told the Straight. "It's the same base for shark-fin soup, but then it's really more about texture."
While the consumption of abalone—considered part of the "big four" in Chinese cuisine alongside shark fin, sea cucumber, and fish maw (swim bladder)—also has experienced controversy, Yee said that his fresh abalone was within Ocean Wise's farmed abalone guidelines.
"There are always ingredients for anything. You just have get the right product," he said.
Not all of the soups were as traditional-tasting as the creations by Tse and Yee. Todd Bright, who is executive chef at Wild Rice, presented a creamy seafood bisque topped with mushrooms, glass noodles, and lotus root; while Montgomery Lau, executive sous chef at YVR's Westin Wall Centre, made a consommé-style soup with chicken, shitake mushrooms, Chinese ham, and quail's egg.
"These seven amazing chefs have really hauled out their complete effort to attend this event and serve delicious shark-fin free alternatives. I think it's an amazing moment for shark conservation," Shark Truth founder Claudia Li told the Straight towards the end of the event. "This is right on the heels of the California announcement, and today (October 13) in Toronto, they voted unanimously to move the motion forward to ban shark fin. So this is really exciting for us, and this event is just part of the rollercoaster of momentum."
Below, Michelle da Silva photos
People's Choice award winning ginger-duck soup by Edible Canada sous chef Tom Lee.
The Sandbar Restaurant executive chef William Tse serves his fin-free creation.
Chef Ben Lai's cannelloni bean soup with vegetable marrow, Chinese sausage, and white truffle foam.
Vancouver city councilor Kerry Jang was among the panel of judges at the Sans Fin Soup Contest.
Shark Truth founder Claudia Li.
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