TORONTO - A Quebec culinary student is heading to California after winning the Canadian regional finals of a contest designed to help young people jump-start their careers.

Jean-Christophe Comtois from École hôtelière de la Capitale in Quebec City will compete in the three-day S.Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef contest next month at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa Valley.

He executed his signature dish, milk veal tenderloin with matsutake mushrooms and a cheese polenta, for a panel of Canadian chefs and food journalists.

Comtois will compete along with nine regional winners in the March 8-10 finals in three categories: mystery basket, signature dish and people's choice.

Other contestants at Monday's event were from Humber College, the Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College, the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Vancouver, the Culinary Institute of Vancouver Island and Institut de tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Québec.

Kellie Callender, a student at the Culinary Institute of Vancouver Island in Nanaimo, B.C., won the people's choice award for his signature recipe, a sockeye salmon confit with sunchoke puree and a beet quinoa salad.

Founded in 2002, the competition is a mentoring program that gives culinary students a chance to connect with established chefs and influential media while cooking in some of the most prestigious kitchens in the world.

Comtois' winning recipe has been adapted for the home chef.

Herb Garlic Veal With Crispy Polenta

The rich-tasting sauce is a perfect complement to the veal. Accompany this dish with a colourful assortment of butternut squash, beans and mushrooms.

1 kg (2 lb) veal or pork tenderloins

3 tbsp (45 ml) canola oil, divided

2 cloves garlic, minced

15 ml (1 tbsp) chopped fresh thyme

1 ml (1/4 tsp) each salt and pepper

30 ml (2 tbsp) butter

Veal Sauce

15 ml (1 tbsp) butter

1 shallot, diced

50 ml (1/4 cup) Madeira wine

500 ml (2 cups) veal or light beef stock

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 sprig fresh thyme

15 ml (1 tbsp) finely chopped hazelnuts

Crispy Polenta

500 ml (2 cups) milk

45 ml (3 tbsp) butter

2 ml (1/2 tsp) freshly grated nutmeg

1 ml (1/4 tsp) each salt and pepper

125 ml (1/2 cup) fine cornmeal

30 ml (2 tbsp) buckwheat or whole-wheat flour

3 eggs

30 g (1 oz) aged goat cheese or grated pecorino or Romano cheese

30 ml (2 tbsp) dried mushroom powder (see tip)

375 ml (1 1/2 cups) cornflakes, crushed slightly

Crispy Polenta: In a saucepan, bring milk, butter, nutmeg, salt and pepper to a simmer. Slowly whisk in cornmeal and flour and cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes or until thick enough to mound on a spoon. Remove from heat and stir in 2 of the eggs, cheese and mushroom powder. Pour mixture into greased 2-l (8-cup) baking dish. Brush top with some of the remaining egg and sprinkle with crushed cornflakes; set aside.

Veal Sauce: In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Cook shallot for about 2 minutes or until softened. Add Madeira and cook until reduced by half. Stir in stock, garlic and thyme and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes or until reduced by half. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and stir in hazelnuts. Season with salt and pepper to taste; keep warm.

Brush veal with 15 ml (1 tbsp) of the oil and coat with garlic, thyme, salt and pepper. Heat remaining oil and butter in a large ovenproof skillet and brown tenderloins. Place skillet and polenta in a 200 C (400 F) oven for about 20 minutes or until meat thermometer reaches 65 C (150 F) for medium or until desired doneness is reached and polenta is golden brown on top. Let veal stand for 10 minutes before slicing thinly.

Divide polenta among each plate and top with sliced veal. Spoon sauce over top to serve.

Makes 8 servings.

Tip: You can make the polenta ahead and refrigerate before baking. When you're ready to make the veal, bake the polenta with the veal as indicated in the recipe.

To make mushroom powder, grind 50 ml (1/4 cup) dried mushrooms such as porcini or shiitake in a coffee grinder or mini food processor until very fine like a powder.

Source: Jean-Christophe Comtois, École hôtelière de la Capitale, Québec City.

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