TORONTO - Not only can Connie DeSousa peel the skin from a pig's head in 49 seconds flat, but the Calgary restaurateur was the winner in the outstanding chef category at a Toronto food conference this week.

The co-owner of Charcut Roast House and a finalist in season 1 of "Top Chef Canada" earned the honour at the Terroir Symposium.

Jeremy Bonia, owner and sommelier of Raymonds in St. John's, N.L., won in the beverage category and Stephen Beckta, proprietor of the three Ottawa restaurants Gezellig, Beckta and Play Food & Wine, won in the service professional category.

The seventh annual conference brought together chefs, food writers, wine and food experts and culinary activists who explored this year's theme, "For the Love of Food: Stories, Memories and Culture."

DeSousa dazzled with her knife-wielding skills as she removed the skin from a pig's head as part of a demonstration on making mortadella sausage. Ground shoulder and back fat mixed with pistachios and other ingredients were then stuffed back into the head, which DeSousa sewed up with butcher's twine. At the Calgary restaurant, it is cooked for nine hours at a low temperature and then sliced and served very simply with a homemade grainy mustard.

DeSousa said she and her mentor, co-chef John Jackson, are "very back to basics" with their philosophy of cuisine. They spent four years cooking in San Francisco before returning to Calgary to open Charcut in February 2010. The restaurant has a custom-built rotisserie and charbroiler and features hand-crafted charcuterie, such as the mortadella.

"We fell in love with the style of cuisine in San Francisco," DeSousa said in an interview. "Everyone knows where their food comes from; people know the first names of their farmers, their butchers. We wanted to bring a piece of that philosophy back to Calgary."

The duo is supplied with produce from local farms they've toured. Butchering is done in-house, along with pickling, canning and preserving local produce into about 3,000 jars over the summer months to sustain them through the winter. Bread is baked daily.

When they were getting started back in Calgary, the team invited local chefs to a potluck in the backyard of DeSousa's parents to reintroduce themselves.

"Calgary was very closed-minded when it came to collaboration before that and coming from San Francisco where the chefs community is so tight ... it felt like a completely different mentality. We were successful in helping to start the collaborative efforts in Calgary.

"We want to showcase our city and we're really proud of it and we're proud of our culinary scene and the only way that we're going to be able to do that and showcase Calgary and make it into a food destination city is by doing things together," said DeSousa, 32, who was born and raised in the city.

Charcut uses Facebook and Twitter to publicize special events. One such promotion, Alley Burger, started out as $5 burgers sold from Charcut's back door.

The first time, 20 people enjoyed the burgers. Then the initiative mushroomed and became too big to handle. The last time they did it, 350 people lined up around the perimeter of the restaurant.

Now Alley Burger is a food truck and part of an 18-month pilot project.

Also at the Terroir Symposium, there were presentations on food culture, taste, memory and gastronomy by a wide range of participants, including Kate Krader of Food and Wine Magazine in New York, chef JP McMahon of the Michelin-rated Aniar restaurant in Galway, Ireland, chef and cookbook author Trine Hahnemann of Copenhagen and Paul Rogalski of Rouge Restaurant in Calgary.

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  • Dufflet Pastries

    <b>What</b>: Maple caramel budina<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Dufflet Pastries</a>

  • Dufflet Pastries

    <b>What</b>: Milk chocolate peanut butter and jam balls<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Dufflet Pastries</a>

  • The County General

    <b>What</b>: Steamed pork belly buns with kimchi<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">The County General</a>

  • Union 72

    <b>What</b>: Steak tartare with a pickle and house-made hot sauce<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Union 72</a>

  • BeerBistro

    <b>What</b>: Berkshire pork, smoked and braised in barbecue sauce with a blanche de chamblay, served with Dutch gouda on a buttermilk bun. It was being served alongside a Mad Tom IPA.<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">BeerBistro</a>

  • Thompson Diner

    <b>What</b>: Grilled flank steak, served with a baby beets and goat cheese salad, topped with an apple cider vinaigrette<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Thompson Diner</a>

  • Centro

    <b>What</b>: A seafood salad, consisting of octopus, shrimp, mussels, scallops, oven-dried tomatoes, fennel and finished with fried garlic<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Centro</a>

  • Ace Bakery Artisan Breads

    <b>What</b>: Italian Flag Tramezzino on Pane di Liguria (a new ciabatta bread Ace was offering at the event), made with salami al prosciutto from Niagara Food Specialties and Quebec Fontina from the Cheese Boutique.<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Ace Bakery</a>

  • Boehmer

    <b>What</b>: A pork slider with a wild leek and piri piri mustard<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="'s_philosophy" target="_hplink">Boehmer</a>

  • Corner House

    <b>What</b>: Local roasted leg of lamb served on a red-skin grilled rosemary potato with a fruit stew and smoked chipotle drizzle<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Corner House</a>

  • Great Cooks On Eight

    <b>What</b>: Tomato-braised oxtail on a quinoa and arugula cake<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Great Cooks On Eight</a>

  • Aria

    <b>What</b>: Smoked duck, fresh pea marscapone and freeze-dried pea risotto<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Aria</a>

  • e11even

    <b>What</b>: Nova Scotia lobster roll on a top-cut hot dog bun with iceberg lettuce<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">e11even</a>

  • Oro

    <b>What</b>: Butter-poached octopus and Niagara chorizo in a vegetable ragout with a little smoked paprika<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Oro</a>

  • Ruth's Chris

    <b>What</b>: A USDA prime tenderloin<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Ruth's Chris</a>

  • Rodney's Oyster House

    <b>What</b>: "R.O.D. Dukes" oysters, from Rodney's Oyster Depot in Prince Edward Island<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Rodney's Oyster House</a>

  • Rodney's Oyster House

    <b>What</b>: The "sea dog," a combination of lobster and sea scallops, topped with a tequila mustard, smoked tomato ketchup and wild Halliburton ramp relish<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Rodney's Oyster House</a>

  • Buca

    <b>What</b>: Prosciutto d'Alce (aged 16 months) served with mustard, radish, spiked mascarpone and pistachio<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Buca</a>

  • Cafe Belong

    <b>What</b>: Ground pork, rhubarb, pickled ramps, morel mushrooms and sheep's yogurt served on a buttermilk biscuit<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Cafe Belong</a>

  • Little Anthony's

    <b>What</b>: House-made lamb sausage on date soda bread, with Jerusalem artichoke crisp, pickled onion and "made with 95% love, 5% anger," according to chef Aaron Foster<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Little Anthony's</a>

  • Woodlot

    <b>What</b>: Marinated tofu on brioche<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Woodlot</a>

  • Scaramouche

    <b>What</b>: Seared yellow fin tuna on a taro root crisp with fava bean<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Scaramouche</a>

  • Globe Bistro and Earth

    <b>What</b>: Sunchoke vichyssoise made with sunflower earth and sorrel<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Globe Bistro</a> and <a href="" target="_hplink">Globe Earth</a>

  • Epic

    <b>What</b>: Sous vide Arctic char over an organic quinoa and wild rice salad, served with celery cress puree, bay oil, crispy chickpeas and pickled pear<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Epic</a>

  • Frank at AGO

    <b>What</b>: Churro with salted dulce de leche and chocolate sauce, originally tossed in cinnamon sugar<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Frank</a>

  • Salt Wine Bar

    <b>What</b>: Lamb taco with confit garlic aioli and pickled fennel<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Salt Wine Bar</a>

  • Chiado

    <b>What</b>: Baked skate fish with a lobster saffron veloute<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Chiado</a>

  • Mark McEwan's Fabbrica/North 44/Bymark/ONE/McEwan

    <b>What</b>: Grilled crostini with whipped fresh ricotta, mint and citrus, a lamb bouillabaisse with chickpea and fennel<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Mark McEwan</a>

  • Nota Bene

    <b>What</b>: Cumbrae farms chuck and brisket burger with braised shortrib and crema on a poppyseed bun<b> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Nota Bene</a>

  • Sotto Sotto

    <b>What</b>: Porchetta sandwich, served with Dijon mustard or homemade chili oil (made by the owner's mother)<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Sotto Sotto</a>

  • Ciao Wine Bar

    <b>What</b>: Chianti-braised shortribs on a gorgonzola polenta with crispy onions<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Ciao Wine Bar</a>

  • Harvest Kitchens

    <b>What</b>: A play on macarons, these "Louisiana macarons" represent the Asian element in the taste. This "Pinoy" is made of Chinese five-spice biscuits with confit duck tongue and black garlic pate.<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Harvest Kitchens</a>, a part of Second Harvest that trains adults and youths in food preparation, and readies meals to distribute to Second Harvest partners, like the YMCA and Boys and Girls Club

  • Harvest Kitchens

    <b>What</b>: This "Lousiana macaron," the "Bayou" consists of Andouille-spiced biscuits with roasted frog leg and palm heart pate.<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Harvest Kitchens</a>

  • Far Niente

    <b>What</b>: The restaurant's take on a BLT, the sandwich consists of an in-house confit pork belly with smoked tomato jam, baby gem lettuce, rocket and argyle -- and to make up for not being able to saute indoors, they added a chicharon pork rind.<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Far Niente</a>

  • C5

    <b>What</b>: BBQ pork steam buns made with carrots, red peppers, pickle shiitake, diakon and cilantro.<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">C5</a>

  • Estiatorio VOLOS

    <b>What</b>: A dolmata of arborio rice with a brandy macerated raisin and wrapped in a grape leaf, brined in chicken stock and lemon, and topped with tzatziki<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Volos</a>

  • George

    <b>What</b>: Cobia sashimi on top of an avocado and quinoa summer roll<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">George</a>

  • Pauline's Pastries

    <b>What</b>: Carrot cake with a cream cheese topping<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Pauline's Pastries</a>

  • Linda Modern Thai

    <b>What</b>: Curry, three ways, including a curry shrimp cocktail with Thai yellow curry, a vegetarian yuba dumpling with Thai sour curry, and a crispy beef wrap with a curry tortilla and Thai panang curry<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Linda Modern Thai</a>

  • Tundra

    <b>What</b>: A lobster salad with truffle potato foam with a bacon bone marrow vinaigrette<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Tundra</a>

  • Scarpetta

    <b>What</b>: Three takes on fish: Fluke crudo with yuzu cucumber, trout tartare with fiddleheads, and yellowtail -- accompanied by radish and pickled ramp.<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Scarpetta</a>

  • L'Unita

    <b>What</b>: Rhubarb and fennel zeppole<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">L'Unita</a>

  • Petite Thuet

    <b>What</b>: Black bear on bread -- the animal was shot by Chef Thuet himself.<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Petite Thuet</a>

  • Petite Thuet

    <b>What</b>: 72-hour braised pork belly with house-made teriyaki and Asian mayo with arugula, served on a beignet<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Petite Thuet</a>

  • Sassafraz

    <b>What</b>: Pulled pork grilled cheese made with a four-year-old cheddar and manchego and served on sourdough bread<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Sassafraz</a>

  • Sodexo

    <b>What</b>: The food service company, which has partnered with chef Michael Smith, created crusted venison with a risotto cake and cranberry chutney, topped with crispy shallots.<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Sodexo</a>

  • Grano

    <b>What</b>: Hand-made bufala ricotta and whole what cavatelli (served with prosciutto, for those who wished)<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Grano</a>

  • Indian Rice Factory

    <b>What</b>: One of the few vegetarian options, with a traditional rice dish.<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Indian Rice Factory</a>

  • Ruby Watchco

    <b>What</b>: Chicken liver parfait with spreads: beetroot marmalade, bacon and caramelized onion jam or a summer berry compote.<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Ruby Watchco</a>

  • Pangaea

    <b>What</b>: A chilled pea soup with goat cheese and lime sorbet -- all made in-house-- and a cured lardo<br> <b>From</b>: <a href="" target="_hplink">Pangaea</a>