SheSimmers + Curtis Duffy = A Cooking Contest To Rock Our World / by zhaophotography

Leela at has joined forces with Curtis Duffy, chef extraordinaire of Avenues, to present a super fun cooking contest where we had to come up with a dish . The best part is the prize. Besides getting a discount at Avenues, a restaurant we have been wanting to try out, the winning dish will be re-interpreted by Chef Duffy and served to the winners on the day of their visit. How cool would that be to see your dish re-conceptualized and taken to a higher level by such an accomplished chef? This got us super excited and now we just wanted to win this badly. As we scrolled further down the contest page, the ingredients were revealed. We were asked to use the following four ingredients to create a multi-element entree- an entire bulb of fennel, chocolate made of at least 85% cocoa, mushrooms and fish of our choice.

It took a couple days for Jared to work out the elements of this dish. There were a few techniques he's been thinking of trying, many of which reflect some of the dishes we've had at some world class restaurants, including The French Laundry in Napa Valley and Iggy's in Singapore.
The first technique he used was a simple olive oil poached salmon. By keeping it at an even 150 degrees, he cooked the salmon just enough to have the insides still incredibly flaky and tender- medium rare. Jared chose salmon specifically for this technique as rare salmon is mild in flavor but rich in fat. This way, you can really taste all the different ingredients in this dish, even the fennel and chocolate. The fish was finished with a quick kiss in a hot pan to create a nice crust on top.

Using these 4 ingredients together in a harmonious way was no easy feat. You can tell that Chef Duffy loves to incorporate sweet and savory into his dishes just by looking at this list of ingredients. The biggest hurdle was how to work the dark chocolate into this dish. Since chocolate is used mostly in dessert, it is not common to incorporate it into a savory dish. Jared decided to make a chocolate sauce and incorporate grounded fennel seeds into it, as fennel seeds are commonly coated with candy shell in Indian snacks. And since fennel is used throughout this dish, it would be the perfect pairing. The key is not to overpower the sauce with the fennel seeds as there are fennel elements in the rest of the dish. One other concern by using a 85% cocoa is the alkaline/bitter taste to it. To offset the bitterness and alkaline property, cream from the puree was introduced to mellow it out, therefore creating more of a milk chocolate.

Finally to add umami to this dish, Jared created a dashi and shiitake consomme gelee. He also used dried shiitake as the earthy flavor contained in this mushroom is a lot stronger than other kinds of fresh mushrooms. This added another texture to the dish as well as intensifying the mushroom flavor.

Overall, this dish has a nice balance of sweet and savory and a range of texture from the smooth puree, to the soft salmon to the crunchy fennel slaw. Temperature also plays a nice part in this dish with the cool gelee and slaw to the warm puree and salmon.

Shiitake Consomme Gelee
4 dried shiitake mushrooms
1.5 cups dashi stock (can be substituted with 1 cup water and 1 tablespoon dashi powder)
1 pack gelatin
cold water


  • Heat up the dashi until it starts to boil and add the dried shiitake mushrooms.
  • Turn off the heat and let the shiitake mushrooms rehydrate for 1 hour
  • Remove the mushrooms and set aside
  • In a small prep bowl, rehydrate the gelatin powder with a few tablespoons of cold water
  • Warm the consomme and stir in the gelatin. Whisk until the gelatin has dissolved. Pour into a small sheet pan or a small container.
  • Place it in the fridge for 4hr or until firm.
  • Score the gelee with a pairing knife and gently using an offset spatula scrape the pan to remove the cubed gelee and set aside
  • Cut the mushroom into cubes and set aside

Fennel Chocolate Sauce
2oz 85% Cocoa Dark Chocolate
1tsp whole fennel seeds
olive oil


  • Using a double boiler, melt the chocolate
  • Turn off the heat and temper the chocolate
  • Using a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder, ground the fennel seeds
  • Add the grounded fennel seeds to the chocolate with a pinch of salt to taste
  • Thin out the chocolate sauce with olive oil until thin and runny
  • Set aside until ready.

Shaved Fennel Slaw with Fennel Frond Oil
1 handful Fennel Fronds
Fennel Bulb
Olive oil
Salt + Pepper


  • Wash and dry the fennel fronds
  • Start the food processor with the frond and slowly drizzle in enough olive oil until the frond is well incorporated
  • Slice the fennel bulb into thin slices
  • Toss it with enough oil and season with salt, pepper and a squirt of lemon juice to taste
  • The flavor develops better as you let it sit for an hour or so

Fennel Puree
1 fennel bulb and the attached stalks (fronds removed)
Heavy whipping cream


  • Wash and cut the fennel and stalk into slices
  • Add it to a small sauce pot with enough cream to cover and simmer on low until the fennel is tender
  • Strain the fennel and reserve the cream. Add the fennel to a blender and add enough of the reserved cream to get it started. Add more cream if necessary until the puree is not too thick
  • Strain the puree through a sieve
  • Season with salt to taste

Olive Oil Poach Salmon
2 6 oz portion of skinless salmon (1.5 inches thick, preferably sashimi grade)
2 garlic cloves (gently crushed)
Black pepper corn
A few sprigs of fennel fronds
Olive oil (enough to submerge the fish)
Salt + Pepper


  • Rinse and dry the salmon
  • Let it rest at room temperature for 20 mins
  • In a small pot add the oil, crushed garlic cloves, a few black pepper corn and fennel fronds.
  • Using a thermometer, slowly bring the oil up to 150F.
  • Place the fish in the oil and maintain the the temperature at 150F. (It is important to keep it at this low temperature so the fish can cook slowly without overcooking. You can also use a sous vide technique as well.
  • Poach the salmon for 10mins. The center should still be rare, but warm throughout. This is important to get high quality fresh salmon as the center will not be cooked through.
  • Remove the salmon and let the oil drain off on a piece of paper towel
  • Season the fish with salt and pepper to taste
  • In a hot sautee pan, add a few tablespoons of the poaching oil and sear the fish for 1 minute until a nice brown sear is achieved
  • Remove from the pan and it is ready to be plated

In a shallow plate, pour the puree at the bottom. Drizzle the chocolate sauce around the plate. decorate the dish with the diced mushrooms and the gelee around the dish. Place the salmon in the center and top it with the fennel slaw.

A big thanks to Leela of and Chef Curtis Duffy for hosting this contest. It was challenging for Jared and yummy for me!