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Archive for November, 2008

Calgary Gold Medal Plates 2008

21 Nov

Gold Medal Plates 2008 came to a close on Thursday night in Calgary with a spectacular party for almost 750 guests at the Round-Up Centre. The great hall looked splendid, especially since the Christmas decorations were already up, adding extra lustre to GMP’s own elegant décor, and reminding us that the campaign has carried us from autumn into winter. The entire event was as smooth as a good crème anglais with the new, informal question-and-answer format giving our Olympians a great chance to show their personalities and tell their tales: emcee Kelly Hrudey set exactly the right tone. Jim Cuddy, Anne Lindsay and Barney Bentall gave yet another stellar performance that had much of the back of the hall quietly singing along. Arriving at the Centre, Canadian Culinary Champion Melissa Craig was greeted with the news that some of her precious crabs, Fedexed in from B.C., had been left out of the refrigerator. Fortunately there was still plenty to go around and she delighted the VIP reception with her signature dish. Last year’s gold-medal-winning chef, Paul Rogalski, was inducted into the Gold Medal Plates Hall of Fame and provided a memorably whimsical dessert based around the notion of a deconstructed S’mores bar. The camera crews from Lively Media were there to film everything for the television show next year, as they have been in every city. I’d like to thank them personally for their tact and sensitivity in dealing with the chefs and judges across the country as well as for the very thorough job they have done. They will be joining us in Banff, of course, to film the climax of the campaign, the Canadian Culinary Championship.

Meanwhile, the chefs of Calgary (and Canmore) performed superbly and the judges agreed that it was particularly hard to determine a winner – indeed, the marks of the top four chefs all fell between 79.4% and 81.7%! This was also the first time a purely vegetarian dish has won a gold medal – and in Alberta, the land of beef, too!

Taking the bronze medal was Theo Yeaman of Chef’s Table at the Kensington Inn. He presented a vanilla-scented saddle of venison, cooked sous vide and served with perfectly timed Brussels sprout leaves, supersmooth chestnut purée and a sprinkling of truffle dust. It was a deceptively simple dish. The judges were most impressed by the impeccable flavour and moist texture of the meat – such a challenge to present juicy medium-rare game to 750 people over the course of an hour and a half. Yeaman paired his dish with Mission Hill Reserve 2005 Shiraz.

The silver medal was presented to Shaun Desaulnier of Belgo who offered braised veal cheek with bean cassoulet garnished with a miniature yam gaufrette. Again it was the technical expertise apparent in the dish’s textures that wowed the judges. The cheek was exactly right – rich and flavourful, not too soft or gelatinous – and the beans had a sophisticated firmness and bite. The plate was finished with the reduced braising juices for extra flavour. Chef’s choice of wine, Tinhorn Creek’s Oldfield’s Collection 2005 Merlot, was inspired, working especially well with the cassoulet of beans.

The gold medal winner was Hayato Okamitsu, the chef of Catch. His dish was the most ambitious of the night in terms of complexity, but he carried it off in a masterful way. The tallest thing on the plate was a shot glass of hot smoked corn and wild rice soup with a crisp shaped like a miniature lorgnette posed across the rim. A square of densely textured butternut squash parfait was topped with a superfine broccoli pistou and enriched with oka cheese. A sturdy tortellini, the pasta dyed green with sage, was filled with supple little golden chanterelles, and a comma of white sauce on the plate turned out to be a delectably tangy purée of onion and sherry. The Sumac Ridge 2006 Private Reserve Chardonnay proved to be an inspired wine choice, the slight oakiness and the background fruit working with every element of the dish. Congratulations to Chef Okamitsu!

And now the competitors have all been chosen for the Canadian Culinary Championship which will take place in the majestic Fairmont Banff Springs hotel from February 19 to 21, 2009. In order of this fall’s events, they are Charles Part of Les Fougères, representing Ottawa-Gatineau; Patrick Lin of Senses, representing Toronto; Denise Cornellier of Denise Cornellier Traiteur, representing Montreal; Frank Pabst of Blue Water Café, representing Vancouver; David Cruz of Sage, representing Edmonton; and Hayato Okamitsu of Catch, representing Calgary. They have slightly less than three months to formulate their plans and gather their energies for what will prove a challenge of Olympic proportions. I have every confidence that eager supporters from their home towns will want to join us for the weekend to cheer on their champion. All will be welcome.

James Chatto
National Culinary Advisor
Gold Medal Plates

 

Edmonton Gold Medal Plates 2008

07 Nov

Edmonton’s Gold Medal Plates event proved once again that support for Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes is more powerful than any downturn in the economy and can even flourish in competition with the city’s annual Rodeo! The Shaw Centre was our venue for a party arranged with her usual meticulous skill by event planner Lisa Pasin. Demonstration athletes provided the thrilling cabaret during the first half of the evening. Chef Judy Wu, last year’s gold medal winner, was elected to the Hall of Fame, the special black chef’s jacket adding another colour to her multicoloured wardrobe of kitchen wear.

The competing chefs, many of them veterans of previous years, performed with great confidence and flare. It was great to see Edmonton’s gastronomic character so truly expressed, with local meats on every plate – everything from beef and bison to pheasant and venison to pork and alpaca. The season was also acknowledged by a pervasive obeisance to the truffle, some of them coming from Italy, others from Oregon. In the end the marks were incredibly close – the gold and silver medal-wining scores separated by less than one percentage point, a margin that also held back our fourth-placed chef, Sonny Sung from the podium.

Winning the bronze medal was chef Blair Lebsack of Madison’s Grill who also handed out cards detailing the local provenance of every ingredient used in his dish. Pheasant breast was the main event, braised and minced, mixed with chives and rolled into a soft, delicate crepe. Diced Pink Lady and Ambrosia apples served as a vegetable, tossed with flecks of wild boar bacon. A beautifully balanced sauce of the pheasant pan juices was quickened with a hint of blood orange, a detail that helped secure the match with Chef Lebsack’s chosen winem the 2006 Private Reserve Riesling from B.C.’s Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery.

The silver medal was awarded to Edmonton’s past champion, Michael Brown of the Westin Edmonton hotel. Chef Brown was kind enough to create a handsome illustration of his complex dish which the judges were delighted to use a map! At the top of the dish, a tall shot glass held a hot portabella mushroom “latte” topped with chai green tea foam. Leaning against the glass, a tuile biscuit in the shape of a steer’s head was drizzled with a reduction of iced cider. Pea shoots and a deliciously spicy smoked chipotle red pepper coulis underlay the main event a moussaka of layered eggplant, ground bison, crumbled goat cheese and ground alpaca meat topped with a cheddar-Dijon gratin. It was a complicated dish to match but Chef Grown made a canny choice with Domaine Pinnacle 2005 Iced Cider from Quebec.

If the evening’s most ambitious dish won silver, the simplest took the gold, created by David Cruz of Sage. Served on a hot plate (always a treat) he began with a bed of puréed, lightly truffled peas then crowned it with a square of belly pork. Chef Cruz had treated the pork with great care, braising it for eight hours at 170 degrees until the fat and the lean began to approach the consistency of jelly. Then he finished it in a pan to crisp the surface and crowned it with crispy little parsnip ribbons and a marmalade of finely minced morels. See Ya Later Ranch Riesling 2007 was a lovely match, the wine’s fruit and acidity finding all sorts of resonance on the dish.

Congratulations to all the competitors! Chef Cruz will go on to represent Edmonton at the Canadian Culinary Championship in Banff in February.

James Chatto
National Culinary Advisor
Gold Medal Plates

 

Vancouver 2008 Gold Medal Plates

07 Nov

The Vancouver 2008 Gold Medal Plates gala was another triumph. Almost 700 guests, chefs, cooks and athletes crowded the Westin Bayshore hotel looking to party and the event did not disappoint. Melissa Craig, chef of Barefoot Bistro and current Canadian Culinary Champion, was back on her home turf, showing her mettle with a delectable dish during the VIP reception. Jim Cuddy was joined on stage by local hero Barnie Bentall and the incomparable Anne Lindsay for several musical sets that had the audience on their feet.

Last year’s gold-medal wining chef, Pino Posteraro, owner-chef of Cioppino’s, prepared dessert and served as one of the judges. Pino’s involvement with Gold Medal Plates has been tremendous over the years in terms of both practical support and inspiration within the chefs’ community and it was a pleasure to induct him into the Gold Medal Plates Hall of Fame. We also welcomed Daniel Boulud, renowned as one of the world’s greatest chefs and now a gastronomic presence in Vancouver, as Honourary Chair of the gala. His generous donation of a weekend in New York including flights, meals at his restaurants there and in Vancouver led off a very successful auction.

The competing chefs’ imagination and dedication to the competition was in particular evidence last night with a wide variety of dishes on offer.The judges has their work cut out for them and, as has often been the case during this campaign, marks were extrremely tight with less than one percentage point separating the gold and silver medallists’ scores.

Taking the bronze medal was Andrey Durbach of Parkside. He presented each guest with an individual pot au feu of game birds and wild mushrooms based on a sumptuously layered, dark, clear game consommé. Bathing in the broth were several items: here a soft-textured farce of duck confit and chestnut wrapped in a bright green cabbage leaf; there a slice of capon and truffle boudin blanc; beside them, a porcini mushroom-stuffed capeletto, the pasta darkened by the inclusion of powdered dried porcini instead of a measure of the flour; a torchon of quail and pheasant breast completed the dish. Chef Durbach paired it with Stag’s Hollow Simply Noir 2006 from the Okanagan, a blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir that worked beautifully with the many flavours and textures of the gamebirds.

The silver medal was awarded to the inimitable Hidekazu Tojo, who has stepped onto the podium each time he has entered Gold Medal Plates.In honour of the season, Tojo decorated his plate with a real maple leaf and pine needles topped with a paper parcel tied tightly with raffia. Inside the parcel was a remarkable offering: a juicy chunk of supple poached pine mushroom; a panko-crusted shiitake mushroom with its own slightly different texture; a gloriously plump West Coast mussel taken out of its shell and topped with a morsel of lobster. These elements were wrapped in a cloak of soft, warm, golden smoked sablefish and shared their parchment prison with a green chili of the most subtle capsicum heat stuffed with a delicate mousse of ling cod. Outside the package was a small dish of crunchy sweet-tart Japanese pickled vegetables that provided a delightful and refreshing contrast. Tojo chose an excellent wine as a partner to his dish – the 2007 Riesling from Mission Hill Family Estate winery in the Okanagan.

Our Vancouver gold medallist was Frank Pabst, chef at Blue Water Café. His dish was a bold one, involving the (for some guests) challenging flavour of local red sea urchin. Chef Pabst mitigated the pungency by turning the urchin meat into a mousse blended with sweet Qualicum Beach scallop, glazed with a fine ponzu jelly. Beneath the mousse was a crunchy, refreshing salad of chopped wakame seaweed and leek. Beside it was a cloud of cucumber vichyssoise foam, its ethereal texture in contrast to the distinctive cucumber flavour, and on top of the foam lay a semi-translucent white pearl of sake and yuzu liquid jelly. A nori crisp. Brittle and tissue-thin, provided a different texture. The judges felt the wine match – Sumac Ridge Winery’s sparkling 2001 Pinnacle from the Okanagan – was one of the most successful in all the years of competition.

Chef Pabst now goes on to compete in the Canadian Culinary Challenge in February 2009 – three days of gruelling gladiatorial gastronomy to be held at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.

James Chatto
National Culinary Advisor
Gold Medal Plates