The Gold Medal Plates team blew into Saskatoon on Saturday, knowing that we had a sell-out crowd of 550, a great venue at the TCU Centre and an irresistible show to offer with Jim Cuddy and Anne Lindsay, Barney Bentall and Colin James providing the music. Comedian Ron James was in very fine form, keeping the audience in stitches (plenty of whispers of “I can’t believe he said that!” amidst the laughter). Saskatchewan’s own superstar Olympian Catriona Le May Doan emceed the second half of the evening and interviewed gold medallist Alexandre Bilodeau on stage. By then the crowd was feeling very well fed but none of us on the team knew how the auction might go. In the end, it was the most successful evening in Gold Medal Plates’s history and by a wide, wide margin as around $400,000 was raised.
I was just as happy where the food was concerned. Our ten chefs came from Regina and Prince Albert as well as Saskatoon, making this a true representation of Saskatchewan and it’s one million population. And I was thrilled to see and taste a huge range of local product from farmed steelhead trout to lentils, black pansy syrup to haskap to the world’s best wild chanterelles, awesome lamb to local venison, wild boar and duck.
Our bronze medallist was Chef Anthony McCarthy of the Saskatoon Club. He braised Berkshire pig cheeks to the point of tenderness and sauced them with the braising liquid and a pork demi-glace made from the pig’s bones. The lean meat stood beside a small and elegant pirozhki filled with a purée of semi-dehydrated Prairie Sensation apples, touched by a subtle hint of black truffle. A fava bean purée added lovely colour to the plate and a delicate apple cider cream picked up the flavour of the pirozhki. Chef had twisted a very crisp, lightweight strip of crackling into the Q of a pig’s tail and the dish was finished with a couple of perfect little golden chanterelles foraged in the Whitefox area by a gentleman called Lorne Terry. “Call it ‘pork and beans,’” said McCarthy. So we did. The wine was a good match – the dry, aromatic 2008 Pinot Blanc from Peller Estates in B.C.’s Okanagan valley.
The silver medal was awarded to Chef Ryan Marquis of the Delta Bessborough hotel in Saskatoon. Front-and-centre on his plate stood a hen’s egg shell filled with a spectacularly luxe foie gras crème brûlée that many of the judges deemed to be the single most delicious item of the evening. Beside it stood a big square-cut slab of smoked pork belly with a maple molasses glaze and more dots of the black, deeply flavoured glaze decorated the platye. A stripe of parsnip purée and a crisp parsnip chip represented the vegetable kingdom. Chef’s wine choice worked well – the awesome 2008 Nota Bene from Black Hills winery in the Okanagan, British Columbia.
Taking the gold medal by a unanimous decision of the judges was Chef Dan Walker of Weczeria Food and Wine in Saskatoon, by far the smallest restaurant in the competition. His strip of wild boar belly was perfectly textured – crisp where it needed to be, unctuous elsewhere, and richly flavoured. An almost undetectable scattering of crumbled pecans added an extra dinension. Beneath the belly we found some pulled leg meat from the boar, moist and sapid from a well-seasoned marinade. Two purées – one of carrot, the other of jerusalem artichoke – were delightfully lightweight but also full of flavour, matched by crisps made from the same vegetables. Two soft, pan-fried potato gnocchi were exemplary in texture and useful for mopping up a finishing flourish of green herbal oil. The winning wine was a great match – a wine that has already captured gold elsewhere in this year’s campaign – Rockpile 2008 from Road 13 winery in the Okanagan.
So our first venture into Saskatchewan was an unparalleled success in every way. Chef Walker will be coming to Kelowna in February and it’s fascinating to see that competition beginning to take shape now that four of our champions have been chosen.