Last night’s Gold Medal Plates event in Calgary was another triumph. It looks like we have finally found the perfect venue – the Telus Calgary Convention Centre – and our 700 guests (plus 50 Olympic and Paralympic athletes) had plenty of room to breathe. Speeches were short and pithy, the entertainment (Jim Cuddy, Ed Robertson, Barney Bentall and Anne Lindsay) had the crowd dancing in the aisles, and the food was excellent – continuing the ever-ascending curve of quality in Calgary over the years.
Once again, Hailey Pasemko of Nita Lake Lodge presented her irresistible trio of cocktails featuring three exceptional Canadian artisanal spirits – Victoria gin, Iceberg vodka and Alberta Premium Rye whisky. This time I concentrated on the G.B.G.V., a subtle concoction of Victoria gin, freshly squeezed grapefruit and lemon juices and vanilla syrup, infused with bruised basil leaves and garnished with a grapefruit twist. Layered but curiously refreshing, it allowed the aromatic botanicals in the gin to glow upon the palate.
The supreme court of judges was a powerful one – our Senior Judge in this city, as ever, was writer-broadcaster- educator-and-all-round-food-guru John Gilchrist, together with chef and educator Michael Allemeier, caterer extraordinaire and world-class foodie Susan Hopkins, writer and educator Kathy Richardier, and last year’s champion, chef Duncan Ly, who also dazzled the VIPs at the opening reception with perfectly cooked lamb tenderloin and what looked like sausage rolls but were filled with moist pulled lamb shank meat.
Glancing over the list of dishes in the competition, it seems that foie gras is currently Calgary’s favourite ingredient, featured in six of the ten we tasted. It was not, however, a component of the dish that took the bronze medal, created by chef Justin Leboe of Model Milk Restaurant. He began with delectably creamy hominy grits (ground in-house he explained) flecked with chervil, tarragon and chives. In the middle, he set a spoonful of chopped rock shrimp and the chopped lean meat from a ham hock, sharpened with a gentle vinaigrette. On top of that came two large pieces of a spectacular sausage made from side-stripe shrimp and more ham hock, full of flavour but with a soft, moist texture. Adding scrunch to the dish were fried tapioca shrimp crackers, like crisp little bubbles. It was a dish that hit directly at one’s pleasure centre, as did the well-matched wine – a charming 2010 rosé from Bartier Scholefield in the Okanagan.
Our silver medallist was Jan Hrabec of Crazyweed Kitchen in Canmore who won gold here in 2009. Her dish last night was stellar, exploring south-east Asian flavours and beautifully paired with the fresh, tangily citric Fumé Blanc from Peninsula Ridge Estates in Niagara. Hrabec set a pure, tremblingly tender piece of steamed sablefish over a vibrant peanut nahm jim sauce – a perfectly pitched balance of the sweet, sour and salty made with ginger, garlic, lime, coriander, palm sugar, peanuts and fermented fish sauce. Beside it were cubes of pork belly that had been braised, deep fried, tossed in tamarind and then rolled in lemongrass and chili, lending them a fabulously subtle chili heat that built in one’s mouth. A garnish of chopped herbs and threads of chili finished the dish. The wine was asked to do double duty – cutting the richness of the pork and cradling the delicate fish: success on both counts.
Our gold medal dish was the work of Michael Dekker from Rouge restaurant. He called it a Foie Gras Sundae and that’s exactly what it was, served merrily in a Martini glass with a jaunty poppyseed tuille. A ball of foie gras ice cream perched on top of a layer of candied oats, drizzled with reduced balsamic and strewn with microgreens. Beneath the ice cream was a slice of foie gras torchon, as rich and firm as cold butter. At the bottom of the glass lurked rhubarb compote, its sweet-sharp tang and fruitiness the key to the success of the wine match and indeed of the dish, as one dug down, mixing the different components for each rich and sinful mouthful. Chef Dekker’s wine was the 2008 Cabernet Icewine from Stratus in Niagara – sweet enough, obviously, but also, mercifully, possessed of the necessary acidity to boost the rhubarb and cut through all that sleek, smooth, inscrutable fat.
So we have another winner heading to Kelowna in February! That makes three because on Thursday, while I was busy in Winnipeg, another Gold Medal Plates gala was held in Montreal with the judging presided over by Montreal GMP’s Senior Judge, Robert Beauchemin. I will report on that shortly.
And now, as an added bonus for diligent readers who have got this far, here is the wine report from Gold Medal Plates National Wine Advisor, David Lawrason:
Calgary 2011 Wine Report – White Wines Rule in Cowtown?
The third city in the 2011 Gold Medal Plates campaign was Calgary, and as we moved farther west the number of great B.C. wines increased, with a who’s who of big names from the Okanagan. And there were a surprising number of white wines in the room given we were in Canada’s beef capital.
For the Best of Show Award I was joined for the judging by Jackie Cooke, president of the Sommelier Association of Calgary; and Tom Firth wine writer with Wine Access magazine and a Canadian Wine Awards judge. The winner was Dirty Laundry 2010 Woo Woo Gewurztraminer from BC, a beautifully defined and balanced gewurz donated to Catch restaurant. The runner-up was the impeccable Stratus 2009 Red Icewine from Niagara; followed by Laughing Stock’s 2009 Blind Trust, a modern Bordeaux blend.
Other wines donated to the chefs included: Kettle Valley 2008 Gewurztraminer (BC), Bartier Scholefied 2010 Rose (BC), JoieFarm 2010 Noble Blend (BC), Inniskillin Okanagan 2009 Marsanne (BC), Peninsula Ridge 2009 Fume Blanc (ON), and Black Hills 2010 Viognier.
The following were donated for the VIP Reception and Celebration portions: L’Acadie Vineyards 2008 Brut Prestige (NS), Hillebrand Trius Brut (ON), Le Vieux Pin 2008 Adieu Pinot Noir (BC), Laughing Stock 2008 Portfolio, and the newly released Calliope Figure 8 2010 by Burrowing Owl (BC). Many thanks to all the wineries for making Calgary one of the richest wine cities on the tour.