Archive for November, 2011

Easton’s charcuterie + Lillet Rouge = *

27 Nov

Easton's - a meaty new star in the Market

A new store opened in Kensington Market about six weeks ago – Easton’s Charcuterie and Prepared Foods. It’s the brainchild of Derek Easton, formerly one of the team at Sanagan’s Meat locker, just around the corner on Baldwin, and its purpose is to provide the neighbourhood with an impressive variety of local charcuterie, artisanal deli meats and a superior line of house-made prepared foods. A veteran cook who worked at Mistura and Auberge du Pommier before specializing in meats, Easton has exactly the personal connections to find smashing product and, judging by the line-up at the till this afternoon, he has also found an eager clientele.

What does he offer? A couple of dozen different kinds of charcuterie to begin with, including real Parma prosciutto, Spanish chorizo and real, spectacularly delicious, garnet-coloured Serrano ham, all at bargain prices. Other treats, including gently spiced soppressata, pungently salty smoked duck prosciutto, wild boar prosciutto and richly flavoured venison sausage, come from Seed to Sausage, a small company north of Kingston, together with a wide range of the excellent salumi from Romagna Mia restaurant right here in Toronto.

Today's charcuterie - click on the blackboard to read it

Easton also makes super sandwiches (a brisket melt looked awfully tempting) and his partner, Jade Kay Pollack, provides a range of ready made South East Asian curries plus invaluable basics such as duck fat, veal demi glace, vegetable stock, duck confit, and many other delights. Jars of Bumpercrop preserved vegetables and pickles from McClure, out of Detroit, will also pry the coin from your pocket.

And what should one drink with this array of carnivorous treasures? I stumbled upon a most successful pairing – Lillet Rouge on the rocks. Lillet, of course, is that vermouth-like elixir from Bordeaux, best known for its white version (a key component of the Vesper, James Bond’s original Martini from Casino Royale). The red is just as delicious, mildly herbal, verging on sweet, tasting of red fruits shot through with bitter orange and a hint of quinine.

Somehow it works remarkably well with the charcuterie, zeroing in on the spicing in the sausages while supporting the natural sweetness of the meats and using its citrus element to soothe the saltiness. Lovely stuff.

Easton’s is at 61 Kensington Avenue, 416 518 0051. Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday noon to 6 p.m., closed Mondays.


Le Kensington Bistro

23 Nov

Burger Bar's lamb burger (not available at Le Kensington Bistro)

This is a picture of a fabulous lamb burger from Burger Bar on Augusta in Kensington Market. That’s all I’m going to say about it since I’m writing about Burger Bar for Zoomer magazine, where I have the signal honour to be the new restaurant critic (I urge you to invest in a subscription).

Instead, we will cross the street to Le Kensington Bistro, the new venture by front-of-house guru and sommelier Sylvain Brissonet and chef Jean-Charles Dupoire, who are also co-owners and operators of Loire on Harbord Street. Certainly, Loire is still doing well, and the two Tourangeaux are devoted to their firstborn. But they also tell a tale of how Loire slipped away from their original intention for the place, becoming a tad too posh and educated. Le Kensington is deliberately more “of the market.” So we see Brissonet in jeans (which merits a ! when we remember how proper he was during his years as maitre d’ of Langdon Hall) and Dupoire cooking in a sport shirt instead of chef’s whites (he was much more formal as the wunderkind chef of Epic in the Royal York hotel, once the tallest building in the British Empire).

But casual is the mood in the market, cheri! Behind the yellow façade, La Palette’s old premises have been cleaned and repainted a warm terra cotta but the floor is linoleum tiles, the tables are plain wood and the lighting something less than atmospheric. There are some odd touches that don’t work (Ignore the – I say ignore the kitch Foghorn Leghorn chicken signage and logo, for example) but Brissonet smooths over any cracks in the experience with his welcome and his charm. He’s also responsible for the tiny wine list, literally 13 bottles long – but they are all good wines and available by the glass.

Le Kensington's menu

That chicken logo, incidentally, is to remind the world that this is also a Rotisserie, with Dupoire roasting whole chickens (from St. Andrew Poultry) for only $32 – a take-home bargain since they come with sauce of the day and a lightweight summer ratatouille or succotash or frites.

Another speciality is charcuterie – delicious salami; creamy, smooth-as-satin chicken liver parfait; pork rillettes of a correct and delectable fatty weight and density; salty but exceptionally tender duck breast prosciutto; a sweetish, well-seasoned, slightly gelatinous terrine made from slow-braised oxtail with a nice prickle of horseradish. Boudin noir is a starter in it’s own right – a soft, loose-textured version that isn’t as spicy as, say, David Lee’s version at Nota Bene, but has a beguiling richness that is nicely cut by slices of baked apple and salt crystals.

And how lovely to come across really good skate wing meuniere – a classic version that has just enough walnut butter to make the dish’s point without swamping everything in fat. The juicy fish comes with a scrumptious heap of diced root vegetables, baby red potatoes and wilted spinach.

Desserts didn’t wow me. Poire Belle Hélène (yes, this menu would have seemed perfectl à propos in the 1980s) had fine chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream but the pear itself had a mealy texture. Crepes filled with apple compote and topped with caramel sauce needed more apple and caramel to be truly sinful.

Still – it’s a lovely addition to the Market and the street patio will be much in demand next summer. Prices are great ($22 for a striploin steak frites) and locals already love it.

Le Kensington Bistro and Rotisserie is at 246 Augusta Avenue (a short walk south from College Street), 416 792 9440. Open noon-10 pm, Wednesday to Sunday.



St. John’s Gold Medal Plates 2011

18 Nov

The bronze medal winner from chef Tony Velinov of Bistro Sofia - not at all what it seems

All good things come to an end and the weather finally caught up with us in St. John’s last night as the Gold Medal Plates team blew in for the final gala of the year. But a little drizzle failed to put even the suggestion of a damper on things (they’ve seen worse here) as an exuberant local crowd packed the Convention Centre. And when our event was over we found the rain had stopped and we stepped out into a mild clear night to make our way to the first after-party at the Majestic.

The music is always a particularly important part of our visits to Newfoundland and Labrador and last night we were delighted to hear Jim Cuddy, Anne Lindsay, guitar whizz Colin Cripps and local star Alan Doyle of Great Big Sea. Their rocking blue-grass version of Honkey-tonk Woman had the whole room in an uproar. The trips we auction off fetched Rock-solid prices and the keynote speakers were awesome – especially Catriona Le May Doan and the great Scotty Bowman, who was interviewed beautifully by Seamus O’Regan and received the first of the evening’s several standing ovations.

            On the food side of things, the judges worked hard, as always – an admirable team led by Senior Judge for St. John’s, television, radio and print journalist Karl Wells and including chef and educator Bob Arneil, restaurateur, food consultant and food stylist Kitty Drake, food columnist and all-round gastronomic guru Cynthia Stone, renowned local chef Todd Perrin and last year’s gold medal winner, chef Jeremy Charles. Standards were very high and there was no run-away winner, with only two percentage points separating first, second and third.

            Our bronze medal went – for the first time ever in Gold Medal Plates history – to a dessert. Chef Tony Velinov of Bistro Sofia was the brave man who decided to bring forth something from the sweet kitchen, though more than a couple of guests did a double take before realizing it. What looked like a small burger with fries and ketchup was nothing of the sort. The bun was soft sesame cake, the slice of cheese was firm apricot jelly, the patty was a disc of stiff chocolate mousse and the fries were crunchy sable biscuit, perfect for dipping into the tart raspberry ketchup. The only component of the dish that really was what it seemed were the rashers of crispy bacon in the “burger” but they had been candied. Indeed, the salty bacon worked beautifully with the chocolate and added a new level of sophistication to the whole witty idea. Chef Velinov’s wine match worked nearly perfectly – the Peller Estates sparkling Ice Cuvée, a lively bubbly sweetened with a dosage of Icewine.

Chef Chris Chafe of Magnum and Steins won the silver medal with four cuts of lamb

            Our silver medal went to Chris Chafe, a talented young man of 24 who is chef at the veteran St. John’s establishment, Magnum and Steins. He worked with lamb, offering four different cuts and four different cooking methods. First there was a thick slice of a soft, caseless lamb sausage – something like a muergez – made from the shoulder and smoky roasted red pepper. It crowned a mound of creamy celeriac purée. Beside this we found some of the pulled leg meat of the lamb, moist and well-seasoned, set on a tiny round of toasted focaccia, a raft it shared with caramelized onion, a herby ragout of chanterelles and a partially dried tomato. A nicely frenched lamb chop was the third element, cooked rare and full of flavour, set over a hillock of what chef called “risotto” but was really finely chopped potato in a creamy, parmesan-spiked sauce. The fourth lamb moment was a crisp fried raviolo filled with osso bucco. Scattered over everything, adding colour and tang were glistening red beads of “caviar” made from the wine Chef Chafe chose – the terrific Van Bers Vineyard 2008 Cabernet Franc from Tawse winery in Niagara.

Goat brought hom the gold for chef Mike Barsky of Bacalao


 Our gold winner was a chef who has really been building his approach over the last two years of Gold Medal Plates St. John’s – Mike Barsky from Bacalao. He chose to work with local goats, putting no fewer than 11 separate components on his plate. Slices of the seared loin were the major element, the meat rare, juicy and admirably tender, dressed with a classic demiglace of red wine and partridgeberries. A goat rillette was crusted with pank crumbs and fried to create a scrumptious little croquette the size of a loonie. Beneath it was a spoonful of smooth, creamy mousse made from the goat’s brains. Two slices of pickled goat tongue were propped up against brussels sprouts petals. There was a comma of bright yellow saffron goat-milk pudding and some crunchy crumbs of crumbled goat cheese sablé. Two dots of goat curd vinaigrette stood apart from the well-composed arrangement, matched by two perfectly turned spheres of turnip. All in all, it was an amazingly labour-intensive offering but it ate beautifully, paired with the Pinot Noir Reserve from Pelee Island Winery.

            So, Mike Barsky now joins a potent line-up who have until February to prepare for the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna – Michael Dacquisto from Winnipeg, Jean-Philippe Saint-Denis from Montreal, Mike Dekker from Calgary, Jan Trittenbach from Edmonton, Rob Feenie from Vancouver, Anthony McCarthy from Saskatchewan, Jonathan Gushue representing Toronto and Marc Lepine from Ottawa-Gatineau. I’m already pondering what fiendish items to hide in the black box for that part of the competition – and I’m sure David Lawrason has an idea of what the mystery wine will be… It’s going to be extraordinarily good fun.

And here is David Lawrason’s wine report from St. John’s – very aptly titled, in my opinion.

St. John’s Wine Report – The Party         by David Lawrason

With fewer chefs (only eight competed) and less access to Canadian wines from the mainland, the wine component of Gold Medal Plates St. John’s was clearly not as strong as in other cities. But there was plenty of it consumed, along with Molson’s M beer as St. John’s turned out to party.

Several chefs sought my help in finding pairing partners, but I would like to defer to and thank St. John’s GMP Chairman Scott Giannou of Beverage World for his help in co-ordinating so much of the wine presence, as well as donating the Moonlight wines by Andrew Peller to the Celebration and Awards portion of the evening

I was joined by two of Newfoundland’s most prominent wine palates to find our Best of Show Wine Award. Local wine connoisseur Tom Beckett of Beckett on Wine is widely known as one of the most experienced palates on the Rock. Stephen Delaney is a former area rep for the Opimian society who writes a wine column for the St. John’s Telegram. It was my first time working with these two gentlemen and I was impressed by their fastidious note taking and rating of the wines.

Our opinons on the best wines lined up well, with a unanimous choice of Tawse 2008 Van Bers Vineyard Cabernet Franc as Best Wine of Show. From an organically farmed vineyard just on the escarpment downslope in the Twenty Mile Bench this was impressive indeed with much more richness and depth than expected from the vintage. Second place was awarded to the complex, firm Le Clos Jordanne 2008 Village Reserve from Niagara, and third spot went to the very well balanced off-dry Andrew Peller Ice Cuvee sparkler.

The wine that accompanied the Gold Medal winning chef Michael Barsky’s inventive goat-inspired dish was Pelee Island 2009 Pinot Noir Reserve, a quite successful match. Other chef-paired wines included Henry of Pelham Cuvee Catharine Brut, Peninsula Ridge 2008 Chardonnay Reserve and a delicious Eric’s Cream Ale from St. John’s Quiddi Vidi Bewery.

And that was a wrap – nine cities almost 100 wines and beers later. It was a fascinating tapestry of Canadian wining and dining.









Ottawa-Gatineau Gold Medal Plates 2011

15 Nov

Marc Lepine's dish, hidden beneath a fin of crisp celeriac paper, won gold in Ottawa

Warm sunshine in November, and Ottawa looked particularly stately and welcoming. Last night, we returned to the National Arts Centre for our Gold Medal Plates event (long ago sold out with around 500 attendees). Bidding was gratifyingly brisk during the live auction, the energy levels spiked by inspiring musical performances from Jim Cuddy, Anne Lindsay and local star Kathleen Edwards. I love how the configuration of the NAC lets the chefs’ brigades watch the stage during the second half of the evening, lining the balcony and grand staircase for the best view in the house.

Mixologist Dave Mitton from the Harbord Room in Toronto travelled with us to demonstrate some superb cocktails. This time I tried his awesome Pear & Cinnamon Sour made with Alberta Premium rye, cinnamon syrup, fresh pear puree, egg white and freshly grated nutmeg. Thick, rich but also refreshing, it was subtly fruity and tingled with the flavours of Christmas spices.

The judges have a private room of their own at the NAC (out of space-management necessity rather than choice) but it allowed us unusual freedoms in our discussions and commentaries. Senior Judge for Ottawa-Gatineau, Anne DesBrisay, led the team, ably abetted by author, educator and celebrity chef, Pam Collacott, author and Canadian culinary ambassador, Margaret Dickenson, by Judson Simpson, who is executive Chef at the House of Commons and National President of the Canadian Culinary Federation, and by last year’s Ottawa-Gatineau champion, Chef Michael Moffatt of Beckta Dining & Wine.

Charles Part's treatment of local lamb took the bronze medal

It was our shared opinion, as the evening progressed, that the city had really raised its game this year. Most dishes were decidedly complex, and all of them looked sensational. But while we do award marks for imagination and presentation, we award more for taste: flavour even edging texture on our scorecard. Our bronze winner had flavour in spades, a dish from a previous gold medallist, Charles Part of Les Fougères in Chelsea, Quebec. He began with lambs from Berg en Dal farm, 25 minutes from his restaurant, roasting the little tenderloins to pink perfection, making a sausage from the fatted shoulder meat and minced roasted red pepper and slow-braising the shank, neck, rib and leg meat. This tasty mix of meats was stirred up with dreid cranberries and a touch of preserved lemon then wrapped in bright green spinach leaves. The lamb bones were turned, over several days, into a delectably savoury jus that underpinned all three elements. Sharing the plate were soft shards of fennel and red onion, a stripe of silky fennel purée and a little rampart of alternating dice of salty, pungent preserved lemon and creamy ewe’s-milk feta from Folies Bergères. There was fennel seed and tarragon in there too, but the taste of the lamb sung through it all. The wine? Chef Part surprised us all by pairing the dish with a white – a minerally, judiciously oaked 2009 Chardonnay from Norman Hardie in Prince Edward County: it worked particularly well with the lemon and fennel flavours.

Caroline Ishii won silver for the second year in a row

Our silver medal, for the second year in a row, went to Caroline Ishii of Zen Kitchen, a vegetarian restaurant and one of Ottawa’s finest. Chef Ishii described it as dedicated to the memory of her mother’s home cooking when she was growing up in Japan – and also to the flavours of the fall. It was a dish of many components: a pan-fried gyoza dumpling stuffed with chopped shiitake and oyster mushrooms and a little kimchee beside a smear of subtly spiced “Japanese curry” sauce; a “lollipop” of rich, soft, grilled eggplant, salty and sweet beneath its yuzu-Asian pear dengaku sauce; a sturdy grilled onigiri rice cake folded around a stripe of shiso-umebochi pesto; a chunk of roasted kabocha squash with an apple-butter miso glaze; a most beautiful crimson square of tissue-thin pickled watermelon radish; a final garnish of a crispy wheel of lotus root dusted with matcha-wakame salt; and three dots of very spicy persimmon-mango-habanero hot sauce for those who wanted to turn up the heat. As I said, a complex dish with masses of autumnal flavours going on, but Ishii’s refined aesthetic made a harmony out of all the flavours. Her wine was a personal favourite of mine, Cave Spring Cellars’s 2009 Chenin Blanc, its lovely intensity reaching in and through the exotic ingredients.

Our gold medallist was competing for the third time, though he had never reached the podium before – Marc Lepine of Atelier, a young chef renowned as Ottawa’s master of molecular cuisine. In the past, his dishes have seemed overly intellectual to some of the judges. Last night, he tempered his tastes a tad to please the crowd as much as astonish it – and the move paid off. At the heart of the dish was a perfectly seared Qualicum Beach scallop, gilded by the pan but trembling and opalescent at its heart. It basked in a thick, smooth purée of truffle-scented, aerated potato that hid the treasures beneath its surface – smooth, slippery pickled chanterelles, bacon and fennel, two crispy chorizo meatballs, celery that had been compressed with sambucca, a secondary sauce of lemon thyme and shallots… The flavours were well-judged in their intensity and I began to enjoy the realisation that I had no idea what I might find under the scallop. Across the top of the bowl (by serving it in a bowl, Chef Lepine made sure that we would eat the dish as he wished, tasting many things on each forkful instead of analyzing every separate element) across the bowl he set a crisp yellow paper that crumbled into shards and was made, by I know not what kind of monkey business, out of celery root. It was dabbed with caviar and white powdered bacon that tasted of maltose. As a final flourish, Chef squirted an atomizer of sambucca and lemon verbena over the top of the dish. His wine was one of many Chardonnays chosen last night – a delicious 2009 from Hidden Bench Vineyards in Niagara that played beautifully with the scallop.

And so it only remains to finish our campaign in St. John’s on Thursday then our table will be set for the big game in Kelowna next year. Good luck to all our valiant contenders.

Here is David Lawrason’s wine report from our Ottawa-Gatineau event:

A White Wine Tour de Force

The chefs of the nation’s capital were part of a country-wide trend in choosing predominantly white wines to match their creations. There were only three reds poured. All but one of the wines were from Ontario, so again riesling figured heavily on the menus, along with chardonnay. And the pairings with the white wines were quite bold with two of them matched to meat dishes.

I was joined on the judging panel by two prominent local wine experts. Rod Phillips is the wine columnist for the Ottawa Citizen, the author of several wine books and judges several competitions. Janet Dorozynski is Wine Advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and standing judge for the Canadian Wine Awards. Both teamed up to create the Ottawa Wine Challenge, a competition for wines poured at the Ottawa Wine and Food Festival which ended the day before our GMP event. So thanks to Rod and Janet for staying the course!

The judging for Best of Show Award was not as easy as in other cities, with no unanimous choices. But with Painted Rock 2010 Chardonnay from British Columbia receiving two first place votes, it was the winner. Things became even closer thereafter, with Hidden Bench 2009 Chardonnay taking second spot, and Chateau des Charmes 2007 Old Vines Riesling in third. Hidden Bench Chardonnay was also paired with gold medal winning chef Marc Lepine of L’Atelier.

The other chef-paired wines included: Trius 2010 Cabernet Franc, Angels Gate 2010 Gewurztraminer, Cave Spring 2009 Estate Chenin Blanc, Ravine 2010 Sand and Gravel Chardonnay, Norman Hardie 2009 Niagara Chardonnay, Huff Estates 2007 Merlot-Cabernet (drinking beautifully) and Lailey 2010 Pinot Noir.

The Celebration wines were an exact duplication of those poured in Toronto, so many thanks again to Tawse, Malivoire, Trius and Black Hills for their exceptional generosity in supplying two cities. In the VIP Reception guests enjoyed the slender, refreshing L’Acadie Vineyards 2008 Brut Prestige sparkler.



Toronto Gold Medal Plates 2011

10 Nov

Jonathan Gushue decorated his station with splendid produce from Langdon Hall's garden

Last night saw the much-anticipated Toronto Gold Medal Plates gala unfold at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre for a huge and glittering crowd. The British theme was greatly in evidence, especially during the VIP reception where last year’s champion, Frank Dodd, rose to the occasion with four separate stations representing (most deliciously) Wales (Welsh cakes), Scotland (deep fried miniature “Mars bars”), Northern Ireland (wee cones of colcannon) and England (a spectacular “breakfast broth” of bacon, egg and mushrooms in a demitasse of delectable consommé).

This year we were delighted to welcome Patrick MacMurray of Starfish as a non-competing chef. He too followed a British theme, bringing superb oysters from the U.K. including great plump beauties from Mersey Island in Essex. The judges had to be dragged from his station when the time came to sit down to work.

We had the strongest line-up of chefs ever assembled in Toronto and the most gloriously decorated stations we have ever seen. Dave Mitton of The Harbord Room is our guest mixologist for the cities of the east, creating unique cocktails to showcase our three Canadian artisanal spirits – Iceberg vodka from Newfoundland and Labrador, Victoria gin from B.C. and Alberta Premium rye from Alberta. Dave also happens to be President of the Ontario Chapter of the Canadian Professional Bartenders Association and last night he was very ably assisted by renowned local colleague, Scott Mochrie. I sampled one of his offerings – the Old Fashioned Vic, made by muddling orange and lemon zest with Dave’s own cherry-vanilla bitters and simple syrup. Gin is added, the mixture is stirred over ice and then strained to be served straight up with an orange twist. I thought it was a great cocktail, the citrus nicely underpinning the subtleties of the gin.

Thus fortified, I made my rendezvous with the other judges. Our gallant posse was led, as ever, by Senior Judge Sasha Chapman, food writer, editor and now senior editor at The Walrus magazine; celebrity chef and author Christine Cushing; chef and educator extraordinaire, John Higgins; author, broadcaster and Canada’s gastronomical guru Anita Stewart; author, food editor and trusted columnist with the Globe and Mail, Lucy Waverman; and last year’s Toronto Gold Medal Plates champion, Frank Dodd of Hillebrand Estates in Niagara. A formidable bench indeed. Which was just as well, because the standard of the dishes set a new gastronomical high with five of them jostling for the podium. In the end, and after considerable debate, we reached unanimity.

The bronze medallist - Chef Michael Steh of Reds

Our bronze medal was awarded to chef Michael Steh of Reds Bistro and Wine Bar, who also medalled last year. He called his dish “Bacon” but as he explained when he introduced it, there was no bacon or pork of any kind in any of the three elements on the plate. They were inspired by bacon and they alluded to it in their textures and flavours and especially with a bold use of three different kinds of smoke. The first element was a slice of fresh brioche with a smooth, creamy scallop mousse at its heart. On top lay three rashers of oak-smoked duck breast, cooked sous vide to an enchanting tenderness. Beside that was a shot glass of rich, tangy cheddar-and-sweet-onion soup topped with a crispy, tissue-thin tuile of apple that had been cured with spruce, chili, pepper, garlic and salt and then cold-smoked over applewood. The third component was a hollowed egg shell partly filled with a soy-lavender egg custard, slivers of northern kiwi, finely chopped riesling jelly with a lively and fruity acidity and some shards of “coconut bacon,” a fabulous notion involving curing coconut with salt and pepper and then smoking it over hickory wood. Chef Steh’s chosen wine, a glory in its own right, stood up to these bold flavours beautifully – Chateau des Charmes 2008 Old Vines Riesling from Niagara.

Silver for Chef Rob Gentile of Buca

Our silver medal went to chef Rob Gentile of Buca who chose to work with goose. He cured the breast with salt, cinnamon, cloves and orange rind for 24 hours then sliced it incredibly thinly, setting the ruby meat like carpaccio on the plate. Perched on top was a single, perfect tortello of soft, delicate pasta filled with a tangy, well-seasoned mixture of the goose offal and chopped porcini mushrooms. The more technically minded judges marvelled at the skill with which the chef timed the tortelli for 750 people! Texture was added with fragments of crispy goose skin, crumbled hazelnuts and crisply fried rosemary leaves. Two sauces ringed this beautifully composed and harmoniously unified creation, one a vincotto reduction of the chosen wine, the other a bright yellow emulsion of Peking duck egg. Chef gentile’s wine hit all the right notes, particularly with the goose offal and breast – the 2010 Merlot from 13th Street Winery in Niagara.


Exquisitely yummy - gold for Jonathan Gushue of Langdon Hall

Our gold medallist, who won silver two years ago, was Jonathan Gushue from Langdon Hall. I don’t recall tasting a more elegant and refined dish at any previous Toronto GMP event. It looked like a tiny salad – almost a garnish – in the bottom of the plate, but there was a miniature world of flavour to be found. Chef had used many ingredients from Langdon Hall’s garden including the dish’s principal component, Brussels sprouts. He had separated the sprouts into tiny, perfect leaves, tossing them for 30 seconds in warm butter and then using them as dainty bowls for a number of treats – a quarter-teaspoon of the yolk of a duck egg, hard-boiled and grated almost to powder, another little scattering of the egg white, treated in the same way; and three dabs of smoked trout caviar bringing salt and richness. Little crisps of fried black salsify from the garden were tucked in amongst the Brussels sprout petals. Beneath them we discovered preserved oysters – Virginias from Nine Mile Creek in PEI that Chef Gushue had prepared sous vide for 10 minutes with leek, cold-pressed canola, pine, cider vinegar and sea salt – extraordinarily delicious! Beneath them was a silky purée of white salsify and apple. Scattered over the top were pungent chives and calendula petals. It was a dish that caused innumerable oohs and aahs from the judges as they discovered its Lilliputian treasures. It was also the wine pairing of the evening with the 2009 Fume Blanc from Organized Crime Winery in Niagara.

The line-up for the Canadian Culinary Championship next February is almost complete – just Ottawa-Gatineau and St. John’s to go. It promises to be a spectacular competition!

David Lawrason now provides his wine report of the event:

Toronto Wine Report 2011 – Wineries Bring Their A Game

Toronto chefs brought their A game to the Metro Convention Centre, and so did Canada’s wineries. It was the best collection of wines, all from Ontario, of the 2011 Gold Medal Plates season, complemented by two very fine beers from Beau’s and Mill Street. And although we wine judges were not officially voting for a best match, I did find the level of wine pairing skill very high as well, at the same level of expertise as Vancouver. We were unanimous in picking the Gold Medal-winning dish by Jonathan Gushue of Langdon Hill and Organzied Crime 2009 Fume Blanc as the best match of the evening.

For the Best of Show wine judging I was joined by two colleagues from John Szabo, Canada’s first master sommelier, is a writer for several publications and a judge at the Canadian Wine Awards. Most recently he has been contracted to create the wine program at Toronto’s Trump Hotel. Sara d’Amato is a sommelier as well, currently raising a young family and writing for several publications. She too has judged the Canadian Wine Awards.

In a tough field our Best of Show wine was a slam dunk. Chateau des Charmes 2008 Old Vines Riesling has won several other awards as well, including gold at the Canadian Wine Awards and White Wine of the Year at the Ontario Wine Awards. It is deep, rich and powerful. The refined, rich, layered Status 2008 White placed second, with refined and nuanced Tawse 2009 Laundry Vineyard Cabernet Franc ranking third.

The Tawse Cab Franc was one of several generously poured for the VIP reception and Celebration and Awards portions of the evening. From Nova Scotia we enjoyed a delightful sparkling Cremant from Blomidon Estate Winery. Malivoire’s sumptuous, elegant 2008 Moira Chardonnay graced the Awards portion along with the fine, surprisingly complex Trius Brut, and the smooth, young Black Hills 2009 Syrah.

Other wines donated for the Chef Pairings included: Henry of Pelham 2010 Riesling, 13th Street 2010 Merlot, Closson Chase 2009 Churchside Pinot Noir, Hidden Bench 2008 Terroir Cache, Niagara College 2007 Dean’s List Meritage, Mill Street Organic Helles Bock and Beau’s Night-Marzen Oktoberfest Lager.




Saskatchewan Gold Medal Plates 2011

07 Nov

Ecstasy on the podium in Saskatoon - thanks to CJ Katz for this image!

Sophomore years can sometimes feel like the morning after… Not in Saskatoon! Gold Medal Plates took over spacious Prairieland Park for our second-ever Saskatchewan event and it was a fabulous triumph any way you look at things – from the mind-boggling amount of money raised to the mood (very high energy but eagerly attentive) and the VIP reception – but especially to the excellent food. Chefs from Saskatoon, Regina and Prince Albert really lifted the bar high above last year’s mark and set the room abuzz with admiration. Speed-skating immortal Catriona Le May Doan was the MC, eliciting great stories from the pack of Olympic and Paralympic athletes who paraded onto stage. Excellent, get-up-and-dance music was provided by Jim Cuddy, Barney Bentall, Anne Lindsay and the inimitable Alan Doyle. And, once again, Hailey Pasemko, mixologist extraordinaire from Nita Lake Lodge in Whistler, produced her stunning cocktails. Her Victoria gin-based G.B.G.V. (Victoria gin, fresh grapefruit juice, fresh lemon juice, vanilla and basil) particularly caught the city’s fancy (the basil leaf and vanilla syrup really lift this cocktail to dizzying heights) but all three of her creations ended up as the talk of the town. A huge thankyou to Hailey for travelling with us, working so hard, squeezing a hundredweight of citrus in every city and generally thrilling the cities of Western Canada with her luxe textures and layered flavours.

Trevor Robertson's bronze medal dish

            This was indeed a night to remember for chef Trevor Robertson of the Radisson Hotel, Saskatoon, who won the bronze medal. He chose to prepare a “deconstructed osso bucco,” slow-braising the meat but leaving it juicy and rich as well as superbly tender, carefully removing the bone and then rebuilding the boneless shank inside a sheath of cawl fat. He removed the marrow from the bones, turned it into a creamy foam then piped it back into the bone which became a second element on the plate (somehow, “whipping” the marrow made it seem less heavy but every bit as rich). The third component was a crisply fried arancino ball of toothsomely textured Italian rice pressed around a spicy Italian sausage that was in turn filled with a heart of buffalo mozzarella. An asparagus mousse panna cotta with a rosemary cream sauce continued the Italian theme. The final touches were a dab of roasted red pepper paste and some cubes of an intense jelly made from the wine Chef Robertson picked. Tangy, fruity, big and delectable, it was the 2007 Nk’Mip Cellars Qwam Qwmt Syrah.

Ryan Marquis's delectable silver medal rabbit

            Our silver medal went to chef Ryan Marquis of the Delta Bessborough hotel, Saskatoon, who also won silver last year. His dish seemed to elevate the level of the competition when the food runners brought it to the judges (as we sat in our splendour in the centre of the great room, our round table spread with scarlet satin and Union Flags in honour of the coming Olympiad). Chef chose to cook rabbit saddle sous vide which left the truffle-scented meat very pale and interesting, juicy and yieldingly tender. Tucked in around the bunny were some perfect, pan-seared chanterelles (Saskatchewan has the best chanterelles in the world – and that’s official), streaks of red beet purée, a pool of intense truffled-balsamic reduction like some supercharged jus, and dots of a pungent green onion emulsion that made all the judges coo. As a kind of post-modernist component, a transparent plastic tetrahedron held a super-creamy cauliflower purée strewn with crimson beads made (by subtle molecular methods) from chef’s chosen wine. There was also a yummy rye and sesame cracker which I used as a spoon for getting the last of the cauliflower parfait out of its gaol. The plates were hot, the parfait chilled, the rabbit warm: Chef Marquis aced the textural component and also the wine match – the smooth, fruity 2008 Adieu Pinot Noir from Le Vieux Pin winery in the south Okanagan: it worked particularly well with the red beet.

Gold for Anthony McCarthy's dish

            Our gold medallist pipped the silver by only a couple of percentage points – though Vancouver has taught us that that can be a substantial margin. Chef Anthony McCarthy from the Saskatoon Club won bronze last year; this time he vaulted over Ryan Marquis to bring home the bacon – or, more precisely, the foie. Chef McCarthy had been planning this dish for the best part of a year, so when the morels were in season last spring he bought a thousand of the biggest and best and froze them with all the care and precision afforded to Walt Disney’s head. He thawed them for us and filled them with foie gras and a brunoise of black winter truffle and coated them in a superfine grinding of last summer’s corn before cooking them off. I loved the texture and the flavour of the morels and the way the molten foie gras squirted out into my mouth. Beside this superlative treat was a sort of agnolotti made with a dense gnocchi-like pasta and filled with slow-braised organic beef, oozed through with some creamy, sweetly blue cambazola cheese that had melted into the forked meat. There was a swipe of supersmooth squash purèe and a token salad-moment of embryonic broccoli and radish microgreens, a stripe of finely minced parsley in oil and a classic demiglace so perfect it would have made Escoffier reach down from heaven and pat Chef McCarthy on the toque, had he been wearing one. The wine was an unusual blend of Cabernet Franc and Syrah from Nichol Vineyards in Naramata – a wine I really enjoyed, especially since it scored a bull’s eye matching with the braised beef and the demiglace. Great work.

            So thank you, Saskatoon! Once again you came to play and to party and to support GMP and our wonderful athletes. Having now eaten my way across Western Canada, I can say that the standards have risen for our competition in every province. I’ve noticed a radical commitment to sourcing local, seasonal and sustainable ingredients, to interpreting those ingredients within every imaginable cultural idiom, to an ever-increasing awareness that wine or beer or a cocktail can be a part of the work of art rather than some kind of front-of-house afterthought. Which leads us, coincidentally, I assure you, into the report about the wines that showed up at our party in Saskatoon. In the words of Gold Medal Plates National Wine Advisor, David Lawrason, it was

 A  B.C. Wine Showcase

The chefs of Saskatchewan presented one of the most stylistically diverse menus of the campaign, so it was no surprise that a broad range of wine styles emerged as well; with all but one being from B.C.  Unfortunately no winemakers were on hand for the pouring, but they were represented by the staff of Cava Wines and Spirits, the only private wine store in Saskatoon, who were well versed in the particular wines they poured.

            For the judging of Best of Show Wine I was joined by Cava owner Cameron Rizos, who acted as an invaluable liaison in getting many of the wines “imported” into Saskatchewan.  And as fate would have it, Cameron was hosting an Australian winemaker Shane McLaughlin who volunteered to judge as well.  No stranger to Canada or international sport, Shane was on Australia’s national rowing team in the nineties, and competed in the Commonwealth games in Canada in 1994. He now makes wine at Canonbah Bridge in New South Wales.

            There was no unanimous decision on the best wine of show but the bright peachy and honeyed Orofino 2010 Riesling from the Simikameen Valley placed in the top three by all three judges. The runner up was Nichol Vineyard 2008 Cabernet Franc Syrah, a stylish, subtle and complex blend that faithfully showed its varietal and regional roots. Third place went Le Vieux Pin 2008 Adieu Pinot Noir, a firm, complex pinot named Adieu because it will be the last vintage – with the vineyard in the south Okanagan being replanted to reds more suitable to the sandy soils and hot climate.

            Other wines donated to the chefs pairings included Tantalus 2009 Riesling, See Ya Later 2010 Gewurztraminer, Laughing Stock 2009 Blind Trust, Haywire 2010 Pinot Gris, Nk’Mip 2007 Syrah, Ganton & Larsen Prospect 2008 Pinot Noir, and finally, the only Ontario wine, Peninsula Ridge 2010 Cabernet Franc Rose.  Le VieuxPin 2008 P’tit Rouge was poured to all during the Celebration and Awards portion of the evening.



Vancouver Gold Medal Plates 2011

06 Nov

Rob Feenie's golden dish

Friday night in Vancouver! The Westin Bayshore hotel welcomed Gold Medal Plates in style and the fabulous weather that we have encountered around the country continued to hold. Stately boats floated motionless in the marina outside the hotel; seagulls drifted across a cerulean sky; the mountains (their peaks dusted with snow) posed with typical B.C. nonchalance. Inside the building, however, all was action. Indeed, as night closed in, the tempo and the excitement built to a pitch that can only be described as wild and crazy. Alan Doyle, Barnie Bentall and friends on mandolin and double bass had the room literally dancing in the aisles with some awesome blue-grass renderings of Rolling Stones songs. MC Marnie McBean was her usual brilliant, irreverend self, dialoguing with the host of Olympic and Paralympic athletes.

            For most of the tight-knit crowd of 550, however, the real drama lay with the gastronomic events of the evening. The line-up of the chefs was formidable indeed – perhaps the strongest in the country. The line-up of judges was equally august, led by Senior Judges Sid Cross and Andrew Morrison, with revered chef and restaurateur John Bishop, chef, author and cracker queen Lesley Stowe, food guru and proprietor of the wonderful bookstore Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks, Barbara-Jo McIntosh, and last year’s Vancouver GMP champion, Chef Robert Clark of C. We needed all our experience and judgement last night!

            I don’t usually mention a fourth place chef in these reports but the other judges were unanimous that I must acknowledge Rod Butters of RauDZ Regional Table in Kelowna. Every ingredient in his dish (except salt) came from within 94 kilometres of his restaurant, including the array of exotic spices he used to create a fascinating collation of goat meat – curried shoulder, a sausage spiked with apricot chutney, the loin rubbed with masala mix, the tissue-thin vegetables… I can’t remember having a dish of goat before at GMP: kudos to chef Butters for his staunch localism and all-round courage.

The bronze dish was so tempting I dug in before realizing i ought to snap a pic...

            Our bronze medal was awarded to Joël Watanabe of Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie. He showed us how to bring pork belly to the ideal texture by cooking it sous vide for 12 hours then finishing it in the pan to give a crispy crust and finally the oven, just prior to serving, so the the layers of tasty fat were almost beginning to dissolve. He paired his pork with a fruit – Asian pear cut into flattened spheres and then poached under pressure with a little of his chosen wine, a process that literally forced the wine into the pear. There were tiny mounds of jellified superior stock for extra meatiness, a jaunty crisp of deep fried crackling on top and a broad stripe of very sticky buckwheat honey and soy sauce, in case any more umame was needed! Chef’s chosen wine, the 2007 sparkling Chenin Blanc from Road 13 Vineyards in Oliver, B.C., was a charming and refreshing counterbalance.

            We have often had close marks determining the colour of medals at GMP – never as close as last night. First and second crossed the finish line together, in a blur of talent, and it was necessary to slow everything down and analyze the numbers and scores from each judge to determine the final winner. Both chefs are highly competitive individuals; either one would have been a worthy champion. In the end, it was an Olympic moment – with gold and silver separated by a mere 0.15 of a percentage point.

The silver medal dish from Dale Mackay - pre broth - so delicious!

            Our silver medal went to Chef Dale Mackay of Ensemble. He set a bowl in a pretty display of Thai herbs and spices and when we peered inside we saw a tangle of fresh herbs, several peeled local spot prawns (amazingly sweet and juicy), some miniature shimiji mushrooms, three or four tiny moments of bok choy, two slices of a Thai sausage made from coarsely chopped pork butt and spiced with kaffir lime, lemongrass, coriander, anise, turmeric and no doubt several other spices. Then chef poured on his spiced broth from a teapot – a rich, meaty, topaz-coloured pork broth with a profoundly layered flavour of all those Thai spices plus a touch of fish sauce for a funky fermented colour on the palate, and a drop of chili oil. Our tongues were left pleasantly tingling by such a subtle, perfectly integrated soup and despite the amount we had to eat last night, the judges were moaning for more. Chef Mackay’s wine was the 2010 Pinot Gris from Laughing Stock Vineyards in Penticton, B.C., aged sur lie so it had nuances of its own and was a pretty good match.

            Taking the gold medal, as he has done before, was Chef Rob Feenie of Cactus Club Restaurants with a dish that was masterful in its balance and technique. Chef arrived at the judges’ table with instructions that we should begin by downing the shot of rich duck consommé he poured into a shot glass over a brunoise of black winter truffle. “As a palate-cleanser,” he explained. On the plate itself, the premier protein was a perfect slice of rabbit leg confit, the delicate but tasty meat lightly pressed together with duck fat, impeccably seasoned and so rich and soft it was beginning to venture into rillettes country. On top of this was a scrumptious ragout of sliced veal tongue, chopped porcini mushrooms and finely diced chestnuts. Brussels sprouts had been chopped and buttered and blessed by minute fragments of applewood-smoked bacon. A squash and brown butter purée pretended it was a vegetable when it was really more of a luxe sauce. Colour and extra texture came from orange-spiked carrots that had been turned into a crisp “paper” and into slippery, ethereal little beads. Chef Feenie’s wine was the 2010 Switchback Vineyard Pinot Gris from Haywire, in Summerland, B.C.

            So we now have five champions to bring to Kelowna next February. The level of talent is jaw-droppingly high. Tonight we stage our event in Saskatoon – and may the best chef win.

 And here is the Wine Report from David Lawrason, GMP’s National Wine Advisor:

Pinot Gris and Riesling in All Their Finery

The wine roster in Vancouver read like an Okanagan who’s who, but to my surprise there were far fewer hefty B.C. reds on display than I would have predicted.  Instead, it was B.C. pinot gris, riesling and sparklers that dominated the show floor and the awards.  And these very fine, elegant wines captured the tone of perhaps the most refined and accomplished food and wine pairings I have experienced so far in the 2011 campaign.

 I was joined for the Best of Show judging by two Vancouver amigos.  Anthony Gismondi of the Vancouver Sun, Gismondi On, is also Editor in Chief of Wine Access, and my co-founder of the Canadian Wine Awards.  Sid Cross is one of the most travelled and accomplished palates in Canada and wine judge for the Canadian Wine Awards.  We tasted eleven wines paired with the chefs plus another two served at the VIP Reception and four wines donated to the Celebration portion of the evening.

 We gave the nod to Best of Show to a spectacular, focused, complex Tantalus 2009 Old Vines Riesling that was impeccably matched to a riesling-inspired creation in by chef Mark Filatow of Kelowna. Our second place vote went to Road 13 2007 Old Vine Chenin Blanc Brut, an intriguingly complex, mature yet very lively sparkler.  We couldn’t decide on third place so we tied the very rich, semi-tropical yet elegant Mission Hill 2010 Martin’s Lane Riesling, and Black Hill’s 2009 Syrah, a particularly tasty red and a promising debut from young vines. It was poured at the VIP Reception.

The Gold Medal For Best Paired wine went Haywire 2010 Pinot Gris, matched to the star dish from Rob Feenie’s Cactus Club. Haywire, from the Okanagan Crush Pad,  is an instant modern classic pinot gris with subtle, layered fruit and a juicy yet refined palate.  The silver medalist paired wine was Laughing Stock 2010 Pinot Gris, a completely different take with pinkish hue and a creamy, subtley oak influenced palate. The Bronze paired wine was Road 13’s aforementioned Sparkling Chenin Blanc – a white wine sweep!

 Other paired wines included: BlackHills 2010 Viognier, Poplar Grove 2006 The Legacy, La Stella 2009 Nine Hundred, and Nichol  Vineyard 2010 Pinot Gris; plus a fine apricot-infused beer from Cannery Brewing and a Schramm Gin Cold Herb Tea martini from Pemberton Distillery.

 Other wines generously donated for the VIP and Celebration portions of the evening include L’Acadie 2008 Brut Prestige from Nova Scotia, Hillebrand Trius Brut from Niagara, Calliope Figure 8 Red by Burrowing Owl, Laughing Stock 2008 Portfolio and Le Vieux Pin 2008 Adieu Pinot Noir.




Montreal Gold Medal Plates 2011

04 Nov

 Gold Medal Plates left the blocks with a double report this year as events were held on the same night in two different cities – Montreal and Winnipeg. Since I was in the prairies, Montreal Senior Judge, Robert Beauchemin, led the adjudication in his city. By all accounts (including his) the dishes were splendid and the marks between third and fourth necessitated a recount they were so close. Here is his eloquent report, for which, Robert, my sincere thanks. Robert writes:

 “The Gold Medal Plates contest opened up to a full house – and a sold-out one – this Thursday, October 27th.  The event was held at the old Gare Windsor, built in 1887 by the American architect Bruce Price, who also did the Château Frontenac in Quebec and the Banff Springs hotel. Incidentally, it is the only train station in North America that is still intact and even the interior, where the event was held, boasted lots of features that are original. As was to be expected the competition was fierce, and as should be predictable from some of the best restaurateurs and chefs in the city, quite high-strung. It seems that the competition is a well-talked-about contest, and a well-respected one as well, considering the stakes.

            “The bronze medalist was Nick Hodge, a native Texan, adopted by both a French-Canadian wife and Montreal as one of the most original chefs in the city. The first restaurant of his is called Kitchenette, a clear reference to the small kitchens that were so prevalent in working-class neighbourhoods around America and from which some of the dishes are inspired. Hodge grew up with Mexican-American and tex-mex dishes. His “carte” is full of such references: chilies abound, tortillas and corn fritters, cilantro, anything-salsas – and all are reinterpreted with a quite formidable technique often tricking us into thinking about the dish without recognising it once it’s in our mouth. His is a surprising, playful cuisine. He also recently opened Icehouse, another metaphor of old-time eateries, where ice was sold alongside beers and small tidbits in wooden shacks. But Icehouse circa 2011 is not a shack, it is one of the most popular venues in the city.

            “The dish prepared by Hodge for the contest was a taco made of crispy chicken skin, at once light and brittle, which he filled with a cleverly prepared BBQ of hand-skinned Kamouraska eels, slowly braised and totally glossy and smooth, with some delicately fiery notes of chilies as punctuation. The taco was almost weightlessly placed on what looked like a sixties-type brown glass ashtray, garnished with green goddess dressing – another redolent idea brought back from the days before ranch dressing was invented, and made of sour cream, fresh herbs and normally anchovies but in his version, sea urchins. The dish was topped with fresh “queso” and some fresh green sprouts. Despite the apparent simplicity, a lot of work goes into such compositions. In the mouth, it was a celebration of wonderfully compatible tastes and notes at once acidic and spicy. The chef proposed a Creemore Springs Premium Lager from rural Ontario to accompany his dish to stunning and cooling effect.

            “The Silver medal went to Danny Saint-Pierre, chef owner of restaurant Auguste in Sherbrooke, possibly one of the best restaurants outside of Montreal. For the competition, Saint-Pierre who was once well-known at the helm of such places as Laloux, and Derrière les Fagots and is regularly seen on TV, decided to tackle a classic Flemish Carbonade of beef, slowly braised in maple and topped with a crusty slice of grilled Alfred le fermier cheese from the Beauce area, and served alongside puréed turnips, topped with a silky and harmoniously blended sauce with crème brûlée overtones, a sauce made of the beer which accompanied the dish, a McEis Scotch ale from Siboire brewery in Sherbrooke: dark, creamy and simply too exquisite to describe. Again, deceptively simple, involving three components, the meat, the veggy and the sauce, and a little “plus” from the cow milk cheese, yet a lovely and tuneful dish.

The golden dish

            “Finally, the gold went to Jean-Philippe Saint-Denis from Kitchen-Galery Poisson (or KGP as it is know in Montreal), a restaurant that specialises in the freshest products from the sea, operated on, distorted, and interpreted with what we can only describe as expert skills. Indeed Saint-Denis proved, again and again, that he is on top, this time with a Vitello Tonnato, the classic Piemontese dish of veal scallops with (ordinarily canned) tuna sauce. But it was anything but banal. Knowing Saint-Denis’s capacity and nerve, we could well expect anything but a slice of meat with a brown sauce. What we got was a dish that reminded one of a cross between Jackson Pollock’s paintings and three star Michelin chef Michel Bras’s inventive dishes. The composition was laid out in apparent chaotic style on a grey slate, revealing both formidable energy and emotion, in a bold architecture of deconstructed elements. Here the base of the slate was covered with a fresh, thinly sliced piece of almost pink and translucent tuna, then slivers of veal tongue, paper-thin, the whole joined together by the accompaniment of radish sprouts, miniature cubes of tomatoes, tiny chunks of fried bread and small but stunningly concentrated cubes of jellified balsamic vinegar. The whole dish was larger than life and contrary to the sort of conceptual dish where the form may take over the content, it was not so. This was an explosion of taste, blunt and elusive, at once a counterpoint of many layers and flavours, bound by a silky light mayonnaise. To wash it all down, again, no wine but a beer, a Saint-Ambroise cream ale from McAuslan brewery, one of the first and still one of the best microbreweries in Quebec. And the match was almost perfect, certainly one of the very best that evening. Among all the other dishes from the other chefs, all without exception were truly clever and competently presented and polished. There is always a lot of work involved and the chefs proved that theirs is not a simple profession and that most are passionate about their job. As a final point, one could detect leitmotivs, in which ingredients came back again and again in many of the ten dishes on competition that night… There always is in that sort of contest. This year, beets, (yes!), beers, pigs and apple! This being Quebec, should one be surprised at any of them ?”            Robert Beauchemin


David Lawrason, Gold Medal Plates National Wine Advisor, was also in Montreal and presents the following impressions of the wines:


Prince Edward County Wines and Quebec Brews Rule  

The kick-off to the 2011 Gold Medal Plates campaign in Montreal unveiled a new Best of Show award designed to bring more attention to the incredible generosity of Canadian wineries, brewers and distillers who provide their products to the chefs, to the VIP Reception and the Celebration portion each event. In each city I am joined by a local expert or experts to judge the wines, beers and spirits on their own merit. The food judges are responsible for assessing the food and drink pairings as part of the overall performance.

In Montreal I was joined by Veronique Rivest of the Gatineau region, twice a finalist representing Canada at the World Sommelier Competition held in Europe, and a frequent contributor to Cellier, La Presse, Wine Access and CBC.  Our first choice for Best of Show was unanimous: the incredibly rich elegant Closson Chase 2009 South Clos Chardonnay made in Prince Edward County. The runner up was not quite unanimous but ranked in both our top three – Norman Hardie 2009 Cabernet Franc, an elegant, layered, light red brimming with fresh currant-berry fruit.  Third place went to Quebec’s own Domaine Le Brome 2007 Vidal Reserve, a very elegant barrel aged, maturing dry vidal. 

Other wines donated to chefs included: Grange of Prince Edward 2010 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc (PEC), Haywire 2010 Pinot Gris (BC). But it was the beers that hauled in the medals when it came to the chef pairings led by Saint-Ambroise cream ale from McAuslan brewery with gold medal winning chef  Jean Philippe St-Denis of Kitchen Galerie-Poisson.  McEis Scotch Ale Glace by Siboire was chosen by silver medalist  Danny St. Pierre of Auguste in Shrebrooke, and Ontario’s Creemore Springs Premium Lager accompanied the recipe of Nick Hodge from Kitchenette.

I would also like to acknowledge the following donations: Nova Scotia’s L’Acadie Vineyards for their elegant 2008 Prestige Brut Sparkling wine, Malivoire 2008 Pinot Noir from Niagara which is being released in Quebec in November, and imported reds including Masi 2010 Bonacosta Valpolicella and Cono Sur 2010 Pinot Reseve from Chile. The last three Celebration wines were very kindly donated by Authentic Wines Quebec.





Edmonton Gold Medal Plates 2011

04 Nov

Edmonton gold medallist Jan Trittenbach of Packrat Louie, positively beaming!

If it’s Thursday, it must be Edmonton – and look over there: the Gold Medal Plates touring team is standing in Edmonton airport by the special carousel for large and fragile items. Jim Cuddy, Barnie Bentall and Alan Doyle of Great Big Sea are waiting for various guitar cases (Anne Lindsay already has her violin case slung onto her back). David Lawrason and I are looking at eight huge and heavy boxes of very fine wines destined for the silent auction. All of us are looking forward to an evening of fun and games in the friendly but always spectacular confines of the Shaw Conference Centre. Gold Medal Plates has a special place in this city’s heart and the crowd of 730 highly enthusiastic connoisseurs were totally involved in the proceedings. Marnie McBean was our MC, chatting on stage with dozens of inspiring Olympian and Paralympian athletes before handing over to the fast-talking local auctioneer and then the musicians. Energy levels were through the roof!

Some of us were in town to work, however. Our roster of judges performed as valiantly as ever. A huge thank you to Senior Judge, Chef Instructor Clayton Folkers; wine, food and travel writer, Mary Bailey; gastronomic consultant and educator, Gail Hall; food writer and style guru Liane Faulder; chef and gastronome Chris Wood; and last year’s Edmonton GMP champion, chef Andrew Fung (who provided an awesome take on Scotch eggs for the VIP reception – miniature pucks of beautifully seasoned duck sausage topped by a slice of hard boiled quail egg over a tangy slaw).

Our bronze dish from Paul Campbell of Cafe de Ville

The quality and imagination of the dishes the chefs offer in Edmonton has grown with every passing year. Last night, with five out of ten of our competitors new to the show, the city once again surpassed itself. The scores were very close between the top four. Taking the bronze medal was Paul Campbell of Café de Ville who worked with Alberta lamb shoulder, braising the meat for eight hours in duck fat then forking it apart, adding basil and rosemary then rolling it in bacon before slow-baking it again. It ended up as a savoury, lamby, densely textured drum folded in the bacon, set over an incredibly smooth, velvety parsnip purée. Perfect little sage and porcini gnocchi hid under a porcini crisp (if Chef Campbell ever decided to mass-produce and market those chips he would be a millionaire) and the sauce was a rich glace de viande reduced from lamb, chicken and beef stocks. The wine match was one of the evening’s most successful – a bold red called Night, vintage 2007, from Ex Nihilo winery in the Okanagan.

Silver for Deependra Singh of Guru

Our silver medallist was Deependra Singh from Guru Restaurant & Bar. South Asian cuisine has taken Edmonton by storm in recent years and the quality of the restaurants is very high – perhaps the best in the country. Chef Singh presented a trio of delights on his plate, starting with a juicy, tender prawn dusted with a subtle clove-and-cardamom garam masala spice mix then lightly battered in chickpea batter and swiftly fried. Beside that was a tiny skewer of exceptionally tender beef tenderloin and sweet pepper, invisibly spiced but beautifully judged so that a tongue-tingling heat slowly grew on the palate. The third element was a bulging little purse of crisp, unexpectedly light pastry, dyed green with spinach, that held gorgeous, finely chopped butter chicken, set in a pool of rich, buttery, tangy makhni sauce. The judges admired the distinct variety and deft levels of spicing, the several textures, the fact that the butter chicken “potli” was served hot. Chef Singh paired his dish with a 2008 Pinot Rosé from Little Straw Vineyards in the Okanagan, a merry mouthful of off-dry fruit that made its own contribution to the experience.


Jan Trittenbach's gold medal dish


Our gold medallist was a chef who has competed at Gold Medal Plates several times in the past and always impressed. Last night he aced it – Jan Trittenbach from Packrat Louie. Meat was front and centre on his dish. He began by braising beef chuck flat in red wine for four hours until the meat was so tender and juicy it could be pulled apart at the touch of a fork. Then he used this beef as a filling for a rolled venison tenderloin, cooked for an hour sous vide to leave it deep crimson and delectably moist and tender. Small purple pools of blackberry gastrique and beet purée were perfect condiments as were tiny mounds of shaved purple and green cauliflower, a refreshing watercress salad in a lemon vinaigrette and a fried sage leaf. The other major presence on the plate was a super little canoli – as crisp as could be – filled with a rich cream of smoked goat cheese and berries with a hint of dark chocolate. It was a bold idea, serving the main course alongside the dessert, as one judge opined, but it worked! So did the wine match – a very small production of 2007 Private Reserve Syrah from Peller Estates in the Okanagan, a wine that reached out to the berries and chocolate but had the structure to flatter the heavenly venison.

So we have another worthy champion to send to Kelowna in February for the Canadian Culinary Championship! Tonight, Vancouver awaits…

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:

Edmonton 2011 Wine Report – Night of the Big B.C. Reds

The three-cities-in-three days western leg of Gold Medal Plates touched down at the massive, terraced Shaw Centre in Edmonton, in a city that came out to play, and drink some great red wines. In the previous three cities the chefs had overwhelmingly gone for white wines and brews, but in Edmonton it seems any season is red wine season.

For the Best of Show Wine Award I was joined by two local pillars of the wine community. Gurvinder Bhatia is a wine columnist for The Edmonton Journal, a Canadian Wine Awards judge and manager of Vinomania, leading Edmonton wnie shop.  William Bincoletto is another wine institution in Edmonton, the chief wine consultant at Vines Wine Merchant (a long time supporter of Gold Medal Plates) and instructor of the Independent Wine Education Guild programs in the city.

The winner was a shoe-in with two first place votes and a second place vote: the beautifully constructed, firm and cellar worthy Le Vieux Pin 2007 Merlot from B.C.’s Okanagan Valley. Second place went to new, creative and very successful layered and fine Road 13 2009 Merlot Syrah.  Third spot went to another iconic B.C. red: Laughing Stock’s 2008 Portfolio – the second time this complex, layered and reserved cellaring red has shown up in the winner’s circle this year.

There were actually many good wines in the room this night – my point spreads were not that far apart. The winning wine wine paired with Gold Medal Chef was Peller Estates 2007 Private Reserve Syrah. Other red candidates included Le Vieux Pin 2008 Pinot Noir, Le Vieux Pin 2008 P’tit Rouge, ExNihilo 2007 Night,  Township 7 2007 Merlot, Lake Breeze 2007 Seven Poplars Pinot Noir.  Other seelctions included the racy Little Straw 2010 Pinot Rose, La Stella 2010 Leggerio Unoaked Chardonnay and Sumac Ridge Steller’s Jay Brut.