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.