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.
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.
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.