Archive for October, 2012

Something for Halloween

29 Oct

This intriguing picture is of my daughter, Mae Martin, in dinosaur costume as a guest artiste in a sketch called Turkish Downton Abbey, created by a British comedy troupe and coming soon to a YouTube screen near you. If you’d like to see her latest performance on the BBC tv show, Russell Howard’s Good News, here it is. Just click the screen below. Meanwhile, lonely for her merry company, I’m out on my deck, watching the edges of the megastorm kick into Toronto. The wind blew another tree down on our street this evening but the rain-lashed paper wasps’ nest high on my neighbour’s maple survives, bobbing and swooping back and forth in the gale like a grey basketball, steadfast on its slender bough, seventy feet up in the howling darkness. Savvy animals, those wasps, but I imagine they are feeling a trifle seasick tonight. Serves the bastards right. They tormented us all summer long.



Winnipeg Gold Medal Plates

28 Oct


Triumph on the Winnipeg podium!

Gold Medal Plates burst upon Winnipeg last Friday night with a spectacular show, some superb cooking and a first-class selection of wines and beers. Jim Cuddy and Sam Roberts had the sell-out crowd on their feet, and so did the parade of Olympic and Paralympic athletes, led by Adam Kreek who emceed the evening with his customary energy and charm. Adam was named the first ever recipient of a new award offered by GMP – the Stepping Stone award, honouring athletes who are embarking on a new career after retiring from competitive sport. In Adam’s case, embarking is the appropriate word – he and three friends are rowing from Dakar, Senegal to Miami, Florida in December.

Last year’s Winnipeg event was amazing but this year surpassed it. The chefs’ marks were incredibly close. Three judges had a tie for first place and there was much discussion between us all – Senior Judge, chef and chef-instructor at Red River College, Jeff Gill, writer, broadcaster and producer, Arvel Gray, writer, food critic and co-author of The Manitoba Book of Everything, Christine Hanlon and last year’s Gold Medal Plates champion, Chef Michael Dacquisto. In the end, we reached a contented consensus.

Chef Michael Schafer’s bronze-winning “eggs n bacon”

Our bronze medal went to chef Michael Schafer of Sydney’s at the Forks. He amazed us with a dish of “bacon n eggs” inspired by Japanese notions. There were three separate elements on his plate. The first was a peeled soft-boiled egg, glossy, white and wobbly on the plate, crowned with a crisply fried shiso leaf and a miniature salad of lightly pickled enoki mushrooms and sesame. When we cut into the egg we discovered that the yolk was gone and in its place was a rich, tangy chuka tare sauce that flooded out over the plate until it lapped against the other two elements. Here was a dainty roll of tamagoyaki omelette topped with chopped green onion, morsels of smoked bacon and crunchy red tobiko roe. And over there was a perfect cube of braised pork belly wrapped in crispy potato and touched by a second sauce of karashi mustard. It’s a bold move to use eggs as your major protein – so often a problem for wine – but Chef Schafer avoided that trap by pairing his dish with beer, a fabulous, heavy, bittersweet IPA from Microbrasserie Charlevoix in Quebec called Dominus Vobiscum Lupulus.

Chef Jamie Snow’s brilliant “manitoba on a plate” took silver

Jamie Snow of Amici at Nyakwa won our silver medal with a brilliantly conceived dish he described as “Manitoba on a plate.” At its heart stood a cube of incredibly tender, moist pulled pork from a local Berkshire pig, the meat turned into a terrine to hold its shape though it was as loose and rich as a confit. Chef Snow had crusted it with a crust of hot mustard and puffed wild rice and set it beside a small pond of borscht sauce made by endlessly straining classic borscht vegetables then applying modified tapioca starch to give it a satin mouth-feel without a trace of fat. The surprise was the hit of horseradish in the sauce which worked brilliantly with the pork. Next to the meat was a slender perogy, as tender as could be, filled with nippy white Cheddar cheese, nestled against a dab of crème fraîche. A third, contrasting sauce was a green pea purée spiked with dill and the dish was completed with some pungent pea shoots dressed with cold-pressed Manitoba canola oil. It was a flawless plate, utterly local and matched brilliantly with Bulldog amber ale from Winnipeg’s own Half Pints brewery, the beer’s innate hoppiness nicely brought out by the horseradish.

Chef Osten Rice’s stunning Scandinasian dish won the gold medal

Our gold medal was awarded to Chef Östen Rice of Wasabi Sabi. His dish had a personal narrative, inspired by the gravlax his Scandinavian grandmother used to cure but given a Japanese twist to reflect the style of his restaurant – call it Scandinasian cuisine. Instead of salmon, he worked with butterfish, curing the super-soft, almost creamy raw fish with beet juice that stained a vermilion rim around each slice. Contrasting the texture, he gave us a fresh, crunchy, sweet-tart slaw of julienned Fuji apple and golden beet tossed with a chiffonade of shiso leaf. There was another suggestion of shiso (and more subtle crunch) in the compressed cucumber pieces on the other side of the plate and another pickly moment in the mound of gently marinated sea asparagus. A scrumptious taro crisp with a hole punched out of its middle stood tall in a tiny hill of orange-coloured tobiko roe bound with a beautifully judged wasabi mayonnaise.It was going to take a wine of character to stand up to all those sweet-sour elements but chef found one in the 2010 Gewurztraminer from Gray Monk in B.C., a delicious gewurz’ with the acidity and the lush weight to perfectly balance the dish.

What a great night! And now we have another champion for our rendezvous in Kelowna next February. The competition grows ever more intense.


And now, here is David Lawrason’s wine (and beer) report for the Winnipeg event:

A Hearty Quebec Brew Takes Best of Show

The winner of the Best of Show Award surprised just about everyone because there were some excellent wines presented this night at the Winnipeg Convention Centre, and because we three judges were, after all, wine guys.  But Chef Michael Schafer who served the swarthy, yet impeccably balanced beer from Quebec’s MicorBrasserie Charlevoix, knew it was a winner. Fully called Dominus Vobiscum Lupulus the 10%-strength brew also helped the Sydney’s at the Forks chef earn a trip to the podium for a silver medal. The first runner-up for the Best of Show was a tight, compact and elegant Tantalus 2008 Pinot Noir from B.C., with a very fragrant orange-blossom-scented Gray Monk 2011 Pinot Gris taking the third spot.

The Best of Show Award is way to recognize the contribution of Canadian wineries to Gold Medal Plates, with over 60 donating their wines this year.  In Winnipeg I was joined for the very pleasant judging task by Ben McPhee-Sigurdson, wine columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press and member of the Wine Access Tasting Panel for the Canadian Wine Awards.  And from Banville & Jones, a leading private wine retailer, we were joined by Gary Hewitt, one of the most respected wine educators in the city.

We tasted eight wines or beers this night. The winery that will accompany gold medal chef Östen Rice of Wasabi Sabi to the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna is Gray Monk: their  2011 Gewurztraminer dovetailed beautifully with his complex butterfish sushi creation.  The aforementioned Dominus brew took the silver, and another beer called Bulldog Amber Ale locally brewed by Winnipeg’s Half Pints took third.  Two other pinot noirs garnered favourable comments from the judges, Quails’ Gates powerful, cherry and herb-scented Quails Gate 2010 Pinot Noir, and the more demure, complex Flat Rock Cellars 2010 from Ontario. The bone dry, powerful See Ya Later Ranch 2011 Riesling rounded out the wine roster.

For winning Best of Show, Microbrasserie Charlevoix will receive an inscribed certificate of appreciation and a chance to win a week in Tuscany at Borgo San Felice, the GMP international headquarters at Borgo San Felice in Tuscany.  And Gray Monk moves on to the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna on February 8 and 9.



Calgary Gold Medal Plates

27 Oct

Calgary’s victorious chefs – photo: Alan Chong

Calgary was amazing! What a great party we had on Thursday night with incredible energy in the room, a sold-out crowd who were clearly having a thoroughly good time and a regiment of Olympic athletes who filled the stage. The Van Houtte coffee team was there in force. Jim Cuddy and Barney Bentall rocked the house, accompanied by the very talented singer-guitarist Matt Masters and none other than Theo Fleury, who sang one of his own compositions to great applause. Watching the auction from the wings, it seemed to me that we must have raised a tidy sum for Own the Podium and our elite athletes – the whole purpose of all our fun and games.

Meanwhile, sacrificing themselves to an evening of fabulous food and brilliant booze was our amazing panel of judges led by Senior Judge, author, broadcaster and educator John Gilchrist, accompanied by catering guru and owner of Red Tree, Susan Hopkins, renowned chef, now chef instructor and Food Network star, Michael Allemeier, food writer and editor and publisher of City Palate, Kathy Richardier, and last year’s Gold Medal Plates champion, Chef Michael Dekker. Sitting in splendour on a raised dais in the centre of the room as the dishes and wines were brought to us, we all agreed that this was Calgary’s strongest showing ever.

Chef Duncan Ly’s petite saddle of lamb won the bronze

Winning the bronze medal was a former gold and silver medallist, Duncan Ly of Raw Bar, Hotel Arts. “Things always happen to me on Gold Medal Plates week,” he confided. “Last year my son was born on the night itself; this year, I slipped and fell and knocked myself unconscious!” And indeed, he had a nasty gash on his eyebrow. But it didn’t stop him from performing like a star. His dish was a tour de force of classical technique – a “petite saddle” of lamb which he created by rolling the short loin around some braised lamb shank then wrapping the roll in the lamb’s tender fat cap. He cooked this sous vide then finished it in the pan so the meat was rare but spectacularly tender while the surface was as delectably crisp as the skin of a roast chicken. So much work! It was delicate and subtle, nicely paired with a tangy pearl-onion-and-raisin preserve and a little drum of apple-and-parsnip parfait topped with two postage stamps of goat cheese and a bundle of julienned apple sticks that set the whole dish off beautifully. A sauce of parsnip, apple and parsley mirrored the flavours of the parfait. Chef Ly’s presentation was impeccable and the wine pairing a nifty one – the rich, fruity 2009 Syrah from Sandhill in British Columbia.

Chef Cam Dobranski’s duck pastrami took the silver

Our silver medal went to another chef who regularly reaches the podium in Calgary – Cam Dobranski of Brasserie Kensington. This dish was “totally Cam” according to John Gilchrist – a simple open sandwich that really wasn’t simple at all. Sitting on a slice of baguette was a heap of sliced duck pastrami, very tender and ducky with just a hint of spicing. Alongside it on the bread lay a disc of silky foie gras torchon, its richness enhanced by a judicious suggestion of truffle oil. A chanterelle emulsion picked up the truffle and the duck flavours while a drizzle of excellent Turkish olive oil had its own fruity and soft-spoken comment to make. Topping the sandwich off, Chef Dobranski added a teaspoonful of his own stunningly good orange-peach-lemon marmalade which sent other flavour combinations ricocheting around the palate. His wine was a new discovery for me – a 2011 white blend from Black Hills Estate in B.C. called Cellar Hand White.

Chef Eden Hrabec’s masala-spiced sweetbreads was our gold-medal dish

And so to gold. A couple of years ago, Jan Hrabec, owner-chef of Crazyweed, in Canmore, won gold at the Calgary GMP, ably assisted by her daughter and sous chef, Eden. Last night, Eden Hrabec herself competed for Crazyweed, where she is now chef – and won the gold medal. Her dish was substantial, risky, subtle, clever and delighted all the judges. She chose sweetbreads as her protein and prepared them immaculately, serving a big lobe that was piping hot, perfectly timed and finished in a brown butter sauce spiked with garam masala spices. Beside it was an almost-bubble-and-squeak of smashed baby potatoes and wilted spinach lit up by coriander seed. A sauce of puréed apricots with more delicate masala spices had just enough spicy heat to slip from the sweet to the savoury side of the spectrum and a brunoise of preserved lemon had a sudden pickle-like intensity that brought everything to life. The final touch was a “papadom” that was actually made from crispy chicken skin flecked with black pepper. Chef Hrabec chose an accompanying wine that is a particular favourite of mine – the Alsatian-style 2011 Noble Blend White from Joie Farms in B.C., its weight just what the dish needed.

So, treats all round in Calgary and congratulations to all the chefs who competed. Eden Hrabec is coming to Kelowna in February for the CCC!

And now here is David Lawrason’s wine report for the evening:

Blue Mountain Peaks in Calgary

It was a unanimous and almost instant decision by three experienced Canadian Wine Awards judges – Blue Mountain’s terrific 2010 Pinot Noir is one of those wines that grabs hold at first sip and doesn’t let go. You search the nooks and crannies for weaknesses – a bruised hint of oxidation perhaps, a shard of acetic acid pricking the surface. But there was none of that here; just glorious, perfectly ripened cherry fruit flecked with herbs, stones and spices. So from the opening bell it was a shoe-in for The Best of Show Award in Calgary, and proprietors Jane and Ian Mavety can look forward to an inscribed certificate, and a chance to win a week at Borgo San Felice in Tuscany.

The Best of Show Award is a way to recognize the contribution of Canadian wineries to Gold Medal Plates, with over 60 donating their wines this year. For our walkabout judging of the wines and beers in Calgary I was joined by Tom Firth, a leading wine writer and educator who frequents the pages of Wine Access and other publications. The inimitable Brad Royale is the sommelier for Divino, and wine consultant to Divino and Rocky Mountain Resorts.

The voting for the runner-up positions was much more difficult. This was the strongest field of wines to date in the 2012 campaign, and wineries brought out some big guns to match with the chefs and wow the over 600 guests.   Second place went to Blacks Hill 2010 Viognier, a subtle, elegant, spare wine.  Third place went to Joie Farm 2011 Noble Blend, a very well-crafted blend of several aromatic varieties that has become a staple of fine dining wine lists in western Canada. 

Black Hills, perhaps the leading winery supporter of Gold Medal Plates in recent years, also poured their cracking good sauvignon-semillon blend called Alibi, plus a new wonderfully nuanced and complex blend 2011 Cellar Hand White.  Other delights included Laughing Stock 2009 Portfolio, Mission Hill’s top-rung chardonnay called Perpetua, a delicious, charming Gray Monk 2010 Merlot, the inky, powerful Sandhill 2009 Syrah, and Clos du Soleil’s 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Rose.

At night’s end, as the chefs took to the podium, the wines they matched also received medal hardware. Eden Hrabec of Crazyweed Kitchen in Canmore took the Gold medal paired with Joie Farm 2011 Noble Blend.  Cam Dobranksi of Brassiere/Wine Bar Kensington took Silver paired with Black Hills 2011 Cellar Hand White, and Duncan Ly of Hotel Arts Raw Bar took the Bronze paired with Sandhill 2009 Syrah.

With its gold medal win in Calgary Joie Farm earns a berth at the Canadian Culinary Championship in Kelowna on February 8 and 9.









23 Oct

A towering Thomas of Quinces

Anita Stewart dropped by after Soupstock and gave me a gift of quinces – October’s fruit – gathered from under the tree of a farmer friend of hers. It was a most resonant gift. There used to be a quince tree in the feral garden next to our once-tended-now-equally-feral garden on Corfu. Every October we would pick the golden, downy, rock-hard quinces and bring them home, piling them in a bowl, letting them perfume the house with their un-European, tropical fragrance. You can’t eat a quince from the tree – any more than you can eat an olive. Quinces are as astringent as an unripe persimmon or a too-young Cabernet Sauvignon. They fill your mouth with cotton wool. But roast them in the oven or turn them into a compote, as our neighbours did, and they are heaven itself – luxe, aromatic, like a cross between an apple and a guava. The Portuguese make them into a stiff jelly which they carve into slices to eat with pungent cheese. The Greeks prefer them soft and submissive on the tongue.

Quinces were the Golden Apples of the Hesperides, according to Palinurus. These were the three “apples” that Aphrodite gave to Melanion when he entered the foot-race against Atalanta, the dazzling athlete of her day. The race was a test: win and you won Atalanta’s hand in marriage; lose and you lost your head. Melanion knew he couldn’t beat her but he used the apples as a distraction, tossing one to the side of the track each time the fleet Atalanta caught up with him. I can’t see a regular apple holding that much appeal, but a quince… She retrieves the rolling fruit, lifts it carefully to her nose, closes her eyes, inhales the heady scent… Comes to her senses, sees the cheat has taken the lead and leaps forward again… Melanion won the race – but the marriage, though lusty, was short-lived. While on holiday, the couple felt compelled to have sex in a temple of Zeus and were promptly turned into lions.

Ay me, the quince… the coing, membrillo, marmelata, pyrus cydonia… Set it up with its potently aromatic equals, as Palinurus does – the truffle, the opium poppy, the peyotl bud. He claimed “it only ripens in the south” but these Ontario quinces will make a fine jam, cooked in the way our neighbours on Corfu used to do, back in the day, when the old ways were still remembered. Nitsa had the technique down pat, learned from her grandmother.

To make Nitsa’s Kithoni Gliko, you’ll need 1 kilo sugar and 300 mL water for every kilo of quinces. Also two large lemons and 4 sprigs of arbaroriza (a common herb on the Ionian islands that is only used in this recipe, imparting a flavour somewhere between vanilla and angelica – you could use a few drops of vanilla essence instead. Maybe).

Rub the down off the quinces. Peel and dice them and put them in a bowl with the water. Cut one lemon in half, squeeze it into the water, flick out the pips with the point of a knife then add the squeezed lemon halves to the quince mixture. Let it all soak for half an hour then remove the lemon halves. Tip the quince and the liquid into a heavy pan and boil vigorously for 30 minutes. Stir in the sugar until it’s dissolved and boil for a further 15 minutes. Add the juice of the second lemon and the sprigs of arbaroriza. Boil five minutes more. Remove the arbaroriza. Quinces are very rich in pectin (maybe that’s why the ancestors of Anita’s farmer-friend planted the tree on their land, 100 years ago – to make sure their strawberry or blueberry jam set properly) so this jam will surely set at this point. Nitsa waits for the jam to cool before bottling it. She eats it on bread. I used to stir it into strained yoghurt for a particularly indulgent breakfast in the cool autumn months when the peaches and stone fruits were long gone. We used to swap a jar of our damson jam for a jar of her quince jam, because she had a quince tree and we had damsons. That was the way the world worked in the Ionian islands before Brussels introduced notions of profit and speculation and debt and despair.




Edmonton Gold Medal Plates 2012

19 Oct

Chef Nathin Bye's dish "Breakfast for Dinner" won the gold

Edmonton has a special place in the hearts of the Gold Medal Plates team. The city has been one of our loyalest supporters since the beginning, it is the first to sell out every year and the party is always exceptional. Last night, 700 guests added to the ongoing legend at the Shaw Centre, waltzing to beautiful music from Sarah Harmer, Barney Bentall and Ed Robertson and giving a standing ovation to dozens of Olympic athletes led by the evening’s energized master of ceremonies, Adam van Koeverden. The purpose of these evenings, lest we forget, is only incidentally about pleasure and entertainment – it’s to raise money for Canada’s Olympic athletes through the Own the Podium program that paid such dividends during the 2010 Vancouver games. Gold Medal Plates has raised over $6 million so far – and counting. Last night’s contribution will have a direct and beneficial effect on the way our elite athletes perform in Russia in two years time.

Certainly, the ten competing chefs also played their role in the festivities, presenting a wide array of dishes that were highly imaginative, complex and visually stunning. The judges agree that the overall quality of the offerings rose yet again this year, and while the choice for gold medal was almost unanimous, only two percentage points separated it from the silver. Joining me on the judging panel last night were Edmonton’s Senior Judge, food and wine writer and wine educator Mary Bailey, chef instructor and international gastronomic judge Clayton Folkers (who had just flown home from Germany where he was judging the culinary Olympics), catering guru and culinary educator, Gail Hall, The Edmonton Journal’s food writer Liane Faulder, chef Chris Wood and last year’s Edmonton Gold Medal Plates champion, chef Jan Trittenbach.

Chef Paul Shufelt's Brome Lake duck won the bronze medal

The bronze medal was awarded to chef Paul Shufelt of Century Hospitality Group who presented Brome Lake duck in two ways. As he introduced the dish, Chef Shufelt explained that he grew up just ten minutes from Brome Lake (near Knowlton, Quebec) and always enjoyed working with the birds. He began by wrapping a drum-shaped piece of the marvellously tender breast in prosciutto, cooking it until the full flavour emerged but the meat was still moist and juicy. A wand of the duck’s sweetly glazed skin lay across the surface and beneath it we found a drift of roasted butternut squash purée subtly spiked with cinnamon and nutmeg. The plate’s other main component was a weighty arancini of forked duck confit, wild mushrooms and shortgrain rice, fried to a splendid crust in duck fat. Some pickled sour cherries added a sweet-sour fruitiness and a sprinkling of bull’s blood microseedlings finished the dish. The wine match was one of the evening’s best – a brambly, tangy, richly extracted 2010 Old Vines Foch from Quails’ Gate in the Okanagan.

Silver went to Chef Shane Chartrand's "Noir et Blanc"

The silver medal went to Shane Chartrand of Murrietta’s Westcoast Grill – like Paul Shufelt, another regular competitor at Gold Medal Plates. He offered a most dramatic, almost art deco presentation of sablefish “Noir et Blanc.” The sablefish was the principal component (its flesh slipping apart into petals that melted in the mouth) crusted black with onion ash that added an intriguingly deep and deliciously bitter flavour. Alongside the fish was a cod tongue, slippery and rather firmly textured, that was lent a buttery flavour by a teaspoonful of foie gras-Cognac potato crème, the better to complement the sablefish. A little crab bisque served as a second sauce while lightly pickled baby pearl onions added a moment of acidity. Crunch was provided by a tall, tissue-thin fin of crisply fried mashed potato. Smoked sea salt was discreetly used to season the fish and a squeeze-bottle atomizer of fruity verjus was presented separately, to be used acording to the taste of each judge. Chef Chartrand made a successful wine match with Lake Breeze Vineyards 2011 Pinot Blanc, not just because of his noir-et-blanctheme but because its shining fruit and forthright acidity enhanced most of the components on the plate.

Our gold medal was awarded to a young chef who has won it before – Nathin Bye of Wildflower Grill – who proffered a dish he called “Breakfast for Dinner.” Many of the judges raised an eyebrow as we read the description of the creation handed to us by Chef Bye in advance of the competition. So many components! So much going on! And when we saw the dish we were still not convinced it could all come together. But it did. An intricate knot of textural and flavour harmonies provided unexpected unity. Where to begin…? With an ornamental spoon that held a creamy bircher meusli of rolled oats, apple and quinoa, garnished with a tiny marshmallow, a miniature grapefruit jelly, a sun-cured blackberry and a half-inch-high tuile shaped like the 2012 Olympic symbol. A quail egg fried sunny-side-up, its yolk still runny, sat on a plinth of potato, golden beet and cheese pavé which served as the substantial point of reference for many of the dish’s more ethereal elements. There was a mushroom pop tart made with dried, powdered mushrooms in the flour that several judges (including me) found utterly irresistible. A triangle of buttery brioche and a puddle of spiced carrot purée were there to underline similar notes that Chef Bye had found in his chosen wine. The centrepiece of the whole affair was a maple syrup and bacon-infused panna cotta that contained a surprise – a meaty heart of Texas-barbecue-style pork paté that contributed a powerful meaty hit, as did a delicate vertical ribbon of crispy bacon. Chef Bye explained that many of the choices he had made while bringing this elaborate dish together were inspired by the flavours and aromas of the wine he chose, the delicious, complex, intense 2010 Chardonnay from Tantalus in the Okanagan.

So Chef Bye becomes our third champion of the campaign. Kelowna awaits him in February!

Now here is David Lawrason’s wine and beverage report:

It Was a Tantalus Night

In a field of very solid wines Tantalus 2010 Chardonnay from B.C.’s Okanagan Valley was the unanimous choice of the wine judges to receive the Best of Show Wine Award in Edmonton. And not only that, it carried home a Gold Medal Plates gold medal with Chef Nathin Bye of the Wildflower Grill. All agreed that it had fantastic depth, structure and complexity; attributes I first noted when I tasted it with Tantalus manager Jane Stewart at the Kelowna winery in August.

The second runner-up for Best of Show was surprisingly firm and intense Sperling 2011 Pinot Blanc, kindly donated for our enjoyment during the Celebration (as we listened to amazing Sarah Harmer in her first performance for Gold Medal Plates). Sperling is a neighbour of Tantalus on thebench lands of east Kelowna, and winemaker Ann Sperling is the only Canadian winemaker working in Niagara (Southbrook) and British Columbia. The runner up was Kettle Valley 2008 Pinot Noir, another wine of considerable structure and stature, well matched to the “Heart and Sole” combo of braised beef heart and terine of sole from chef David Omar of Zinc Restaurant.

I was joined in judging of the Best of Show Award by two prominent figures in Edmonton’s free-wheeling, privatized wine scene. Gurvinder Bhatia is a wine writer for The Edmonton Journal, owner of Vinomania, a leading fine wine shop, and a judge at the Canadian Wine Awards. William Bincoletto of Vines Wine Merchants is a wine educator and consultant, and also the kind donor of several fine lots in Edmonton’s very impressive fine wine silent auction.

On the chef pairing side of the ledger, silver-medal-winning chef Shane Chartrand of Murrieta’s West Coast grill wisely selected the pristine, subtle Lake Breeze 2011 Pinot Blanc for his delicate seafood medley. Bronze medal winning Chef Paul Shufelt of Century Hospitality Group served Quails’ Gate 2010 Old Vine Foch – an intense, wild, brambly red – with terrific Brome Lake duck.

One of the most adventurous food-and-beverage pairings in Edmonton was a cocktail combining Victoria Gin with the unique Fentiman’s Dandelion and Burdock soda, matched to a venison trio of carpaccio, tourtiere and pickled tongue.  Other paired beverages from B.C. included Road 13 2011 Honest John Rose, Red Rooster 2011 Chardonnay and Peller Estates 2009 Private Reserve Syrah. From Ontario, there were two lighter whites:  SpeckBrothers 2010 Sibling Rivalry White and Coyote’s Run 2011 Unoaked Chardonnay.

Thanks to all the wineries that helped make Edmonton a great success.



SOUPSTOCK, baby! Yeah!

15 Oct

What did you do to stop the Mega-Quarry, Daddy?

It was the topic of the morning the other day as we sat in the departure lounge of Regina International Airport: the great gathering of Soupstock down in Woodbine Park in the Beach (or Beaches, if you prefer) on Sunday, October 21st. It is going to be astonishing! A cross between last year’s Foodstock and the perennial fundraiser Empty Bowls, with over 170 chefs gathering to offer soup to the multitudes, it could be the largest-ever culinary protest in the world. The purpose, if you haven’t heard, is to protest against the proposed Mega-Quarry north of Toronto. I really think we all have to go and be counted amongst the righteous. Or face the puzzled frowns of our unborn children when they ask what we did to stop the Sons of Fomor from destroying our beautiful province. Do you want this farmland to end up looking like the Tar Sands of Alberta? Money’s lovely, of course, but some things are more important.

Now here are the official messages from people who are already doing their bit.

“While Foodstock was amazing, it  only whet our appetite for something even bigger,” says Chef Michael Stadtlander from the Canadian Chefs’ Congress, which is co-hosting the event with the David Suzuki Foundation. “Soupstock is going to be the culinary celebration of the year; delicious, huge and truly inspiring.” Joining Chef Stadtlander are well-known culinary champions like Lynn Crawford, Jamie Kennedy, Brad Long and Donna Dooher. Up-and-coming chefs like Jon Pong of Hoof Raw Bar, Craig Harding of Campagnolo, and Calgary’s Connie DeSousa of Charcut, will also showcase their talents.

“By participating in Soupstock we hope to motivate Torontonians to join the inspiring movement to stop the Mega-Quarry and protect our precious headwaters and farmland,” says Chef Jamie Kennedy of Jamie Kennedy Kitchens. Chefs have volunteered to concoct original soup creations for Soupstock that celebrate the Melancthon region’s rich agricultural, cultural and natural history. In addition to culinary star power, local Ontario producers are donating the produce to be used by the chefs in the soups.

“It’s exciting to see our local farmers matching the incredible generosity of the chefs by donating fresh ingredients for Soupstock,” says Dr Faisal Moola from the David Suzuki Foundation. “From beets and bones to potatoes and dairy, these producers are kindly sharing their bounty and making the event a true celebration of local food.”

The mega-culinary event hopes to raise awareness about the need to stop the Highland Companies’ proposed limestone Mega-Quarry in the Township of Melancthon just 100 kilometres northwest of Toronto. The Mega-Quarry would permanently destroy more than 2,300 acres (930 hectares) of the best potato farmland in Ontario. The company is backed by a $25?billion Boston hedge fund and has proposed to blast a pit deeper than Niagara Falls in a landscape of great agricultural, cultural and ecological importance. The Mega-Quarry would require 600-million litres of water to be pumped out of the pit each day in perpetuity. Up to one million Ontarians downstream rely on this water. Thanks to a growing community of support to stop the Mega-Quarry, last fall the  Ontario government ordered the province’s first Environmental Assessment of a quarry application. Of course, we have no actual government now, so I’m not sure how that will pan out.

Funds raised at Soupstock will be used to continue building a community of support to stop the controversial Mega-Quarry and support other environmental and food-related issues. For more information, please visit, or contact: Jode Roberts, David Suzuki Foundation 647 456 9752 cell,



Gold Medal Plates Regina

12 Oct

Chef Milton Rebello's gold medal-winning lamb dish

The Gold Medal Plates team did it again, with the dazzling support of local event planner Jennie Avram, creating an amazing evening at the Queensbury Centre, Regina, and delighting the sold-out crowd of 500. The city came to party and to play and, according to our vigorous and persuasive auctioneer, to set a fundraising target for Saskatoon to meet. Jim Cuddy, Kendel Carson and Dustin Bentall provided brilliant music and Adam Van Kouverden was the energetic and witty master of ceremonies. Bidding was brisk during the auction as the crowd was inspired by films of highlights from the summer games and of the trips on offer. All in all, it was a most successful evening, especially in the gastronomical department. The esteemed panel of judges led by Saskatchewan Senior Judge, CJ Katz, and featuring author, journalist and broadcaster Amy Jo Ehman, Chef of the Saskatchewan Legislature and Culinary Olympian Trent Brears, writer, chef and poet dee Hobsbawn-Smith, restaurateur and gastronomic guru Janis Hutton and chef and educator Thomas Rush, agreed that the dishes, without exception, were inventive and original and featured an unusually broad range of proteins from pickerel cheeks to beaver (the first time beaver had ever been served at a GMP event). In the end, only one and a half percentage points separated first and second place.

Chef Jonathan Thauberger cooked his goose

The bronze medal went to Chef Jonathan Thauberger of Crave Kitchen + Wine Bar. He chose to work with goose from a local source – Cool Springs Ranch – treating the meat three ways. First he hot-smoked the breast, slicing it fairly thickly, leaving the meat succulent and juicily sweet with the gentle smoke. He turned other parts of the bird into a firm chorizo-style sausage and sliced it obliquely alongside the breast. The tour de force of the dish was a cube of rich goose confit held together with a jellied consommé, crusted with a mix of cornmeal and lentil and chickpea flours. Crunchy, slippery local chanterelles were strewn about the plate, there was a little salad of organic lentil greens and a tangy Saskatoonberry glaze. The beverage pairing was brilliant – a malty, sweetish Baltic porter beer from Bushwakker Brew Pub that created a bridge between the smokiness of the breast and the sweet glaze. The judges loved it.

Chef Leo Pantel's awesome pork belly

The silver medal was awarded to Leo Pantel of Conexus Arts Centre. His presentation was decidedly dramatic with inverted wineglasses rising from the plates. Chef had filled them with applewood smoke, using an antique bee smoker and, when the food runners removed the glasses, a sweet smoky aroma began the judges’ experience of the dish. Beneath the glass was a cube of belly pork, barely touched by the smoke but glazed with cider and flattered by a sweet, woodsy birch syrup. The meat was a nicely judged balance of tender lean flesh and unctuous fat, refreshed by a delectable, loose-textured mash of apple and Jerusalem artichoke. A crisp Jerusalem artichoke chip was the jaunty garnish. Chef Pantel chose a red wine for his match – the light, subtle 2010 Gamay from Desert Hills Winery in B.C.

Our gold medal winner was Chef Milton Rebello of the Hotel Saskatchewan Radisson Plaza. He decided to prepare local lamb, setting a perfect pink chop on each plate, the tender meat full of flavour from time spent in a ginger marinade, enhanced by a crust of mustard and crumbled pistachio. Beneath the chop we found a streak of minted pea purée and beside it a soft-textured corn and potato hash. On the other side of the plate, Chef Rebello set a sweet lentil tuile biscuit shaped like a curling maple leaf and dotted with a single lentil. In the leaf lay a ball of soft, mild goat cheese crusted with a powder formed from vegetables cooked with South Asian spices garnished with a refreshing pear chutney. The final touch was a stripe of tangy, pungent sauce made from ginger-infused cherry port. The wine match was most effective, See Ya Later Ranch’s 2010 Pinot Noir flattering the lamb but sturdy enough to stand up to the sauce and the chutney.

So we have our first-ever Regina champion! Chef Rebello will be travelling to Kelowna in February to compete in the Canadian Culinary Championship against Toronto champion Marc St. Jacques of Auberge du Pommier and the winners of the competitions yet to come. Next week, Edmonton! I can hardly wait.

And now here is David Lawrason’s report on the wines, beers and spirits featured at the event:

The winner of the Best of Show honour in Regina was the seriously good See Ya Later Ranch 2010 Pinot Noir, and it also carted off a Chefs Gold matched beautifully to a spectacular lamb preparation by Milton Rebello of the Hotel Saskatchewan Radisson Plaza.  The silver went to the incredible, dark, nutty and very complex Bushwakker Palliser Port brew; the bronze medal went to the opulent, complex Foxtrot Vineyard 2010 Chardonnay from the Naramata Bench in B.C.s  Okanagan Valley.

The Best of Show Award enters its second season as a means to acknowledge the very generous donations of Canadian wineries, breweries and distillers.  In Regina I was joined in the judging by Head Food Judge James Chatto (also an accomplished taster and beverage writer), and the very talented Debbie Tetlock, who is on the product listing panel of the Saskatchewan Liquor Board. She has been studying and tasting wine for several years and manages one of the largest liquor stores in the province.

The first Gold Medal Plates foray into booming Sask capital brought an unexpected bounty of local beverages. I was reproached from the floor when I delicately mentioned that those Prairie winters are just a tad too harsh for tender vinifera vines; and I was later approached by a gentleman who said that chardonnay has been growing “in the particular terroir of  southwestern Saskatechwan” for several years.

But the local beverages this night were of the brew and fruit wine variety. Bushwakker Baltic Porter, brewed in  Regina, scored a bronze medal paired with Jonathan Thauberger’s dish from Crave. Another porter called Palliser, from the same brewery, also featured at chef Martin Snow’s station. Bushwakker, by the way, was named the “Best Brew Pub in Canada” by  Cherry and Framboise fruit wines by Living Sky Winery of Perdue, Sask, accompanied dessert, and chef Adam Sperling of La Bodega matched his dish to local mead mixed with cassis to create a  “Meadtini”

Other wines poured this evening included Desert Hills 2010 Gamay that was matched to silver medal chef Leo Pantel of the Conexus Arts Centre. And although Joie Farm 2009 PTG, a finely balanced blend of gamay and pinot noir, did not receive any hardware, it did receive a first place vote from Debbie Tetlock. And the chef’s pairings were rounded out by another brooding Bushwakker Porter called Baltic; this one containing 7% alcohol.

All in all a fascinating and highly successful night in Regina. Our thanks to all the participating wineries and breweries and those who came out to pour, and particularly to Cam Robinson of the Sask Liquor Board for quarterbacking the ordering and shipping of the wines.





The Great Chowder Chowdown

10 Oct

Here’s a delicious way to show support for Ocean Wise’s ongoing campaign for sustainable seafood: the 2012 Vancouver Aquarium Ocean Wise Chowder Chowdown! It’s taking place at the Fairmont Royal York, Toronto, on November 21 and promises to be a sell-out, so grabbing a ticket now is a smart decision. There will be 13 competitors serving up their own chowder creations – all of them local chefs who support the Ocean Wise initiative – and it’s a strong field:

· Chef Albert Ponzo | Le Select Bistro

· Chef Patrick McMurray | Starfish Oyster Bed and Grill

· Chef Shaun Edmonstone | Bruce Wine Bar

· Chef David Kokai | Loic Gourmet

· Chef Morgan Wilson | Trios Bistro at the Toronto Downtown Marriott Eaton Centre

· Chef Amira Becarevic | EPIC at the Fairmont Royal York

· Chef Daiji Tanaka | Hapa Izakaya

· Chef Kristin Donovan | Hooked

· Chef Frank Byrne | Fishbar

· Chef Thomas Heitz | Port Restaurant

· Chef Reuben Major | Earls Kitchen and Bar

· Chef Alexandra Gaponovitch | Calphalon Culinary Centre

· Chef Stacey Blois | Western University Canada

As if that line-up isn’t enough, the judges for the event include a number of famous faces – Anthony Walsh, Jamie Kennedy, Carl Heinrich (who won Top Chef Canada 2), Rebecca LeHeup of Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance, and Micah Donovan of The Food Jammers. Of course, there will also be a People’s Choice award.

“This friendly, but competitive, cook-off brings together 13 of Toronto’s top chefs as they showcase their original ocean-friendly seafood chowders, paired with craft beer, at this fun and delicious consumer event,” says Mike McDermid, Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise partner relations manager. “The winner will be crowned 2012 Ocean Wise Chowder Chowdown Champion.”

Tickets are $45 for adults, or $40 for students, and are available at


Top 30 Under 30 nominations

07 Oct

The Ontario Hostelry Institute is now accepting nominations for the 2013 OHI Top 30 under 30 program.

 The Top 30 under 30 program is an ‘awards’ vehicle that recognizes the multi-faceted hospitality industries’ top young performers of today. The recognition of these individuals encourages and inspires a future generation of hospitality leaders who will ensure career-long commitments to excellence and the future development of the industry. 

Nomination forms are available on the OHI web-site<>. The nominee must be actively working in the industry and must be under 30 years of age as of December 30, 2012.

Nominations close on December 15th, 2012.

Complete process information about this program and past honourees can be found on the OHI web-site,<>

 The Ontario Hostelry Institute is one of our staunchest supporters.


Santiago Sunday

04 Oct

large as life

To Chile for a week as the guest of Wines of Chile to check out some of the latest vinous treasures in a dozen or so wineries in this very long, very narrow, very hospitable country. We arrive on a Sunday and are whisked off to a splendid lunch in the Central Market, a spacious 19thcentury hall with a wrought-iron roof like a mini Les Halles. Out on the sidewalk is an alpaca, its saddle decorated with knots of coloured wool, and bands of uniformed waiters urging us to try their establishments. There used to be scores of small restaurants inside the market but most have them been bought by the most successful, Donde Augusto, and it is there our group of six sits down to eat surrounded by crowds of Chilean families, strolling singers with old guitars and a general mood of day-out merriment.

Donde Augusto restaurant - more than merry!



Alysson Silva, our hostess and guide from Wines of Chile, suggests we all share a bunch of dishes, the specialities of this fish and seafood restaurant – and the plan is a good one. First bread appears – flat heavy buns called hallulla which have been pierced with holes like the Easter loaves in Greece, and have the cakey texture of a scone. Bowls of a loose salsa called pebre are set down alongside – a sort of garlick-free chimmichura of onion, tomato and herbs. Does everyone want to start with a Pisco Sour? Of course! And it’s a beauty – pisco, lemon juice and sugar, no egg white – bright and refreshing. It only needed a few drops of Angostura bitters on its creamy, foamy head to be perfect.

And then lunch… Cold chunks of abalone the size of a child’s fist, unexpectedly tender and with the subtlest of rock-pool flavours, dressed with mayonnaise and surrounded by lettuce and tomato. A little casserole of scallops, rims and orange roes attached, briefly cooked in oil flavoured with big crimson curls of dried chili, coarsely chopped garlic and green herbs. A second casserole of juicy shrimp as thick as my thumb cooked in just the same way. Almost stealing the show are razor clams on the half-shell smothered in melted cheese and then put under the grill until the cheese bubbles. Deep fried squid rings are deep fried squid rings – and always will be.

curiosities of the cold southern waters

The main course is a platter of pan-fried fillets of fish – salmon, of course (it’s one of Chile’s five main exports – copper, molybdenum, salmon, wine and fruit is the order of importance) and conger eel (big flaky petals of the creature with no bones and the texture of monkfish), sea bass (corvina not the Patagonian toothfish we call Chilean sea bass) and reynata – a new fish to me that has the oily texture of mackerel but a snow-white flesh. Elsewhere in the market are the fishmongers with counters piled high with curious clams and shellfish and strange, hideous, glistening South Pacific deep-sea fish, half of which I don’t recognize. They are all Impeccably fresh, as they should be in a country with 4,000 kilometres of coastline.

After lunch, we go for a walk, down to the cathedral where a parade is marshalling in honour of St. John the Baptist – groups of people in satin hoods and boys’ brass bands in pseudo-military jackets with outsized epaulettes and clusters of the devout around statues of local saints and heroes. A good beginning.