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.
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.
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 vaycay.ca. 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.