Archive for November, 2012

Crazy Uncle cocktails

24 Nov

Crazy Uncle culinary cocktails – Frankie Solarik made them

It came as a shock this week to hear Frosty the Snowman playing at my local LCBO store. The gorgeous weather we’ve been having has kept thoughts of winter away from downtown Toronto, giving us an eternal autumn, as if we lived in Imladris. But apparently Christmas is coming anyway, so thoughts turn, naturally, to festive alcoholic iterations. I am not a huge aficionado of ready-mixed cocktails – I much prefer them freshly made – but every rule has its exceptions. Two Toronto brothers, Bruno and David Codispoti, have decided to raise the bar on the genre by commissioning no less a mixologist than Frankie Solarik of Barchef to create a trio of drinks of unusual verve and depth of flavour.

The brand is called Crazy Uncle and the first of the three is already available at the LCBO in a litre-sized hooch jug for a bargain $17.95. It’s rather delicious – a sort of vodka punch infused with the sweet-tart aroma of blood orange juice, deeply spiced up with nutmeg, clove and cardamom and sweetened with a dash of maple syrup. Hanging around the bottleneck is a sachet of powdered cinnamon and rosemary sugar with which to rim the glass. The only thing you need to add is a great big two-inch cube of ice (easily made if you have a King Cube ice tray (call 888-225-7378 for retailers near you)).

Promised for early next year are two more flavours – a Basil & Lime Daiquiri and a Cola Bitter & Mint Julep, one tart and herbal, the other sweeter and pleasantly minty. Thank you, fratelli Codispoti! Thank you too, Frankie! These are cocktails that will carry one right past Christmas and into the real winter if it ever comes. Meanwhile I have been toasting the great victory over the mega-quarry speculators with my blood-orange Crazy Uncle – while the last leaves fall in the blessed sunshine.


Vancouver Gold Medal Plates

17 Nov

On the podium in Vancouver – thanks to Ron Sombilon for the image

Go west, young man! That was the gist of my upbringing in the old country. How appropriate, then, to finish the 2012 Gold Medal Plates campaign in Vancouver. It was a fine affair, with Adam van Kouverden, our emcee, coaxing touching tales and much hilarity from a host of athletes, the direct beneficiaries of the room’s largesse through the Canadian Olympic Foundation’s Own the Podium program. The music was equally inspiring, thanks to Jim Cuddy, Dustin Bentall and two (count ‘em) dazzling violins (one each) in the hands of Anne Lindsay and Kendel Carson. What will become of us all now there are no more Gold medal Plates to look forward to until the cut and thrust of the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna next February 8 and 9?

Ten chefs competed last night to join us there, four of them from out of town, and the gastronomical standards were remarkably high – one highly original and delectable dish after another, paired with some splendid wines. But before we get to the nitty-gritty, I’d like to thank the eminent team of judges who worked with me to determine the medallists. We have two Senior Judges in Vancouver, both alike in dignity: the international wine and food judge, Sid Cross, and the esteemed restaurant critic, editor, author and educator Andrew Morrison. With them, we sat down alongside a mighty parliament including author, chef, entertaining expert and Raincoast cracker queen, Lesley Stowe, all-star gastronome and proprietress of Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks, Barbara-Jo Macintosh, chef, restaurateur and culinary icon John Bishop, and last year’s gold-medal-winning chef, Rob Feenie. A potent posse indeed. In the end we all agreed on the four best dishes, then the three best, and finally the winner, though the marks separating those chefs who reached the podium were separated by mere percentage points.

Chef Angus An’s awesome bronze medal dish

Our bronze medal was awarded to the first dish of the evening, created by chef Angus An of Maenam. He offered a Vancouver version of a classic southern Thai dom gati but using salmon instead of the traditional dried and salted flakes of kingfish. And what salmon – so delicately smoked with coconut so that the fish was as soft as a silk pillow! The plump fillet lay hip-deep in a broth of coconut milk spiked hot and sour with fresh tamarind leaf, tamarind paste, fresh herbs and hanks of julienned green mango. Chef An had taken the fish’s skin and deep fried it to a crisp, enhancing the effect with powdered lemongrass that echoed the tang of the broth. On top of that he spooned salmon roe and green kaffir lime pearls and he found a brilliant wine match, pairing perfectly with the acidity of the dish – a tangy, intense, slightly off dry 2011 Riesling from Cedar Creek.

Chef Quang Dang’s divine silver medal dish

Our silver medal went to Quang Dang of West Restaurant and Bar who chose to work with duck. First he made a finely chopped confit of the tasty leg meat which he rolled into a drum and seared in a pan to give it a crispy surface beneath a subtle Pinot Noir glaze. He cured and smoked the breast and sliced it as thin as silk, setting little curls of the meat around the plate. There are apricot trees at the Foxtrot winery and Chef Dang picked the fruits in their season, using them last night – a half apricot preserved and then scorched to add a fascinating bitterness to the sweetness, little crisps of apricot as crunchy decoration. The third component was a smooth, savoury purée of Agassiz chestnuts, bridging meat and fruit, and there was a wee mound of breadcrumbs fried in the duck fat in the traditional English accompaniment to a game bird. Scrumptious! And also beautifully matched to the splendid 2009 Pinot Noir from Foxtrot.

Chef Mark Filatow’s luscious lamb took the gold

And then there was the gold medal… The winner was Mark Filatow of Waterfront Restaurant & Wine Bar in Kelowna (I can only imagine the local support he can expect next year at the Championships!). Reading the description of his dish, the judges were excited to see he was cooking lion – a first for Gold Medal Plates – but it turned out to be a typo for loin – part of the tender little lambs from Bar ‘M’ Ranch that provided the protein on the plate. The loin was simply but perfectly prepared, grilled over charcoal but still pink and juicy. Close by on the plate was a thick chunk of merguez sausage made from the lamb’s shoulder and the neck meat cooked sous vide in chef’s chosen wine. The third component was a dainty lozenge of lamb belly braised with a subtle touch of Moroccan spices. We had a piece of roasted baby heirloom carrot and a tiny “doughnut” of deep-fried mashed potato the size of Cleopatra’s pearl – and no sauce to mask the elements. None was needed, the meats being so moist and intricately spiced. Chef Filatow’s wine was another remarkably accurate match – the 2010 Syrah from Orofino’s Scout vineyard in B.C.’s Similkameen Valley.

So there you have it – the tenth chef has been chosen for the  Championships next year. It’s going to be a battle royal in the Okanagan and I can’t wait to see what our competitors come up with!

And now here is the wine report from Gold Medal Plates National Wine Advisor, David Lawrason:

The Okanagan’s Shining Moment

The wineries of the Okanagan have been the backbone of Gold Medal Plates events this season, certainly at all six events west of Ontario.  And so it was fitting that Okanagan winemakers and chefs were in the spotlight at the last Gold Medal Plates event of the regular season in Vancouver. Chef Mark Filatow of Kelowna’s Waterfront Restaurant & Wine Bar waltzed off with the Gold Medal, and the wonderfully natural, compact yet elaborate Nichol Vineyard 2010 Syrah from Naramata was the unanimous choice of four wine judges for Best Wine of Show.  Made from only 17 rows of syrah nestled below a granite cliff, Nichol Syrah will forever be an iconic wine in my mind, as the first syrah I tasted from the Okanagan (the 1995 vintage).

The Best of Show Award was created to highlight the generous donation by Canada’s wineries to the chefs and to other programs within Gold Medal Plates. The wines are judged on their own merit independent of the food pairings. In Vancouver I was joined by three fellow Canadian Wine Awards judges. Treve Ring, of Victoria is one of the rising stars on the west coast wine scene, an accomplished writer with three local food and wine magazines.  DJ Kearney is one of the great wine educators in North America, living in Vancouver where she is undertaking the arduous task of studying for her Master of Wine designation.  And we were also joined by good friend Anthony Gismondi, wine columnist for the Vancouver Sun, and co-host of the Best of Food and Wine with Kasey Wilson on AM 650.

It was a particularly difficult judging with some of the region’s best wines uncorked for the 400 guests. The silver medal wine – Le Vieux Pin’s 2011 Ava – is an intriguing, beautifully appointed blend of viognier, marsanne and roussanne given minimalist oak ageing by winemaker Severine Pinte, who was trained in the south of France where these grapes thrive.  In close third was the brilliant, barely off-dry CedarCreek 2011 Riesling with subtle nectarine, lemon and petrol flavours finely honed by Darryl Brooker.  This wine also carted off a bronze medal paired with an exotic Thai dish by Chef Angus An of Maenam.   The Chefs Silver went to Quang Dang of West Restaurant and Bar who paired with the very sensual Foxtrot 2009 Pinot Noir from Naramata,  and Mark Filatow’s golden choice was the profound and powerful Orofino 2010 Scout Vineyard Syrah from the Similkameen Valley.

At the VIP Reception guests enjoyed Trius Brut from Niagara, a consistent Canadian Wine Awards gold medal winner from Andrew Peller.  The company sponsored two other wines this night as well, a surprisingly delicate, poised Red Rooster 2011 Pinot Noir and the very refined, penetrating Sandhill 2011 Small Lots Viognier (both of which were on judges’ radar as finalists).  Andew Peller has been the largest winery supporter of GMP nationally in 2012.

The Okanagan Crush Pad, another national sponsor, provided the nuanced, dry and very pretty Haywire 2010 Gamay Rose to the Celebration portion in several cities.  The good folks at Burrowing Owl Vineyards chipped in with the well-constructed Figure Eight 2010, a blend of cabernet, merlot and syrah.  From Quails’ Gate, which has been most generous in multiple cities as well, we had the vibrant Quails’ Gate 2010 Pinot Noir. And from Hillside Vineyards in Naramata guests enjoy the very rich, impressive Hillside 2010 Syrah. As well, special guests at Deloitte sponsors tables enjoyed L’Acadie Vineyards Vintage 2010 Cuvee Sparkling, made by former Okanagan winemaker Bruce Ewart at his winery in Nova Scotia.

So it’s on to the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna for Orofino Syrah and the Gold Medal winners from nine other cities across Canada.



Tutti Matti goes crazy

13 Nov

La Sarta

It was the name that grabbed me – “Sagra dei Matti” – Festival of the Crazies… Some cultures devote a single night or at most a week to the Lord of Misrule and the general topsy-turviness of turning over the asylum to the inmates. In Tuscany, they give a month. And now it seems that is also true on Adelaide Street West – at least at Tutti Matti, the Tuscan-style restaurant created a decade ago by chef-owner, Alida Solomon.

Her Festival of the Crazies honours the restaurant’s tenth anniversary as well as the traditional town festivals of Tuscany. Basically, Solomon has put together a month of family-style dinner parties with a different theme each week – starting on November 16 and carrying right on almost to Christmas. Here’s how she describes this month of Sundays: “Tutti Matti will transport the centuries-old heritage of the Tuscan Festival to Toronto with ‘Sagra dei Matti’, a celebration of food, wine and ‘La Vita Toscana.’ It will be loud with lots of laughing. Talking with hand gestures will be required. The food will be insane. The wine will make you mental. Like all great family feasts, you will leave with a satisfied belly and a full heart.”

That wine, incidentally, is called La Sarta (it means “the seamstress”), the first collaboration between Salomon, acclaimed Italian Winemaker Roberto Cipresso and award-winning designer, Laura Wills. “La Sarta,” they say, “is the result of the alchemy of two grapes and two extraordinary vineyards—one in Sicily and the other in Tuscany. The minerality and elegance of Sangiovese blends beautifully with the fruit, fragrance and opulence of Syrah.”

It sounds delightful.

Hie thee to Tutti Matti (364 Adelaide Street West, 416 597-8839) after November 16th. Prix-fixe “family style” dinners begin at $80 per person, including a glass of the new La Sarta Vino Rosso. Reservations are recommended.



St. John’s Gold Medal Plates

10 Nov

On the podium in St. John’s. Thanks to Maurice Fitzgerald for the image

We always fly into St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, knowing we can expect a mighty good party (followed by a fabulous after party (or two)) and we were not disappointed. The hospitality was open-armed and it was a pleasure to give a little of it back through our event, which seemed to delight the sold-out crowd of 400. Seamus O’Regan was our affable and witty emcee, ably assisted by Marnie McBean. Musically, we had one of the best, most rocking, awesome sets of the campaign with Barney Bentall, Anne Lindsay, Ed Robertson and Alan Doyle (you should see him in front of his home crowd – much dancing in the aisles). Jim Cuddy was away, playing a gig in Barcelona (that city may have been recently humbled by Glasgow on the football field but they deserve some fine Canadian music), but sent a phone message, allowing the good-natured but fierce banter between himself and Ed Robertson to continue even in absentia. Ed goes on our auctioned trip to Provence, Jim goes to Tuscany, and the rivalry is intense.

So was the chefly competition last night. Joining me on our adjudicatory panel was Senior Judge, television, radio and print journalist, Karl Wells, together with chef and educator Bob Arneil, restaurateur, food consultant and stylist Kitty Drake, columnist and all-round food guru Cynthia Stone, chef Todd Perrin from The Chef’s Inn and (coming next spring) Mallard Cottage restaurant, last year’s St John’s gold medal winner, Chef Mike Barsky, and a visiting guest judge, the Senior Judge of both our Saskatoon and Regina events, author and broadcaster CJ Katz who was in town promoting her new book and was invited to join the table. For once, in St. John’s, there was no clear runaway winner, with only a few percentage points separating our top four contenders.

Chef Roary Macpherson’s dish won the bronze medal

The bronze medal went to Chef Roary MacPherson of Oppidan. He called his dish “Cheek on Tongue” – and why not, since that was exactly what we found on the plate – a small, succulent and tender slab of beef cheek set upon a slim slice of braised tongue, both bathed in a rich brown gravy. On top of the meats lay a breaded and deep fried egg yolk and chef urged us to cut into it so that its yolk might seep down over the beef cheek. Across the plate stood a cuboid panna cotta nicely nippy with Five Brothers blue cheese and chef had hollowed out the top of it and filled it with tiny, sweet pink pearls that tasted of Ribena blackcurrants. A stripe of honeyed carrot purée fairly sang with flavour. For his wine match, Chef MacPherson chose a big, mature 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend from Blasted Church Vineyards in British Columbia.


Chef Mark McCrowe’s dish won the silver. Thanks to CJ Katz for the image


Our silver medal was awarded to Chef Mark McCrowe of Aqua Kitchen/Bar (and now also of The Club, his brand new spot for steak, oysters and beer). He too named his dish, hitting upon the title “Newfoundland duck at the pub.” There were three components, starting with half a sturdy Scotch egg made of finely ground duck sausage packed around a cooked quail egg, its yolk (deliciously) not quite set. Beside the Scotch egg were some ribbons of pungently pickled carrot, onion and beet and a broad stripe of roasted beet ketchup. The second component was a “shepherd’s pie” of juicy duck confit topped with a layer of parsnip-and-potato purée and crowned with a thick slice of very tender and flavourful duck breast that had been smoked with Tetley tea leaves. The final element was a suave take on the old Newfoundland tradition of a Jiggs dinner – normally a one-pot boil of salted meat and root vegetables with a pease pudding cooking in a bag inside the pot. Chef McCrowe turned the idea on its head by combining salt duck and vegetables into a dainty terrine and turning the pease pudding into an ethereal mousse with the infusion of a little foie gras to further ennoble its texture. It was a most original plate and a fine match to the fresh, fruity 2011 Gamay from Malivoire in Niagara.

Chef Shaun Hussey of Chinched Bistro won the gold

And so to our gold medallist, Chef Shaun Hussey of Chinched Bistro. Two major proteins shared the limelight on his plate, one a medallion of cod that parted into moist petals as I cut through the shoelace-thick ribbons of fried potato that encircled the fish. Beneath it was a hank of soft “braising greens,” a local term for beet tops or other tops that are slowly braised. The second element was a sort of timbale of ham hock, the hock slowly cooked until the fat melted and the flesh fell apart and the skin turned almost to jelly. Then chef chopped everything up, pressed it and cut out cylindrical portions. On top of this delicious mountain was a teaspoonful of a tangy and sweet smoked apple relish. Serving as sauce for both components, a cider-brown-butter vinaigrette was most successful. Chef Hussey’s wine was an equally smart choice, the lightly oaked 2010 Sketches Chardonnay from Tawse, in Niagara.

All ever so scrumptious and our congratulations to all the chefs. It’s Shaun Hussey who will join his fellow gold medallists from across the country in Kelowna next February together with the victor from our last and final event of the campaign, next week in Vancouver.

And now, here is the St. John’s GMP Wine Report, recording the Best in Show judgements of Tom Beckett (wine educator, wine taster, and wine writer with over 30 years experience professionally pairing wines with food), Steve Delaney (President of the St. John’s Chapter of the Opimium Society and regular wine columnist for The Telegram), and Karl Wells, who stepped in at the last minute to replace GMP’s National Wine Advisor, David Lawrason. Karl has been producer of the wine cellar segments for the Rogers TV program, One Chef One Critic, for five seasons. He also writes about restaurants, food and wine for The Telegram. And it was Karl Wells who penned this report…

The Gold Medal Plates St. John’s 2012 event featured a fifty-fifty split between whites and reds. Most whites leaned slightly to the sweet side, while most reds leaned toward the dry and light. As might be expected this meant there was also a fairly even split between seafood and meat dishes.

Our top three choices broke down this way. “Best in Show” was Trius Riesling 2009, paired with a de-constructed Newfoundland Jiggs Dinner prepared by Chef Chris Chafe of Magnum and Steins. Next came the boldest wine of the night, Blasted Church Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2008 served with Sheraton Chef Roary MacPherson’s dish of Beef Cheek and Tongue. Third place went to Tawse Sketches Chardonnay 2010, paired with Chef Shaun Hussey’s Gold winning dish of Potato Wrapped Cod with Pressed Ham Hocks, Local Braising Greens, Smoked Apple Relish and Whole Grain Mustard Jus from Chinched Bistro.

The remaining slate of wines at Gold Medal Plates St. John’s 2012 included Flourish Riesling Vidal 2010 paired with Chef Edward Farrell’s (Portobello’s) Duo of Halibut, Prospect Riesling 2009 with Chef Stephen Gugelmeier’s (Delta) Corned Duck in Juniper Brine with Cabbage Seedlings, Homemade Corn Bread, Foie Gras Mousse beside Mushroom Duxelles, Tarragon Mustard, Malivoire 2011 Gamay with Chef Mark McCrowe’s (Aqua) Newfoundland Duck at the Pub, Pelee Island Pinot Noir Reserve, 2009 matched with Chef Chris Riche’s (Oliver’s) Smoked Bacon Wrapped Pork Loin, Braised Pork Ravioli, Braising Jus with Cherries, Local Parsnip Puree, Local Beetroot, Roasted Cipollini Onions, Squash and Apple Relish and Parmesan Chip.

And, finally, Colio Estate Lake & Rivers River Rock Red 2009 accompanied Chef Peter Wedgwood’s Grilled and Glazed Black Tiger Prawn on a Soft Polenta and Peas Pudding Pillow with Lester’s Farm Carrot Butter and Goat Cheese Brûlée; Cod Wrapped in Moose Salami, Smashed Peas a la Fancie and a Turnip Chip; Wild Game Slider with Chanterelle Mushroom Ragout and Partridge Berry Chutney on a Salt Beef, Savoury and Balderson Biscuit.

Guests at the Olympian tables were also treated to L’Acadie Vineyards 2010 Vintage Cuvee Brut from Nova Scotia.



Montreal Gold Medal Plates

08 Nov

On the podium in Montreal. Thanks to Julia Lehmann for the photograph

What a perfect venue we found for this year’s Montreal Gold Medal Plates – the sharply modern Science Centre in the Old Port with its splendid view of the old city! Van Houtte has one of its cafés in the building so the team did not have far to come to set up its coffee kiosk in our VIP area, alongside two of our other sponsors, Victoria Gin and Iceberg vodka, both offering fine cocktails to start the evening. Scores of athletes mingled with the crowd and the evening ended with great music from Alan Doyle, Sam Roberts and fiddler Jonathan Moorman. By then, celebrations were well under way at the stations of three of our competing chefs.

The root cause of all this joy was the panel of judges led by Senior Judge Robert Beauchemin, restaurant critic, food writer, author and professor of anthropology, very ably seconded by chef, educator, author and fine-dining critic of the Montreal Gazette, Lesley Chesterman, writer and restaurant critic Gildas Meneu, author, educator and broadcaster Mme. Rollande DesBois and chef, restaurateur and Canadian Culinary Champion Emeritus Mathieu Cloutier. Mathieu had volunteered to take the place of the man we had expected to share the judging – last Year’s gold medallist, Jean-Philippe Saint-Denis – for poor J-P was stircken with a throat so sore he was unable to swallow and was excused his judiciary duties. Those duties, though delightful, were not without a degree of ardour for the chefs presented us with a succession of highly original dishes. In the end, however, we reached a happy consensus.

Chef Marc Cohen won the bronze medal

The bronze medal was awarded to a Kentishman, Chef Marc Cohen of Lawrence. His dish is simply described though it was fascinating to taste. He began by baking a superb and entirely classical apple tart tatin, the pastry perfect, the caramelized apple almost as soft as jelly. On top of this he laid a thick slab of pig’s cheek that had been salted, rinsed and then confited sous-vide with a little cider vinaigrette. It was an unequivocably rich notion, the slice of almost pure fat on top of the sweet dessert, but it played wonderful games on the tongue, as sweetness and saltiness and occasional tangy moments flickered across the palate. Chef Cohen chose a fine match – the refreshing, robustly flavoured Trois Pistoles ale from Unibroue.

Chef Antonio Park took the silver

Our silver medal went to Chef Antonio Park of Restaurant Park who created a dish he called Iqaluk O-Nigiri. Imagine a giant piece of nigiri sushi piled high with extra toppings. At the base was a combination of several different rices – brown rice, both husked and unhusked, mountain rice and quinoa – delicately and sweetly vinegared. On top of that was a generous slice of arctic char that had been very briefly poached so that its texture was as soft as silk, dressed with a little maple syrup sauce. Then came a white purèe of tofu and cauliflower and a scattering of black Spanish caviar. Crunchy shreds of daikon kimchi and filaments of crispy nori were the crowning glory but there were more curiosities on the plate – capers that had been fermented for two years and a few drops of a remarkable soya sauce flavoured with blue crab. Chef Park explained that he creates this sauce by literally drowning a live crab in soya sauce and then fermenting the result. Indeed, it did have a uniquely benthic flavour. This was a dish of many subtle sweet and salty nuances. The wine Chef Park chose cast a benign smile over all of them without really engaging them, the well-balanced, limpid 2010 Pinot Gris from Blue Mountain in the Okanagan.

Chef Darren bergeron seized the gold medal

There was considerable emotion in the room as our gold-medal winner was announced. Chef Darren Bergeron, now running his own food emporium called Fou D’ici, has competed many times in Gold Medal Plates, winning several medals but none of them gold. Last night his dish was unassailable. On one side of the bowl was a thick slice of veal tenderloin, its edges slightly coloured from a few seconds in the pan but basically still red and raw. On the other was a white cylinder that we first thought must be a scallop but which turned out to be a cunningly disguised roll of white albacore tuna. A little sheet of house-made tofu lay under the veal and the two proteins were decorated by a hank of glistening golden filaments – threads of calamari jerky in a sweet-and-sour glaze. The sprouts and seedlings various pulses added some earthy flavours and Chef Bergeron finished the dish by appearing at our table with two brimming cafetieres and pouring a little broth into each bowl – a delicately sweet radish broth spiked with kimchee juice. A final detail was the dab of fiery English mustard high on the rim of the bowl – there if needed for the veal. Another complex dish but the wine match was very successful – the light-bodied, gently fruity 2011 Gamay from Malivoire in Niagara, Ontario.

Congratulations to Chef Bergeron! The Montreal judges reckon that he will be a hard man to beat at the Canadian Culinary Championahip next February in Kelowna!



Ottawa Gold Medal Plates

06 Nov

Chef Jamie Stunt flanked by a pantheon of Olympians

Gold Medal Plates Ottawa was the best evening any of us could remember in the Nation’s Capital, a sold-out crowd of 400 filling the National Arts Centre, delighting in the company of a medal-crusted host of Olympians. Musicians were clustered onto the stage – Ed Robertson, Barney Bentall, Sam Roberts, Anne Lindsay and Alain Doyle all giving their all. Adam van Koeverden shared bilingual emceeing duties with Sylvie Bigras while the judges thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, presented with a series of fascinating dishes.

Our stellar judiciary in Ottawa consists of Senior Judge, author, editor and restaurant critic, Anne DesBrisay, author, television star and truly the culinary ambassador for Canada, Margaret Dickenson, Culinary Olympian, international gastronomic judge and executive chef of the House of Commons, Judson Simpson, food stylist, teacher, author and columnist, Pam Collacott, culinary guru and president of Thyme & Again Creative Catering, Sheila Whyte, and last year’s gold medallist from Ottawa-Gatineau who went on win it all in Kelowna, the Canadian Culinary Champion, Chef Marc Lepine.

This year, the line-up of chefs included several established stars and also many of the city’s coming generation; in the end, all three of those who reached the podium were new to Gold Medal Plates. Our bronze medal was awarded to Chef Jonathan Korecki of Sidedoor Contemporary Kitchen and Bar who took great pride that everything in his dish was sourced within 60 kilometres of his restaurant. In pride of place was wild turkey, farmed over the provincial border in Quebec. Chef made a brined ballotine of the breast, the sliced meat moist and pink with a surprisingly delicate flavour. He confited the leg meat and hid it inside a kabocha squash dumpling, propping it up against a fluffy mound of “doughnut bread pudding.” Brussels sprout leaves, perfectly cooked, were the accompanying vegetable but the big flavour on the plate came from “YOW curry,” named for Ottawa airport, which was less of a curry than a fairly smooth-textured chutney made with local ingredients such as spruce tips, apple and cranberry. Chef’s chosen beverage coped with this pungently tangy condiment very well – it was a hoppy IPA called 2012 Blonde Ale from local brewery Kichesippi Beer Company.

Chef Jason Duffy’s dish took the silver medal

Chef Jason Duffy of Arc Lounge.Dining won the silver medal. He presented an impeccably timed morsel of B.C. ling cod pan-fried in brown butter – a succulent and juicy piece of fish. Beneath it we found a mushroom cake – a breaded patty of farmed and foraged mushrooms from local purveyor Le Coprin – and a slender mushroom crisp for textural variation. There was a dab of green tomato chutney – the tomatoes picked in chef’s own family garden. Working as much more than a base were slices of a lightly smoked “porchetta” of cured and roasted pork belly. Dots of basil juice thickened with apple added colour to the plate and a scattering of “earth” turned out to be a mixture of dehydrated and powdered pickled cherries and fennel pollen, very tasty and tangy. A lot of flavours on the plate but Chef Duffy’s wine match was masterful – the 2010 County Pinot Noir from Norman Hardie Vineyards and Winery in Prince Edward County. Somehow the wine reached out and formed a separate but utterly convincing relationship with each component on the plate.

Chef Jamie Stunt and his yak won gold

Our gold medal went to Chef Jamie Stunt of OZ Kafe who achieved a number of GMP “firsts” last night. His principal protein, for example, was yak, raised at Tiraislin Farms near Lanark – the first time a chef has offered yak at a Gold Medal Plates event, though Chef Stunt puts it on his menu from time to time. For us, he rubbed the tenderloin with his own steak spice mixture and pan-seared the meat perfectly, leaving its crimson, almost ostrich-like character intact. A loose remoulade full of chunks of fresh prawn was a very successful sauce for the meat and beneath it was a thick slice of tomatillo, breaded and fried that contributed lovely, juicy moisture to the dish. Elsewhere on the plate we found a paper-thin slice of beauty heart radish, little mounds of pickled shallots and kohlrabi dressed in a smoked boar vinaigrette, hints of cilantro and Thai basil and a final dusting of dehydrated steak spice. Aiming for another first, Chef Stunt collaborated with Ashton Brewing Company and created a unique beer to match his dish – a beautifully balanced brew flavoured with Lemongrass and kaffir lime. Some of the spent grains from the brewing process went into the breading on the tomatillo slice, further strengthening the bond between dish and drink. It was a clever, original and flawlessly executed plate.

Congratulations to all the Ottawa competitors! Especially to Chef Stunt who will now be going to Kelowna in February to join the fun at the Canadian Culinary Championship. Tonight – Montreal!

And now… Here is David Lawrason’s Wine report from the Ottawa event:

County Wines Storm the Capital

As the six great Canadian performers and over 400 guests ended a grand night in the nation’s capital they sang O Canada as if it was the Game 7 Stanley Cup final between two Canadian teams. Never heard a better public rendition! Perhaps here in Ottawa they simply sing it more often. Or perhaps it was fuelled by a bit of pride in the offerings of the chefs, winemakers and brewers who came to play and compete on this most spirited Monday night.

The wine, beer and spirit selections hailed from producers from coast to coast, with the heart of the matter being wines from four producers in nearby Prince Edward County, and two small Ottawa brewers. And it was the vibrant, complex and concentrated Norman Hardie 2010 County Pinot Noir that shone, winning the Best of Show Wine, Beer and Spirits Award,  and also taking a silver medal for being so artfully matched with the excellent ling cod and mushroom cake creation by Chef Jason Duffy of Arc Lounge.Dining.  A profound and powerful Hidden Bench 2010 Chardonnay from Niagara’s Beamsville Bench came a very close second, unanimously, while Closson Chase 2011 Sans Chêne Chardonnay wowed us with its balance and depth for third place.

The Best of Show Award has been instituted to boost recognition of the great donations by Canadian wineries to Gold Medal Plates and our Canadian athletes. In Ottawa I was joined by two local judges –  well, sort of local. Michelle Rempel is our first-ever duly elected wine judge, an MP for Calgary Centre North who has completed her Diploma Level of the WSET program. She approached the task with enthusiasm, rigour and considerable charm.  And from Gatineau we were joined by the very earnest and good natured Martin Rémillard, a sommelier who has launched a very successful wine education and consulting career after having been an SAQ product consultant for many years.

As well as the award winning County wines from Norman Hardie and Closson Chase, guests were treated, during the sit-down Celebration portion, to another County Classic.  Caroline Granger, one of the driving spirits of PEC, arrived with her Grange of Prince Edward 2007 Diana’s Block Pinot Noir, a wine entering prime time with lovely harmony and maturing woodsy flavours around solid cherry fruit.  Also served during the Celebration was the very, elegant, sleek Sue-Anne Staff 2011 Riesling from Niagara called Loved by Lu, with Sue-Anne herself joining us for the festivities. Also from Niagara, Pillitteri donated a delicious, ripe 2010 Cabernet Franc, and from B.C.’s Okanagan Crush Pad the refreshing and surprisingly nuanced Haywire 2010 Gamay Rosé.  And to complete the coast-to-coast representation the Olympian tables enjoyed the lacy and racy L’Acadie Brut from L’Acadie Vineyards in Nova Scotia.

At the VIP reception, guests were treated to products from three producers who have so generously signed on as national sponsors – Trius Brut sparkling wine from Niagara, Victoria Gin from Vancouver Island, and Iceberg Vodka from Newfoundland.

Other wines and beers served with chefs included a pair of medal winning beers; the bronze chef winner Kichesippi 2012 Blonde Ale, and the gold medal chef winner Ashton Brewing Company Somerset Special. Elsewhere along chefs row, guests enjoyed Karlo Estate 2010 Quintus, Huff Estates 2011 Merlot and Lailey Vineyard 2011 Unoaked Chardonnay

With its gold medal win in Ottawa, Ashton Brewing Company earns a berth at Canadian Culinary Championship in Kelowna Feb 8 and 9.



Saskatoon Gold Medal Plates

04 Nov

On the podium in Saskatoon! Thanks to David Stobbe for the photo

To Saskatoon yesterday for another triumphant Gold Medal Plates affair. Winter has already set in the heartland and the beautiful park around the broad and dignified South Saskatchewan river was shrouded with fresh snow. This did not deter our sold-out crowd of 500 eager guests who made their way to Prairieland – or the dozens of athletes who flew in to take part, led by emcee Adam van Koeverden, bronzed from a recent trip to Mexico. Jim Cuddy and Ed Robertson provided the music – and a deal of entertaining badinage besides – and as the judges emerged from their lair, all deliberations done, we discovered a gratifyingly energetic auction in progress.

The core of our judiciary had also judged in Regina – Senior Judge, author and broadcaster, CJ Katz, author, journalist and broadcaster, Amy Jo Ehman, writer, chef and poet, dee Hobsbawn-Smith, restaurateur and gastronomic guru, Janis Hutton, and last year’s Gold Medal winner, Chef Anthony McCarthy of the Saskatoon Club – who was clearly itching to compete again.

Nine chefs cooked for us, all but one of them working with meat and red wine and, as has been the case in every city so far, it was immediately apparent that culinary standards had once again risen. The marks between second, third and fourth place were really close – barely two percent separating the three chefs, but a clear winner emerged ahead of this tight and talented pack.

Chef Moe Mathieu won bronze

Chef Moe Mathieu of White Birch Catering won the bronze medal. He built his dish around excellent, moist duck confit, using some to fill a rolled crepe, the pancake streaked with savoury cocoa. The confit also centred a loose cassoulet together with tender, red-wine-braised beef, flecks of double-smoked bacon and three kinds of bean, including one heritage variety called Trail of Tears that chef had grown himself. A tuile arch spanned much of the dish, the delicate biscuit scented with lemon and stained with mustard. There was a mound of intensely flavourful carrot and cumin purée while a stripe of a tart, purple sour-cherry-cider reduction added dramtic colour to the plate. The finishing touches were a refreshing tomato concassé tumbled over the beans and decorative sprinkles of two kinds of powder, one made by crushing a parsley crouton, the other one liquorice dust. Chef Mathieu told us that he had begun by picking the wine he wanted to pour and built the dish around the fennel, cherry and spicy flavours he found in his choice, the robust and delicious 2009 Sangiovese from Sandhill Estate in B.C.

Silver went to chef Trevor Robertson

Chef Trevor Robertson of the Radisson Hotel won the silver medal with a particularly good-looking dish. At its heart was a thick slice of pan-seared foie gras and a small fillet of Chilean sea bass, its skin crisped, turned into a powder and then used as a crust on the fish. Backing up such luxe proteins was a soft risotto, also enriched with foie gras, and a tasty green pea purée that worked particularly well with the sea bass. A pretty little salad of frisée, beet shoots, baby nasturtium leaves and edible flowers brought in all kinds of subtle chlorophyl flavours while a truffled beurre blanc added a decadently earthy note. Bee pollen, a yummy lentil cracker and some beads of beetroot “caviar” finished the plate. Chef served the only white wine of the evening with his plate, the bright, tangy 2010 Chenin Blanc from Inniskillin’s Discovery Series, a fine example of Okanagan terroir.

Chef Darren Craddock’s gold medal dish

And the gold medal? Chef Darren Craddock of the Riverside Country Club was the victor, working with delectable prairies lamb. He cooked the loin sous vide with a hint of garlic and set a little drum of it on the plate. He braised the shoulder and used the forked meat in a croquette with truffles, chanterelles and mashed potatoes – served piping hot and nicely crisp on the surface, thanks to a crust of hemp seed, and sesame breadcrumbs. Moist and rich within, it was a show-stealer. Frisée dressed with cold-pressed camolina oil offered a bittersweet, leafy moment while a broad swathe of celeriac soubise contributed another autumnal flavour. Dots of fennel oil and a dusting of fennel pollen were delectable afterthoughts, as was a minted green pea foam that worked predictably well with the lamb. A classic lamb jus reduction sauced the meat and the final garnish was a lateral slice of tomato, roasted to a crisp and so delicate it melted on the tongue, spiked with a crumble of pungent goat cheddar. Chef Craddock’s wine was the 2009 Bordello from B.C.’s Dirty Laundry winery, a lusty Cabernet-Merlot blend: its tannins seemed a tad too young and strong at first but then the lamb and the fennel tamed them and brought the wine into perfect focus, just as Chef intended.

Chef Craddock will be coming to Kelowna in February to compete in the Canadian Culinary Championship. Meanwhile, the Gold Medal Plates team has a busy week ahead with events in Ottawa, Montreal and St. John’s.

And now here’s the Wine Report from GMP’s tireless Wine Advisor, David Lawrason:

Local Libations Star in Saskatoon

Saskatoon came to party on this Saturday night, as over 500 people enjoyed one of the most diverse and local selections of wines, beers and spirits yet to be served up at Gold Medal Plates events. As guests walked into the Prairielands convention complex, and stomped the fresh fallen snow from their boots, they were greeted with beer from Saskatoon’s Paddock Wood Brewing Co, a saskatoon berry cider from Saskmade, and Gambit Gin from a local distillery called Lucky Bastard. And they could also choose a martini made from Newfoundland Iceberg Vodka, a national GMP sponsor.

Wine didn’t begin to flow until the chefs stations opened, and they featured an impressive array of reds, most from B.C.  There was only one white wine matched to the only seafood dish on the docket, so Inniskillin Okanagan 2011 Discovery Series Chenin Blanc was the first wine tasted as we judges began our assessment for the Best of Show Award. 

This judging is run in each city to help acknowledge the generous donations of over 60 Canadian wineries from coast to coast.  I was joined in the judging this year by Rob Peterson-Wakeman, an avid student and taster of the grape and Saskatoon organizing committee member who was instrumental in assembling the evening’s wines. And making the journey from Regina was Rob Dobson, a wine educator and writer who contributes to a Saskatchewan publication called Savour Life that is published by C.J. Katz, the culinary Senior Judge in Saskatchewan.

The judging was closer and more difficult than I expected, but in the end there was a strong consensus on the top three wines. The third place vote went to Sandhill 2009 Small Lot Collection Sangiovese, an intriguing red that captured complex authentic Tuscan sangiovese flavour profile within a beefier B.C. structure.  The runner up title went to the aforementioned Inniskillin Okanagan Chenin Blanc, a bright and stylish and quite elegant wine with classic chenin character.  And the Best of Show Award, with two first place votes and one second, went to a fascinating, subtle but surprisingly deep and well balanced Clos du Soleil 2010 Vintage Red.  It was made by Ann Sperling from merlot, cabernet, malbec and petit verdot sourced from both the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys.

The Inniskillin Chenin Blanc earned a second trip to the podium paired with silver medal winning chef Trevor Robertson of the Radisson Hotel.  And the Sandhill 2009 Sangiovese also double-dipped in the awards pool with bronze-medal chef, Moe Mathieu of White Birch Catering.  The wine that accompanied Gold Medal Chef Darren Craddock of the Riverside Country Club was Dirty Laundry’s 2009 Bordello, a cheeky red blend of cabernet and merlot that indeed provided one of the best food pairings of the night. 

“The pairing element is often the tie breaker in very close races” said Head Judge James Chatto, “and that’s what happened here tonight”.  So Dirty Laundry has earned a berth in the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna Feb 8 and 9.

Other wines poured this night included an impressively rich pair of Reserves from Mission Hill – the 2009 Shiraz Reserve and 2009 Merlot Reserve.  See Ya Later Ranch 2009 Ping impressed me with its complexity and restraint; the youthful, fresh 2011 Road 13 Pinot Noir was brilliantly paired with Dan Walker’s chicken roulade. The sole entry from Ontario – 2009 Generation 7 from Chateau des Charmes – also proved a refreshing match with a dish from St. Albert’s chef Kevin Dahlsjo.

The evening wrapped up as locally as it began with the delicious fortified Frambosie from Living Sky Winery near Perdue, Sask.  It is a silver medalist at the 2012 Canadian Wine Awards, a big win for a fledgling and very serious fruit winery that has sought the winemaking expertise of B.C.’s Forbidden Fruit to get the ball rolling.





The Dinner Party dinner party

01 Nov

This just in from Chef Alexandra Feswick. Sounds like a marvellous party!

“Chef Alexandra Feswick is delighted to announce an exciting upcoming dinner featuring a collaboration between some of Toronto’s most talented chefs. These noted chefs will be challenged to co-create a tasting menu for this sensational interpretation of Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party in celebration of women who have inspired them.

“The Great Hall, soon home of Samuel J. Moore (represented by Feswick) will host Chefs from some of Toronto’s best: Laura John (LeSelect), Missy Hui (Fabbrica), Charlotte Lang (Hooked), Cheska Ang (Actinolite), Trish Gill (Spin), and Robyn Cheng (The Stop Catering).  The icing on the cake:  Some of Toronto’s most handsome chef’s will serving up everything: Matty Matheson (Parts and Labour), Bertrand Alépée (The Tempered Chef), Scott Vivian (Beast), Mark Cutrara (Cowbell), Chris Brown (The Stop Catering) and more.

“The dinner will be inspired by Judy Chicago’s 1979 art installation, The Dinner Party:  “Ultimately, The Dinner Party evolved into a monumental symbolic interpretation of the history of women in Western civilization, from Paleolithic to modern times. For the plate designs, Chicago developed symbols for each “guest” based on flowers, butterflies, vulvae, and historical motifs. In the needlework designs of the table cloths, she created a context for each plate through visual reference to the person’s life and times. The Dinner Party is currently on exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum.”

“All of the dishes will be dedicated to women who have encouraged each of the chefs; and yes, the dishes will all be an interpretive imitation of her plate designs.  Feswick will be starting off the dinner with oysters and pickled watermelons dedicated to Judy Chicago and her installation.

“The dinner will be held at 7pm at The Great Hall, 1087 Queen Street West at Dovercourt on Monday November 19, 2012. Prices are $120 and include alcohol pairings by Krysta Oben of Cowbell (price includes tax).

“To purchase tickets please link up”