The final act of a Canadian Culinary Champion, held on the eve of the new Championship, is to cater a magnificent party. On Wednesday night, that party took place in the awe-inspiring rooms of White Spirit Lodge, a private home above the Big White resort. Normally the team of judges who will preside over the coming weekend do not attend this shindig. We prefer to sequester ourselves in some private chapel to prepare our palates and minds (cue quiet Gregorian chanting). This time we rode the coach up, up, up into the mountains and the utter darkness, until we arrived at the snow-smothered resort. The Lodge is a place of breathtaking luxury, built using massive logs helicoptered in from the Queen Charlotte Islands. It is also a brilliantly functional home and in its open kitchen we found Chef Marc Lepine of Atelier in Ottawa, the reigning champion, and his team preparing an astonishingly delicious meal for the crowd of over 100 merry-makers. Each dish was applauded long and loud. Barney Bentall was also there and was persuaded to sing some songs. Olympic athletes including Adam Van Koeverden and Jaime Salé were the stars of the evening and the wine was generously donated by a new Okanagan producer called Nagging Doubt. (The Chardonnay was particularly impressive).
Chef Lepine started us off with kushi oysters topped with horseradish foam then moved on to a dish that many remembered as an adaptation of his championship-winning dish from last year – a dazzling melange of dehydrated bacon and fennel, tiny fried potatoes the size of beans, lion’s-mane mushrooms and a huge pan-seared scallop with lemon thyme and shallot broth. He finsihed the dish with a spritz of lemon smabucca.
A deep-fried croquette of foie gras sat atop truffle purée as the centre of his next offering. Then came a sort of sorbet of coconut and lime granita with powdered kafir lime leaves squirted with thick pineapple juice – like eating a pina colada (the crowd went wild).
Our main course was slices of perfectly timed wagyu beef tenderloin laid over tissue-thin radishes, jerusalem artichoke chips and a ridiculous amount of shaved Perigord truffles, all topped with a sauce that was half butter and half corn – incredibly delectable!
Dessert consisted of a mosaic of quince, spun tonca bean and a jelly made from 2008 Chateau d’Yquem. The ingredients of Chef Lepine’s Last Supper matched the venue in splendour!
On Thursday evening the competition will begin for the ten competitors from across Canada. Whoever emerges triumphant will have a very tough act to follow.