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.
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.
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.