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.
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.
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.
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.