Saskatoon Gold Medal Plates

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.




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