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 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.
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.