We left Regina on a sunlit autumn morning and landed in the teeth of a Calgary snowstorm, winter finally catching up to Gold Medal Plates and bringing the sense of Sochi into a new and closer perspective. The team had configured the Telus Centre differently than in years gone by and the wall of windows was uncurtained, giving a splendid view of the city and the falling snow as dusk slunk away into the darkness, leaving us to our revels. It was another triumphant evening with a sold-out crowd who had clearly come to party. Jim Cuddy, Barney Bentall and Eric Reed thrilled us with their music while our brilliant emcee was Canadian Olympian and hockey superstar, Jennifer Botterill. In no time at all, it seemed, she was calling me up on stage to announce the winning chefs.
It had not been so easy for the posse of judges up in our secluded garret as we added up numbers and pondered the plates. Beside me was Senior Judge, author, editor and educator, John Gilchrist, caterer and gastronomic entrepreneur Susan Hopkins, chef, broadcaster and culinary instructor, Michael Allemeier, food writer, publisher and editor, Kathy Richardier and last year’s Gold Medallist, from Crazyweed Kitchen in Canmore, Chef Eden Hrabec. In the end, less than four percentage points separated the top five chefs and decisions hung on the finest of details. We agreed that it was probably the best line-up of chefs Calgary had ever fielded for the GMP, that the nuanced, contemporary, cosmopolitan dishes were demonstrative of a city that was kicking itself up a notch or two in gastronomic terms – and then we agreed on the winners.
Taking bronze was Darren Maclean of Downtown Food who created an extraordinary dish he called Textures of Mushroom and Goat Cheese Salad. He began with half a dozen different wild mushrooms and treated each species in a different way, creating all manner of textures and flavours. Tiny white shemiji were lightly pickled; firm white king oyster mushrooms were smoked, sliced and grilled; shiitake were lacto-fermented in vacuum packs then cooked, emerging incredibly soft and slippery with a fascinating lactic tang; a big slice of juicy grilled matsutake posed beside black and yellow chanterelles while Chef had turned hen-of-the-woods mushrooms into tempura. Some grated white truffle was the final fungus. There were other elements of course, each one of which added to the general effect. A little puck of soft, tangy local goat cheese brought in a sharp note, a golden croquette contained a perfectly textured quail egg yolk, trapped between liquid and solid states; another tiny fried quail’s egg lay beside it, sunny side up. Chef Maclean’s wine choice worked really well the dish, its subtle, careful aromatics outlining the different flavours of the mushroom feast – the 2012 Viognier from Black Hills Estate in B.C.
Our silver medal went to Roy Oh of Anju who made the brave decision (in Calgary, too) to use tofu as his star ingredient. His dish consisted of three treatments of the curd. The first was a strip of pink mousse, the dimensions of a pencil stub, that turned out to be tofu whipped with foie gras. It was soft, light, but extraordinarily rich and flavoursome – the single most delicious thing of the entire evening according to more than one judge. Chef Oh garnished this with minute cubes of colourless jelly made from his chosen wine, a dot of Thai basil oil, half a teaspoon of a brunoise of Korean pear and a brittle fin of toasted brioche. A few grains of sea salt set the flavours in motion. The second element was a shot glass of lobster bisque into which tofu had been whipped until it dissolved. The flavour was profoundly crustacean but there was more going on behind it for Chef had spiked the thin but intense broth with a dash of the Korean chili oil he makes from ginger, chilies and garlic – just enough to add a hint of spicy bitterness. The third component was a cube of trembling tofu crusted with panko and fried – perfectly light and greaseless – paired with some gorgeous fried pork belly that had been cured in maple and miso and a little sautéed kimchi set over a puddle of citrus aïoli. This was particularly good with the wine Chef Oh chose, a Gewurztraminer-Riesling blend from B.C., the Nichol 9 Mile White.
Our gold medal was awarded, not for the first time, to Duncan Ly of Yellow Door Bistro. He presented a slim slice of a superb terrine made with side stripe prawns and pig’s ear set in a matrix of firm, finely textured braised pork neck. Once sliced, the prawns showed as white circles against the meat while the pig’s ear (amazingly tender) was a narrow stripe curving across the surface. The flavours were subtle indeed, repaying the judges’ concentration. To contrast with the terrine, Chef made a crisp, fresh salad of finely julienned apple spiked with mint and a discreet sweet-sour dressing. An “Asian hot mustard and garlic sauce” turned out to be more of a gently spiced aïoli while the dish’s garnishes – a sort of rosette of confited squid tentacles, a miniature rice crisp and some pink and violet flower petals – looked as pretty as a picture. Chef’s wine match was remarkably successful – the Peller Estates Ice Cuvée rosé sparkler from Niagara. Its icewine dosage gives the bubbly an off-dry richness (with great acidity) that enhanced all the flavours on the plate.
Duncan Ly will return to the Canadian Culinary Championship in February, representing a Calgary gastronomical scene that, last night, proved absolutely fascinating.
And now, our Wine Report from Gold Medal Plates National Wine Advisor, David Lawrason
Sparkling Wines Glitter in Calgary
On a snowy night in Calgary sparkling wine made Gold Medal Plates history, in more ways than one. Peller Ice Cuvee Rose sparkling became the first wine to repeat as gold medal champion, accompanying Hotel Arts chef Duncan Ly to the podium. In fact three sparkling wines were paired with chefs creations this night, again a record. And those three sparkling wines were from three different provinces – with Benjamin Bridge 2009 Brut from Nova Scotia joining Ice Cuvee from Ontario and Cipes Brut from B.C.
Could this be a foreshadowing of a central role for bubbly in defining Canadian wine both nationally and globally? I wouldn’t bet against it.
But when it came to the very close voting for Best Wine of Show, the sparklers were overtaken by two British Columbia icons. It was the scintillating and complex Tantalus 2012 Riesling that eked out the win, over a wonderfully authentic and well balanced Gamay Noir 2012 by Blue Mountain that all three judges voted a solid second. The Benjamin Bridge 2009 Brut made it into third place tie with Black Hills 2012 Viognier
The Best of Show Wine Award is a judging of all the wines in each city to recognize the generosity of the Canadian wine industry, which each year counts over 60 wineries as donors. The winning wineries have increased odds in a draw to spend a week at Borgo San Felice in Tuscany.
I was joined in the wine judging by the two of Calgary’s top palates, both also judges with the WineAlign National and World Wine Awards. Tom Firth is a writer and educator whose work appears in contributing to Avenue, City Palate and Culinaire. Sommelier Brad Royale spends time as the wine director for Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts, overseeing wine programs at several properties in Alberta and British Columbia.
The gold podium appearance for Peller’s Ice Cuvee Rose was a fitting kudo for Peller, which is the National Celebration Wine Sponsor for 2013. This night they donated the quite delicious, fresh and flavourful Wayne Gretzky 2012 Pinot Grigio, and the nicely complex quite savoury Sandhill 2011 Merlot.
The other major Sponsor in Calgary was the Okanagan’s Black Hills Winery. They impressed the judges with a pair of new wines called Cellarhand. Both the First Press White and Punch Down Red are mult-grape blends, and both were not far out of the running for the top three spots. In particular the Frist Press White is very nicely composed and balanced.
The Black Hills 2012 Viognier, which was one of my favourites of the night, not only tied for third in the Best of Show Awards, it made it to the podium with bronze medal chef Darren Maclean of Downtown Food who expertly matched it to a wild mushroom exploration. Silver medal chef Chef Roy Oh of Anju Restaurant paired his “tofu three ways” with Nichol 9 Mile White.
The fine roster of wines this night was filled out with Mission Hill 2011 Reserve Chardonnay (a WineAlign National Wine Awards Gold Medalist) and Vineland Estates 2011 Pinot Meunier which was nicely matched to an albacore tuna credo by Dave Bohati of Market Eatery,