And here we go again! Winnipeg and the first big gala of the new Gold Medal Plates campaign was a rip-roaring success. A beautiful fall day on the prairies slid gracefully into a gorgeous evening as the 600 guests made merry at the RBC Convention Centre, the space splendid in black and scarlet. The eloquent and charming Jennifer Botterill was the evening’s emcee, and music was provided by BC legend Barney Bentall, the incomparable Anne Lindsay and Andy Maize from the Skydiggers. Needless to say the room was jumping and bidding was fierce for the famous GMP trips – VIP vacations in Scotland, Provence, Tuscany, New Zealand and South America. I have never seen such a spectacular selection of rare wines at our silent auction – regiments of bottles surrounding the raised table where we culinary judges went about our happy work, led by Winnipeg Senior judge, chef Jeff Gill, Director of Food Services at Red River College. Joining us at the table was writer Christine Hanlon, co-author of The Manitoba Book of Everything, writer, editor and broadcaster Arvel Gray, chef, restaurateur and patisserie specialist Barbara O’Hara and last year’s gold medallist, Chef Kelly Cattani of Elements by Diversity.
And the food? Extraordinary. All but three of the chefs were new to the competition; every one of them thrilled guests and judges alike. In the end, after considerable analysis and deliberation, the judges were unanimous in their decision, though the gap between the marks for bronze and silver medals was minuscule.
The bronze medal went to chef Edward Lam of Yujiro. He prepared a tender, richly flavourful loin of lamb in a most original way, marinating and glazing the meat in sweet miso and Japanese barbecue spices then wrapping it in tissue-thin kombu and caul fat before searing it in the pan. Beside it was a fresh salad of red and green wakame seaweed in a yuzu and sesame dressing and some halved Brussels sprouts finished with a balsamic and shoyu glaze. A billow of puréed kabucha pumpkin seasoned with mirin rose like a yellow wave from the plate and the dish was finished with a splendid sauce – a classic veal and lamb demiglace enriched with roasted fish heads and bones for maximum umami. Introducing it, chef Lam told the judges something none of us knew, that the two Chinese characters that depict the word “umami” mean “lamb” and “fish” – the inspiration for his sauce. The wine he chose to accompany was one of the best matches of the evening – the sophisticated, ripe, tangy 2013 Baco Noir from Henry of Pelham in Niagara.
Taking the silver medal was chef Norm Pastorin of The Cornerstone. He chose to work with rabbit, wrapping the dainty loin in prosciutto and carving a little drum of it for every plate then topping it with a spoonful of pickled mustard seeds that added a refreshing acidity to the dish. Beneath the loin was a splendid rabbit stew that used up the rest of the animal, its seasoning perfectly judged, its gravy voluptuously thick. Again, a dramatic purée added visual excitement, this time a red-orange colour that seemed to glow like the setting sun. It was simplicity itself, explained chef Pastorin, just gorgeous local carrots and salt – no butter, nothing else at all. Chopped chives and a crostini like a fin of crisp lace finished the plate, together with a limpid jus from the rabbit bones, spiked with some of Chef’s chosen wine, the elegantly oaky Quail’s Gate Chardonnay from the Okanagan.
And the gold? Everyone agreed that the evening’s stand-out dish came from chef Luc Jean of Jane’s. Just for the record, Luc Jean is also an instructor and a colleague of our Senior Judge, so Jeff Gill did not mark the dish; instead we took the average of the marks from the other judges, used that as Jeff Gill’s mark and applied the result to the scoresheet. What was so impressive about the dish? For one thing, as the food runners set the plates down on the judging table, we all remarked that it smelt absolutely heavenly. Flavours were big and bold but precisely balanced. There was plenty of textural contrast and every component made perfect sense on the palate. The central protein was a pork tenderloin, cooked sous-vide then seared with Chinese barbecue spices that lent the meat a forthright degree of peppery heat. A new potato had been confited in duck fat while a vivid orange-coloured purée of butternut squash and carrot was enriched with a hint of maple and anise. A mound of lightly fermented cabbage was nicely judged – not too tart but far from insipid – and the garnishes all made a telling contribution: morsels of candied orange that were more fruity than sweet, a scattering of ethereal pork cracklings and crispy fried onions. Chef’s sauce was a veal jus, subtly sharpened with a honey and lime juice gastrique. The wine match, Pelee Island’s Lighthouse Riesling from Ontario, was exact.
So we have our first champion! He must wait until next February to fly to Kelowna and take part in the Canadian Culinary Championship. Meanwhile, the journey continues in Halifax on October 16. One down; ten more cities to go!
A big thank you to Ian McCausland, who took the pictures. www.ian.ca
And now, here is the wine report from that memorable evening, courtesy of GMP’s National Wine Advisor, David Lawrason.
Stunning Silent Auction Wines Headline in Winnipeg
by David Lawrason, National Wine Advisor
The 2014 Gold Medal Plates campaign launched with a bang on October 2 in Winnipeg where guests were greeted with a stunning line-up of very rare silent auction wines arrayed in the centre of the competition room. Assembled by Christopher Sprague of 529 Wellington restaurant, and the new National Rare Wine Auction Wine Advisor for Gold Medal Plates, the selection featured an incredibly hard to find Chateau Haut-Brion 1945, plus an Imperial (6 litres) of the stunning Mouton-Rothschild 1986 and three double magnums of Cheval Blanc 1995. Over on the Burgundy side were single bottles of Richbourg and La Tache 1997, as well as several bottles of turn of millenium Montrachet. Sales were brisk by night’s end.
Mr Sprague joined two other local wine authorities and myself to judge the Best of Show Wine Award. The judges included Ben McPhee-Sigurdson, a good friend and judge with for the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada and wine columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press. We were also joined by Aaron Alblas, who works in the Purchasing Department for Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries and is currently in a development term, being mentored by product consultants to become education director. Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries played a major role in the festivities, sponsoring most of the wine poured by the chefs as well as the wines for the Celebration portion of the evening. It is the only liquor board in the country to take such a pro-active role.
Squirreled away in a convention hall meeting room overlooking the gold draped ballroom, the wine panel tasted through a dozen Canadian wines competing for the Best of Show honours. We were most impressed by a pair of newly-minted 2013 reds from Niagara, with only one vote separating first and second place. The winner was Cave Spring 2013 Gamay, the best gamay this winery has yet produced with ripe plummy fruit, florals and pepper reminiscent of Beaujolais. The runner-up was the equally juicy Henry of Pelham 2013 Baco Noir, which may be the best these baco specialists have yet produced. In third spot came the hefty, complex Le Vieux Pin 2013 Blanc from B.C, a white blend inspired by viognier-based whites from the south of France.
Other wines on the docket included Peller Ice Cuvee, which was paired with dessert during the Celebration. Peller is donating this wine across the country in celebration of their big win as Winery of the Year at the WineAlign National Wine Awards. Out on the competition floor guests sampled Quails Gate 2012 Chardonnay, Pelee Island 2012 Lighthouse Riesling and Gray Monk 2013 Pinot Gris among the whites. Other reds included Stratus 2011 Wildass Red, Nk’Mip Cellars 2008 Meritage, Henry of Pelham 2011 Cabernet-Merlot and Open 2012 Cabernet Merlot.
Pelee Island’s 2012 Lighthouse Riesling was paired with a sous vide pork tenderloin by gold medal dish by CHEF Luc Jean of Jane’s, so Pelee Island will be invited to join him at the Canadian Culinary Championship in Kelowna. Silver medalist Norm Pastorin selected Quails’ Gate Chardonnay with prosciutto-wrapped rabbit and bronze medallist Edward Lam of Yujiro paired Henry of Pelham’s 2013 Baco Noir, a personal favourite matching of the night.
And a grand night it was!