It takes a full day to get back to Toronto from Victoria – plenty of time to digest the results of a fabulous Gold Medal Plates gala at the Victoria Convention Centre on Thursday night. The evening was warm and a fine drizzle did nothing to deter the merry-makers who gathered on the eve of Halloween. They met a most impressive line-up of chefs drawn from all over British Columbia, some terrific wines (and cider), cocktails (thank you, Victoria gin!) and canapés (thank you, chef Brian Skiner!) and a thoroughly amazing show. The emcees were Canada’s beloved ice skaters, Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue (I’m so excited they are co-hosting the Scottish GMP trip with us next June) while the great Olympic oarsman Adam Kreek interviewed the athletes with his customary energy and charm. The music was awesome thanks to Ed Robertson, Danny Michel, Dustin Bentall and fiddler-trumpet player Daniel Lapp, inspiring much dancing in the aisles and an overall vibe of being one of the best parties in Canada.
But the food – how was the food? It was even better than last year – nine thoughtful, compelling, truly delectable dishes that demanded the full attention of my fellow judges, editor, writer, educator and our Senior Judge Andrew Morrison; writer, editor and culinary judge Shelora Sheldan; iconic culinarian and food guru, Sinclair Philip of Sooke Harbour House; former sommelier, chef, innkeeper, now author and editor of EAT magazine, Gary Hynes, and last year’s esteemed B.C. GMP gold medallist, chef Brian Skinner.
Unsurprisingly, superb local seafood was front and centre of many dishes, in particular of the elegantly imaginative, delicately achieved étude that won the bronze medal for Chef Terry Pichor of Sonora Resort on Sonora Island. At its heart was a ling cod cheek from local cod, lightly cured in ocean water and lemon balm from chef’s garden, then very briefly cooked sous vide, barely long enough to seize its juices. Rare and trembling, this naurally sweet piece of fish was sprinkled with a pinch of furukaki (powdered nori, sesame seed, dehydrated shiso leaf and puffed wild rice). Beside it were ribbons of exceptionally tender Humboldt squid, also cured and cooked sous vide but then bronzed for a moment on the plancha before being rolled and set onto the plate. There was a steamed Dungeness crab claw, snippets of pickled kelp and, lending their unique aroma to the dish, some perfect shavings of raw pine mushroom. Little pools of pale russet foam reminded me of a rock pool and turned out to be an espuma made from sea urchin purée. Chef finished the plate by pouring on a rich, heavy, almost viscous dashi broth flavoured with kelp, pine mushroom and bonito. It sounds like there was a lot going on but everything made perfect sense, flavours and distinct textures involved in an intricate dance that paid homage to the sea. On a night when the quality of a wine-match made the difference between reaching and not reaching the podium, Chef Pichor’s choice was most impressive. It was a wine I had never tasted before, called Nomu and made by Kanazawa Winery in Naramata, B.C., a slightly off-dry, aromatic, tangy blend of Viognier, Semillon and a dash of Muscat.
Our silver medal was awarded to Chef Wesley Young of Wildebeest, in Vancouver, who decided Brome Lake duck would be his principal protein. He began by brining the breasts and curing and confiting the legs, then using the combined meats in a boudin, lightly bound with a suggestion of duck mousse. Each guest received two slices of this moist and delicious sausage. Between them lay a similarly drum-shaped “salardaise” of shaved potato cooked in duck fat and layered with Perigord truffle. Two powerfully flavourful elements served as condiments to the boudin. The first was a sweet-tart purée of mission figs that had been cooked with port, balsamic vinegar and duck glace. The second was a moussy foam made from the duck livers with a dash of Cognac, shallot, garlic and bay. Over this Chef sprinkled a brown crumble of crispy duck skin and fried sage. To counteract all this opulent umame and ducky richness, a single baby turnip, white and simply blanched to the edge of tenderness, lay on the other side of the plate like an innocent child in a roomful of worldly sophisticates. Chef’s wine was a big, ripe Pinot Noir, the 2011 Cedar Creek Platinum “Black 2” from Kelowna, a great match to the fig and the liver flavours.
Chef Kristian Eligh from Hawksworth restaurant in Vancouver won the gold medal with a pairing he described as “bacon and Chardonnay.” His meat wasn’t really bacon, though it schmecked like bacon, as one of the judges pointed out. It was in fact a gorgeous confit of pork neck that had been brined for 12 hours then confited in pork fat for a further 12 hours. Cut into puck-shaped slices, its texture was impeccable – moist and juicy but not too soft under a sticky cloak of a glaze made from a reduction of calvados and smoked pork. On top of this perched some ethereal puffed-up cheddar cheese crisps and two or three slivers of crisp pickled apple. A brown butter crumble was judiciously sprinkled and the whole assembly was topped with a refreshing sprig of mache. Dramatically separated across the plate was a perfect circle of buttery Granny Smith apple purée. Chef’s wine match proved another success, picking up the apple and smoke and nutty butteriness in the dish – Meyer Family Vineyards 2012 “Kelly Hrudey” Tribute Series Chardonnay from Naramata, B.C.
So we are on a roll… Four champions now selected from four spectacular parties. The excellent adventure continues on Monday in Montreal.
Victoria Wine Report
By David Lawrason
National Wine Advisor
There were eight excellent B.C. reds and whites clustered near the top of the leaderboard for the Best of Show Wine Award at Gold Medal Plates in Victoria on October 30. We three judges had given them due scrutiny in the finest glassware, with the wines poured at perfect temperature by sommeliers among GMP volunteer staff of the Victoria Convention Centre. And we tasted again and voted, but still there was no unanimity, and the scoring was so close.
In the end we crowned a complex merlot-cab-malbec (Bordeaux) blend as Best of Show, a maturing 2010 from Lake Breeze Winery called Tempest that displayed riveting tension and great depth, and will likely do so until the end of this decade at least. A very close second came another maturing 2010 red from the Okanagan; this time the rich, balanced, big Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Pinot Noir. And close by that, in second runner-up spot came a powerful, complex, almost Meursault-like chardonnay – Meyer Family’s 2012 Tribute Series Kelly Hrudy from their Old Main Vineyard near Okanagan Falls.
The Best of Show Award is designed to single out and thank the wineries that donate their wines to Gold Medal Plates. During the Celebration portion of the evening, there were three wines on every table. In each city, Peller’s Niagara Estate is very generously donating its popular Ice Cuvee matched to the dessert. This is a traditional method sparkling wine sweetened by little dosage of vidal ice wine. Peller Niagara Estate was named 2014 Winery of the Year at the Wine Align National Wine Awards of Canada.
Thanks also to a pair of prominent BC wineries for donating to the Celebration. Calliope Figure 8 is a hugely successful new red blend of merlot, cabernet and malbec by the Wyse family at Burrowing Owl in the south Okanagan. And Le Vieux Pin Winery donated their power blend of white Rhone varieties called Le Petit Blanc, a wine I personally ranked in the top five.
I was very pleased to be joined this night on the judging panel by the Harry McWatters the architect of modern BC wine and the Honorary Ambassador to the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna. Mr. McWatters founded a small boutique winery called Sumac Ridge in Summerland in 1980, based on the daring notion that the Okanagan could succeed with European vinifera grape varieties. He went on to help found the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) in B.C. too, and opened up vast tracts of virtual desert scrub along Black Sage Road south of Oliver, that today is making Canada’s best red wines. He has moved on in his illustrious career to make his own McWatters Collection, with a fabulous winery now under construction on Black Sage Road.
We were also joined by Victoria’s own Sharon Maclean, a freelance wine writer and educator who earned her WSET Diploma in 2009 with the highest marks of any Canadian. She now teaches WSET in Victoria through Wine Plus, and has joined local writer Treve Ring to form the Cru Consultancy.
In the court of culinary opinion, only one of our Best of Show finalists made it to the Chefs Podium; the Meyer Family Chardonnay being seamlessy matched to the dish by gold medal chef Kristian Eligh of Hawksworth in Vancouver. This earns Meyer Family a berth at the Canadian Culinary Championship when Hawksworth competes in Kelowna in February 2015. Silver medalist Wesley Young of Wildebeest in Vancouver poured CedarCreek’s impressive 2012 Platinum Pinot Noir Block 2; while bronze medalist Terry Pichor of poured Kanazawa Winery’s innovative white blend of viognier, semillon and muscat blanc called Nomu.
Other wines that gave the winners a run for their money this night included the aromatically exact Nichol 2011 Syrah, the lovely Bella 2012 Sparkling Chardonnay and ever-popular Quails’ Gate 2013 Chenin Blanc.
We were also treated to a lovely semi-sweet cider called Pippins by Sea Cider of Vancouver Island; and their Sannich neighbour Victoria provided their crisp, icy Victoria Gin for celebratory martinis at the VIP reception. They were joined by Vancouver Island Brewery that poured a bevy of fine beers all night long.
All in all, in my opinion, Victoria was the strongest beverage showcase on the 2014 Gold Medal Plates tour to date.