Blimey, Calgary is such an accomplished and exciting food city! This year, it was Calgary’s turn to host the Canadian Olympic Foundation’s Hall of Fame festivities in the summer which means Gold Medal Plates does not throw a great big gala. Instead we found our 2014 champion with an intimate drive around – a merry afternoon for a delightful group of nine enthusiastic gastronomes, including our four judges, Calgary Senior Judge, writer, broadcaster and educator John Gilchrist, chef Michael Allemeier, last year’s gold medal winner, chef Duncan Ly and yours truly. We visited five establishments – each one of which now sports the new Gold Medal Plates Emblem of Distinction on their doors. Each dish was strikingly different and the standards were extremely high, just six percentage points separating all five competitors. Back at Hotel Arts, we crunched the scores and discussed the dishes in detail, eventually finding our medalists.
Taking the bronze, by less than one percent, was Alison Bieber of Black Pig Bistro. Her dish was elegant, flawless and deceptively simple. At its heart was a repurposed glass container of the exact type used to package yoghurt in Spain. Inside was a rich, moussy parfait of foie gras and chicken liver topped with an intense sherry jelly, as delicious as a schooner of amontillado. A crispy fried sage leaf stuck out jauntily then crumbled delectably as we dug in. Three perfect rounds of buttery, lightly toasted aerated brioche were there to act as yummy little rafts for the parfait and beside them was a pyramid of stacked, pea-sized spheres of caramelized apple. They formed a great bridge with Chef’s chosen wine, the renowned 2009 Riesling Icewine from Tawse in Niagara, an elixir that was beautifully in tune with the flavours of the dish.
Our silver medal went to Darren Maclean of Downtown Food. His dish was extraordinarily imaginative and technically perfect, a double act involving local rabbit in a dim sum idiom. A bowl held a treasure trove of ingredients centred upon a tender wonton stuffed with moist minced rabbit meat, topped with red tobiko roe. Around it were fragments of “char siu” pressed smoked bacon, heirloom carrot chips, cauliflower and locally foraged orange fungus. Chef completed the dish at the table by pouring on a rich rabbit consommé redolent of authentic Asian flavours and offering serious umame. The second component was a dainty roll of roasted rabbit saddle stuffed with confit of rabbit leg and a core of soft scallions. This was chef’s take on Peking duck, but using rabbit and with cute little chive blinis instead of the traditional pancakes. A sweet-spicy hoisin-like sauce moistened the roll which was topped with shards of super-crispy chicken skin. Tissue-thin rounds of cucumber and a nest of green onion “hair” added refreshment while occasional dots of sriracha added suprising moments of chili heat from time to time. Flecks of pistachio butter pickled chili added delightful textural variety. Chef paired his creation with the bright, citrussy Riesling from Tantalus in the Okanagan.
Taking gold by a small but signficant margin was Dave Bohati of Market Restaurant, a frequent competitor at Gold Medal Plates. His dish was far more abstract in its presentation, with many components giving an endless series of different textural and flavour effects. The principal protein was yellowfin tuna carpaccio, two pink, thinly sliced slabs of the sweet fish. Draped over one was a petal of foie gras torchon cured with Remy Martin and orange peel. Perched on the other was a deliciously crusty piece of cherrywood-smoked, pan-seared foie gras. Then the fun began. Precisely placed to give an illusion of randomness, all sorts of little treats played their roles. Dots of a golden beet and preserved lemon purée. Dots of a green pistachio dashi purée. Dots of a third purée, this one purple and made from purple beets and pickled plum. There were shallow pools of a vinaigrette made with purple cabbage concentrate and scented with the merest hint of truffle oil. There were crumbled fragments of a sweet pistachio sponge toffee. And for colour and herbal flavours, Chef scattered tiny buds of blue oyster flowers, baby nasturtium leaves, purple shiso and sorrel, their subtle, vegetal acidity the last piece of the puzzle. Chef’s chosen wine was a fine match – an off-dry 2013 Riesling from Wild Goose Vineyards.
It was a splendid day and all five chefs deserved our full congratulations. So we have our Calgary champion and will see him again in Kelowna in February. Tomorrow, Saskatoon!