Regina Gold Medal Plates 2014

On the podium in Regina - Silver: Leo Pantel; Gold: Milton Rebello; Bronze: Geoffrey Caswell-Murphy
On the podium in Regina – Silver: Leo Pantel; Gold: Milton Rebello; Bronze: Geoffrey Caswell-Murphy

Regina was the last date for Gold Medal Plates this year and it proved an amazing evening! The event was more than sold out, squeezing in extra tables onto the stage of the Conexus Arts Centre. The crowd was pretty well perfect – merry but attentive, in a mood to buy all our trips with generous abandon, and totally into the athletes and the awesome music from Jim Cuddy, Colin Cripps and violinist Miranda Mulholland. Jenn Heil was our charming and supersmooth MC and Jennifer Botterill was as brilliant as ever as our athlete interviewer. All in all, it was a truly great finale to what has been our best campaign ever.

Last night’s culinary competition was also formidable – Regina is a city that continues to raise the bar higher every year. We judges had our work cut out and tasted some extraordinary dishes. With me at the table were Regina’s Senior Judge, author and broadcaster CJ Katz; Executive Chef of the Provincial Legislature and International culinary competitor, Trent Brears; chef and culinary teacher Thomas Rush; restaurant columnist and broadcaster Aidan Morgan, and last year’s gold-medal-winner, chef Jonathan Thauberger of Crave.

Geoffrey Caswell-Murphy's bison took bronze
Geoffrey Caswell-Murphy’s bison took bronze

Taking the bronze medal was Geoffrey Caswell-Murphy of Double Tree by Hilton with a very elegant and precise presenation. In the foreground of the plate were three slices of perfect bison tenderloin, cooked sous vide, seared and lightly crusted with a coffee and pepper dust. A brush of veal reduction looked like a silk carpet on which stood three separate elements. To the left rose a mound of a rich, intensely flavourful ragout of shredded oyster mushroom and tomato. In the centre, a wafer-thin apple chip stuck up jauntily from a hummock of apple-and-celery-root purée. On the right, a green mound of shredded, subtly wilted spinach was flecked with powdered dried cranberries and moistened with a refined Champagne and goat cheese vinaigrette. Chef’s wine was a fine match for the bison and for the earthier notes of mushroom and celeriac, a blended Shiraz-Cabernet from Saint And Sinner in Oliver, B.C.

Leo Pantel's beef cheek won silver
Leo Pantel’s beef cheek won silver

Loyal GMP supporter Leo Pantel of Conexus Arts Centre won silver on his own turf. His dish was seriously beautiful to look at and offered some very sophisticated flavour harmonies. At its heart was beef cheek, impeccably marinated and braised, the meat divinely rich and succulent. Beside it was a tiny square of blue cheese panna cotta that contained some fragrant powdered chanterelles and showed a pink dot of redcurrant gelee on its surface. The blue cheese and the meat were marvellous together. The beef rested on a pale pillow of puréed seasonal vegetables – celery root, parsnip and potato smoothed with butter and cream. Two sturdy little butternut squash gnocchi added a moment of weight and the dish was finished with some bright yellow mustard blossoms on the beef and an orange-coloured firestick blossom. Chef chose a big wine but it proved to be an excellent match – Mission Hill’s 2009 Quatrain, a rich blend of Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

Milton Rebello's two-bite masterpiece won gold
Milton Rebello’s two-bite masterpiece won gold

And so to the last gold medal of the campaign – awarded unanimously, and by a considerable margin, to a chef who also won gold here two years ago and then went on to win bronze at the Canadian Culinary Championships, Milton Rebello of Wascana Golf & Country Club. To say his dish stood out last night would be a gross understatement. It was one of the most imaginative – and courageous – notions of the year, just two things on the plate, each of which needed to be consumed in a single bite. First, what looked like a tan-coloured puff perched on a rainbow-filled shot glass. “Pop the puff into your mouth give it  couple of chews then do the shooter,” chef instructed. The judges obeyed. The puff was an air tuile made of semolina. Inside it were some flecks of chestnut that had been puréed and then deep fried, seasoned with lemon, chili, coriander and cumin. Also inside was a small finger of warm belly pork, nicely crusted. It was indeed a delightful mouthful, the spices spreading a warm glow across the palate. Then the shooter… Pow! Those spices began to glow as they were hit by salted lemon chili water, pickled apple and a dab of cranberry chutney. It was such an exciting, complex experience – and then it was over and we turned to the second component. Here Chef had taken the same ingredients but used them in completely different ways. The pork was a crisp chicheron, the chestnut had become a dab of mousse, the cranberry chutney had been turned into pearls. The apple reappeared as dainty chips garnished with chili threads. It was similar but quite different – soft flavours, soothing almost, with the greaseless crunch of the chicheron. Chef’s wine match worked remarkably well – Red Rooster’s 2013 Gewurztraminer.

So we now have our line-up for the Canadian Culinary Championship in Kelowna next February, and it’s a list of extraordinary talent: Luc Jean of Jane’s in Winnipeg, Renée Lavallée of The Canteen in Dartmouth, Ryan O’Flynn of The Westin Edmonton in Edmonton, Kristian Eligh of Hawksworth in Vancouver, Antonio Park of Restaurant Park in Montreal, Dave Bohati of Market in Calgary, Chris Hill of the Delta Bessborough in Saskatoon, John Horne of Canoe in Toronto, Mark McCrowe of Aqua in St. John’s, Patrick Garland of Absinthe Café in Ottawa and Milton Rebello of Wascana Golf & Country Club. It’s going to be an amazing competition!

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