Gold Medal Plates loves Edmonton! Last night, it was clear that the feeling is mutual. The sold-out crowd of 780 (a new record) at the Shaw Centre came to party as if we were already in Rio, cheering on our Olympic athletes, our splendid chefs and their teams, and a stage-full of dazzlingly talented musicians – a veritable orchestra of rock starring Barney Bentall, Anne Lindsay, Colin Cripps, Devin Cuddy, Sam Polley and Geoffrey Kelly and Matthew Harder of Spirit of the West. Curt Harnett was the smoothest and most amusing of MCs. There was much dancing in the aisles and an eye-popping energy level that was sustained right through the auction (so many trips sold!) to the final announcement of the winning chefs.
Choosing who made it to the podium was no cakewalk for our panel of judges led by Edmonton Senior Judge, Mary Bailey, who is a food, wine and travel writer, certified sommelier and publisher of The Tomato Food & Drink, alongside world-class pastry chef and chef instructor, Clayton Folkers; award-winning reporter for The Edmonton Journal, Liane Faulder; Red Seal Chef, food writer, educator and owner of Seasoned Solutions’ Loft Cooking School, Culinary Tours, Gail Hall; chef Chris Wood; chef, author and owner of Kitchen culinary studio, Brad Smoliak; and of course last year’s Edmonton gold medal winner and reigning Canadian Culinary Champion, Chef Ryan O’Flynn of the Westin Edmonton hotel.
It’s fascinating to see how far Edmonton’s food scene has come in the last decade of Gold Medal Plates competitions. Last night was remarkable for the imagination, sophistication and precision of so many of the dishes, as well as the wide variety of culinary styles on show. While we ended up with a clear winner, our bronze and silver medallists were separated by only 0.5 of a percentage point. We awarded the bronze to Cory Rakowski of 12 Acres, an extraordinary restaurant that exists in partnership with 12 Acres Farm in Pickardville, Alberta, and operates a true pasture-to-plate concept, self-sustaining where all ingredients except cheese are concerned. Chef Rakowski presented a triptych of beef from an animal raised on the farm, moving from cold to hot and raw to well done. The raw component was tartare of beef heart served in a miniature buckwheat tuile cup and sprinkled with toasted buckwheat groats. The warm element was sliced flat iron steak, admirably tender and seasoned with finishing salt. The piping hot moment was a crisp croquette of pulled beef cheek moistened and enriched with foie gras. All three items sat upon a bed of toothsome wheatberry and squash pilaf, decorated with rolled up ribbons of squash. A saskatoonberry gastrique finished the plate and served as a fine bridge into Chef’s chosen wine, the 2012 Castoro de Oro Estate Winery Merlot from Oliver, B.C.
Our silver medallist, Andrew Cowan from Packrat Louie Kitchen and Bar, approached the competition from a very different direction, announcing to the judges that he wanted to do a dish that used his three favourite foods – charcuterie, bread and foie gras. The result was universally relished by all the judges, a sort of deconstructed sandwich that looked beautiful and tasted even better. The bread was a fine fresh white sourdough, torn up into ragged pieces and smothered with a mostarda made of chunks of fresh peach and soft juicy knobs of foie gras in a tangy mustard dressing. Draped over everything like a sleeve of pink and white silk were tissue-thin slices of pork loin that chef had cured, lightly smoked and then dry-aged for three months – a heavenly cold cut! Mustard seed “caviar” was the condiment and a scattering of carrot tops completed a disarmingly simple but perfectly executed dish. The wine match, Mission Hill’s 2014 Reserve Riesling from the Okanagan Valley, had just the ringing acidity to cut the fat on the plate.
Our gold medallist has won Gold Medal Plates Edmonton before, in 2011 – Jan Trittenbach from Solstice Seasonal Cuisine. He chose to work with pork, offering a sensational bite-sized piece of pork belly that was delightfully lean but unctuously soft beneath its crisp surface. As a second component he made a roulade of pork stuffed with ricotta and wrapped in a skin of soft leek. Between them stood a perfect mushroom that turned out to be the cap of a cremini lightly marinated with soy, sesame and vinegar, but with a stalk made of a porcini tuile tube filled with silky bacon “caviar.” A fourth element was an elfin cup hollowed from a morsel of sweet potato and filled with coarsely puréed mushroom. There were moments of beet purée and spinach purée on the plate and a mound of “soil” made from powdered beet and pistachio from which the mushroom appeared to be growing. Microgreens added to the impression of a forest floor. Technically impeccable, the dish was finely matched with a red blend from the Okanagan, Sandhill 2012 Small Lots Three.
Et voila! Jan Trittenbach is going back to Kelowna next February, representing Edmonton. Tonight? On to Regina!