Things are done differently in Montreal. Instead of a Gold Medal Plates gala, we join together with our national sponsor, Deloitte, and our friends from Montreal Impact, gather 100 guests and set off to tour the city. We are divided into five groups; we visit five restaurants; we reassemble and the party goes on while the judges confer. In the end, the medals are announced and the new Montreal GMP champion is crowned. That’s how it went down last night – at five very different, very sophisticated restos. We were joined by Olympians Isabelle Charest and Jen-Luc Brassard and by Impact stars Hassoun Camara, Cameron Porter and Maxim Tissot, and everyone agreed the evening was a splendid success. Indeed, the only dissent was in the judges’ room after the dishes were tasted, when we discovered that our gallant and hard-working judiciary – Robert Beauchemin (Senior Judge for Montreal), and writers Gildas Meneu, Rollande Desbois and yours truly –differed quite markedly in our assessment of the chefs. Debate was necessary, and even when we had come to a result upon which we all agreed, only one quarter of a percentage point separated gold from silver. It was as close as any 100-metre dash in the Olympics.
We awarded our bronze medal to Dany Bolduc of H4C who offered a delicate dish, exquisitely presented and full of subtle harmonies. A perfectly cylindrical canneloni stood on its end at one side of the plate like a glossy, four-inch, ivory-coloured tower. The pasta was so thin and soft you could almost break it by looking at it and inside we found a soft, subtle scallop mousse. Beside this was a slice of raw hamachi, partially rolled and set on its side – the fish’s natural sweetness and richness perfectly matched that of the scallop. A streak of white horseradish crème fraîche echoed the softness of the mousse and also cradled a teaspoonful of Northern Divine sturgeon caviar from British Columbia. Tiny dots of watercress purée and green apple butter stood at a decorous distance from the proteins; a brunoise of celeriac and a scattered pinch of powdered bonito finished the plate. Chef had found an excellent match for his ethereal flavours – the zingy, bright, off-dry Stratus 2014 Riesling from Niagara.
We gave our silver medal to Takeshi Horinoue of Lavanderia, a restaurant owned by last year’s gold medal winer, Antonio Park (a connection which Chef Park felt prevented him from joining us as a judge). This, too, was a dish of unabashedly soft tetures, centred upon a little block of Gaspor farm piglet flank, cooked sous vide until the white fat layers were trembling, the leaner meat barely blushing pink, then finished in the oven to give the skin a marvellous crunchy, chewy, sticky glaze. Two purées nestled up to the pork like discarded silk blankets – one of kabocha squash, the other a chorizo mousse. Hidden beneath them lurked a ragout of juicy corn kernels and white haricot beans poached in coconut milk. A farofa of dried and crumbled yucca flour was scattered lightly over a corner of the dish and there were two sauces – a subtle green thyme oil and gastrique made from the piglet’s own juices. Softness, richness, an underlying sweetness… The wine Chef chose seemed bold by comparison – the gorgeous 2012 Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay from Hidden Bench in Niagara.
We hung our gold medal around the neck of Guillaume Cantin from Les 400 Coups. His dish might be described as a very suave take on pork and beans but it would be better to approach it from the same direction in which it was created, by starting with a consideration of the accompanying beverage. This was a fascinating beer called À Table! from Brasseur du Monde de Saint-Hyacinthe, a local micro-brewery. A reddish ale with a healthy sparkle, it includes 16 herbs and botanicals in the recipe, which together lend it a citrussy, hoppy complexity I found most compelling. Chef had tasted this beer closely and identified flavours in it that he then worked into his dish. But first, the pork – a thick slice of shoulder of suckling pig, cooked to a pink rareness and touched with a maple lacquer that avoided excessive sweetness and let the flavour of the meat shine through. Flanking this stood two tiny drums of boudin noir, soft and moist inside a delicate crust. Field peas, baked to an old recipe with motes of bacon cured from the piglet’s cheek, lay alongside, still firm enough to offer textural contrast; a compote of saskatoon berries played the role of ketchup, adding a gentle tang that cut the maple sweetness. Chef spoke of sunchokes and there they were – three slivers, the size of loonies, lightly pickled. Fragments of butter nut were strewn about to add their own nutty flavour and another textural shift. The final touch were some fresh tarragon leaves – another note Chef had found in the beer. It was a surprisingly complex dish when you analyzed what was going on but its true quality emerged when you put a bit of everything on the fork and tucked in.
So we have our Montreal champion. He will head to Kelowna in February! And now only two cities remain – Victoria and Saskatoon. I can’t wait.