Our fearless leader, Stephen Leckie, is wont to describe Gold Medal Plates’s Victoria event as one of the country’s great parties, the western equivalent to GMP St. John’s, and I’m not about to disagree. A storm had blown in off the Pacific the night before, taking down power lines, but all was restored by Thursday and a warm sun shone down from a placid blue sky as our super-efficient local and national teams set up the show in the Victoria Conference Centre. It turned out to be a superb evening, with Curt Harnett in top form as MC and the great Adam Kreek interviewing the dozens of athletes in attendance. And the music! We had our largest band ever on stage – and surely the entire room was on its feet dancing and pogoing when John Mann sang “Home for a Rest.” Up there with him was Jim Cuddy, Matthew Harder, Barney Bentall, Anne Lindsay, Sam Polley, Dustin Bentall, as well as Spirit of the West’s Tobin Frank on accordion and Daniel Lapp on trumpet and fiddle.
The culinary side of things was every bit as exciting. We invited chefs from across British Columbia, including a strong contingent from Vancouver, and each one of them brought his A game. For the judges, this meant much pleasure and delight braided into the night’s work and we had fun at our table, tasting in a private room away from the madding crowd. The panel is a most impressive line-up, led by our joint Chiefs of staff for British Columbia, Senior Judge Sid Cross – one of Canada’s great authorities on food and wine – and Senior Judge Andrew Morrison, author, critic and editor-in-chief of Scout Magazine, together with writer, editor and culinary judge Shelora Sheldan; hotelier, restaurateur and recipient of the Nation’s Table Governor General’s award, Dr. Sinclair Philip; sommelier, chef, writer and founder of EAT magazine, Gary Hynes; and of course last year’s gold medal-wining chef, Kristian Eligh of Hawksworth.
We awarded the bronze medal to Ned Bell of YEW seafood + bar at the Four Seasons Hotel, Vancouver, the only chef in the history of Gold Medal Plates who has competed in three different cities – Calgary, Vancouver and Victoria. He built his dish around his chosen wine, the 2014 Stella Maris from Sea Star Vineyards on Pender Island. It’s a dry, crisp, aromatic white blend of five grapes – Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Schoenberger and Ortega, and Chef Bell echoed this with five kinds of shellfish, all freshly shucked at his station and piled into two mounds on the plate. The freshness and quality of the seafood was impeccable – thick slices of sweet raw Great Bear scallop with a dusting of grated scallop roe “bottarga;” mussels and clams, briefly steamed and then even more briefly marinated; a whole oyster in its shell topped with a creamy oyster emulsion; gorgeous, juicy side stripe shrimp poached for seconds in a broth of kelp and ocean aromatics… This variety of textures and flavours was nicely set off by dabs of tangy crab apple butter and then finished with a covering of foam made by reducing the cooking liquid for the mussels and clams and adding some cucumber for freshness. The final touch was a pair of tiny cucumber and lime meringues, one for the top of each billowing mound. “I wanted to show off the ingredients in their cleanest form,” said Chef Bell, “but adding components that naturally blend together with the Stella Maris. I imagined the waves crashing, the froth and aroma of the ocean at the foot of the vineyard on Pender Island with the shellfish and seafood only steps away…”
Chris Whittaker of Forage, in Vancouver, won the silver medal. His dish looked relatively simple on the plate but it offered a huge depth of irresistible flavours and accomplished the technical challenge of cooking fresh, tender pasta for 600 guests without batting an eyelid. Whittaker is a chef who honours and makes much of his suppliers and was proud to explain that some of the produce on the dish came from Covert Farms, in Oliver, in the Okanagan, which was also the source for his chosen wine, the ripe, dense 2012 Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. There was a sliver of Covert Farms onion at the bottom of the dish and Covert Farms potato crackling on top – like brittle shards of crispy bacon. The main event was a giant tortellini, warm, soft and delectable, filled with a profoundly flavourful ragout of Turtle Valley bison heart and tongue, braised to perfect tenderness. For extra moisture and richness, Chef had added a little bison liver mousse and then reduced and strained the braising liquid to a topaz-coloured jus. A wee dab of tomato jam on top of the pasta added sly acidity but the crowning glory were some juicy yellowfoot chanterelles. A single leaf of sheep sorrel was bright green feather in the cap. This was a dish, agreed the judges, that you would want to eat all the time, that would be a star on any restaurant menu.
Our gold medal went to Alex Chen of Boulevard Kitchen and Oyster Bar in Vancouver. Seeking to “evoke a sense of Autumn and Balance,” he presented a warm terrine of head-to-tail pork. There was a long, rectangular slice on each plate like an extraordinarily beautiful mosaic studded with crimson pork tenderloin, morels of jowl, crunchy ear and tender tongue as well as nubbins of foie gras torchon and perigord truffle, all bound in a herb-flecked matrix of pork farce. Beside this multi-textural slice were complimentary elements – a whole glossy chestnut as shiny as Christmas; celery that had been seasoned with a lemon vinaigrette and then compressed (adding lovely freshness); a tiny dome of gelee in which floated pickled mustard seeds and flecks of charred leek; a single blood sorrel leaf. Chef had made a glorious jus for his warm terrine, starting with the pork juices but then adding oxtail, bonito, dried mushroom and parmesan until it was an umame bomb, strained and purified but not reduced so far as to be sticky. All of this was contained most precisely between two lines of brown butter-carrot purée, as precisely drawn as a railway track. The wine match was one of the best of the evening – the stunning 2012 Henricsson Vineyard Pinot Noir from Foxtrot Vineyards in Naramata.
Congratulations to Alex Chen – see you in Kelowna next February! And congratulations to all the chefs and their teams, who performed magnificently. It was a terrific evening and it has produced a most worthy champion.
Victoria Wine Report
Foxtrot Pinot Noir Takes it All in B.C. by David Lawrason
A textbook Naramata pinot noir waltzed off with two top honours at the Victoria edition of Gold Medal Plates, winning Best Wine of Show as well as accompany gold medal winning chef Alex Chen of Boulevard Kitchen and Oyster Bar to the podium. The gorgeously appointed Foxtrot Vineyards 2012 Henricsson Vineyard Pinot Noir placed in the top two of all five judges, sporting wonderful cherry fragrance beautifully integrated with oak accents. On top of which it showed great depth of flavour.
It stole the thunder in a very strong line-up of wines. In second spot, and again garnering votes from all five judges, came the impeccably balanced if not hugely powerful CC. Jentch 2013 The Chase, a blend of merlot and cabernet from the Okanagan Valley’s newly-minted Golden Mile Bench appellation. In third spot came Tinhorn Creek’s 2014 Gewurztraminer, a particularly fragrant and focused dry edition that has placed in other cities as well. Both runners-up were served during the Celebration portion of the evening.
The Best of Show Award is designed to showcase all the wines donated to the event (a complete list is below). In Victoria five judges gathered before the event to taste, rate and discuss the wines, beers and cocktails poured by the chefs, and donated to the VIP Reception and Celebration.
Three of the five judges were from Victoria. Sharon McLean is a leading wine educator teaching WSET and a partner in the Cru Consultancy with Treve Ring. Brent Muller is deep into his WSET studies and helping prepare for the imminent opening of Vessel Liquor Store. Daniel Stiefvater is a sommelier with Trialto Wines, one of Canada’s leading wine agencies. And from Vancouver we were joined by Sid Cross, a legendary wine taster and long-time judge of Canadian wine with the former Canadian Wine Awards. Sid doubled us as a culinary judge at the event as well.
There was great diversity across the line-up this night, with an even split of white and red wines. I was particularly intrigued by the range and quality of the “alternative” whites. There were no chardonnays, pinot gris or rieslings this night, showing a willingness by the BC chef community to venture into other less well known varieties that have a strong future in the province. I was very taken by the Joie Farm 2014 Muscat and a semillon by a new Okanagan winery called The Hatch.
But I was also intrigued by two Vancouver Island whites. Sea Star 2014 Stella Maris – which took a bronze medal after being thoughtfully paired with shellfish by veteran chef Ned Bell of YEW seafood + bar at the Vancouver Four Seasons – is a very finely tuned Alsatian-style blend of five local varieties including pinot gris, gewürztraminer, ortega and schoenberger – all grown on Pender Island. And from the Cowichan Valley came an exotic petit milo, a newly developed hybrid from the Blattner family of Swiss hybrids.
The Vancouver Island theme continued very strongly through the selection of fine beers from Vancouver Island Brewing, and in three different gin-based cocktails from local distillers. We were of course on home court of Victoria Gin, a national sponsor of Gold Medal Plates. But a new bourbon-barrel-aged gin from DeVine served by chef Castro Boetang turned the judges heads. Another cocktail by Okanagan Spirits Gin also wowed – an exotic beauty based on West Coast Spice Vermouth, blackcurrant, orange and juniper bitters.
Silver medal chef Chris Whittaker took the biggest red to the podium, a whopping, texturally very rich, organically grown 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon by Covert Hills of Oliver. And Gold medal chef Alex Chen, brilliantly matched the Foxtrot Pinot to a head-to-tail pork terrine, earning Foxtrot a berth at the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna in February.
Here is a complete list of the Victoria wines, beers and spirits presented in judges tasting order.
Stoneboat Piano Brut Okanagan, BC
Sea Star Vineyards 2014 Stella Maris Pender Island, BC
Unsworth Vineyards 2014 Vintners Selection Petit Milo, Mill Bay, BC
Fairview Cellars 2014 Sauvignon Blanc Golden Mile Bench, Oliver BC
The Hatch 2014 ‘hobo series’ Semillon Kelowna, BC
Tinhorn Creek Vineyards 2014 Gewürztraminer
Joie Farm 2014 Muscat, Naramata Bench, BC
Fairview 2013 Crooked Post Pinot Noir, Golden Mile Bench, Oliver BC
Summerhill 2013 Organic Pinot Noir, Okanagan Valley, BC
Foxtrot Vineyards 2012 Henricsson Vineyard Pinot Noir Naramata, BC
Calliope Figure 8 2014 Red, Okanagan Valley, BC
Hester Creek Block 3 Cabernet Franc Reserve, Okanagan Valley, BC
CC Jentsch Cellars 2013 “The Chase” Golden Mile Bench, BC
Covert Farms 2012 Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Oliver, BC
Victoria Gin Classic Gin Martini
DeVine New Tom Barrel-Aged Gin Old Fashion Saanich, BC
Vancouver Island Brewery Islander Lager
Vancouver Island Brewery Mile High
Vancouver Island Brewery Hermann’s Dark Lager