Saskatoon Gold Medal Plates

It took almost an entire day for the GMP team to get from Victoria’s Indian summer to winter in Saskatoon. I’m not complaining. I was in excellent company. And there were just enough minutes to check in to the hotel, change and get to Prairieland Park in time to greet old friends. It was a spectacular event and a fitting denouement to a rip-roaring tour. This time, Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue shared MC duties – brilliantly, I must add – while, musically speaking, we were privileged to welcome the core of this year’s campaign: Jim Cuddy, Anne Lindsay, Colin Cripps, Jim’s two sons, Sam Polley and Devin Cuddy, and special guest Danny Michel. They played and sang with such verve and energy the crowd had no choice but to give a standing ovation.

They did the same thing for our gold medal-winning chef, chosen by a tip-top judiciary panel led by our Saskatoon Senior Judge, writer, caterer and dining columnist for Planet S magazine, Noelle Chorney, together with poet, author, restaurateur and co-founder of Slow Food Saskatoon, dee Hobsbawn-Smith; chef and restaurateur Megan MacDonald of Sushiro and Duck Duck Goose; chef and culinary instructor Michael Beaulé; chef, restaurateur, educator and food guru Moe Mathieu; and of course last year’s gold medal winner, Chef Chris Hill of the Delta Bessborough hotel. It was a pleasure spending the evening with such fine palates and such discerning minds. In every city, the team of judges we assemble – volunteers all – do a difficult task superbly well. Looking back on this campaign, I feel enormously proud of the network of 60-or-so expert gastronomes who judge for Gold Medal Plates. Taken together, they comprise Canada’s most qualified and extraordinary culinary college.

Darby Kells won bronze
Darby Kells won bronze

But the chefs…! We awarded the bronze medal to Darby Kells of Riverdale Deli and Capanna. He called his dish “farm to plate” and it was as pretty as a garden with edible flower petals, tiny “thinning” carrots as slender as a pencil lead, and a host of other scattered morsels – lightly pickled mushrooms, crispy carrot dimes and green sprouts and herbs. All of these lay on a mound of edible soil,which piqued the interest of one of our judges who is a self-confessed albeit part-time geophagist, but turned out to be made not of actual loam but a crumble of dehydrated mushrooms, breadcrumbs and roasted cocoa that tasted most strongly of porcini. Chef finished the garden with a sprayed-on mist of white truffle oil and porcini stock. Meanwhile there was a mighty protein in this dainty Eden – a pork tenderloin cooked sous vide and sauced with a reduction of pork bone stock browned with lactose powder. Chef Kells’s chosen wine was a good match – a minerally 2012 Pinot Noir from Orofino Winery in B.C.’s Similkameen Valley.

Scott Torgerson took silver
Scott Torgerson took silver

Scott Torgerson of the Radisson hotel won our silver medal with a succulent brined and hay-smoked pheasant breast glazed with a super-subtle birch syrup. This golden-skinned meat sat on a soft, warm pillow of foie gras mousse, lapped by a little pool of pheasant jus. Baby patty pan and crookneck squashes and a tangy pearl onion were the bird’s adorable sidekicks, nesting amidst fried fennel fronds and strewn with hemp hearts and crushed hazelnuts. To compliment these delicate woodsy flavours, Chef presented the 2014 Grand Reserve Chardonnay from Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate in Oliver, B.C., an excellent decision.

Gold for Darren Craddock (again). Thanks to Noelle Chorley for the image!
Gold for Darren Craddock (again). Thanks to Noelle Chorley for the image!


Who won the last gold medal of our campaign? For the sixth time this year it ended up around the neck of a chef who has won before: Darren Craddock of Riverside Country Club. He chose to work local Golden Prairies wild boar, starting with a drum of the neck meat cooked sous vide and subtly scented with a version of five-spice powder. The meat had the texture of a top-quality sausage, nicely contrasted by the boar’s other incarnation as a beautifully textured pork belly cooked for 48 hours and glazed with birch syrup. Chef played to the natural sweetness of the meat in a number of sophisticated and delectable ways – tiny pearls of cherry mead and a cube of wobbly cherry jelly. Chunks of marinated and another gel from crab apples. Sunchoke chips and a stripe of apple gastrique spiked with cardamom and cinnamon. Seedlings of peppery baby mazuma and chard brought a fresh, chlorophyl edge to the plate. The necessary acidic contrast came from a terrific mustard infused with the chosen wine. There were a lot of flavours happening on the plate – eating it was an exciting adventure – but the wine rose to the challenge, gliding amiably around the palate, quarrelling with nothing and finding real affinity with the apple moments in the dish – the crisp, lightly acidic 2010 Trebbiano from Hester Creek Estate Winery in the Okanagan.

So there you have it. Bravo Chef Craddock! The line-up for the Canadian Culinary Championship is now complete, and it is going to be a hell of a contest! Here are the gold medallists from each city (an asterisk means that chef has won before). We will be welcoming them to Kelowna in February to find and celebrate the next Canadian Culinary Champion.

St. John’s        *Roger Andrews – Relish Gourmet Burgers

Ottawa                        *Marc Lepine – Atelier

Toronto           Stuart Cameron – Byblos

Calgary            Matthew Batey – The Nash Restaurant & Off Cut Bar

Halifax                        *Martín Ruiz Salvador – Fleur de Sel

Regina             *Jonathan Thauberger – Crave kitchen & wine bar

Edmonton       *Jan Trittenbach – Solstice Seasonal Cuisine

Winnipeg         Norm Pastorin – The Cornerstone

Montreal          Guillaume Cantin – Les 400 Coups

Victoria           Alex Chen – Boulevard Kitchen and Oyster Bar

Saskatoon        *Darren Craddock – Riverside Country Club


Saskatoon Wine Report

By Rob Dobson

Regrettably, David Lawrason, the National Wine Advisor for Gold Medal Plates, had to miss the Saskatoon event. He was in Toronto, teaching a group of potential sommeliers. If you have seen the movie Somm, David was being the distinguished, rather stern-looking gentleman asking the trembling candidates to name nine Croatian grape varieties.   Who could begrudge him that kind of fun?!

Capably stepping in for David as acting head judge was Robert Peterson-Wakeman, one of Saskatoon’s finest palates. Filling out our panel were Dawn Wreford, the WSET-trained, head purchaser for Saskatoon’s excellent Co-op Wine and Spirits store; Derek Morrison, a London, England-based wine professional who was born in Saskatoon; winemaker and Champagne-lover Gavin Jensen and myself, Rob Dobson, wine writer and Certified Wine Educator.

The wine judging portion of Gold Medal Plates recognizes the excellence and generosity of those Canadian wineries, brewers and distillers who support the GMP cause by donating their products. A shout-out also goes to the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority who have made it possible for Saskatoon’s competing chefs to source from Canada’s best wines, beers and spirits. Consequently, Gold Medal Plates has become a spectacular opportunity to experience some of Canada’s very best culinary, musical and oenological talents, while supporting our Olympic athletes. The judging process also subjects the wines to the same friendly spirit of competition that the participating chefs endure and that our Olympic athletes live for.

Saskatoon’s chefs seem to favour British Columbia wines, as there were eight represented. Two very fine wines from Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula were also poured and, as seems to be a growing trend in culinary competitions, a complex locally-crafted beer was matched with one of the dishes.

On to the judging.

The Bronze Medal went to Hester Creeks’ 2014 Old Vines Block 16 Trebbiano. This is Canada’s only commercially available Trebbiano and it is made from a small block of vines that were brought to British Columbia’s Golden Mile Bench from Italy about 40 years ago. Trebbiano is an under-appreciated white grape variety that is used to produce much of Italy’s inexpensive table wine. However, in this case, it has been elaborated into a surprisingly rich wine, with tropical fruit flavours and a long, mineral-infused finish. It was a beautiful match to Chef Darren Craddock’s Gold Medal-winning wild boar dish. This wine was my personal favorite of the evening and I will be rooting for this dark horse when it goes to Kelowna to compete with the heavyweights at the Canadian Culinary Championships.

As our Silver Medalist, we chose the 2012 Home Vineyard Pinot Noir from Orofino Winery in the Similkameen Valley in British Columbia. Orofino has established a track record for producing world-class wines and the winery belongs to a young couple from Saskatchewan, John and Virginia Weber. On this evening, their 2012 Pinot showed lovely varietally-correct aromas with a tight core of focused red fruit. This wine had a sense of energy and precision that won the judges over. It also made it onto the culinary podium as a foil to Chef Darby Kells’ Bronze Medal pork tenderloin dish.

This year’s Best of Show award went to the 2012 LaStella Fortissimo. LaStella is situated in southern British Columbia on Osoyoos Lake. Being in the warmer part of the province allows them to fully ripen their red wine grapes. LaStella Fortissimo is their riff on the Super-Tuscan style of wine and they have pulled it off magnificently. All of the judges loved it. This wine is a blend of 39% Merlot, 38% Cabernet Franc, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon with the balance being Sangiovese. This big red offered luscious flavours of chocolate, anise and pepper. The Merlot gives it richness, the Cab Franc keeps it fresh, the beautifully-resolved tannins of the Cabernet Sauvignon contribute a velvety mouthfeel and the Sangiovese adds a crisp finish. Very much a complete wine. Bella!

Saskatoon was the last stop on the 2015 Gold Medal Plates campaign until the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna next February. Much like the final gig on a rock band’s tour, there was an elevated level of energy among the athletes, chefs, guests and volunteers who began the party to the outstanding music of recent Order of Canada recipient Jim Cuddy along with Colin Cripps, Anne Lindsay, Danny Michel, Devon Cuddy, Sam Polley and then continued late into the evening at the lively after-party that Saskatoon has become famous for.

Thanks to the producers who generously donated the following wines and beer in support of the Saskatoon event:

Stoneboat Vineyards Piano Brut, Okanagan Valley, BC

Hester Creek Estate Winery, 2014 Old Vines Trebbiano, Okanagan Valley, BC

Kevin O’Leary 2013 Unoaked Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula, ON

Tinhorn Creek 2013 Chardonnay, Oliver, BC

Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate 2014 Grand Reserve Chardonnay, BC

Orofino Winery 2012 Home Vineyard Pinot Noir, Similkameen Valley, BC

Summerhill Pyramid Winery 2012 Baco Noir, Okanagan Valley, BC

Red Rooster Winery 2013 Hen House Ruffled Red, Cabernet Franc/Merlot, Okanagan Valley, BC

Kacaba Vineyards 2012 Cabernet/Syrah, Niagara Peninsula, ON

LaStella Winery 2012 Fortissimo, Okanagan Valley, BC

Prairie Sun Brewery 2015 Batch 88 Oyster Stout, Saskatoon, SK


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