St. John’s under scudding cloud and occasional rain, the taxi driver from the airport bringing us up to date on all the local goings-on. Just time to change into party clothes and then we were at it again, over in the new Convention Centre, meeting this year’s competing chefs (almost all of them new to Gold Medal Plates), hugging old friends and sitting down to taste. It was a good showing – on a sensational evening. Multiple Olympic medallist Adam Van Koeverden perfectly mastered all the ceremonies, kept the energy high and the whole night moving, while our band – Jim Cuddy, Barney Bentall, Anne Lindsay, Devin Cuddy and Sam Polley – were on fire. Anyone who has been to a Gold Medal Plates event where Anne Lindsay has played will understand completely when I report that her solo during Jim’s song Five Days in May brought the entire room to their feet in breathless, adoring applause. Ditto when Jim and Barney sang Bobcaygeon – most beautifully and poignantly – in memory of Gord Downie, bringing back memories of Blue Rodeo’s 2016 tribute to the Hip. Scores of people were dancing in the aisles and by then the winning chefs had been named, summoned, greeted, lauded and applauded, and still stood high on their podium behind the athletes and musicians as the songs ended. The evening wound down most reluctantly in the Convention Centre, only to rekindle itself moments later for the after-party down at The Martini Bar on George Street. I don’t know where the after-after-party was this year. Perhaps I should ask my panel of judges for St. John’s, led by our new Senior Judge, a chef who has loyally competed for GMP almost every year since we first came to Newfoundland, Chef Roary MacPherson, most ably abetted by the Chef To Go himself, Bob Arniel, by the super-popular broadcaster and avid culinarian, Sharon Snow, by hotelier and restaurateur Wilma Hartmann, and by two past GMP St. John’s champions, Chef Mark McCrowe and Chef Shaun Hussey.
We awarded the bronze medal to Chef Jeremiah Stafford of The Reluctant Chef. His presentation curled dramatically around one side of the plate, elements posed on a dashing stripe of scallop-caramel jus. Scallop featured twice more on the plate – as crunchy, very flavourful scallop and as a single, whole beauty, gently cooked sous-vide. It sat on a thin slice of pressed pork belly, moist and tender, the fat and the lean of it in a loose relationship. Paying court to these proteins was tomato – as dots of pungent tomato jam, as quarters of tangy cherry tomato and as crispy, semi-circular tomato tuiles. Two big dabs of celeriac purée provided an earthier note while a dash of gooseberry gastrique proved to be more sweet than sour. Dainty little foraged greens were the final garnish – wild chickweed and tiny wood sorrel leaves like little shamrocks. Chef paired his creation with a wine from Nova Scotia – the refreshing, acidic 2016 Riesling from Gaspereau Vineyards in the Annapolis Valley.
Chef Maurizio Modica of St John’s Fish Exchange won the silver medal. He too built his dish around a scallop, this time perfectly pan-seared and crusted with a very tasty powder made from porcini and pea shoots. It was as splendid a scallop as you could hope to find, sitting atop a clever sauce made by puréeing some of the scallop’s less familiar anatomical features (the bits around the adductor mscle), seasoned with garlic and herbs. The second element was a “swollen gnocchi,” generously sized and generous in its potato flavour; the third was a moist, flavourful ragout of pulled pork belly and carrot brunoise that was exactly what the gnocchi needed. Chef decorated the plate with a real scallop shell dusted with beet powder and pea shot powder and garnished it with pea shoots, strips of dried porcini and a little hank of deep fried carrot threads. His wine choice was another Nova Scotian, the sparkling Selkie Rosé from Jost Vineyards, off dry but refreshing and nicely judged against both the scallop and the pork.
Chef Nick Jewczyk of The Fifth Ticket won our gold medal. Everything on his plate was delicious and harmonious, sometimes surprisingly so. At centre stage he placed a slice of braised beef cheek, moist, tender and not gooey the way beef cheek so often is. It tasted spectacularly meaty, sharing a little of its black garlic demi-glace with the nicely chewy wheat berries that lay beneath. The second protein was a thumb-sized slice of smoked beef tongue, silky and delectable, and the third was tuna – not as a piece of fish but as dabs of a tonnato sauce. Veal tonnato happens to be one of my favourite dishes; I now know that smoked tongue with tonnato sauce is every bit as scrumptious. That tongue was placed on a heap of tangy, lightly fermented “sauerkraut” made from Brussels sprouts and was topped with onion foam and half a teaspoonful of grainy mustard. Dots of yellow squash purée added further colour and the final flourish was translucent potato crisps that chef referred to as “potato glass.” Like everything else on the plate, they were flavourful and honest and part of a thoughtful creativity that made sense to the eye and the palate. Chef’s chosen bevvy was a brown ale called Alli’s Big Brown Ale from the Split Rock Brewing Co. in Twillingate, Newfoundland – a natural match for the braised beef cheek.
Chef Jewczyk will be coming to Kelowna in February, laden with our congratulations and the enthusiastic approval of the St. John’s crowd. We now have five champions! Six more must be found.