To balmy Kelowna for the 12th running of the Canadian Culinary Championships, the weekend-long competition between the winning chefs from the eleven Gold Medal Plates regional contests.
For the last couple of years, Laura Kittmer and the Britsh Columbia Wine Institute have been kind enough to host the judges to a spectacular feast on the Wednesday evening when we all arrive. This year, they did so again, bringing us to the splendid Red Fox Club restaurant at Indigenous World Winery, the first winery on the planet entirely owned by indigenous people – namely, an eminently hospitable couple, Robert and Bernice Louie. Chef Andrea Callan cooked a stellar banquet for us, highlighting aboriginal cuisine, including superb sea urchin brûlée, quail egg hidden in a ball of ground pemmican, impeccable squab, and – the highlight – elk tenderloin with an amazing sauce made entirely from lichen that had so much deep flavour and umami it might have been a Mexican mole laced with Marmite. And we were delighted by the wines, all presented by the winemakers – marvellous treats from Little Farm, Le Vieux Pin, Sandhill Wines, Vista D’oro Farm and Winery and Indigenous World Winery itself who kicked the evening off with a first-class dry sparkling rosé made from its Pinot Noir.
The evening was a fine opportunity for the judges to calibrate their palates, and also to pick up the threads of conversations from previous years. Let me tell you who was there. Alas, our Senior Judge from St. John’s, Chef Roary Macpherson, wasn’t. Stricken with an ear infection the day before he was due to fly out to Kelowna, he was forced to remain in Newfoundland on doctor’s orders. So our Senior Judge for GMP Halifax, journalist, writer and restaurant critic, Bill Spurr, had farthest to come. From Montreal, restaurant critic, writer, lecturer and anthropologist, Robert Beauchemin. From Ottawa, author and broadcaster, senior editor of Taste & Travel Magazine and former restaurant critic of the Ottawa Citizen, Anne DesBrisay. From Toronto, writer and editor, intrepid explorer of the industrial food complex, Sasha Chapman. From Winnipeg, chef, pastry chef and restaurateur, Barbara O’Hara. From Regina, author, food writer, documentary food photographer and broadcaster, CJ Katz. From Saskatoon, writer, journalist and all-round food guru, Noelle Chorney. From Edmonton, wine, food and travel writer, certified sommelier and wine instructor, the founder of Edmonton’s Slow Food convivium, Mary Bailey. From Calgary, teacher, broadcaster, author and restaurant columnist for the Calgary Herald, John Gilchrist. From Kelowna, chef instructor here at Okanagan College and master pastry chef, Perry Bentley. From Vancouver, world-renowned wine and food judge and the wine and food voice for Western Living magazine, Sid Cross. And also from Vancouver, author, teacher, restaurant critic, and the editor-in-chief of Scout Magazine, Andrew Morrison.
We are the judges – and there will be Olympic athletes, winemakers, brewers, distillers, and the immortal rock band 54-40 on hand as well to add energy to the party. But the real stars are the chefs, together with their sous chefs and their posse of students from Okanagan College’s culinary program, who will duke it out in three gruelling competitions. Here are the assembled champions.
REPRESENTING BRITISH COLUMBIA – Alex Chen–Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar
REPRESENTING CALGARY- Blake Flann – BLAKE, Canmore
REPRESENTING EDMONTON- Shane Chartrand – SAGE
REPRESENTING REGINA – David Vinova – Wild Sage Kitchen & Bar
REPRESENTING SASKATOON – James McFarland – University of Saskatchewan
REPRESENTING WINNIPEG – Mike Robins – Sous Sol
REPRESENTING TORONTO – Lorenzo Loseto – George Restaurant
REPRESENTING OTTAWA – Briana Kim – Café My House
REPRESENTING MONTREAL – Éric Gonzalez – L’Atelier Joël Robuchon
REPRESENTING ST. JOHN’S – Nick Jewczyk – The Fifth Ticket
REPRESENTING NOVA SCOTIA – Barry Mooney – Gio
Yes, it’s a powerful group and includes one returning Canadian Culinary Champion – Lorenzo Loseto, who won it all four years ago, and another chef, Alex Chen, who won bronze two years ago and had unfinished business here in the mountains.
And now it’s Thursday evening and the official opening ceremony where we introduce the judges and chefs to the sponsors and media and begin the competition by handing each chef a bottle of the Mystery Wine that the scrupulously secretive David Lawrason, Gold Medal Plates’s National Wine Advisor, has chosen and sourced. The chefs and their sous chefs can take away the anonymous vino, ponder it, analyze it, and then create a dish that perfectly matches its nuances. They must shop for all the ingredients they need to make the dish – enough to feed 400 people, plus a dozen judges – and they may only spend $500. It’s a test of economy as well as wine-matching skills and cooking, and the pressure is intense. I’ve just got back to my hotel room (via an altogether delightful dinner at Mark Filatow’s superb restaurant, Waterfront, shared with the other judges). A couple of the competing chefs had chosen to bring their bottles there and deliberate (at opposite ends of the bar) and we judges caught a tantalizing glimpse of the mystery wine. All I can tell you so far is that it is white…
TO BE CONTINUED