The 2008 Gold Medal Plates campaign got off to a roaring start last night with our Ottawa-Gatineau event, held in the splendid surroundings of the Hilton Lac Leamy, on the Quebec side of the river. Our 2008 Canadian Culinary Champion, Melissa Craig, was the star of the VIP reception, reprising a version of her delectable winning dish from the February competition: a miniature, golden king crab croquette on its shadow of mango-basil purée, a demitasse of creamy king crab and coconut soup with the merest hint of chili and lemongrass, and a little cone of bamboo leaf that contained the juicy, tender flesh of the claw. Such vivid flavours! Meanwhile, David Lawrason introduced some of the winning wines from the Canadian Wine Awards to much delight.
In the great salon, the area’s top ten chefs were busy putting the final touches to their dishes. This year, a separate table was roped off from the throng where the judges sat while runners brought the dishes to them. The presence of Lively Media’s talented film crews, filming the entire event for a tv series to be shown next spring, also added to the general energy of the room. At 7:30, guests took their seats for the Celebration part of the evening, to be serenaded by Jim Cuddy and friends, and both charmed and inspired by Olympians Adam Van Koeverden, Simon Whitfield and Adam Kreek. In the end, the auction was more successful than ever before at this venue – a tremendous achievement!
All ten chefs performed brilliantly, the judges agreed, with standards of originality and presentation even higher than in previous years at Ottawa-Gatineau.
The bronze medal winner was Stev George of Olivea in the Kingston region. He used locally raised pork and offered three different cuts – the firm, juicy loin rolled around a peppery herb stuffing, the dark shoulder meat wrapped in kale (the first time anyone has served kale at a Gold Medal Plates event, as far as I know) and a finger of the soft, fatty belly. A perfectly crunchy morsel of crackling presented a fourth element while delicious baby autumnal vegetables from Taylor’s Farm in Prince Edward County added other homey flavours. The sauce was a beautifully judged purée of Niagara peaches that used some of the wine George chose to compliment his dish, Sandbanks Estate 2007 Riesling from Prince Edward County.
The silver medal was won by Matthew Carmichael of Restaurant Eighteen in Ottawa with a daring combination of ostrich and lobster. The butter-poached Nova Scotia lobster was remarkably tender; the ostrich was, in the words of Michael Moffatt (last year’s Ottawa-Gatineau winner and therefore a judge this year), “the single most delicious thing in the room,” moist, perfectly cooked and seasoned with a subtle hint of espresso and cocoa nibs. Jerusalem artichoke purée, a pair of sour cherries pickled like Japanese ume plums, and a scattering of tiny mushrooms completed the plate. Another Prince Edward County winery, Closson Chase, provided the harmonious accompaniment – a gorgeous 2007 Pinot Noir.
The gold medal went to Charles Part of Restaurant Les Fougères in the Gatineau River Valley. Part called his creation “The Mouth of the St. Lawrence” a region that inspired the dish. At its heart was a fragile raviolo filled with a rich brandade of Clark’s Harbour salt cod. A fresh Grand Banks scallop perched on top of it, its sweetness earthed by a hint of white truffle oil. Matane shrimps, potted in the British way in butter, mace and nutmeg, retained their delicate texture. Lennox Island mussels were plump and soft, their flavour enhanced by an intense fumet reduced from their own mussel liquor. It was a subtle collation of marine tastes and soft textures beautifully matched with another Prince Edward County wine, Huff Estate 2007 Off-Dry Riesling – giving the County a sweep of the wine awards!
Congratulations to all the competitors who worked so splendidly! Charles Part now goes on to the Canadian Culinary Championships which will be held in Banff on Februray 19, 20 and 21, 2009.
National Culinary Advisor
Gold Medal Plates