Gold Medal Plates 2008 Toronto

Oh my goodness, what a party! The Royal York hotel proved to be a venue of extraordinary glamour, its staff most generous hosts. Gold Medal Plates stretched out across the second floor from the spectacularly painted ballroom to the elegant Ontario room where Canadian Culinary Champion Melissa Craig wowed the VIP reception with her supremely elegant king crab fantasia. A very merry crowd of almost 650 guests were delighted to discover that EDO Sushi and Amaya the Indian Room had set up “demonstration stations” in the main hallway, supplementing the offerings of the competing chefs with daringly delicious dishes.

The competitors themselves had definitely come to play. As in Ottawa-Gatineau the previous evening, the consensus among the judges and the other gourmets in the room was that the standard of quality had never been higher. The judges were faced with a difficult task – so much first-rate gastronomy – but three chefs in particular enthralled us with their technical sophistication, their harmony of conception and their originality. Each had many elements on the plate but they were all there for beautiful reasons.

Taking the bronze medal was John Kwan, chef of Lai Toh Heen, who presented a quartet of items, arranged with unearthly precision. Like many of the competing chefs, he provided written material to help explain his dish, in this case, the healthy virtues of his ingredients in Chinese medicine. He fried a cube of beef tenderloin in a wok and set it on a crisp, tissue-thin golden base for contrast, adding a garnish of dried tangerine peel that set our taste buds alight. He prepared a succulent Cantonese beef wonton and set it in a hot-and-spicy Sichuan soup flavoured with Sichuan pepper, Chinese wolfberry and ginger. Beside that stood a miniature roll of sweet, tangy, gingery pickled vegetables wrapped in a ribbon of Australian wagyu beef that had been marinated with Chinese herbs. A delicate dumpling of mashed yam and beef was crowned with a sliver of truffle and a truffled-soy sauce. United by the sense of the beef, the dish worked well with Chef Kwan’s chosen wine, the Jackson Triggs 2004 Pinot Noir Delaine Vineyard. An extra taste of Inniskillin sparkling icewine was an added treat.

David Lee of Splendido and Nota Bene took the silver medal, though it was a close-run thing! He created a delightfully witty “English breakfast,” subtly elevating every harmonious element to extraordinary heights. Perfect baked beans, enriched by Splendido’s own salted pork lay on a toast point fried in duck fat. A slice of boudin noir was a technical tour-de-force – no easy feat to make a miniature black pudding that smooth and fine and to spice it so carefully! But it was the bacon and egg that really wowed the crowd. Lee cooked the eggs very slowly and on a very low heat until their texture had changed dramatically. The whites were removed and the now-pliant yolks were rolled out between bacon of translucent delicacy, bonded in a vacuum chamber then sliced and fried at his station. The result was egg yolk with a unique texture somewhere between solid and jelly. Inniskillin 2004 Pinot Noir Montague Vineyard was the chosen wine – a fine match, particularly with the boudin noir.

The gold medal went to Patrick Lin of Senses who had the kindness to provide a recipe card featuring the seven (count ‘em) individual recipes that made up his little plate. This was a treatise on the duck (Ontario’s own King Cole ducks), using every part of the bird but the beak and feet. There was a sliver of cured duck breast with a hint of bitter chocolate duck jus. Beside that a very different slice of the breast smoked in cherry wood came garnished with passion fruit seeds and green tea dressing. Beside that lay a slice of galantine made from the duck’s leg and neck and crowned with a pungent kumquat compote. A tiny metal dish held a rich crème brulée flavoured with duck liver mousse. Lastly a lollipop of soft, marinated foie gras rolled in crushed candied walnuts lay across the lip of a shot glass containing a cool broth made from the duck’s bones – so flavourful but surprisingly light and refreshing, almost a palate-cleanser. When the winning wineries were announced alongside the gold, silver and bronze chefs, only one man came to the stage – Bruce Walker of Vincor. Vincor wines had swept the field that night, with Jackson Triggs 2004 Cabernet Merlot Delaine Vineyard as the gold medal match.

Congratulations to all the competing chefs who provided such fantastic and delicious entertainment. Patrick Lin now goes on to represent Toronto at the Canadian Culinary Championship in Banff in late February, 2009.

Next week: Montreal!

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