Edmonton’s Gold Medal Plates event proved once again that support for Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes is more powerful than any downturn in the economy and can even flourish in competition with the city’s annual Rodeo! The Shaw Centre was our venue for a party arranged with her usual meticulous skill by event planner Lisa Pasin. Demonstration athletes provided the thrilling cabaret during the first half of the evening. Chef Judy Wu, last year’s gold medal winner, was elected to the Hall of Fame, the special black chef’s jacket adding another colour to her multicoloured wardrobe of kitchen wear.
The competing chefs, many of them veterans of previous years, performed with great confidence and flare. It was great to see Edmonton’s gastronomic character so truly expressed, with local meats on every plate – everything from beef and bison to pheasant and venison to pork and alpaca. The season was also acknowledged by a pervasive obeisance to the truffle, some of them coming from Italy, others from Oregon. In the end the marks were incredibly close – the gold and silver medal-wining scores separated by less than one percentage point, a margin that also held back our fourth-placed chef, Sonny Sung from the podium.
Winning the bronze medal was chef Blair Lebsack of Madison’s Grill who also handed out cards detailing the local provenance of every ingredient used in his dish. Pheasant breast was the main event, braised and minced, mixed with chives and rolled into a soft, delicate crepe. Diced Pink Lady and Ambrosia apples served as a vegetable, tossed with flecks of wild boar bacon. A beautifully balanced sauce of the pheasant pan juices was quickened with a hint of blood orange, a detail that helped secure the match with Chef Lebsack’s chosen winem the 2006 Private Reserve Riesling from B.C.’s Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery.
The silver medal was awarded to Edmonton’s past champion, Michael Brown of the Westin Edmonton hotel. Chef Brown was kind enough to create a handsome illustration of his complex dish which the judges were delighted to use a map! At the top of the dish, a tall shot glass held a hot portabella mushroom “latte” topped with chai green tea foam. Leaning against the glass, a tuile biscuit in the shape of a steer’s head was drizzled with a reduction of iced cider. Pea shoots and a deliciously spicy smoked chipotle red pepper coulis underlay the main event a moussaka of layered eggplant, ground bison, crumbled goat cheese and ground alpaca meat topped with a cheddar-Dijon gratin. It was a complicated dish to match but Chef Grown made a canny choice with Domaine Pinnacle 2005 Iced Cider from Quebec.
If the evening’s most ambitious dish won silver, the simplest took the gold, created by David Cruz of Sage. Served on a hot plate (always a treat) he began with a bed of puréed, lightly truffled peas then crowned it with a square of belly pork. Chef Cruz had treated the pork with great care, braising it for eight hours at 170 degrees until the fat and the lean began to approach the consistency of jelly. Then he finished it in a pan to crisp the surface and crowned it with crispy little parsnip ribbons and a marmalade of finely minced morels. See Ya Later Ranch Riesling 2007 was a lovely match, the wine’s fruit and acidity finding all sorts of resonance on the dish.
Congratulations to all the competitors! Chef Cruz will go on to represent Edmonton at the Canadian Culinary Championship in Banff in February.
National Culinary Advisor
Gold Medal Plates