Gold Medal Plates 2008 came to a close on Thursday night in Calgary with a spectacular party for almost 750 guests at the Round-Up Centre. The great hall looked splendid, especially since the Christmas decorations were already up, adding extra lustre to GMP’s own elegant décor, and reminding us that the campaign has carried us from autumn into winter. The entire event was as smooth as a good crème anglais with the new, informal question-and-answer format giving our Olympians a great chance to show their personalities and tell their tales: emcee Kelly Hrudey set exactly the right tone. Jim Cuddy, Anne Lindsay and Barney Bentall gave yet another stellar performance that had much of the back of the hall quietly singing along. Arriving at the Centre, Canadian Culinary Champion Melissa Craig was greeted with the news that some of her precious crabs, Fedexed in from B.C., had been left out of the refrigerator. Fortunately there was still plenty to go around and she delighted the VIP reception with her signature dish. Last year’s gold-medal-winning chef, Paul Rogalski, was inducted into the Gold Medal Plates Hall of Fame and provided a memorably whimsical dessert based around the notion of a deconstructed S’mores bar. The camera crews from Lively Media were there to film everything for the television show next year, as they have been in every city. I’d like to thank them personally for their tact and sensitivity in dealing with the chefs and judges across the country as well as for the very thorough job they have done. They will be joining us in Banff, of course, to film the climax of the campaign, the Canadian Culinary Championship.
Meanwhile, the chefs of Calgary (and Canmore) performed superbly and the judges agreed that it was particularly hard to determine a winner – indeed, the marks of the top four chefs all fell between 79.4% and 81.7%! This was also the first time a purely vegetarian dish has won a gold medal – and in Alberta, the land of beef, too!
Taking the bronze medal was Theo Yeaman of Chef’s Table at the Kensington Inn. He presented a vanilla-scented saddle of venison, cooked sous vide and served with perfectly timed Brussels sprout leaves, supersmooth chestnut purée and a sprinkling of truffle dust. It was a deceptively simple dish. The judges were most impressed by the impeccable flavour and moist texture of the meat – such a challenge to present juicy medium-rare game to 750 people over the course of an hour and a half. Yeaman paired his dish with Mission Hill Reserve 2005 Shiraz.
The silver medal was presented to Shaun Desaulnier of Belgo who offered braised veal cheek with bean cassoulet garnished with a miniature yam gaufrette. Again it was the technical expertise apparent in the dish’s textures that wowed the judges. The cheek was exactly right – rich and flavourful, not too soft or gelatinous – and the beans had a sophisticated firmness and bite. The plate was finished with the reduced braising juices for extra flavour. Chef’s choice of wine, Tinhorn Creek’s Oldfield’s Collection 2005 Merlot, was inspired, working especially well with the cassoulet of beans.
The gold medal winner was Hayato Okamitsu, the chef of Catch. His dish was the most ambitious of the night in terms of complexity, but he carried it off in a masterful way. The tallest thing on the plate was a shot glass of hot smoked corn and wild rice soup with a crisp shaped like a miniature lorgnette posed across the rim. A square of densely textured butternut squash parfait was topped with a superfine broccoli pistou and enriched with oka cheese. A sturdy tortellini, the pasta dyed green with sage, was filled with supple little golden chanterelles, and a comma of white sauce on the plate turned out to be a delectably tangy purée of onion and sherry. The Sumac Ridge 2006 Private Reserve Chardonnay proved to be an inspired wine choice, the slight oakiness and the background fruit working with every element of the dish. Congratulations to Chef Okamitsu!
And now the competitors have all been chosen for the Canadian Culinary Championship which will take place in the majestic Fairmont Banff Springs hotel from February 19 to 21, 2009. In order of this fall’s events, they are Charles Part of Les Fougères, representing Ottawa-Gatineau; Patrick Lin of Senses, representing Toronto; Denise Cornellier of Denise Cornellier Traiteur, representing Montreal; Frank Pabst of Blue Water Café, representing Vancouver; David Cruz of Sage, representing Edmonton; and Hayato Okamitsu of Catch, representing Calgary. They have slightly less than three months to formulate their plans and gather their energies for what will prove a challenge of Olympic proportions. I have every confidence that eager supporters from their home towns will want to join us for the weekend to cheer on their champion. All will be welcome.
National Culinary Advisor
Gold Medal Plates