On Friday night, in the friendly confines of the Sheraton Wall Centre, Vancouver, where the finals of the 2009 Canadian Culinary Championship were once decided (seems like yesterday), a little bit of Gold Medal Plates history was made. A very merry crowd, primed by excellent food and wine, the spectacular music of Colin James, Jim Cuddy, Barney Bentall and Anne Lindsay, the knife-sharp stand-up of comedian Ron James, and the smooth-as-satin martinis made with our new best friend, locally distilled Victoria gin, bid and bid and bid on the auction prizes, raising a new record sum for a single GMP event, well over a quarter of a million dollars.
The culinary side of of the evening also set a record as the gold, silver and bronze medallists crossed the finish line in what the judges deemed to be very nearly a dead heat, all three separated by no more than 1.5 percent. All ten chefs surpassed themselves on an evening when the gastronomical standards were uniformly high, but when the numbers were crunched, and the judicial brows mopped, here’s how it went down.
Taking the bronze medal was Neil Taylor of Cibo Trattoria. He made specatcular use of local, seasonal ingredients with a carpaccio of wild venison, tender and smoky, dressed with slices of superb pine mushrooms (the best in the world). A tangy, earthy black truffle and celeriac aioli, smooth as a Jim Cuddy lyric, grounded the dish while paper-thin shavings of red-wine-soaked pecorino pushed the flavours skyward. Wild watercress added the “green” to the flavour and colour spectrum of the dish. The wine pairing, with Foxtrot Vineyards awesome 2007 Pinot Noir from the Okanagan vineyards, was the most precise and seductive of the night.
The judges awarded the silver medal, for the second year in a row, to Dale Mackay of Lumiere, who pipped Neil Taylor by about half a percentage point, in true Olympic fashion. Chef offered the archetype of baked B.C. black cod – a small but perfect fillet that broke into moist, glossy petals at the touch of a fork. Morsels of smoked tomato lay on its surface and beneath it was a jumble of corn kernels, finely shredded kale and button mushroom, all textures and flavours distinct and bold. Mackay finished the dish by pouring on a little consommé made from barbecued pork spiked with a beautifully judged combination of spices like a smoky version of five-spice. Just to make the point, a bowl of those spices was set down on the judges’ table to add to the general atmosphere and the chosen wine seemed to pick them out of the dish – a big, off-dry, fruity, petrolly 2009 Riesling from Tantalus in B.C.
The gold medal was awarded to chef Rob Clark of C restaurant, who also won gold in 2006. He presented a demi-tasse of translucent, pure tomato consommé as a palate cleanser. Then, having primed our taste buds, pow! A slice of a delectable terrine made with Fraser Canyon rabbit was as moist and rich and sapid as rillettes, with spot prawns as hidden treasures in the luxe matrix. Subtle, sweetly pickled chanterelles were one delightful counterpoint; another was a slender tuile, simultaneously peppery and sweet, providing textural crunch. His chosen wine was a great match, finding all sorts of nuances in the rabbit – an aromatic 2009 Viognier from Black Hills estate winery in B.C.
This was an incredibly closely fought contest and all the medallists deserve huge applause, but it’s chef Clark who will be going on to Kelowna next February to compete in the Candian Culinary Championships for the second time.