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Archive for the ‘Canadian Culinary Championships’ Category

Canadian Culinary Championships Documentary

01 Sep

Gentle reader,

Many of you have asked me, over the years, why the Canadian Culinary Championships was only filmed once, long ago, when it is the nonpareil of Canadian gastronomic competitions. Well, last year we were blessed by a brilliant team, led by our own Peter Moscone, who created the following documentary about the event.  It captures all the stress and energy and excitement of the Gold Medal Plates Championship.  I hope you enjoy it.  Click here.

 

Canadian Culinary Championships – part 3 – the Grand Finale

26 Feb
Owning the podium

Owning the podium

And so to the Grand Finale. Needless to say, this was quite the party, with 600 guests starting the evening with the scrumptious canapés provided by last year’s Champion, Chef Lorenzo Loseto of George in Toronto. Everyone admired the amazing new BMW that would belong to the chef who wins (a two-year lease) and later they rocked to the music of Barney Bentall, Spirit of the West frontmen Geoffrey Kelly and John Mann, and guitarist Matthew Harder, literally leaping to their feet and dancing in the aisles when the guys played Home for a Rest. The emcee was Olympic gold and silver medallist Jennifer Heil, one of 12 Olympians present, and she reminded everyone that, to date, Gold Medal Plates has raised over $9.5 million for Canada’s Olympic athletes.

That night, of course, the chefs were the athletes and they had their own medals to strive for. It’s hard to create your masterpiece for 600 when you only have about four hours to prepare. The chefs all did a lot of preparation in their home towns and shipped components and elements ahead. Every one (except Chef Eligh) did more or less the same dish that had brought them victory in their regional competitions. Which meant the judges were presented with some splendid and highly original treats. I called for them in an order that, on paper at least, would take us from the lightest dish to the heaviest.

Chef Lavallee

Chef Lavallee

We began with Chef Lavallée’s dish, a “Nova Scotia picnic” inspired by the beach picnics her grandmother used to make for her when she was a girl. “First eat the little green leaf,” instructed Chef. “It’s an oyster leaf and it tastes of the sun and the sea and oysters. Close your eyes and you’ll imagine you’re on a beach.” We did – and we did. The dish consisted of three elements. First, set on a tiny red-and-white-checked paper “picnic cloth” was a delicious little sandwich of lobster and snow crab meat in a light, truffle-scented mayonnaise inside a soft, buttery brioche bun, garnished with edible flower petals. There was a mound of finely-chopped, soft potato salad topped with a potato chip that served as a raft for a dab of crème fraîche and a spoonful of sturgeon caviar. The third element was a selection of different pickles of varying intensity and very distinct flavours – cubes of butternut squash, sweet bread-and-butter pickles, hanasunomata seaweed of various colours – and a perfectly cooked quail egg cut into two and seasoned with homemade celery salt. Chef Lavallée’s match was flawless – the fresh, summery semi-dry apple cider from Tideview in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley.

Chef O'Flynn

Chef O’Flynn

Chef O’Flynn brought in our second dish, a taste of Canada from coast to coast. His dish was a thick and generous terrine of Alberta river sturgeon, pungently smoked with pine, and layered with perfect cured foie gras. The strata of colour were breathtakingly beautiful, the flavours rich and intense, challenging but ultimately so seductive. Decorating the plate and contributing much in terms of flavour were motes of Granny Smith apple jelly, dots of apple purée, minuscule crunchy dice of brioche and two plump, juicy morels reconstituted with a bathe in a fragrance of sherry vinegar, canola oil and bay leaf. Chef’s chosen wine – Sandhill Small Lots 2013 Viognier – had the weight and spicy fragrance to dance with the smoke and apple flavours of the dish.

 

Chef Park

Chef Park

Chef Park presented next. He took the traditional ingredients of Korean bibimbap and re-expressed them with the finesse of Japanese cuisine as a complex roll of moussey chicken boudin, julienned vegetables, nine-hour-braised shiitake and cauliflower. Instead of sauce from a squeeze bottle, he turned the gochujang into a jellied skin as the outer layer of the roll. A tremblingly undercooked quail egg lay on top and scattered here and there was a crunchy assortment of five different kinds of puffed rice, for texture. Chef Park’s chosen wine had been lost by Air Canada en route to the competition so he had to scramble to find a substitute – Gehringer Bros. 2013 Riesling, a most successful compromise.

 

Chef Eligh

Chef Eligh

Chef Eligh’s dish had a dramatic and avant-garde presentation – a perfectly smooth dome of crisp bread, as fine as lace, to be shattered into what lay beneath. There we found impeccably cooked, very subtly seasoned lobster and sablefish in a heavy, chowder-like sauce made from clam nectar and lobster reduction, thickened with butter and bacon fat and cradling soft morsels of carrot, celery and potato. The wine match was exceptional – Meyer Family 2012 Micro Cuvée Dhardonnay Old Main Road from the Okanagan.

 

Chef Bohati

Chef Bohati

 

Next up was Chef Bohati with a complex and delectable combination of yellowfin tuna and foie gras. The foie was a large slice of cold-smoked torchon – marvellously rich and a clever contrast to the cool, soft slices of tuna carpaccio. These two proteins were surrounded by a cluster of intensely flavourful little courtiers – preserved lemon and sorrel for sharpness; dots of red beet and pickled plum purée and other dots of yellow beet purée; a big khaki-coloured sauce made of pistachio and a braising liquid used for pork belly. Toasted pistachios were crumbled onto the plate and a warm vinaigrette touched with white truffle served as another sauce. Smoked salt and a blue oyster flower finished the dish. Chef Bohati’s match was brilliantly chosen – an off-dry blend of Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Blanc with plenty of weight, the Wild Goose 2013 Autumn Gold from the Okanagan.

Chef Rebello

Chef Rebello

Chef Rebello reprised his avant-garde dish from the Regina GMP event, just two things on the plate, each of which needed to be consumed in a single bite. First, what looked like a tan-coloured puff perched on a rainbow-filled shot glass. “Pop the puff into your mouth give it  couple of chews then do the shooter,” chef instructed. The judges obeyed. The puff was an air tuile made of semolina. Inside it were some flecks of chestnut that had been puréed and then deep fried, seasoned with lemon, chili, coriander and cumin. Also inside was a small finger of warm belly pork, nicely crusted. It was indeed a delightful mouthful, the spices spreading a warm glow across the palate. Then the shooter… Pow! Those spices began to glow as they were hit by salted lemon chili water, pickled apple and a dab of cranberry chutney. The second element took the same ingredients but used them in completely different ways. The pork was a crisp chicheron, the chestnut had become a dab of mousse, the cranberry chutney had been turned into pearls. The apple reappeared as dainty chips garnished with chili threads. It was similar but quite different – soft flavours, soothing almost, with the geaseless crunch of the chicheron. Chef’s wine match? Red Rooster’s 2013 Gewurztraminer.

 

Chef Garland

Chef Garland

 

Chef Garland presented a little treatise on quail. The juicy roasted breast was stuffed with foie gras; the thigh had been poached in a master stock with soy and palm sugar (intense flavours) then Chef had pulled off the meat and turned it into a rugged-looking, panko-crusted croquette that several of the judges agreed was one of the most delicious things we had tasted all weekend. The stock, mixed with some of the chosen wine, had been reduced to a rich, sapid sauce. At the top of the plate was an enticing jumble of many effects – a gelée of peeled grapes and more Gewurztraminer, dainty cinnamon cap mushrooms, crunchy threads of fried shallot and fresh thyme that scented the entire dish. Chef’s wine match was inspired – Tawse 2013 Quarry Road Gewurztraminer, surprisingly ripe, rich and perfumed.

 

Chef Horne

Chef Horne

Chef Horne’s dish drew gasps of admiration from the judges. He had taken bite-sized pieces of exceptionally tender, braised beef short rib and finished them with a glaze of tree syrups – birch, maple, cedar and sumac – that gave the meat a heavenly, sweet, woodsy crust. One piece of the short rib was served on a bare beef rib bone. Real maple leaves had been marinated in cider and then turned into edible crisps. Wild leeks had been transformed into a seasoning salt while others had been pickled, adding their own piquant alium flavour to the composition. What looked like a gleaming piece of bark was in fact deep-fried parsley root and more parsley root had been turned into a purée with parsnip. It was like a walk in the woods and notably well matched with Creekside 2012 Iconoclast Syrah from Niagara.

 

Chef Jean

Chef Jean

Chef Jean built his dish around his chosen wine – Pelee Island’s 2012 Lighthouse Riesling. He marinated Manitoba pork tenderloin char-siu-style, cooked it sous-vide an then seared it with Asian barbecue spices for a touch of exotic heat. It was a beautiful piece of meat, nicely paired with sauerkraut that also had an Asian flavour, lightly spiced with star anise and chili. There was a potato confited in duck fat and topped with pork crackling, bacon and chives; squash purée provided rooty sweetness and a splash of colour. The sauce was a veal jus spiked with honey and lime and the final garnish was a flourish of candied kumquat, perched jauntily on the pork.

Chef Hill

Chef Hill

Our penultimate pleasure was Chef Hill’s “Farmer’s Table,” a dish inspired by the Sunday dinners he enjoyed as a boy growing up on his parents’ farm in Saskatchewan. He cooked a gorgeous lamb sirloin sous vide then seared it in camolino oil. Beside this lay a ribbon of pliable lamb sausage. Peas had been turned into a purée and also turned into a wafer with the texture of nori. Celery root furnished a second purée and micro celery greens added more colour and graceful freshness; a tiny carrot looked as if it had been grown in a doll’s house. Pickled mustard seed with lots of lemon was a welcome condiment and yellow mustard flowers symbolized the fields of Saskatchewan. A spoonful of sour cherry reduction was made with fruit from Chef’s father’s farm. The presentation was stunning and the wine match spot on – McWatters Collection 2012 Meritage from the Okanagan valley.

Chef McCrowe

Chef McCrowe

Chef McCrowe rounded off our evening with a splendid dish he called “Moose and Juice,” entering the judges’ room with a smoke gun to create the atmosphere of a Newfoundland forest – a little piece of theatre that was much appreciated. He had marinated the wild moose tenderloin with juniper then grilled it over charcoal with a dust of dehydrated chanterelles. The moose shank was braised with molasses and red wine together with salt pork fat back and finished with a scattering of crispy scrunchions. A purée of turnip and sharp cheddar was a powerful component and spikes of other root vegetables were scattered around the plate. Deep-fried caribou moss added to the sylvan mood of the dish and the last element was a piece of “Nan’s toast” in memory of the moose stew his Nan used to make. The wine Chef chose was a super compliment to the food, Norman Hardie’s 2013 Zweigelt from Prince Edward County, tangy, fruity and light-bodied.

The judges sat back. It had been a most memorable contest. Chef Park had aced the final round but all the marks for the Grand Finale were close – all within nine percentage points – a pattern that carried through to the final scores. We had known it was a very strong field going into the weekend and every chef had performed magnificently. At this level, their technical abilities can almost be taken for granted; what is exciting – as in the work of any great artist – is to see their unique and personal perspective emerge in the dishes they create before our very eyes. In the end, it was almost a photo finish – an Olympic sprint – and the winners of the gold, silver and bronze medals were less than two percentage points apart. Chef Eligh from Hawksworth in Vancouver won the bronze. Chef Park from Park Restaurant in Montreal won the silver. The gold medal went to Chef O’Flynn from the Westin, Edmonton.

Huge congratulations to all the chefs – and their sous chefs – and the students from Okanagan College who served as their willing apprentices throughout the weekend. Heartfelt thankyous to the judges. A deep bow to our new champion, Chef Ryan O’Flynn.

 

The Canadian Culinary Championships 2015 – part 2

25 Feb
Proffering the duck... Senior Judge Chef Bernard Casavant and James Chatto show the crowd the Black Box ingredients

Proffering the duck… Senior Judge Chef Bernard Casavant and James Chatto show the crowd the Black Box ingredients

Saturday morning – round about 7:15 a.m. in the lobby of the Delta hotel… Chefs and sous chefs are standing around or pacing, each one holding tight to his or her knife sets. The judges are there (some of them having already scored the excellent coffees from nearby Gio Bean) and two luxurious buses wait to take everyone to Okanagan College’s Culinary Arts building and the preparation kitchens where the Black Box will take place.

The venue looks splendid – a large area decked out for the public with banners and breakfast omelette stations manned by students. Amber Piché from My Tea Blending Room is here brewing some excellent teas. Another room houses a “market” of local artisanal producers showing off their wares, including awesome chocolate-covered cherries from Knight’s Fine Chocolate and super granola bars from The Bench Artisan Food Market. The first half of the audience arrives and the chefs are introduced then stripped of their cell phones and other communication devices before being led off to an isolated room to wait until their name is called.

Menawhile we judges introduce the contents of the Black Box to the eager spectators:

Tart, livid sea-buckthorn berries donated by Betty Forbes, proprietor of Northern Vigor Berries, Kamsack, Saskatchewan,  (www.nvigorate.ca).

Two live lobsters (a male and a female – a cock and a hen, as we used to say in England) for each chef, donated by Taste of Nova Scotia.

A big Rougie duck from Quebec, donated by Two Rivers Meats in B.C.

A bag of golden quinoa, grown in Saskatchewan and donated by NorQuin quinoa.

A bag of dried lavender, donated by Okanagan Lavender & Herb Farm, www.okanaganlavender.com

A tub of fresh ricotta cheese donated by Valoroso Fine Foods, www.valorosofoods.com

And, making up the complement of ingredients, are locally purchased turnips and yams, Honeycrisp and Granny Smith apples from Okanagan Packing House, Kelowna, and hazelnuts from Canadian Hazelnut Inc. of Agassiz, B.C.

In years gone by we have asked chefs to create two dishes using six ingredients, in one hour. Frankly, the whole contest sometimes devolved into a “beat-the-clock” plating ordeal. This year, we invite each chef to choose six of the 10 ingredients and create only one dish (13 plates of it, just for the judges). The idea is to stimulate creativity, to get the chefs going beyond the safe option, to raise overall quality – and it works. Okay, chefs who have competed for us in previous years, and are watching this year’s contest online on a live video feed, start texting us that it all looks much too easy. We will fine tune it again for next year.

Chef Jean

Chef Jean

Meanwhile, the first chef chosen is soon heads-down and deep in concentration with his sous. It’s Chef Luc Jean from Winnipeg. He announces his dish and the contest begins. Chef Jean decides to work with both duck breast and lobster (hooray). He pan-sears the duck with a touch of cumin, salt and pepper and presents a single tender slice over a rich purée of yam and carrot made with shallots and chicken stock from the communal pantry. The lobster is poached in butter with ginger and chives and though two lobsters barely furnish enough meat for 13 servings (something, we later learned, that deterred some chefs from using it), Chef Jean makes it go round. He uses the tart sea-buckthorn berries whole in a beurre blanc sauce for the lobster and finishes the dish with a slaw of apple and celery root, strewn with grated hazelnuts and topped with a wheel of green jalapeño chili. Presentation is more natural than fussy and the judges agree this is a very promising beginning.

 

Chef Hill

Chef Hill

Chef Hill is up next. He offers slices of seared duck breast in a presentation that looks fairly simple at first glance but in fact is a treasure trove of techniques and subtly used Asian flavours. Yam purée is spiked with miso, star anise, soy and sesame. Threads of the turnip are quickly pickled with rice wine vinegar and a blend of spices. A spoonful of lavender-scented sea-buckthorn gastrique is the colour of a desert sunset and brings the duck to life. An intense stock whipped up from the roasted duck bones and a little chicken stock serves as a second sauce. Hazelnut dust spiked with chili powder provides interesting texture and the dish is finished with a couple of watercress leaves and a trace of watercress oil. Balanced, accomplished… an excellent dish.

 

Chef Lavallee

Chef Lavallee

Chef Lavallée gives a little whoop of delight when she opens the box and sees lobsters from her home town among the ingredients. She cooks them perfectly (12 minutes then a plunge into ice-cold water), finishes them with a subtle lavender vinaigrette and uses their succulent meat as the crown for a fresh salad of julienned apples, celery root, turnip and watercress. The salad has its own dressing, thickened with the ricotta and cream, lemon, sesame oil and crushed hazelnuts. Crispy pancetta is crumbled over the top of the dish and beside it lies a light, crisp, salt-crusted cracker, baked using quinoa as flour.

 

 

Chef McCrowe

Chef McCrowe

Chef McCrowe is our fourth competitor. He has the happy idea of smoking the duck breast – but there is no smoker among the equipment available. So he McGyvers one out of a hotel pan and a handful of maple chips. The breast is juicy, tender and sweetly smoky – and he adds the hazelnuts into the smoker then crumbles them as a delicious garnish. We judges are becoming accustomed to puréed yam by now, but Chef McCrowe sparks his version with apple and smooths it out with miso, butter and sesame oil. For freshness he slices shiitake mushrooms from the pantry, gives them a light pickle and tosses them in a salad with turnip, mint, cilantro and pancetta. He uses the sea-buckthorn berries in the salad’s dressing, adding hazelnuts and a pinch of Asian spices.

 

Chef Bohati

Chef Bohati

Chef Bohati brings his plates into the judges’ room with the news that he loved the black box ingredients! The judges love the way he has thought outside the box with a dazzlingly creative dish that shows a lovely balance of flavours. He begins by making fresh pasta and uses it to make agnolotti. The filling is a mixture of puréed yam, ricotta and onion, loosened with chicken stock and stirred up with the claw and leg meat from the lobsters that he has lightly poached in a miso beurre blanc, touched by star anise. Morsels of the lobster tail meat nestle in amongst the angnolotti. On top are crisp, julienned apple, chives and watercress and a crumble made from hazlenuts and flecks of crispy duck skin, quickly fried in duck fat rendered down from the carcase. The duck fat also forms one of the fats in a delicate dressing for the apple salad, along with rice wine vinegar and grape seed oil. The final touch is a rich, pungent glaze made from the roasted lobster shells. Such interesting ideas!

Chef Park's sushi

Chef Park’s sushi

Chef Park is the next to strut his stuff. “I call this surf and turf,” he jokes as he escorts the dishes in for judgement. He has made two dishes for us. The first is a bowl of miso soup, studded with sliced mushroom and tiny cubes of the firm ricotta in place of tofu. Minced chives add colour. The second is a tasting of nigiri sushi. There was no sticky sushi rice in the pantry so Chef Park improvised with a mixture of arborio and quinoa – it’s just dense enough to hold its shape as we lift the sushi to our mouths. On top of one nigiri is a very thin slice of duck breast, seared like tataki with salt and pepper and topped with shaved turnip (masquerading as daikon) and radish chimmichuri. The second piece of sushi features the lobster, poached in butter but very rare, and a morsel of raw onion that seems startlingly piquant in such subtle company. Two purées dot the lobster, one of yam, the other of sweet onion and carrot. There are two sauces – a dramatic green stripe of lime and jalapeño mayo down one side of the plate, and a dainty ponzu spiked with lime zest served in a separate saucer. The judges are delighted by such an imaginative creation.

Chef Horne

Chef Horne

Chef Horne is our seventh competitor. He works wonders with the duck breast, roasting it medium rare (so tender and juicy) with a fine lavender-honey glaze like a crispy lacquer. His apple-turnip purée is rich and smooth and the turnip reappears gently pickled as thiny sliced circular cut-outs. Soy-sesame jus is perfectly judged and the apple also does double duty, paired up with sea-buckthorn as a tangy chutney. Quinoa finally takes a major role, some puffed, but also boiled with herbs to let its own complex, grainy-sweet flavour shine. The dish scores highly with the judges.

 

 

Chef Garland

Chef Garland

Chef Garland roasts the duck breast rare, scenting it with “warm spices” such as star anise, fennel and cinnamon. He makes a sea-buckthorn gastrique for fruity acidity and a pretty apple and vegetable slaw for a different kind of brightness. His purée features turnip, ricotta and hazelnuts and is flecked with chives – rich, weighty and flavourful. Hazelnut and caramel brittle, scented with rosemary, adds crunch and sweetness and harmonizes effectively with the duck’s spices.

Chef O'Flynn

Chef O’Flynn

Chef O’Flynn’s dish is as pretty as a picture. He has roasted the duck breast, leaving a fringe of fat between the tender meat and the crisp skin. He has also dealt with the lobster, making a confit in butter, fish and chicken stocks, lemon and thyme. A juicy chunk lies against the slice of duck. Spiced yam purée is as sleek as satin while a comma of apple purée offers freshness and innocence. Chef has dealt with the turnip by turning it into perfect balls and poaching them in chicken stock, butter, lemon and cider vinegar. Two little wands of apple lie across the proteins like a bridge and the plate is finished with a duck fat vinagrette flecked with chives and toasted hazelnuts.

 

Chef Eligh

Chef Eligh

Chef Eligh’s dish is equally accomplished, his roasted duck breast becomingly tender and crisp-skinned. The presentation is tight and very beautiful with a tasty, super-smooth yam purée placed to one side of the meat. Beneath it is a breathtakingly tart sea-buckthorn vinaigrette enriched with bacon and mustard. The turnip has been turned, à la Parisienne, into chickpea-sized spheres and lightly pickled. And Chef has cut plectrums from the Granny Smith apples, letting the fruit’s natural acidity cut the fat of the duck. Wholly unexpected – a finesse from a completely different cuisine – are crisp, nicely salted, shallow-fried onion rings that demand to be eaten with our fingers. As do two perfect watercress leaves laid over all as a final flourish.

Chef Rebello

Chef Rebello

Chef Rebello is the last competitor of the morning. The inspiration for his dish is the Indian tali tray – three separate components on the plate, though all of them use apple. The first is ceviche of chopped lobster, apple, citrus and jalapeño, formed into a little drum and set over a slice of raw Granny Smith. It’s cool, crisp, not too tart – nicely judged. Element number two is a slice of spiced, seared duck breast laid over a dab of yam and ricotta purée and topped with apple cooked with brown sugar, star anise and pepper until they are halfway to being a chutney. The third component is a dessert – a yam and ricotta dumpling fried like a doughnut and tossed in sugar surrounded by candied hazelnuts, candied apple and a curved wand of lavender tuile. It’s a tasting menu in its own right and the judges are pleased.

It’s fascinating to tally the marks at this stage. Unlike other years, no penalties have been imposed. Though the judges felt they had seen too much duck breast and puréed yam, they were also happy to see plenty of variety and imagination on the plates. As each judge’s score is added into the program, we see that the pack has caught up with Chefs O’Flynn and Eligh. Chefs Park, Bohati, Horne and McCrowe have performed particularly well this morning but no one has streaked into a dramatic lead and no one is out of contention. Going into the final stage of the Championship – the Grand Finale – it is still, clearly, anyone’s race.

 

The Canadian Culinary Championship 2015 – part one

16 Feb

To beautiful downtown Kelowna again for the 2015 Canadian Culinary Championship, ultimate test for each of our Gold Medal Plates regional champions. And what a very strong line-up we have this year! Some are better known than others but frankly any of them could win gold, each one sporting a rich and potent curriculum vitae. Here are the names of our 11 competitors.

Starting in the east with the champion from Aqua Kitchen & Bar in St. John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador, it’s Chef MARK McCROWE.

Our Halifax champion, from The Canteen in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, is Chef RENÉE LAVALLÉE.

Now our Montreal champion, from Restaurant Park in Montreal: Chef ANTONIO PARK.

Our Ottawa-Gatineau champion, from Absinthe Café in Ottawa is Chef PATRICK GARLAND.

Our champion from Toronto is chef at Canoe, Chef JOHN HORNE.

Our Winnipeg champion, from Jane’s, is Chef LUC JEAN.

And from Regina, from Wascana Golf & Country Club, Chef MILTON REBELLO.

Our Saskatoon champion, from the Delta Bessborough hotel, is Chef CHRIS HILL.

Our Edmonton champion, from The Westin Edmonton, is Chef RYAN O’FLYNN.

And our Calgary champion, from Market, is Chef DAVE BOHATI.

Finally, the champion representing all of B.C., from Hawksworth in Vancouver, is Chef KRISTIAN ELIGH.

In years gone by, chefs and judges have all stayed at the charming El Dorado hotel. This year, the competition’s entire cast is staying at the Delta Grand Okanagan hotel – and very comfortable it is, too.

As ever, my team of fellow judges outnumbers the competitors. Allow me to name them.

From St. John’s, Newfoundland, broadcaster, food columnist for The Telegram, author and host of his own tv show, One Chef One Critic. KARL WELLS

From Halifax, journalist and restaurant critic for The Chronicle-Herald, who overcame his fear of flying to be with us in Kelowna, BILL SPURR

From Montreal, restaurant critic, writer, lecturer and anthropologist, ROBERT BEAUCHEMIN

From Ottawa, author and broadcaster, restaurant critic, senior editor of Taste & Travel Magazine, ANNE DESBRISAY

From Toronto, award-winning food columnist and food writer, currently an editor with The Walrus, SASHA CHAPMAN.

From Winnipeg, professional chef, culinary arts instructor and Director Food Services at Red River College, JEFF GILL.

From Saskatoon, cookbook author, journalist and food columnist, AMY JO EHMAN.

From Regina, award-winning cookbook author, photographer, tv and radio host and publisher of Savour Life magazine, CJ KATZ.

From Edmonton, wine, food and travel writer, certified sommelier and wine instructor, the founder of Edmonton’s Slow Food convivium and publisher of The Tomato, MARY BAILEY.

From Calgary, teacher, broadcaster, author and restaurant columnist for the Calgary Herald, JOHN GILCHRIST.

From Kelowna, the distinguished chef, Culinary Manager of Okanagan College and the current President of the Okanagan Chefs Association, Chef BERNARD CASAVANT.

From Vancouver, world-renowned wine and food judge and the wine and food guru for Western Living magazine, SID CROSS.

And also from Vancouver, author, teacher, restaurant critic, gab-gifted boulevardier and the editor-in-chief of Scout Magazine, ANDREW MORRISON, who serves as our Judge Invigilator, enforcing the rules of competition with an all-seeing, almost Sauron-like eye that is at once strict but fair.

Our adventure began on Wednesday evening when the lucky judges were invited to dinner at The Table, Chef Ross Derrick’s charming restaurant inside Codfathers Seafood Market (2355 Gordon Drive, (250) 763-3474). Owned and run by Jon Crofts, Codfathers is one of the best fishmongers in the country, offering superb sustainable seafood from fresh sturgeon to Gaspe smelt and is a vital resource for the chefs who compete in the Championships. The evening began with a merry contest, dividing the judges into three teams and setting them some challenges – shucking a dozen oysters, filleting a trout and making a ceviche. Great fun – and educational, too. We ate the oysters, and some gorgeous deep fried smelt – then we sat down for Chef Derrick’s dinner – a feast that began with the ceviches we had made ourselves, then progressed to a succession of treats – first, slender perogies stuffed with smoked onion and Keta salmon served with a roasted beetroot crème fraîche, winter greens and a bacon vinegerette; then the steelhead trout we had filleted ourselves (judge CJ Katz most elegantly) paired with tuna chorizo sausages made with the blood of the tuna and flanked by braised beans and spinach aïoli. Dessert chef Tina Tang made our afters – a dainty Chinese lemon egg tart with lemon mascarpone mousse, lemon thyme curd, pomegranate seeds and crushed honey comb. A fabulous time was had by all.

The competition truly gets under way on the Thursday evening with a reception for sponsors, media and guests. This year we held it at Howard Soon’s newly renovated and decidedly chic Sandhill winery, with Codfathers’ oysters and some delectable hors d’oeuvres from Poppadoms, Kelowna’s excellent Indian restaurant. There was a palpable aura of intensity emanating from the chefs and their sous chefs as each was introduced to the crowd and I conducted a short question-and-answer session. Completing each culinary team was a pair of students from Okanagan College who will serve as apprentices for the chef – always a brilliant learning experience for them. Then we handed over the mystery wine and the budget each chef must strictly obey – cooking for 480 guests but spending no more than $600. Could you throw a dinner party for $1.25 a head? I couldn’t. The chefs had 24 hours to create, shop for and prepare a dish that would perfectly match the wine. And what was the mysterious vino? David Lawrason only revealed it at the end of Friday evening, after we had tasted each chef’s dish: Stoneboat Pinotage 2012 from the Okanagan, a big, potent, purple red with a fruity nose but less fruit and more spicy complexity on the palate, smooth tanins and a well-judged measure of acidity. Each chef, brought up on stage to comment on the wine and describe what they had cooked, had different guesses and opinions about the wine, but one of them, Patrick Garland, identified it absolutely correctly. So did our judge Andrew Morrison, right down to the year. But what would the chefs decide to prepare with it?

Chef O'Flynn

Chef O’Flynn

Chef O’Flynn decided to draw on his European experience of dishes involving monkfish and red wine and went for fish, haggling for fresh sturgeon at Codfathers, which had stocked itself up to the gills in the hope that the mystery wine would be white. He felt the wine needed fat to balance its acids and tannins so he brought in a rich garnish of crème fraîche, devilled egg yolk and a dab of Northern Divine caviar. He turned to beetroot to build a sturdy bridge into the heart of the wine, smoking some red beets and puréeing them into silky, bittersweet heaven. He also made tiny cubes of beetroot jelly and a beetroot fluid gel, marinated some golden beets to the precise level of acidity of the wine and finaly made a beetroot crumble for texture. A sprinkling of crushed almond brought out the earthy note in the Pinotage and, all the time, the rich, succulent sturgeon was making its own sophisticated conversation with the fruitiness of the wine.

Chef Lavallee

Chef Lavallee

Chef Lavallée was almost vegetarian in her approach, creating  beautiful salad of barley and many kinds of beetroot, each one variously but perfectly textured and sliced into slender rounds. Threads of shallot and an array of radishes, sliced even more thinly, surrounded a mound of creamy, homemade quark; croutons of rye bread fried in duck fat provided an opulently rich contrast. Two dressings – a green goddess and a honey pistachio vinaigrette – brought tangy flavours to the party while crisp, crumbled fried speck and a scattering of Vancouver Island sea salt satisfied all possible cravings for saltiness. The beets and the croutons worked notably well with the wine.

Chef Horne

Chef Horne

Chef Horne felt the wine needed red meat but didn’t want to do a braise. Instead he chopped a delicious venison tartare tossed with crispy bacon. He turned the bacon fat into a soft white powder that lay in little hillocks along the linear presentation of the dish. Deep-fried bannocks, broken roughly in half, did double service as a bread for the tartare and as wicked little pillows of doughnut-like richness. Chef picked up the fruit in the wine with a dusting of raisin powder and garnished for freshness with wild chickweed harvested from the Okanagan.

 

Chef Rebello's "Illusion"

Chef Rebello’s “Illusion”

 

Chef Rebello offered a fascinating presentation, typical of his affection for culinary and visual puns. He cut lotus root into the shape of a marrow bone and confited it in duck fat, then he braised oxtail and spooned it inside instead of outside the “bone.” As so many of the chefs did, he felt the wine demanded fat on the plate, and rovided it by turning the fat from the oxtail into a dab of aïoli. A delectable puré of lotus, cauliflower and cashew nuzzled up to the lotus; a blueberry and blackberry gastrique that was almost jelly-like in its consistency echoed the fruit flavours Chef found in the wine. The finishing touch was a wafer-thin fin of translucent potato slices sandwiching flecks of cherry and beet sprout. He called this dish “Illusion.”

Chef Eligh

Chef Eligh

Chef Eligh was next, introducing his dish by saying he “wanted to keep it simple.” He chose to work with duck, a Yarrow Meadows duck breast, to be precise, perfectly tender and spiced with star anise, cinnamon, allspice and fennel – a single perfect slice of the meat lay upermost on the dish, fringed with fat and a nicely crisped skin. Beneath it was a mound of impeccably textured lentils dressed with a rich bacon vinaigrette while parsnip manned the flanks, on the left as a silky purée, on the right as crispy shards. Fronds of fresh fennel weed brought fresh, aniseedy flavour. It was a multi-faceted approach to the earthy spice of the wine that paid dividends while the Pinotage itself provided the dish with a fruity element that so often flatters duck.

Chef Hill

Chef Hill

Chef Hill also gave us duck, smoking the breast and presenting a slice of it pink and medium-rare. Showing impressive skills as a shopper, he bought four lobes of foie gras with much of the rest of his budget and spread them among the multitude by turning them into a mousse stretched with emulsified agar-agar and egg yolk. It tasted beautifully of foie and had the desired effect of taming the tannin in the wine. Beet also played a role – as a broad stripe of red beet purée and shards of golden beet on top of the duck. Pungent micro-arugula and hazelnut dust added more colour to Chef’s flavour palette while camolina oil, with its pleasing grassy note, and leeks confited in duck fat further boosted the richness of the dish. The most successful link into the wine remained the smokiness of the duck and the fatty, salty umami that lurked all over the plate.

 

Chef Park - the boudin brownie. Thanks to Karl Wells for the image

Chef Park – the boudin brownie. Thanks to Karl Wells for the image

Chef Park turned to pork and blood to tame the wine, cooking a soft boudin noir flecked with slightly firmer mini-dice of pork belly: the whole pudding looked disarmingly like a chocolate brownie. Jerusalem artichokes were everywhere – as crispy chips and also as a luxe, caramelized purée invigorated by puréed Granny Smith apple and hidden inside a crispy shell. Roasted vanilla oat crumble was strewn like granola and a second crumble of salty bacon added to the overall intensity of flavour. A smudge of vanilla dust kept its distance on the edge of the plate, in case we decided the granola needed reinforcements.

Chef Bohati

Chef Bohati

 

Chef Bohati decided chilled, nose-to-tail pork would provide the necessary fattiness to match the Pinotage. He made an oniony pork-belly rillette shaped like a sausage and flavoured with five-spice then set it over an aïoli of smoked ham hock sweetened with vanilla bean. A crispy blood wonton furthered the porcine cause, as did crispy deep-fried pig ear dusted with five spice powder. Earthiness came courtesy of marinated enoki and shiitake mushrooms; freshness was provided by a tissue-thin slice of compressed pear, prepared with some of the wine, lemon, cinnamon and sugar.

 

Chef Garland

Chef Garland

 

Chef Garland nailed the identity of the wine, characterizing it as “hot, with ripe fruit, warm spices, potent…” and matching it with juicy, shredded braised lamb shank. Those warm spices were echoed by white and black pepper, vanilla, clove and cinnamon in the braising liquid and by the black pepper and rosemary in a delicate biscuit. Fennel, tarragon and pea shoot salad with a walnut vinaigrette offered big fresh flavours and another line of approach into the wine. Crispy leeks were perfumed with sage and a smoked ham hock and red wine reduction was an extra sauce on the plate.

Chef Jeab

Chef Jean

 

Chef Jean gave us a dramatic presentation with his elements artfully arranged on just one side of the plate. His main protein was a coffee-rubbed short rib, seared and medium rare in the Korean style then sliced as if it were tenderloin. Beneath this was a white navy bean purée and a jumble various delectable things – brussels sprout leaves tossed with butter and speck, caramelized pearl onions, crunchy hazelnuts – all making significant contributions of taste and texture. A tangy wild blueberry gastrique worked well with the Pinotage and an unexpected hit of gorgonzola on the plate was a star turn, nicely meeting the rough-and-ready charm of the wine.

MW McCrowe

Chef McCrowe’s dish was the last one the judges tasted. He also worked with beef short ribs but in a more conventional manner, braising them until they were gorgeously tender then glazing them with a subtle mix of spiced rum and molasses. A generous spoonful of cherry compote flirted outrageously with the fruit in the wine while tart, crunchy, thinly sliced slivers of pickled plum handled its acidity. A salad of radisn and Italian parsley brought freshness and crispy parsnip chips were a final flourish. The judges admired the wine match – and so did the crowd of 480, who awarded Chef McCrowe the People’s Choice prize.

Meanwhile the judges pondered as their marks were processed. There had been plenty of different ideas and some boldly imaginative moments. No one had floundered and in the early stages of the weekend nine of the chefs were running in a close pack. Out in front of them, however, and by a respectable margin, were two pacemakers – Chef Eligh and Chef O’Flynn. In just a few hours, the second part of the competition, the dreaded Black Box, would begin.

 

 

Canadian Culinary Championship report (short version)

11 Feb
Chef Ryan O'Flynn's wine matching challenge dish

Chef Ryan O’Flynn’s wine matching challenge dish

To beautiful (foggy) downtown Kelowna again for the 2015 Canadian Culinary Championship, ultimate test for each of our Gold Medal Plates regional champions. And what a very strong line-up we have this year! Some are better known than others but frankly any of them could win gold, each one sporting a rich and potent curriculum vitae. Here are the names of our 11 competitors.

Starting in the east with the champion from Aqua Kitchen & Bar in St. John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador, it’s Chef MARK McCROWE.

Our Halifax champion, from The Canteen in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, is Chef RENÉE LAVALLÉE.

Now our Montreal champion, from Park Restaurant in Montreal: Chef ANTONIO PARK.

Our Ottawa-Gatineau champion, from Absinthe Café in Ottawa is Chef PATRICK GARLAND.

Our champion from Toronto is chef at Canoe, Chef JOHN HORNE.

Our Winnipeg champion, from Jane’s, is Chef LUC JEAN.

And from Regina, from Wascana Golf & Country Club, Chef MILTON REBELLO.

Our Saskatoon champion, from the Delta Bessborough hotel, is Chef CHRIS HILL.

Our Edmonton champion, from The Westin Edmonton, is Chef RYAN O’FLYNN.

And our Calgary champion, from Market, is Chef DAVE BOHATI.

Finally, the champion representing all of B.C., from Hawksworth in Vancouver, is Chef KRISTIAN ELIGH.

As is well known by now, the Championship consists of three contests: the Wine Matching Contest, where the chef must create a dish to perfectly match an un-named wine – and do it for 480 people on a budget of $1.25 a head. The Black Box, where the chef must create a dish using six of ten mystery ingredients in a black box, plus anything from a generous pantry. The Grand Finale, where the chef can present his signature creation and chosen beverage – to 630 people.

In the next few days, I will present a full report with details of each dish. For now, here is a précis of the competition as we saw it in the judges’ chamber.

David Lawrason’s mystery wine turned out to be Stoneboat Pinotage 2012 from the Okanagan, a big, potent, purple red with a fruity nose but less fruit and more spicy complexity on the palate, smooth tanins and a well-judged measure of acidity. Each chef, brought up on stage to comment on the wine and describe what they had cooked, had different guesses and opinions about the wine, but one of them, Patrick Garland, identified it absolutely correctly. So did our judge Andrew Morrison, right down to the year. What did the chefs decide this wine demanded? All but two found meat was the answer. Chef O’Flynn chose sturgeon which he sourced at a bargain price from Codfathers fish market, which had stocked itself up to the gills in the hope that the mystery wine would be white. Chef Lavallée was almost vegetarian in her approach, making a beet and barley salad (as pretty as a picture) with crunchy duck schmaltz croutons her only concession to carnivory. None of the chefs crashed and burned at this stage (as has happened in previous years) but when we had tasted all eleven dishes and totted up each judge’s marks it was clear we had two front runners a fair way ahead of the pack – Chef O’Flynn with his sturgeon and smoked beetroot, and Chef Eligh, who aced the pairing with a spiced duck breast, parsnip purée and perfectly cooked lentils with a bacon vinaigrette. The people’s choice award went to Chef McCrowe who braised beef short rib in spiced rum and molasses with a cherry compote.

Saturday morning brought the Black Box. This year, to encourage creativity and make it less of a race against the plating clock, we asked each chef to choose six out of 10 ingredients, dramatically revealed as his or her hour of competition began. The ingredients? Two live lobsters donated by Taste of Nova Scotia. A bag of tart Saskatchewan-grown sea-buckthorn berries donated by Northern Vigor Berries. An air-dried Rougie duck from Quebec, supplied by and donated by Two Rivers Meats in B.C. A bag of toasted hazelnuts. A bag of golden quinoa grown in Saskatchewan and donated by NorQuin. A bag of mixed Granny Smith and Honey Crisp apples. Yams. Turnips. Dried lavender. A tub of very fresh local ricotta cheese.

Our plan worked. The culinary standard of the dishes the judges received was much higher than in years gone by. There were plenty of similarities – the majority of chefs decided to offer pan-fried duck breast as a main protein – and if I never see yam purée again, it will be fine by me – but skills were definitely on parade. Stand-outs for me in terms of sheer technical ability was Chef Park’s dish. He made nigiri sushi, one of lobster sashimi, one of duck, using the quinoa and arborio as a makeshift sushi rice then brought in a second hot dish alongside – a miso soup with the firm ricotta standing in for tofu. Chef Bohati also thought outside the box, swiftly making some fresh pasta and turning it into agnolotti stuffed with lobster, yam and ricotta, finishing the dish with a crisp aple salad, a glaze from the roasted lobster shell. By the end of the morning, the pack had caught up with the two front runners and were treading on their heels.

And so to the Grand Finale. It’s hard to create your masterpiece for 600 when you only have about four hours to prepare. The chefs all did a lot of preparation in their home towns and shipped components and elements ahead. Every one except Chef Eligh did more or less the same dish that had brought them victory in their regional competitions. Which meant the judges were presented with some splendid and highly original treats. Again, I will be commenting on each dish in the longer “director’s cut” of this report (including outtakes and bloopers). Meanwhile, let me describe the dishes of the three chefs who finished the evening on the podium.

Chef Kristian Eligh from Vancouver won bronze. His dish had an avant-garde presentation – a perfectly smooth dome of crisp bread, as fine as lace, to be shattered into what lay beneath. There we found impeccably cooked, very subtly seasoned lobster and sablefish in a heavy, chowder-like sauce made from clam nectar and lobster reduction, thickened with butter and bacon fat and cradling morsels of carrot, celery and potato. The wine match was exceptional – Meyer Family 2012 Micro Cuvée Chardonnay Old Main Road from the Okanagan.

Chef Antonio Park from Montreal surged ahead to seize the silver medal. He took the traditional ingredients of Korean bibimbap and re-expressed them with the finesse of Japanese cuisine as a complex roll of moussey chicken boudin, julienne vegetables, nine-hour-braised shiitake and cauliflower. Instead of sauce from a squeeze bottle, he turned the gochujang into a jellied skin as the outer layer of the roll. A tremblingly undercooked quail egg lay on top and scattered here and there was a crunchy assortment of five different kinds of puffed rice, for texture. Chef Park’s chosen wine had been lost by Air Canada en route to the competition so he had to scramble to find a substitute – Gehringer Bros. 2013 Riesling.

Taking gold and the Canadian Culinary Championship (the first time a chef from Edmonton has ever reached our patrticular podium) was Chef Ryan O’Flynn from the Westin Edmonton hotel. Having taken the lead on Friday evening, he had never really let it slip away. His dish was a thick and generous terrine of river sturgeon, pungently smoked with pine, and layered with perfect cured foie gras. The strata of colour were breathtakingly beautiful, the flavours rich and intense, challenging but ultimately so seductive. Decorating the plate and contributing much in terms of flavour were motes of Granny Smith apple jelly, dots of apple purée, minuscule crunchy dice of brioche and two plump, juicy morels reconstituted with a bathe in a fragrance of sherry vinegar, canola oil and bay leaf. The wine match – Sandhill Small Lots 2013 Viognier – was flawless.

To sum up – it was a competition conducted at the highest level by eleven chefs who all brought their A game, who took risks and who entered fully into the spirit of the occasion. At this level, their technical abilities can almost be taken for granted; what is exciting – as in the work of any great artist – is to see their unique and personal perspective emerge in the dishes they create before our very eyes.

Huge congratulations to all the chefs – and their sous chefs – and the students from Okanagan College who served as their willing apprentices throughout the weekend. Heartfelt thankyous to the judges. A deep bow to our new champion, Chef Ryan O’Flynn.

 

 

 

Gold Medal Plates 2014 Victoria

01 Nov

It takes a full day to get back to Toronto from Victoria – plenty of time to digest the results of a fabulous Gold Medal Plates gala at the Victoria Convention Centre on Thursday night. The evening was warm and a fine drizzle did nothing to deter the merry-makers who gathered on the eve of Halloween. They met a most impressive line-up of chefs drawn from all over British Columbia, some terrific wines (and cider), cocktails (thank you, Victoria gin!) and canapés (thank you, chef Brian Skiner!) and a thoroughly amazing show. The emcees were Canada’s beloved ice skaters, Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue (I’m so excited they are co-hosting the Scottish GMP trip with us next June) while the great Olympic oarsman Adam Kreek interviewed the athletes with his customary energy and charm. The music was awesome thanks to Ed Robertson, Danny Michel, Dustin Bentall and fiddler-trumpet player Daniel Lapp, inspiring much dancing in the aisles and an overall vibe of being one of the best parties in Canada.

But the food – how was the food? It was even better than last year – nine thoughtful, compelling, truly delectable dishes that demanded the full attention of my fellow judges, editor, writer, educator and our Senior Judge Andrew Morrison; writer, editor and culinary judge Shelora Sheldan; iconic culinarian and food guru, Sinclair Philip of Sooke Harbour House; former sommelier, chef, innkeeper, now author and editor of EAT magazine, Gary Hynes, and last year’s esteemed B.C. GMP gold medallist, chef Brian Skinner.

Terry Pichor's dish won bronze (Thanks to Andrew Morrison for the pictures)

Terry Pichor’s dish won bronze (Thanks to Andrew Morrison for the pictures)

Unsurprisingly, superb local seafood was front and centre of many dishes, in particular of the elegantly imaginative, delicately achieved étude that won the bronze medal for Chef Terry Pichor of Sonora Resort on Sonora Island. At its heart was a ling cod cheek from local cod, lightly cured in ocean water and lemon balm from chef’s garden, then very briefly cooked sous vide, barely long enough to seize its juices. Rare and trembling, this naurally sweet piece of fish was sprinkled with a pinch of furukaki (powdered nori, sesame seed, dehydrated shiso leaf and puffed wild rice). Beside it were ribbons of exceptionally tender Humboldt squid, also cured and cooked sous vide but then bronzed for a moment on the plancha before being rolled and set onto the plate. There was a steamed Dungeness crab claw, snippets of pickled kelp and, lending their unique aroma to the dish, some perfect shavings of raw pine mushroom. Little pools of pale russet foam reminded me of a rock pool and turned out to be an espuma made from sea urchin purée. Chef finished the plate by pouring on a rich, heavy, almost viscous dashi broth flavoured with kelp, pine mushroom and bonito. It sounds like there was a lot going on but everything made perfect sense, flavours and distinct textures involved in an intricate dance that paid homage to the sea. On a night when the quality of a wine-match made the difference between reaching and not reaching the podium, Chef Pichor’s choice was most impressive. It was a wine I had never tasted before, called Nomu and made by Kanazawa Winery in Naramata, B.C., a slightly off-dry, aromatic, tangy blend of Viognier, Semillon and a dash of Muscat.

Wesley Young won silver

Wesley Young won silver

Our silver medal was awarded to Chef Wesley Young of Wildebeest, in Vancouver, who decided Brome Lake duck would be his principal protein. He began by brining the breasts and curing and confiting the legs, then using the combined meats in a boudin, lightly bound with a suggestion of duck mousse. Each guest received two slices of this moist and delicious sausage. Between them lay a similarly drum-shaped “salardaise” of shaved potato cooked in duck fat and layered with Perigord truffle. Two powerfully flavourful elements served as condiments to the boudin. The first was a sweet-tart purée of mission figs that had been cooked with port, balsamic vinegar and duck glace. The second was a moussy foam made from the duck livers with a dash of Cognac, shallot, garlic and bay. Over this Chef sprinkled a brown crumble of crispy duck skin and fried sage. To counteract all this opulent umame and ducky richness, a single baby turnip, white and simply blanched to the edge of tenderness, lay on the other side of the plate like an innocent child in a roomful of worldly sophisticates. Chef’s wine was a big, ripe Pinot Noir, the 2011 Cedar Creek Platinum “Black 2” from Kelowna, a great match to the fig and the liver flavours.

Gold for Kristian Eligh

Gold for Kristian Eligh

Chef Kristian Eligh from Hawksworth restaurant in Vancouver won the gold medal with a pairing he described as “bacon and Chardonnay.” His meat wasn’t really bacon, though it schmecked like bacon, as one of the judges pointed out. It was in fact a gorgeous confit of pork neck that had been brined for 12 hours then confited in pork fat for a further 12 hours. Cut into puck-shaped slices, its texture was impeccable – moist and juicy but not too soft under a sticky cloak of a glaze made from a reduction of calvados and smoked pork. On top of this perched some ethereal puffed-up cheddar cheese crisps and two or three slivers of crisp pickled apple. A brown butter crumble was judiciously sprinkled and the whole assembly was topped with a refreshing sprig of mache. Dramatically separated across the plate was a perfect circle of buttery Granny Smith apple purée. Chef’s wine match proved another success, picking up the apple and smoke and nutty butteriness in the dish – Meyer Family Vineyards 2012 “Kelly Hrudey” Tribute Series Chardonnay from Naramata, B.C.

So we are on a roll… Four champions now selected from four spectacular parties. The excellent adventure continues on Monday in Montreal.

 

Victoria Wine Report

By David Lawrason
National Wine Advisor

There were eight excellent B.C. reds and whites clustered near the top of the leaderboard for the Best of Show Wine Award at Gold Medal Plates in Victoria on October 30.  We three judges had given them due scrutiny in the finest glassware, with the wines poured at perfect temperature by sommeliers among GMP volunteer staff of the Victoria Convention Centre. And we tasted again and voted, but still there was no unanimity, and the scoring was so close.

In the end we crowned a complex merlot-cab-malbec (Bordeaux) blend as Best of Show, a maturing 2010 from Lake Breeze Winery called Tempest that displayed riveting tension and great depth, and will likely do so until the end of this decade at least. A very close second came another maturing 2010 red from the Okanagan; this time the rich, balanced, big Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Pinot Noir.  And close by that, in second runner-up spot came a powerful, complex, almost Meursault-like chardonnay – Meyer Family’s 2012 Tribute Series Kelly Hrudy from their Old Main Vineyard near Okanagan Falls.

The Best of Show Award is designed to single out and thank the wineries that donate their wines to Gold Medal Plates. During the Celebration portion of the evening, there were three wines on every table. In each city, Peller’s Niagara Estate is very generously donating its popular Ice Cuvee matched to the dessert. This is a traditional method sparkling wine sweetened by little dosage of vidal ice wine. Peller Niagara Estate was named 2014 Winery of the Year at the Wine Align National Wine Awards of Canada.

Thanks also to a pair of prominent BC wineries for donating to the Celebration. Calliope Figure 8 is a hugely successful new red blend of merlot, cabernet and malbec by the Wyse family at Burrowing Owl in the south Okanagan. And Le Vieux Pin Winery donated their power blend of white Rhone varieties called Le Petit Blanc, a wine I personally ranked in the top five.

I was very pleased to be joined this night on the judging panel by the Harry McWatters the architect of modern BC wine and the Honorary Ambassador to the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna. Mr. McWatters founded a small boutique winery called Sumac Ridge in Summerland in 1980, based on the daring notion that the Okanagan could succeed with European vinifera grape varieties. He went on to help found the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) in B.C. too, and opened up vast tracts of virtual desert scrub along Black Sage Road south of Oliver, that today is making Canada’s best red wines.  He has moved on in his illustrious career to make his own McWatters Collection, with a fabulous winery now under construction on Black Sage Road.

We were also joined by Victoria’s own Sharon Maclean, a freelance wine writer and educator who earned her WSET Diploma in 2009 with the highest marks of any Canadian. She now teaches WSET in Victoria through Wine Plus, and has joined local writer Treve Ring to form the Cru Consultancy.

In the court of culinary opinion, only one of our Best of Show finalists made it to the Chefs Podium; the Meyer Family Chardonnay being seamlessy matched to the dish by gold medal chef Kristian Eligh of Hawksworth in Vancouver.  This earns Meyer Family a berth at the Canadian Culinary Championship when Hawksworth competes in Kelowna in February 2015.  Silver medalist Wesley Young of Wildebeest in Vancouver poured CedarCreek’s impressive 2012 Platinum Pinot Noir Block 2;  while bronze medalist Terry Pichor of poured Kanazawa Winery’s innovative white blend of viognier, semillon and muscat blanc called Nomu.

Other wines that gave the winners a run for their money this night included the aromatically exact Nichol 2011 Syrah, the lovely Bella 2012 Sparkling Chardonnay and ever-popular Quails’ Gate 2013 Chenin Blanc.

We were also treated to a lovely semi-sweet cider called Pippins by Sea Cider of Vancouver Island; and their Sannich neighbour Victoria provided their crisp, icy Victoria Gin for celebratory martinis at the VIP reception. They were joined by Vancouver Island Brewery that poured a bevy of fine beers all night long.

All in all, in my opinion, Victoria was the strongest beverage showcase on the 2014 Gold Medal Plates tour to date.

 

 

 

 

 

The Canadian Culinary Championships 2014 report

10 Feb

Podium at CCC

Let the competition begin! Famous last words on Thursday night as each of our competing champion chefs was given his or her bottle of mystery wine, a pair of culinary students from Okanagan College’s Culinary Arts program to complete her or his brigade of two (or in one case, one) sous chefs, and sent off into the night to start working on a perfectly paired dish. The wine (personally selected by our National Wine Advisor, David Lawrason, its identity a secret so closely guarded that he would have had to kill me if he’d told me in advance) could be seen to be white, but that was all any of us knew. The chefs’ task was made more difficult because they had to prepare their dish for 425 guests as well as the judges and they were obliged to spend no more than their allowance of $550 in total. Try throwing a dinner party and spending $1.22 on each guest! Furthermore, everything, from salt and oil up, had to be purchased in Kelowna on Friday morning. During the afternoon, our culinary referee checked every receipt and received back any unspent coins. Jonathan Thauberger of Regina spent all but $6; Marysol Foucault of Ottawa-Gatineau handed back a record $170 surplus! Then the chefs and their sous chefs and their dishes were ferried from the prep kitchens at Okanagan College’s Culinary Arts faculty to the Delta Grand.

            Excitement on the evening was intense. The crowd oohed and aahed at the magnificent new BMW that is this year’s bonus prize for the ultimate winner of the CCC and they listened intently as each chef took the stage before we began and described their dish and the thinking behind it. The wine, incidentally, turned out to be a fascinating white blend of Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris with a splash of Viognier – Laughing Stock’s 2012 “Blind Trust” from B.C.’s Naramata Bench. An aromatic wine with a hint of oak and bright acidity, it softened and broadened considerably in the glass, a change which may have thrown some of the chefs off their matches a tad. The Mystery wine flowed freely among the crowd who moved from chef’s station to station, tasting and evaluating. They filled out their own score cards and produced their own People’s Choice award at the end of the evening, giving their prize to Chef Duncan Ly of Yellow Door Bistro in Calgary. Meanwhile, the judges, holding their peace, took their seats at a perfectly illuminated table outside the main event and waited for what might come.

            First up, From Calgary, Chef Duncan Ly of Yellow Door Bistro, a chef who has competed at the CCC before and certainly knows the ropes. “I set out to play off the acidity and the wine’s herbal and fruity notes,” he explained. His dish was a dainty quintet of Japanese refinement, five upright tubes of cucumber ribbon, some filled with finely chopped ahi tuna, Asian pear and fresh roe, others with pomelo and dried apple. Textures were ethereal but flavours deep. The little tubes were scattered with a minuscule crumble of peanut and puffed quinoa while the plate was decorated with shaved radish, tiny mint leaves and hints of cilantro. A pool of clear liquid turned out to be citrus spiked with fish sauce, precisely matched to the texture and intensity of the wine.

From Ottawa-Gatineau, Chef Marysol Foucault of Edgar, in Gatineau, showed next, her dish dramatically plated far to one side, allowing her to finish it at the judges’ table by pouring on her sauce. She had found baked apple in the wine and so tossed some morsels of caramelized pickled apple with the spaetzle that lay beside her main protein of delectably tender pulled chicken confit. Other components included grainy mustard, thyme, brussels sprout leaves, smoky bacon, pungent little threads of charred meyer lemon zest, grated hazelnuts, shards of crispy chicken skin and charred shallots. And the sauce she finished it with was a rich, Quebecois smoked pork hock broth. Such a delicious mosaic of flavours to complement the richness of the wine.

From St. John’s, Chef Roger Andrews of Relish Gourmet Burgers created a dish of three separate components. The first was a block of maple-lacquered, smoked pork belly, awesomely delicious and perfectly textured. Beside it was a mound of mushroom ragout made from chopped chanterelle and crimini mushrooms cooked with chicken stock, garlic and shallots that worked particularly well with the wine. Balanced on the ragout, a crunchy slice of garlic toast was topped with aerated goat yoghurt. The third element was a whole olive-oil-poached tomato – basically a juice-and-flavour bomb that was a brilliant complement to the rest of the dish and unexpectedly well matched to the wine.

From Edmonton, Chef Paul Shufelt of Century Hospitality Group also gave us pork belly, the meat slow-braised then quickly seared, glazed with honey, soy and lemongrass. He set the tasty meat on a hank of rice vermicelli tossed with julienned Granny Smith apple, baby radish, pea tendrils, fresh mint, pistachios and some pickled red onion, all moistened by a honey gastrique and by a squeeze of the lime wedge he included on the plate. The overall effect was like a highly sophisticated, deconstructed Vietnamese roll – very refreshing and a good match with the wine.

From Regina, Chef Jonathan Thauberger of Crave Kitchen + Wine Bar created a spectacular little burger-shaped creation, baking a miniature peach-and-yam bagel that he instructed us to eat with our fingers. Inside was a slice of perfectly cooked veal sweetbreads, some subtle bacon torchon and a vanilla-scented ricotta cheese that chef made himself during the morning. There was apple slaw and yam purée on the plate, both reflecting aspects Chef had found in the wine, and some yummy sunchoke chips for crunch. The big surprise was a pickled smelt on a skewer. Cured in a citrus escabeche and topped with kumquat, its tangy fishiness was decidedly forthright and some judges felt a bit too much for the wine. But this was the slider from heaven.

Fom Montreal, Chef Danny St. Pierre of Auguste, in Sherbrooke, Que., found plenty of minerality in the wine and reflected this with a fluid gel of grapefruit and by spiking his purée of parsnips with an intense mussel jus. Both were fine accompaniments to his main event, a trout tartare flavoured with saffron-infused fennel and garnished with trout roe, white corn and parsnip chips. The tartare was a splendid match for the mystery wine, the musselly purée a touch too powerful, but the overall effect was most impressive.

From Saskatoon, Chef Trevor Robertson of Aroma Rest-bar in the Radisson Hotel presented a block of succulent pork belly, cooked sous vide and glazed with a chili honey. He used green apple and fresh fennel to build a flavour bridge into the wine, strengthening the relationship with a green apple gel, garnishes of radish and baby tomato and a dainty ricepaper crisp. The biggest flavour on the plate was an intense, sapid tomato fennel jam that came dangerously close to pushing the wine around.

Representing British Columbia, Chef Brian Skinner of The Acorn, in Vancouver, offered a brilliant and accurate analysis of the wine, finding minerality and oaky vanilla in its complex personality and admiring the length of its finish. Seeking to match not trump the vino, he proposed “a trio of cauliflower cheese” in keeping with the vegetarian mandate of his restaurant. The dish looked absolutely spectacular, its elements arranged in a circle like a carved Grinling Gibbons garland. Cauliflower had been dealt with three ways – seared in juniper oil; puréed with brown butter and dijon mustard; and pickled with bay, cumin and chili. The cheesy purée alluded to cauliflower cheese while opaque white petals of organic Similkameen shallots, poached in a vegetable court bouillon, added another contrasting texture and taste to the plate. Matchsticks of tart apple dyed purple with beet juice referred to the earthiness Chef found in the wine.

From Winnipeg, Chef Kelly Cattani of Elements the Restaurant, also had a very clear vision of the wine, identifying the viognier in the blend. Her dish wowed the judges – raw scallops cured for three hours in sake and mirin and paired with miso butter sauce. A salad of Asian flavours included wakame, baby kale, green onion, sesame and pickled Asian pear with tobiko roe for colour and saltiness. A slice of serrano chili sealed the deal. Textures were amazing, the balance of components very strong but several of the judges felt the dish changed the taste of the wine.

From Toronto, Chef Lorenzo Loseto of George Restaurant created a sensory mosaic of carefully interlocking flavours and textures. At its heart was a fluffy goat cheese mousse served on a broad ribbon of yellow beet carpaccio. A salad of julienned fuji apple and truffle-scented black trumpet mushrooms was topped with a mere suggestion of smoked bacon and Chef also used bacon fat as a subtle brush on an olive bread crisp. There were brussels sprout leaves, scattered beet crumble and brown dots of a reduced jelly of beet and aged balsamic – all perfectly harmonious and precisely in tune with the wine.

From Halifax, Chef Martin Ruiz Salvador of Fleur de Sel, in Lunenburg, presented our final plate of the evening, and it was splendid. Here was a salad of diced smoked strugeon with fennel and cucumber garnished with fennel fronds and drizzled with a clove-and-orange-juice cream. Chef had formed it into a ring that held a pool of green fennel and leek vichyssoise. White leek fondue added a second soft rich texture, spooned onto the vichyssoise. There was more of the salad in the centre of the pool, an island upon which lay a gorgeous, pan-seared oyster that picked up the minerality in the wine very nicely indeed.

The judges retired to their deliberation room and added up their scores. It was like watching the beginning of a long-distance race, the athletes all in a bunch with no one prepared to take the lead. The six leading chefs were only separated by three percentage points; the other five almost as close. This was absolutely anyone’s game.

 

Saturday morning. The Black Box competition. Over the years of the CCC, we have tried to flummox the chefs by filling the black box of mystery ingredients with such arcane items as wild liquorice root, dulse or live crabs, or else we have given them a meat that is exceptionally difficult to cook in less than an hour. This year, I thought we might take a different route, giving them much more everyday things to work with, things we can all cook, hoping they would come up with spectacular, imaginative and different solutions to the competition. So we started our list of six components with a chicken – a whole, 8-lb organic chicken from Sterling Springs farm near Kelowna, introduced by the farmer herself, Lisa Dueck. A bunch of local parsnips from Greencroft Gardens in Grindrod, B.C. A container of Cornect Family Farm honey butter from Nova Scotia, one of many generous donations to our weekend from Taste of Nova Scotia. A bag of gorgeous, intensely flavourful Saskatchewan cherries from Dean Kreutzer of Over the Hill Orchards in Saskatchewan. Two perfect, whole, gutted but otherwise immaculate trout from West Creek Farms in B.C. And finally a bag of fresh lion’s mane fungus that looked like white pompoms, from Champignons Le Coprin in Gatineau. All these Canadian culinary treasures were donated and on behalf of Gold Medal Plates and the Canadian Culinary Championships I’d like to thank the donors profusely.

Each chef had to use these ingredients in one or other of two plates they had to devise and prepare for the judges and they had precisely an hour to do it. Lateness or failure to use one of the ingredients would be severely penalized. Alas, two of our competitors incurred penalties. Kelly Cattani was more than a minute and half late plating her second dish. Martin Ruiz Salvador, standing describing his dishes for the judges, realized with horror that he had forgotten to put the fungus he had cooked onto his plate. Our hearts went out to them both, but the rules are written in stone.

I won’t list each of the 22 dishes we received. There was a great deal of repetition. Most chefs decided to fillet and pan-sear their trout. Most chefs chose to purée their parsnips. Only Danny St. Pierre used the bones of his chicken to supercharge the chicken stock from the pantry; hardly anyone worked with the fowl’s dark meat… But every dish had moments to delight us!

Thank you, Trevor Robertson, for a great lemon and honey-butter beurre blanc and for using the cherries with the thyme-scented chicken forcemeat you put inside the breast.

Thank you, Martin Ruiz Salvador, for the delectable little cilantro-studded mushu pancake under your roast chicken breast.

Kelly Cattani, thanks for the awesome, gingery broth in your trout hot pot.

Merci, Danny St. Pierre, for getting crisp skin onto your trout fillet and for mashing, not puréeing your parsnips.

Thank you, Brian Skinner for a chicken mousseline quenelle with the texture of a cloud.

Thanks to you, Lorenzo Loseto, for putting colour on your beautiful plates and for marinating your trout instead of cooking it.

Jonathan Thauberger, it was a great idea to do a cold dish and a hot one, and to warm the plate! Thank you for the yummy trout tartare and the chicken breast roulade.

Merci, Marysol Foucault, for the spare perfection of your presentation and for the delectable cherry gastrique (the best use of the cherries in the entire competition), the garlicky lemon aioli and the parsnip rösti.

Thank you Duncan Ly for giving us crunchy brunoise of parsnip in your red wine gastrique and for the chicken leg meat in the beautiful little dumpling.

Thank you, Roger Andrews, for the delicious herbed potato “bar” and for figuring out that cutting up the fungus and sautéeing it hard meant it wouldn’t soak up so much liquid.

And thank you, Paul Shufelt, for the great dijon spaetzle you made so fast to go with your chicken and for roasting off your parsnips in the honey butter.

So, where did we stand after the Black Box? That front-running pack of chefs had changed personnel a little and there was a hint of daylight beginning to show between the first four or five and the rest of the field. Who was out in front? By a nose, Danny St. Pierre, with Duncan Ly and Lorenzo Loseto right on his heels. But it was still impossible to call. Everything would depend on the Grand Finale.

 

Saturday night. The Grand Finale.

Chefs often go to great lengths to create their signature dish for the Grand Finale. Martin Ruiz Salvador may have trumped them all in putting together his contribution, a very different idea from the refined version of a breakfast collation that had won him gold in Halifax. He sent a fisherman out to sea, 35 miles into the Atlantic to harvest 70 gallons of pure sea water. He froze some of it around the gorgeous South Shore lobsters he shipped out to Kelowna, and brought the rest to poach the lobsters to a perfect state of quivering rarity. There were two principal accompaniments, both soft, weighty textures and both exotically flavoured. One was a white corn polenta stirred with parsnip and topped with two squares of tofu in a shallot-parsley-lemon zest dressing. The other was a mayo made with rendered bone marrow and chopped seaweed for a dazzling taste of the seashore. Shredded radishes, that Chef had fermented in sea water for three months, added a unique tang, and a strewing of pork scrunchions for richness and crunch delighted everyone. The final garnish was a rosette of hana tsunomata seaweed. I found it a brilliant dish, beautifully matched to his wine, the Benjamin Bridge Tidal Bay 2012, a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Vidal grown in Nova Scotia’s Gaspereau Valley.

Brian Skinner showed next, with a dish that wowed the judges with its gorgeous aromas and flavours. Cylinders of different sizes turned out to be different things – drums of smoked king oyster mushroom or of confited potato. Quartered, roasted purple heirloom carrots lay across them while big petals of braised shallot brought a different kind of sweetness. Dazzlingly orange, tissue-thin shards of peppery carrot meringue were intensely flavourful. A thick, rich mushroom jus united the spectrum of tastes like a thrown blanket while little dots of jelly made from 20-year-old sherry (the only ingredient that came from farther than 100 miles from Chef’s restaurant) provided an edge of acidity. The wine match was impeccable – Clos du Soleil Chegwin & Baessler Pinot Blanc 2012 from B.C.’s Similkameen Valley.

 

Lorenzo Loseto

Lorenzo Loseto

Third up was Lorenzo Loseto, presenting a slimmed-down version of his golden Toronto dish. At its heart were thick slices of superb ahi tuna that had been rolled in potato threads and deep-fried for the seconds needed to crisp them. The tuna itself remained essentially raw, glossy and dark as a polished Indian ruby. Carrot and pear were the accompanying components. Some of the carrots had been roasted in butter and transformed by tapioca and multidextrin into little marshmallow-textured nubbins of flavour. A finely chopped salad of carrot and pear was dressed with a gingered jasmine reduction. Radish provided moments of subtle heat, while a beet-stained, tartly pickled, obliquely cut slice of fennel added an unexpected tang. Drops of highly seasoned peppercorn mayo stood as an optional condiment for the tuna and a flourish of fennel pollen and pistachio powder finished the dish. 2010 Old Vine Riesling from Kew Vineyards on Niagara’s Beamsville Bench, a wine full of the aromas of petrol and lemon zest, was an inspired match.

Chef Marysol Foucault catapulted herself into the frontrunners with a fabulous dish. Her original intention had been to serve bear meat but instead she settled for a combination of wild boar belly, cooked sous vide for 36 hours then wrapped around rabbit loin with pink peppercrons and cooked for eight hours more. Tender, moist and flavourful, this chunk of meat was set over a dense chestnut purée that had been spiked with double-smoked bacon and strewn with fragments of chestnut, lemon and espalette pepper. A sweet parsnip puff and parsnip chips reprised the weekend’s inescapable ingredient and there were other delicious elements to be found, including a rabbit liver brown butter, two sauces using beets – one yellow, another a dark gastrique. Maintaining the boreal theme, Chef had soaked lichen in sortilège whisky and fried it to crispness. This beautifully conceived dish was well paired with Clossen Chase “The Brock” Chardonnay 2011 from Ontario’s Niagara River.

Chef Duncan Ly presented the dish that had won him victory in Calgary – a slim slice of a superb terrine made with side stripe prawns and pig’s ear set in a matrix of firm, finely textured braised and ground pork neck, cheek and jowl. Once sliced, the prawns showed as white circles against the meat while the pig’s ear (amazingly tender) was a narrow white stripe curving across the surface. A mint-apple gelée created a slim green rim to the slice. On one corner, Chef left a small mound of soft powder made from peanut and pork floss. To brighten the richness of the terrine, he made a crisp, fresh salad of finely julienned apple spiked with mint and a discreet sweet-sour dressing. An “Asian hot mustard and garlic sauce” turned out to be more of a gently spiced aïoli while the dish’s garnishes – a miniature rice crisp and some viola petals – looked as pretty as a picture. Chef’s wine match was remarkably successful – the Peller Estates NV Ice Cuvée rosé sparkler from Niagara, its off-dry fruitiness and sly acidity enhancing all the flavours on the plate.

Sixth to the table was Chef Roger Andrews. He chose to work with squab, stuffing the double breast with whole pistachios and chanterelles, cooking it sous vide and then finishing it in a hot pan to rendeer the fat and crisp the skin. The meat was awe-inspiringly delicious, as was its sauce, made from the reduced juices quickened with a hit of a low-lying shrub called Labrador tea. The second component garnered rave reviews from the public and from many of the judges – a salad of crunchy-soft puffed wild rice, cloudberries, lowbush blueberries and flower petals moistened with a hibiscus vinaigrette. Then there was a silky squash purée spiced with cumin and cayenne to match the pepperiness in the wine, and a moment of maple-scented apple compressed with green onion. Chef matched his squab very nicely indeed with the Norman Hardie 2012 Pinot Noir from Prince Edward County, Ont.

Chef Kelly Cattani played with local ingredients but Asian flavours for her signature dish. The star of the plate was a tataki-style treatment of Manitoban elk, seared very briefly in avocado oil then sliced remarkably thinly. She laid it over cool, delicious soba noodles and spread a half moon of roughly puréed edamame beans across the plate. Pickled carrots and ginger added zing to the soba salad while crimson microgreens proved a subtly earthy garnish. Chili oil added more pizzazz and a togarashu rice crisp was the final touch. The elk worked well with the bright, fresh 2011 Blue Mountain Pinot Noir from Okanagan Falls, B.C.

Chef Trevor Robertson presenting a plate that looked like a Joan Miro painting – stunningly colourful and graphic. Above a thin purple line of haskap berry gastrique, we found slices of his “duck press,” a finely textured Muscovy duck terrine studded with squares of foie gras, black truffle and shiitake under a pistachio crust. Pale yellow streaks of Morden corn beurre blanc underlay the terrine beside apricot pearls and cut-out circles of glossy corn gel. Twists of duck breast prosciutto reinforced the protein component while a scoop of smoked corn sorbet turned everything on its head with a weird and woodsy wow factor. Nk’Mip Winemaker’s Series 2012 Pinot Noir from Osoyoos, B.C. was Chef’s choice, a wine that worked particularly well with the duck prosciutto.

Chef Jonathan Thauberger prepared rabbit for us – the deboned loin and saddle stuffed with baby leek and carrot and a forcemeat made with sour cherries and cooked sous vide. He set this tender ballotine on a piece of brioche toast partially hidden beneath a piping of rabbit stock compound butter. Meanwhile a deep, dark reduction of the rabbit jus throbbed flavour like a fretless bass guitar in the hands of Roger Waters. Nasturtiums from Chef’s own garden became a sweetish jelly and also a seasoning powder while a single orange nasturtium petal and leaf were the elegant garnish. A miniature salad of cat tails and a sour cherry reduction finished the plate. The wine match was a light-on-its-feet 2010 Bordeaux blend called Two Hoots from Fairview Cellars in Oliver, B.C.

Chef Danny St. Pierre presented a fascinating warm salad of braised beef tongue, thinly sliced and arranged on the plate as a flat oblong of meat, almost like carpaccio. A savoury glaze of soy, fish sauce, maple, balsamic and sesame oil added gloss and cohesion to the tongue. Organized on top were other elements designed, like the glaze and the tongue itself, to harmonize impeccably with the wine. Instants of a clove-scented confited-cranberry purée mimicked the wine’s flavour. Onion drizzled with horseradish added its own piquancy as did the cool heat of thinly sliced radish. A fried quail egg sat on top, its runny yolk released by one’s fork to become a rich sauce and the egg itself was strewn with very finely cut marrowbone croutons, their crunch contrasting with the softness of the tongue. Perhaps it was the egg yolk that disturbed some of Chef’s careful harmonies. The wine he chose, even before he created the dish to go with it, was Vignoble Carone Venice 2011 Cabernet Severnyi from Lanoraie, Que.

Chef Paul Shufelt was our final competitor. He had taken all the off-cuts of Tangle Ridge Ranch lamb and braised them for six to eight hours in a light veal stock with Syrah, pomegranate and fresh mint. Then he pulled the meat apart and laid it over a “risotto” of faro grains cooked in stock from the roasted lamb bones . Yellowfoot chanterelles sautéed with shallots and garlic were one garnish; another was thin slices of pickled candystripe beets, lending dramatic colour and refreshing acidity. Crispy leeks and micro mint seedlings added pop while whole pomegranate seeds looked like jewels on the plate. It was a dish of true “rustic refinement” as Chef intended, well matched with Mission Hill Select Lot Collection Syrah 2011 from the Okanagan Valley, B.C.

So there you have it… To be sure, the Grand Finale truly lived up to its billing, with all the chefs pushing their pace up to maximum and much jockeying for position as we finally crossed the line. It would be safe to say that every competitor this weekend performed like a star but only three toques can fit on the podium. Danny St. Pierre won our bronze medal. Duncan Ly won the silver. Lorenzo Loseto won gold and becomes our new Canadian Culinary Champion. Congratulations to all the chefs and judges who worked so hard this weekend to find our new Champion.

 

The Canadian Culinary Championship 2014 – Prelude

07 Feb

 

The view from Tantalus

The view from Tantalus

 

As Canada’s Olympic athletes have shown us, the road to victory can be arduous. That was also the case for many of the judges making their way from Eastern Canada to Kelowna, B.C., to serve on the judiciary panel of the Canadian Culinary Championships. Thirteen hours door-to-door, in my case, thanks to the weather at Pearson and missed connections. Which made our ultimate rendezvous all the sweeter. Across the street from our hotel, the lovely Eldorado, stands a comfortable, cool, contemporary restaurant called Cabana. It was there we gathered, to be greeted by a glass of Bella sparkling chardonnay and an array of other brilliant wines very generously donated by Lindsay Kelm of the British Columbia Wine Institute.

            We are 13 judges this year. Travelling, like the sun himself, from east to west, they are: from St. John’s, Newfoundland, broadcaster, food columnist for the Telegram, author and host of his own tv show, One Chef One Critic. KARL WELLS; from Halifax, journalist and restaurant critic for the Chronicle-Herald, who overcame his fear of flying to be with us in Kelowna, BILL SPURR; from Montreal, former pastry chef, author, journalist and since 1999, fine-dining critic and food columnist for the Montreal Gazette, LESLEY CHESTERMAN; from Ottawa-Gatineau, author and broadcaster, senior editor of Taste & Travel Magazine and former restaurant critic of the Ottawa Citizen, ANNE DESBRISAY; from Toronto, award-winning food columnist and food writer, currently an editor with the Walrus, SASHA CHAPMAN; from Winnipeg, professional chef, Liverpool fanatic, culinary arts instructor and Director Food Services at Red River College, JEFF GILL; from Saskatchewan, award-winning cookbook author, tv and radio host and publisher of Savour Life magazine, and our senior judge in both Regina and Saskatoon, CJ KATZ; from Edmonton, wine, food and travel writer, certified sommelier and wine instructor, publisher of red tomato online and the founder of Edmonton’s Slow Food convivium, MARY BAILEY; from Calgary, teacher, broadcaster, author and restaurant columnist for the Calgary Herald, JOHN GILCHRIST; from Kelowna, Instructor in Baking and Pastry Arts right here at Okanagan College, PERRY BENTLEY; from Vancouver, world-renowned wine and food judge and the wine and food guru for Western Living magazine, SID CROSS; and also from Vancouver, author, teacher, restaurant critic, boulevardier and the editor-in-chief of Scout Magazine, ANDREW MORRISON. Andrew is also the CCC’s Culinary Referee and the man who will be responsible for enforcing the rules throughout the weekend.

            Here was a merry meeting – and Cabana did us proud. We tasted a smoked duck confit crostini with drunken cherries and a fig reduction. We further calibrated our palates with a salad of roasted baby beets and corn, served on a bed of peppered arugula with orange vinaigrette topped with herbed Happy Days goat cheese and shaved rainbow radish. Some of us couldn’t resist one of the restaurant’s renowned specialities – deboned chicken wings stuffed with cream cheese. Then there was thickly sliced chateaubriand, crusted with a cinnamon coffee rub and set over a buttermilk honey parsnip mash and a smoked apricot purée. Three chocolate mouthfuls closed the occasion – one just a foam that melted into air in our mouths, another a fluffy milk chocolate mousse, the last a heavy, wickedly intense terrine. A fine start to a weekend of professional eating.

            The treats continued on Thursday. It is the generous custom of Tourism Kelowna’s Catherine Frechette to devise a gently educational culinary adventure for the judges as a team-building preamble to the competition itself. This year we were driven up to Tantalus winery on the brow of a ridge overlooking the valley. We didn’t know what to expect, but it turned out to be tremendous fun. There to meet us were luminaries from the winery and also the chefs and bartender from Kelowna’s splendid Indian restaurant, Poppadoms (948 McCurdy Road, 778-753-5563, www.poppadoms.ca). It’s a family business, with Jas Dosanj and her daughter Aman in the kitchen, and her son Harry a most inventive bartender. Our task this sunny but very cold  morning was to work as cooks, aproned in black and divided into pairs, set to prepare six different dishes that would eventually become our lunch. To help us work, Mark Puttick, manager of Knifewear Inc, was there to lend us an array of marvelous Japanese knives, while Jas and Aman moved amongst our prep tables, offering advice.

            I paired up with Sid Cross and we set to work making a Keralan vegetable dish of potatoes, carrots, parsnip and onions in a coconut sauce spiced with handfuls of julienned ginger and garlic, green chilies and cardamom, cloves, peppercorns and roasted ground fennel seeds. Harry provided inspiration with miniature shots of his prize-winning cocktail, a creation he calls a Harry Berry that mixes Okanagan Spirits whisky, Tantalus Pinot Noir, a syrup made by reducing maple stout, and a shot of blackberry lemonade, all finished with a moment of egg white. I’m usually pretty good at imagining what a cocktail is going to taste like but I was most surprised by the suave, tangy, subtle flavour of this one… An excellent invention!

 

            While our dishes were finishing in the Tantalus ovens, Jas showed us how to make chapatis and then let us try. We soon had the balls of wholewheat flour and water dough rising like balloons on our butane burners.

            Lunch was amazing! It didn’t hurt that we had a good number of actual chefs on the judging panel. I can say without fear of contradiction that we go into the first element of the competition tonight – the mystery wine pairing contest – as a very focused posse, ready to do our duty in passing judgement on 11 of Canada’s finest chefs.

 

A Great Day in Kelowna

17 Feb
Suncatcher Farm, Kelowna

Suncatcher Farm, Kelowna

Our annual trip to Kelowna for the Canadian Culinary Championships is always a highlight of my year, not least because it offers a chance to get to know more about this extraordinary valley. Home for the long weekend is the stylishly retro, discreetly luxurious Eldorado hotel, right on the shores of the lake – a placid body of water that never seems to freeze, even in February when the ski slopes in the surrounding mountains are choked with snow. And for the last couple of years, Tourism Kelowna has generously organized a tour of the area for the posse of judges (the Senior Judge from each Gold Medal Plates city) who fly in to adjudicate the Championships with me. Catherine Frechette of Tourism Kelowna puts our day together and this year’s trip surpassed all our expectations.

Montreal judge Robert Beauchemin ponders Bean Scene's magnificent roaster

Montreal judge Robert Beauchemin ponders Bean Scene’s magnificent roaster

We began very early with a visit to Bean Scene Coffee Works on Dickson Avenue for freshly baked muffins and a truly first class cup of joe. This is the actual roastery and bakery for the other two Bean Scene cafés and it’s something of a local secret, very much a labour of love on the part of the owners, John Anderson and his partner Deb Synnot. Old school? Such an understatement. John acquired a vintage small-batch roaster (no computers here) and then devised a homespun but brilliant system to clean the smoke that the roaster produces using water filters instead of high-energy incinerators. The only by-product is a nitrogen rich liquid that he uses to water the trees outside the café. “No gimmicks, keep everything simple,” is John’s motto, but there’s nothing simple about the coffees he serves. The aroma is heavenly, the flavour rich and complex, medium-roasted and pitched somewhere between acidity and carbon, “between a lemon and a match,” as John puts it. He roasts single-origin coffees from Mexico, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Sumatra and El Salvador and mixes all five for his profound espresso blend. We ate freshly baked cornmeal muffins and lingered over our capuccinos, then set off for the next gastronomic adventure.

Jim and Lorena Wood live on their six-acre, organic, mixed-orchard farm and they were waiting for us as we parked our vans in the snowy driveway. Lorena’s three-month-old granddaughter, Sage, was in her arms, well-bundled-up, and a pot of hot apple cider was seething aromatically on the barbecue. We munched on wonderfully sweet little red Fuji apples while Jim told us the story of the 1928 farmhouse, how they used to use goats and sheep to “mow” the orchards, and how they started a small farmgate business for their fruits and vegetables, eight years ago. Eventually top chefs found their way to the farm (he has another eight acres where they farm organic vegetables), fell in love with the quality and the Woods’s philosophy and are now customers. Red Haven, Glow Haven, Canadian Harmony and raretown white peaches, cherries and apples, chickens and eggs… We sipped a cocktail of Cipes sparkling wine and the farm’s own organic apple juice – a nectar that knocks your Bellini out of the park.

The gleaming still at Okanagan Spirits

The gleaming still at Okanagan Spirits

On to Okanagan Spirits, a 10-year-old craft distillery in downtown Kelowna where awesome eaux-de-vie, fruit liqueurs and spirits are alchemized from a gleaming German 250-Litre copper pot still that looks like a steam-punk time machine at the back of the store. This is something that anyone who comes to Kelowna should see, especially if you share my innocent passion for unique distillates. They’re working on a single malt whisky that they enchant with a dash of fruit spirits. I have a phobia against adulterated whiskies but this one was remarkably good – not sweet, just ameliorated with a faint aroma of stone fruit. We judges tried one eaux de vie. Then another. Soon we were working our way through the entire repertoire including “Canados,” a remarkable, dry, spicy local version of Calvados (this is apple country, after all, in the way that the garden of Eden was apple country) made with Hyslop crab apples, and finally a nip of Taboo, the distillery’s pungent absinthe. We could happily have stayed all afternoon but lunch awaited us around the corner at the extraordinary RauDZ Regional table, the very cool restaurant owned and operated by Chef Rod Butters and Audrey Surrao.

RauDZThey had opened at lunchtime for the first time in their history to accommodate the CCC judges. “And the last time,” said Chef Butters with a smile, as we scrambled up onto bar stools, wondering what to expect. They don’t have a bartender at RauDZ, they have “liquid chef” Micah Jensen who had organized a progression of cocktails for us to try, examples of his “farm-to-glass” philosophy. The first of them arrived in a Mason jar, a Quince Gin Mule, made with local Spirit Bear gin, quince puree from O’Neil farm and the dry, dazzling, English Fentiman’s ginger beer. A delightful palate cleanser, herbal and spicy, designed to refresh but also to showcase the lavender in the gin.

Soup at the bar at RauDZ

Soup at the bar at RauDZ

And then the little edible treats began to appear. There were miniature jars of tuna slow cooked in grapeseed oil. There was wholly unexpected smoked sockeye salmon from Lake Okanagan, coaxed back up the Columbia river and into these waters and caught by First Nations people. Chef served it with the tiny citrus beads squeezed from finger limes. Then a can of mushroom soup – literally served in a can with a label created for our visit (click on the image above – it’s a good read) – to be poured into a cup already harbouring morels and other wild mushrooms. And there were beers to sample, including Vertical Winter Ale from local Tree brewery, flavoured with vanilla and heady with nut and caramel aromas, and Red Wood, an ale aged for a hundred days in red wine barrels and showing a subtle nutmeg flavour.Plates of venison carpaccio appeared, dressed with mustard sauce and julienned apple. An array of charcuterie came from Seedo’s in Salmon Arm – Chef Butters believes that charcuterie should be left to the experts and the chorizo, cervelat, salami and spicy biltong added weight to his argument. Micah Jensen presented a second cocktail with the meat, a Vanilla Sky made with Tree’s winter ale and whisky – oaky and smoky and sweetened with beautiful honey from Arlo’s honey farm on Bedford Lane.

Duck, duck, duck eggs and gnocchi

Duck, duck, duck eggs and gnocchi

And the food kept on coming, all of it true to Chef Butters’s once-radical, now-orthodox belief in the virtue of locally sourced ingredients. The main course was a dish of pan-browned sage gnocchi topped with the applewood-smoked breast meat and confited leg meat of Pekin ducks from Feather Farms, an operation owned by the parents of RauDZ sous chef Evelyn Takoff. There were perfectly fried duck eggs on top of the tender confit mountain and she advised us to break them open so that the runny, dark yellow yolks seeped down over the meat as a heavenly sauce. Then there were four cheeses from the valley’s Upper Bench Creamery including a semi-soft blue called King Cole and a fabulous soft goat cheese called Grey Baby. Not to be outdone, Micah Jensen mixed us Poached Pear Cocktails of pear vodka from Okanagan Spirits mixed with cointreau, red pear purée, lemon juice and, as a final float, port spiced-up with anise, cinnamon, vanilla and blood orange peel. Little triangles of soft, moist Christmas cake were the perfect accompaniment.

We needed a walk after that spectacular lunch and we got it at Suncatcher Farm, where Tony and Nancy Cetinski cultivate organic vegetables on their precious six acres right next to the first permanent white settlement in the Okanagan, where Father Pandosy built his mission in 1859. Tony Cetinski is a witty guy who cherishes the land he bought in 2001 – land that has been farmed for well over a century and is protected as part of Kelowna’s agricultural land reserve, though property developers must be tearing out their hair. He farms it pretty much single-handed, with a passion and an energy that produces 40 different crops in a season, much of which goes to RauDZ and the kitchens of other enlightened chefs in the area.

On the hillside behind the farm is Sperling Vineyards. Anne Sperling is a towering figure in Niagara – one of the great winemakers and a pioneer of biodynamic viticulture. I always knew she grew up on a family vineyard in the Okanagan and learned the roots of what she knows by tending those vines as a child. Now I had a chance to see the property and to meet her neice and her neice’s husband, who run the place and operate the winery shop. We finished our day with a tasting of wines from the vineyard, starting with Sper…itz, an extraordinary bubbly made from old-vine Bacchus and Perle of Csaba (a love-child of Muscat). It was amazingly aromatic and attractive and I wish they made enough to send a few half bottles to Ontario. Then we tried the Sparkling 2008 Methode Champenoise bubbly made from a unique block of Pinot Blanc given three years sur lie. Yeasty, acidic, with a hint of lanolin on the nose, it was delightful but again – they only make 1200 bottles a year. An intense Pinot Gris followed, then the flagship wine from the property, an old-vines Riesling I had tasted a couple of weeks earlier in Toronto, racy, coursing with limestone and petrol, spectacular! In 2008, they planted Pinot Noir on their busy land and we tasted the first ever vintage, the 2011. Precocity isn’t in it. It was shimmering with the promise of the future, all cherries and minerality, a subtle kiss of oak… Another reason to love the Okanagan.

Catherine Frechette had made her point. All this lies within a few minutes of downtown Kelowna, a wonderful circus of quality, history, innovation, commitment and passion. Envious Canadians often ask me why the CCC takes place in Kelowna every year. All the people we met that day provided different but irrefutable answers. If you love wine and food and spirits and beer and vivid gastronomic narratives, this is surely the place to be.

 

 

David Lawrason’s CCC wine report

14 Feb

David Lawrason made a dramatic entrance at the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna last week, flying in directly from a three-week sojourn in New Zealand and looking remarkably fit and spry. I never see enough of him during the CCC since we are both very busy with our separate vinous and culinary worlds. Only when those worlds collide – at the actual events – do we have a moment to share notes so I welcome this post-facto report even more than usual.

The Canadian Culinary Championships Wine Report

By David Lawrason, National Wine Advisor

The 2013 Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna featured an astounding 40 different wines, spread over three events. Except for the wines that were paired with ten competing chefs, the vast majority were donated by the wineries of Kelowna.  Catherine Frechette of Tourism Kelowna was instrumental in organizing the donations and the tastings.

I had the great pleasure of tasting and judging them for the Best of Show Wine Award with two good friends and excellent palates to help me with the judging – two local boys known to all wine folk in the Valley.

Harry McWatters was the Honorary Chair of this Event, but I think he derived his real pleasure from joining us on our tasting rounds.  Harry was the founder of Sumac Ridge Estate winery in 1980, among the very first small new, quality focused wineries in the Valley.  He had the vision and courage to plant what he wanted, where he wanted, and to speak out for what he felt was right for such a tender industry. He was truly the architect of the incredible growth of Okanagan wine has enjoyed since.  And he is still out there creating, and mentoring with his McWatters Collection, and new brand is in the wings called Time.

Rhys Pender is younger, but very much a Harry.  Living in the Similkameen Valley Rhys has made his mark as a passionate wine educator, writer and show judge. He is one of only three people in BC and four in Canada to have earned his Master of Wine.  He too is vitally interested in and vocal about BC wine, and he has not been afraid to dig in and plant grapes and make wine of his own.

Chef’s Reception at Tantalus Vineyards

This year Tantalus Vineyards played a major hosting role for the Canadian Culinary Championships, offering their winery for the Chef’s receptions and introductions, and helping organize neighbouring wineries of the Lakeshore Wine Route that poured at the Mystery Wine Night.  The interior of the winery looked like a movie set for a classy futuristic culinary thriller, with stainless steel gleaming in white light, culinary students from Okanagan College all in their whites, food stations, and of course the stellar Tantalus wines.  They poured the terrific 2010 Riesling this night as well as 2010 Pinot Noir, which could frankly use a couple of years. Winemaker David Paterson led some of the judges through a tank sampling of the very promising 2012 Riesling, and we dabbled with a 2007 Old Vines Riesling that is now evolved to perfect fruit, honey and mineral complexity while maintaining electric acidity.  It was astonishingly good with oysters from the Outlandish Oyster Company of Quadra Island

The Mystery Wine Competition
The El Dorado Hotel

This is my favourite of the three Canadian Culinary Championship competitions, and not just because I am involved in selecting the Mystery Wine.  We all like to talk the talk of food-and-wine matching, but this night  we got to walk the walk – the chefs, the judges and 400 guests who packed into the wonderful, retro summer lodge-like El Dorado Hotel on the shore of Lake Okanagan.  It was all about exploring the interaction of flavours – the essence of gastronomy. Simply, each chef had to create one dish to match specifically to the wine.

The El Dorado is the culinary hub of the Lakeshore Wine Route, so it was only fitting that four wineries who belong to this association provided other wines in vinous support to the Mystery Wine.  Tantalus, St. Hubertus, CedarCreek and Summerhill Pyramid Winery each poured two or three wines at stations on the main and second floor. And the evening kicked off with a very generous pour of Distraction, a funky, pink sparkler by The View.

The room was full of conjecture and guesses about the identity of the Mystery Wine. Most people correctly assessed it as pinot noir, but few confidently picked its origin.  The wine showed exceedingly well according to most opinion, with terrific fragrance, fresh acidity, excellent fruit depth and silky tannin. It was a wine that easily drank through the evening, and provided the chefs a broad flavour canvass.

And the Wine?  Norman Hardie 2010 County Pinot Noir, from Prince Edward County, Ontario.

If you are unfamiliar, Prince Edward County is located two hours east of Toronto on the north shore of Lake Ontario.  It is an amazing chunk of limestone bedrock rapidly gaining acclaim for pinot noir, chardonnay and sparkling wine.  The first winery opened in 2001 and there are now almost 40.   Norman Hardie is the great ambassador for the region – a Toronto-raised pinot noir fanatic who has made wine in Burgundy, South Africa and California.

Norm Hardie took the podium and graciously acknowledged our Olympic athletes, tying their pursuit of excellence to the pursuit underway in the vineyards of Canada.

The Grand Finale at The Delta Grand

About 25 wines were poured during the festivities in the Delta Grand’s Ballroom on the final leg of the competition.  The chefs from each city had invited their winning winery to pour again in Kelowna and all took up the offer, with three wineries accompanying their chefs to the podium. In bronze medal position, paired with Regina chef Milton Rebello was the taut, complex See Ya Later Ranch 2010 Pinot Noir.  Ottawa silver medalist Jamie Stunt brought along Ashton Brewery’s la belle terre, a brew flavoured with ginger and green tea. And the Gold Medal podium was shared by Toronto chef Marc St. Jacques of Auberge du Pommier and the delicate Peller Estates Ice Cuvee from Niagara.

Aside from the chef wines, guests at the VIP reception were treated to a pair of lovely wines from Black Hills Estate – the 2010 Syrah and 2011 Alibi, a cracking good white blend.  After the competition, as guests were treated to entertainment and athlete interview, several wineries from the Kelowna area poured a wide selection at the tables. Participating wineries included Andrew Peller (BC), Calona Wines, Sandhill, Ex Nihilo, Mt. Boucherie, Sperling Vineyards, Quail’s Gate and Camelot Vineyards.

At the end of the evening it was left to the three wine judges to select the Best Wine of Show, from all those entered over the two days of competition. And here’s what happened. With remarkable consistency five wines showed up on all the score cards.  Malivoire 2011 Gamay from Niagara placed fifth.  There was a tie for third between Gray Monk 2011 Gewurztraminer and CedarCreek 2009 Platinum Merlot, both from the Okanagan.  In second place, only a couple of points out of first place, was the superb, complex Tantalus 2010 Chardonnay.  And finally with two first place votes and one second came the compact, elegant and powerful Black Hills 2010 Syrah.  Black Hills will receive A Best of Show Wine Award, along with all other Best of Show winners in cities across Canada.

But even with this announcement the evening was not over. This year, for the first time, Gold Medal Plates entered all the donating wineries, breweries and distillers into a draw. The winner, as drawn by Rhys Pender, was Laughing Stock Vineyards of the Okanagan.  The prize?  A villa holiday at the Relais and Chateau Borgo San Felice in Tuscany, the new international HQ for Gold Medal Plates fundraising trips.

It was a terrific weekend, and on behalf of the athletes I want to thank all the winemakers, brewers and distillers across Canada for the best campaign to date.

Here’s looking forward to next season.