Lorenzo Loseto of George won gold with perfect ahi tuna
How to raise the roof of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre? Start with dozens of athletes and ten top chefs, add emcee Diana Swain, the ever-inspiring Marnie McBean and world-class music from Jim Cuddy, Barney Bentall, Anne Lindsay and Tom Cochrane, then throw in a brilliantly funny routine from comedian Ron James. That was the recipe for Toronto’s Gold Medal Plates event on Wednesday evening and it went down in the most delicious way. The room was full of the best kind of energy – attentive, involved, eager to participate and bidding briskly. There were many standing ovations.
This time, my team of judges consisted of Senior Judge, writer and editor, Sasha Chapman, food activist and author, Anita Stewart, chef and tv superstar, Christine Cushing, chef, educator and culinary guru, John Higgins, and last year’s gold medal winner, who went on to win the whole shabang in Kelowna, the reigning Canadian Culinary Champion (and a delightfully witty and surreal guy), Chef Marc St. Jacques of Auberge du Pommier.
I don’t usually mention who came fourth but an exception needs to be made this time since only half a percentage point kept Rob Rossi of Bestellen off the podium. The judges debated for almost an hour about his dish and the bronze and silver medals, points being so close. The issue was the extraordinary diversity of culinary styles on offer last night – dishes from France’s classical past, from a modern Indian sensibility, others with a Japanese influence, some deliberately simple and comfort-driven, others downright avant-garde… I guess that’s Toronto – so many different gastronomic languages being spoken simultaneously. The one thing all the judges agreed about was the gold medal winner. Five of us had him at number one and the sixth judge made him first equal.
Victor Barry of Splendido took the bronze medal with matsutake mushrooms and a ridiculous amount of black truffle
The winner of the bronze medal was Victor Barry of Splendido. His dish was splendid indeed, presented on long wooden boards, a sort of woodland fantasy of magnificent B.C. matsutake mushrooms chopped into big juicy chunks and tossed with jerusalem artichokes both fried into tissue-thin crisps and roasted until they were soft and caramelized. There were pickled ramps in there and tiny drifts of white powdery ramp snow and truffle snow, dots of pungent truffle emulsion, some watercress leaves like a token virtue and finally, shaved over everything, a Golconda of black Burgundy truffles that perfumed the entire station and must have cost the earth. It was flamboyant, delicious, bold and brilliantly executed and it worked beautifully with Barry’s chosen wine, the sophisticated 2010 Estate Pinot Noir from Hidden Bench Vineyards & Winery in Niagara.
Tyler Shedden of Café Boulud won our silver medal. He chose to prepare a dish from Daniel Boulud’s new cookbook, a book and a recipe he had worked on himself over the last year. It was wild Quebec hare “à la royale,” a classic dish from French gastronomy that only one of the judges had ever tasted before. Chef Shedden gave it an elegant, modern, almost minimalist presentation. The leg meat was surrounded by a farce of the rest of the animal, enriched with foie and flecked with black trumpet mushroom and truffle which was then formed into a cylinder, braised until it was quiveringly tender and then sliced into dainty discs – one per plate. There were three dots of celeriac purée at a considerable distance from the hare, one topped with a turned and roasted chestnut, another with a ball of celeriac and the third with a piece of honey-poached quince (a refreshing little moment). But this dish is all about the sauce and it was magnificent, a classic civet sauce thickened with the hare’s blood and puréed offal, and sleek with foie gras and red wine. It was subtle, superb and perfectly matched with Stratus Red 2010, a marvellous blend from a great vintage, carefully decanted by Café Boulud’s sommeliers.
Tyler Shedden of Café Boulud won silver with wild hare a la royale
And so to gold. Lorenzo Loseto of George has been a most loyal supporter of Gold Medal Plates over the years, competing in every event we have held and winning silver three times, a unique feat. Last night he won gold. His dish centred upon perfectly cooked ahi tuna that had been wrapped in threads of potato and fried for a very brief time, just long enough to crisp and bronze the potato and set a gradation of colour around the outside of the fish’s ruby centre. Soft ribbons of roasted carrot lay beneath the fish which was surrounded by a relish of juicy pear and crunchy carrot cut almost as finely as a brunoise. Also in the mix were pea-sized beige balls of a marshmallow consistency that turned out to be slow-roasted carrot butter transformed by multidextrin. A beet-stained, tartly pickled sliver of celery added a moment of intensity; another was provided by a small mound of a highly seasoned peppercorn mayo, working as an optional condiment. The dish was finished with a dust of pistachio and fennel pollen. The overall effect was entirely harmonious and impeccably judged, all textures and flavours in complex, balanced patterns that delighted the crowd and the judges. Chef Loseto also scored high with his wine match, the 2010 Old Vine Riesling from Kew Vineyards on Niagara’s Beamsville Bench, a wine full of the aromas of petrol and lemon zest.
Chef Loseto will be Toronto’s champion going on to Kelowna in February for the Canadian Culinary Championships, his years of effort and patience finally rewarded.
And now, the wine report.
Gold Medal Plates Wine Report – Toronto
An Ontario Wine Tour de Force
by David Lawrason, National Wine Advisor
The wineries of Niagara and Prince Edward County brought their big guns to Metro Toronto Convention Centre and wowed a highly engaged crowd of almost 700 wine and food fans. Our panel of wine judges had a very difficult time awarding the Best Wine of Show this night. Eight wines were ranked as contenders for the final three spots, and nothing was unanimous, except the realization that we are witnessing a true coming of age for Ontario wine.
The Best of Show Wine Award is a judging of all the wines in each city to recognize the generosity of the Canadian wine industry, which each year counts over 60 wineries as donors. The winning wineries have increased odds in a draw to spend a week at Borgo San Felice in Tuscany.
The winner this night was Stratus 2010 Red, a Bordeaux style blend from the best red wine vintage I have experienced in Ontario to date. Winemaker J.L Groux has been crafting and adjusting Stratus’s signature blend for almost a decade, and he has hit a sweet spot with a red that combines brightness, complexity, weight and impressive length. It is being released at Vintages stores in Ontario on November 23.
The first runner-up position went to the nicely maturing, complex Hidden Bench 2010 Estate Pinot Noir, which took a gold medal in the recent National Wine Awards of Canada. And in third spot we had a tie between two excellent whites, a powerful, dry Kew Vineyard 2010 Old Vines Riesling made by Angels Gate winemaker Philip Dowell, and the charming, classy Tawse 2012 Sketches Chardonnay which was served along with a partner Sketches Cabernet-Merlot at the VIP Reception.
For the judging I was joined by two close friends and colleagues from WineAlign.com. Sara d’Amato is an accomplished sommelier, writer and educator and the only woman to have won the Toronto International Blind Wine Tasting Challenge. John Szabo, Canada’s first Master Sommelier, is everywhere these days – traveling, writing, broadcasting and consulting to restaurants, including the new establishments at Toronto’s airport.
I must at this point make a special mention of a wine I personally ranked second. Thirty Bench 2012 Small Lots Gewurztraminer is, in my opinion, the best gewurz yet made in Ontario, and although it did not make the podium it proved to be a hugely popular match with the exotic Indian scallop dish by Hemant Bhagwani of the Amaya Group. Thirty Bench winemaker Emma Gartner explained that it is made from a block of old vine gewürztraminer left as late as possible to ripen on the vine.
Thirty Bench is a small boutique winery owned by Andrew Peller Ltd., which is the National Celebration Wine Sponsor at eleven events across Canada this fall. In Toronto they donated the delicious, great value 2012 Trius Sauvignon Blanc, as well as the Wayne Gretzky 2012 Cabernet-Merlot.
As it turned out, three of the four wines that the wine judges honoured based on their quality alone, also went to the podium with their respective chefs. Both sommeliers on the panel – Sara and John – felt the standard of food and wine matching was very high at the Toronto event; indicating as John called it “ a very high degree of sensitivity and collaboration between the chefs and winemakers”
Gold Medal chef Lorenzo Loseto of George paired his ahi tuna dish with the Kew 2010 Old Vines Riesling, which is now able to accompany the chef to the Canadian Culinary championships in Kelowna. Silver medal chef Tyler Shedden of Café Boulud at the Four Seasons matched his extraordinary Quebec Hare to Stratus 2010 Red; while bronze medal winner Victor Barry of Splendido expertly meshed his mushroom extravaganza to Hidden Bench 2010 Estate Pinot Noir.
As mentioned, it was so difficult to chose winners tonight. I thought the 13th Street 2012 Gamay is the best they have yet made, and their 2010 Meritage was among my favourite matches of the night when combined with Bestellen’s lamb. Norman Hardie’s supremely delicate 2012 County Pinot caught The Harbord Rooms crab consommé and Tawse’s nifty riesling-based 2012 Spark bubbly was seamless with the brilliantly presented albacore tuna by Chase Hospitality. Jackson-Triggs 2011 Grand Reserve caught the brooding mood of Frank’s bison loin, and last but not least, Creekside Backyard 2012 Sauvignon Blanc was very thoughtfully paired to rainbow trout by Ruby Watchco Chef Lora Kirk.
Again, a tour de force, and in my six-year experience with Gold Medal Plates it was one of our crowning evenings.