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Archive for the ‘Gold Medal Plates’ Category

Gold Medal Plates Emblem of Distinction

29 Oct

EMBLEM

Gold Medal Plates has created an exciting new initiative to recognize restaurants whose chefs compete in our events across Canada. It’s called the Emblem of Distinction and consists of a handsome and eye-catching decal that will be presented to competing chefs to display on the window or door of their restaurants.

The Emblem serves several purposes. For the restaurant and chef, it is a sign that they were chosen as one of the top restaurants in their city by the judges of Gold Medal Plates – a member of the talented elite of their culinary community. For the public, the Emblem serves as a mark of excellence and an implicit guarantee of the quality of the restaurant, in the same way as a Michelin star. For Gold Medal Plates itself, the whole initiative is a way to communicate directly with the restaurant-going public, year-round instead of just during our autumn “campaign season,” thereby nurturing awareness of the organisation and the work it does for our Olympic athletes. In short, everyone wins.

How is a restaurant chosen to compete in a Gold Medal Plates event? As National Culinary Advisor, I work with the local Senior Judge in each city to select the best chefs in the city and surrounding region. Talent and quality are our main criteria and we consciously look for rising stars as well as established figures. Personal invitations are sent out to the chefs. Gold Medal Plates is honoured when they accept.

The new Emblem of Distinction is more than a mere souvenir of a chef’s involvement. It is permanent recognition of the very high regard in which he or she is held by some of Canada’s leading food critics.

 

 

Gold Medal Plates 2014 Edmonton

27 Oct
On the podium Blair Lebsack (silver), Ryan O'Flynn (gold), Lindsay Porter (bronze)

On the podium Blair Lebsack (silver), Ryan O’Flynn (gold), Lindsay Porter (bronze)

774. That’s how many guests were at the Shaw Centre last night for Edmonton’s Gold Medal Plates gala – the largest crowd we have ever hosted in any of our cities. It was a brilliant and energetic evening with dozens of athletes up on stage, Jenn Heil as emcee and much dancing in the aisles to the rocking music of Jim Cuddy, Barney Bentall, Danny Michel and Neil Osborne of 54-40. There was awe-inspiring talent on the judging panel, too, led by Senior Judge Mary Bailey (a sommelier, wine instructor, food, wine and travel writer and publisher of The Tomato food and wine), ably abetted by world-renowned pastry chef and educator Clayton Folkers, The Edmonton Journal’s food editor and writer, Liane Faulder, chef Chris Wood, chef and restaurateur Brad Smoliak, and last year’s GMP gold medallist, chef Paul Shufelt.

We all agreed that the culinary standard of the competition dishes had risen yet again, reflecting Edmonton’s burgeoning restaurant scene and any one of the chefs could have reached the podium. There was long debate in the judges’ lair about who should win bronze and silver before consensus was finally reached.

Lindsay Porter's dish won bronze

Lindsay Porter’s dish won bronze

Taking the bronze medal was Lindsay Porter of Mercer’s Catering. She presented soft, finely textured rillettes of wild boar enriched with pork liver and foie gras, served warm with a crispy breadcrumb crust. On top of it was a scallop crisp, like a  crunchy petal, and a dab of tangy rhubarb and onion jam. Beside the rillettes was a second protein, a mound of scallop tartar flavoured with a hint of citrus and strewn with trout caviar. Clever condiments included a silken smoked squash and apricot purée and dots of a honey mustard aioli and there was a rich sauce for the rillettes – a chanterelle, maitake mushroom and chicken glacé. Chef Porter’s wine was the Sumac Ridge 2012 Gewurztraminer Private Reserve, a delightful vintage that resonated with the rhubarb, smoky squash and apricot flavours on the plate.

Blair Lebsack's dish took silver

Blair Lebsack’s dish took silver

Our silver medallist was Blair Lebsack of Rge Rd, a chef who has now won silver with us three times. His principal protein was pork, in fact entire pigs from Nature’s Green Acres farm, brined, cooked and then compressed into a chunky, unbound terrine. He set a weighty cube of this on a mound of soft white powder that had once been brown butter. Sprinkled over the top were golden flecks of cured egg yolk. The second element of the dish were small, flavourful squash gnocchi, smooth and sturdily textured, set in a pool of super-smooth savoury custard subtly flavoured with pine needles. Dots of liquefied chili added delicious spice while Chef relied on his wine for acidic contrast, a lovely, floral, lusciously weighty 2010 blend of semillon and sauvignon blanc from Kettle Valley Winery in BC.

Ryan O'Flynn won gold with this dainty plate

Ryan O’Flynn won gold with this dainty plate

The gold medal went to Ryan O’Flynn of the Westin Edmonton hotel. His dish was elegant, sophisticated and delectable, visually elfin but full of vibrant, lucid flavours. He began by smoking local sturgeon over pine cut from his sommelier’s property in Lac La Biche. The smoke gave the densely textured, rich fish an unexpected pungency. Then chef created a terrine using the sturgeon and layering it with foie gras that had richness of a different kind and the consistency of cold butter. Four or five tiny crunchy croutons of brioche were scattered about the plate and there was a splendid Saskatchewan golden chanterelle, lightly pickled to cut the fattiness of the foie. The plate was finished with “textures of Okanagan apples” – chickpea-sized balls of fresh green and red apples, dots of apple purée and of a sour Granny Smith gel. Chef’s wine was a most successful match, catching hold of the smokiness of the sturgeon and the apples’ fresh fruit, the 2011 Small Lots Viognier from Sandhill Winery in the Okanagan. (Like father, like son, I guess! Ryan O’Flynn’s father is Chef Maurice O’Flynn, former captain and coach of Canada’s Culinary Olympic team. A good guy to have in your corner.)

Congratulations to Chef O’Flynn and to all the other competitors who gave us such an excellent evening. We will see him again in Kelowna.

And thank you photographer Johwanna Alleyne for sharing these images.

And now here is the evening’s Wine Report from Gold Medal Plates National Wine Advisor, David Lawrason

 

It was a double podium whammy for fine B.C. white wines as Edmonton’s chefs put on what I thought was the city’s best Gold Medal Plates gastronomic performance to date. The Best Wine of Show went to the stunning, very complex and intense Mission Hill 2011 Martin’s Lane Riesling, while gold medal chef Ryan O’Flynn of The Westin Edmonton poured Sandhill 2011 Small Lots Osprey Vineyard Viognier with his superb sturgeon/foie gras creation.

Sandhill’s Viognier also finished fourth in the balloting for Best Wine of Show; just one point behind the runners-up. This gives Sandhill a berth at the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna, in February, which is nicely fitting given that winemaker Howard Soon will be hosting  a CCC reception at the new Sandhill winery.

The Best of Show Award is designed to single out and thank the wineries that donate their wines to Gold Medal Plates. In Edmonton I was delighted to be joined on the judging panel once again by two wine pros who are institutions on the local wine scene. William Bincoletto is the manager of Vines Wine Merchants, a private wine shop that has long been a supporter of Gold Medal Plates. Gurvinder Bhatia is the owner of Vinomania wine store and a wine writer with growing reach via the Edmonton Journal and Quench Magazine. He is also a veteran judge at WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada.

The balloting for the runners-up in the Best of Show Award was so close that we declared a tie between two reds of very different complexion. From the Niagara Peninsula the light-hearted Malivoire 2013 Gamay showed lovely fragrance, poise and fruit depth – yet another strong showing for Niagara gamay in various awards this year. From the Okanagan Valley the dark, powerful and bold Young & Wyse 2011 Black Sheep Blend showed complex, ripe black fruit aromas. One for the cellar.

During the Celebration portion of the evening, when guests are bidding, meeting the athletes and listening to the musicians, 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 in celebration of their big win as Winery of the Year at the Wine Align National Wine Awards of Canada.

Thanks also to a pair of prominent BC wineries for donating the wines on your table for the Celebration tonight.  Calliope Figure 8 is a hugely successful new red blend by the Wyse family at Burrowing Owl in the south Okanagan. And the ever-popular Quails Gate of Kelowna kindly donated their intense, quite spicy 2012 Pinot Noir. Quails Gate’s beautiful restaurant and winery on the shores of the lake in Kelowna has often hosted events for the Canadian Culinary Championships.

But back to the chef awards and the other wines they poured. Silver medal chef Blair Lebsack created what I personally though was one the best matches of the night by pairing a maturing, barrel aged Kettle Valley Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon with his pork and gnocchi creation. Bronze chef Lindsay Porter of Mercer’s Catering ambitiously paired Sumac Ridge 2013 Gewurztraminer with her wild boar rillettes.

Other white wines of the evening included a surprisingly rich Mt. Boucherie 2013 Pinot Gris that carried the carrot and rabbit risotto by Steven Brochu of River House.  Hester Creek 2011 Block 3 Cabernet Franc and Blasted Church 2011 Cabernet Merlot rounded out the red wines of the night.

Special thanks also to Victoria Gin of Vancouver Island for doing up fine martinis during the VIP Reception, and to Alley Kat Brewing for providing a bevy of fine beers, with its Amber ranking fifth overall in the judges voting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Halifax Gold Medal Plates 2014

17 Oct
Owning the podium, left to right, silver medallist, Mark Gray, gold medallist, Renee Lavallee and bronze medallist, Jason Lynch

Owning the podium, left to right, silver medallist, Mark Gray, gold medallist, Renee Lavallee and bronze medallist, Jason Lynch

The second great gala of the current Gold Medal Plates campaign took place in Halifax last night with an eager crowd of 500 thronging the Cunard Centre to show their support for Canada’s Olympic athletes. Word has got out that the colour red is our chromatic theme this year and that end of the spectrum was much in evidence. The evening’s emcee was none other than chef Michael Howell, himself a former GMP competitor and silver medallist back in 2006; interviewing the horde of elite athletes, Jennifer Botterill had him at a slight advantage in that department with her four Olympic hockey medals – three golds and a silver – but both performed to a championship level last night. As did our musicians, of course – Jim Cuddy, Barney Bentall and Danny Michel.

The line-up of chefs was, I think, the strongest we have ever assembled in Nova Scotia and their creations were keenly anticipated by the culinary jury – a highly professional crew who were also excellent company. Joining me were Halifax Senior Judge Bill Spurr, the restaurant critic for the Chronicle-Herald; chef, author and educator, the Kilted Chef himself, Alain Bosse (splendid in red tartan); sommelier, educator and passionate culinarian Amy Savoury; chef and educator, currently the Hospitality chair at the Nova Scotia Community College, Ted Grant; sommelier, educator, writer and editor Mark DeWolf; and last year’s Halifax Gold Medallist, chef Martin Ruiz Salvador of Fleur de Sel in Lunenburg.

Jason Lynch's dish won bronze

Jason Lynch’s dish won bronze

The chefs did not disappoint. The localist movement is strong here and there were few elements on any of the plates that weren’t from Nova Scotia. In the end, the marks separating second, third and fourth positions were less than one percent. Taking the bronze medal was Jason Lynch of Le Caveau restaurant in Grand Pré. He prepared a tartar of locally farmed red deer, hand-cutting it all at his station – an amazing feat for 500 guests! On the delicate meat he set a quail’s egg yolk like a tiny sun and there were three sauces alongside. The first was a toony-sized pool of green tomatillo hot sauce subtly infused with spruce buds. The second was an amber Dijon, sharpened with verjus. The third was a chunky red tomato chutney. Chef advised us to finish the experience by nibbling a bannock crisp with sea salt as a palate-cleanser. His chosen wine was a fine Nova Scotian Riesling, the 2013 Vintner’s Reserve from Domaine de Grand Pré, its tangy, citric crispness a lovely contrast to the rich tartar.

Mark Gray's lamb won silver

Mark Gray’s lamb won silver

The silver medal was awarded to Mark Gray of Brooklyn Warehouse in Halifax who chose to work with local lamb shoulder, braising the meat with maple and fenugreek, pulling it like rillettes, then pressing it into a patty which he rolled in milk solids and seared in a pan. It was moist, flavourful and cleverly orchestrated with a smooth, cheese-spiked kohlrabi purée, a smudge of arugula purée and a mound of crunchy, toasted red and white quinoa providing dramatic textural contrast. Strips of pickled Swiss chard were a tart little flourish, fresh baby greens added colour and herbaceousness and the dish was finished with a rich maple and lamb-bone glacé. Chef’s pairing was The Vicar’s Cross Double IPA from Boxing Rock Brewing Co, its powerful hopping proving a tad too aggressive for the dish.

Rene Lavallee's charming Nova Scotia Picnic won the gold

Rene Lavallee’s charming Nova Scotia Picnic won the gold

And so to gold. Our new Halifax champion is Renée Lavallée of The Canteen, in Dartmouth. She named her dish The Nova Scotia Picnic and described it as something her grandmother might have packed up for her when she was a child and on her way to the beach. The separate elements were set out on a small square of red-and-white checked paper and Chef suggested we begin by eating the two fresh green oyster leaves, a local wild plant that really does taste like a raw oyster. It was enough to transport us to the seaside of the chef’s imagination. The main event of the picnic was a stunning little sandwich of moist, flavourful chopped lobster and snow crab with a touch of truffled mayonnaise, presented in a delectably buttery brioche. Beside it was a single potato chip topped with a little mound of very finely textured potato salad and a garnish of Acadian sturgeon caviar. In front of that was an arrangement of exquisite little pickles, each with its own appropriate intensity of saltiness and acidity, all fresh and texturally impeccable – sweet bread-and-butter pickles, a delicately pickled quail egg, crisp yellow beans and a crunchy mess melon, like a minuscule watermelon, the size of a caper berry. A scattering of edible flower petals added colour and charm. Continuing the picnic theme, Chef paired her dish with a refreshing, elegant, fairly dry local cider from Tideview Cider in the Annapolis Valley, a most successful idea.

Congratulations are due to all the chefs who took part last night, and especially to Renée Lavallée. Now we have two names on the roster for Kelowna and the Canadian Culinary Championships. Next week, Edmonton!

And now… Here is the wine report from Halifax, by GMP’s National Wine Advisor, David Lawrason:

Gold Medal Plates Halifax 2014

Wine Report

 

Nova Scotia wines ruled the waves on October 16 as over 500 guests tasted through the creations of nine chefs from Halifax, Dartmouth, Wolfville and Cape Breton.  All but one of the wines, beers and spirits served this night at the Cunard Centre on the Halifax waterfront were also from Nouvelle Écosse. And I must say there was some excitement about what was in the glass, and growing confidence in the current state and future of Nova Scotia wine.

Before we get to the results of the Best of Show Wine Award, a brief digression to say that I had the  great pleasure of arriving a day earlier for an update on the progress of NS wines, touring the Annapolis and Gaspereau Valleys with the two friends and colleagues who also joined me at Gold Medal Plates – Craig Pinhey and Sean Wood.   I was very impressed by the purity of the whites at Avondale Sky and Painters Ridge, the precision and delicacy of the Benjamin Bridge vintage-dated sparkling wines and the surprising quality of chardonnay and pinot from yet-to-open Lightfoot and Wolfville.

The Best of Show Wine Award goes to the best wine, beer or spirit as judged by a panel of three experts. It was up to the Culinary Judges to rate the food and beverage pairings, we judges looked solely at what’s in the glass.

I was joined by Craig Pinhey from Saint John, New Brunswick, an accomplished wine and beer writer for the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal, a broadcaster, educator, and a veteran judge for the National Wine Awards of Canada and other competitions. Sean Wood of Dartmouth is the former wine columnist for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, and the author of Wines of Nova Scotia, and is just launching his own website Wood on Wine.  Both these gentlemen are incredibly passionate and knowledgeable about Nova Scotia and they have had great influence on and have been a sounding board for Nova Scotia’s wine industry.

Our results for the top two beverages were virtually unanimous, with only one point separating them. The very finely tuned, complex Domaine Grand Pré 2013 Vintners Reserve Riesling was named Best of Show, showing the potential of this variety in NS as vines mature.  It was followed closely by the delicious Tideview Cider Heritage Semi-Dry, made from a blend of original Normandy apples including Baldwin and Cox’s Orange Pippin. In third spot came Jost 2013 Tidal Bay, a shiny white that reminded me of a slimmed-down New Zealand sauvignon blanc.

The Jost Tidal Bay was poured for guests during the Celebration and Awards portion of the evening, and it was joined by Gaspereau 2013 Lucie Kuhlmann, an almost syrah-like red from a leading local hybrid varietal.  Both were generously donated by Carl Sparks of Devonian Coast,  a recently created wine company that owns both Jost Vineyards and Gaspereau Vineyards, and makes a third brand called Mercator. Devonian Coast was the exclusive sponsor of the Celebration.

L’Acadie Vineyards was the only wine sponsor of the VIP Reception with Bruce Ewert pouring his Vintage Brut 2011 before and during the Chef’s competition.  He has been the most loyal supporter of Gold Medal Plates from Atlantic Canada, donating wines to events in Halifax, St. John’s and Toronto.  Guests at the VIP Reception were also treated to a wide range of craft beers by Garrison Brewing Company led in my books by the lovely 3 Fields Harvest Wet Hopped Ale.  And Ironworks Distillery created a delicious vodka martini especially for the event.

It was a big night for Tideview Cider, as their semi-dry accompanied the gold medal that went to the podium with the winning chef Renée Lavallée of The Canteen in Dartmouth.  This earns Tideview the right to pour alongside René Lavallée at the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna.  Silver medal-winning chef Mark Gray of Brooklyn Warehouse poured The Vicar’s Cross Double IPA from Boxing Rock Brewing Co; and the bronze medalist, Jason Lynch of Le Caveau restaurant in Grand Pré, poured his winery’s award-winning 2013 Vintners Reserve Riesling.

Other wines and spirits kindly donated and poured this night included Gaspereau Vineyards Tidal Bay, Benjamin Bridge Tidal Bay, Avondale Sky Benediction, Luckett Vineyards Rosetta, Thirty Bench Red 2008 (the only non-NS wine) and Glenora 14 Year Old Cape Breton Rare Whisky.

 

 

 

 

Winnipeg Gold Medal Plates

04 Oct
On the podium! Left to right: Chef Norm Pastorin won silver, Chef Luc Jean won gold, Chef Edward Lam won bronze

On the podium! Left to right: Chef Norm Pastorin won silver, Chef Luc Jean won gold, Chef Edward Lam won bronze

And here we go again! Winnipeg and the first big gala of the new Gold Medal Plates campaign was a rip-roaring success. A beautiful fall day on the prairies slid gracefully into a gorgeous evening as the 600 guests made merry at the RBC Convention Centre, the space splendid in black and scarlet. The eloquent and charming Jennifer Botterill was the evening’s emcee, and music was provided by BC legend Barney Bentall, the incomparable Anne Lindsay and Andy Maize from the Skydiggers. Needless to say the room was jumping and bidding was fierce for the famous GMP trips – VIP vacations in Scotland, Provence, Tuscany, New Zealand and South America. I have never seen such a spectacular selection of rare wines at our silent auction – regiments of bottles surrounding the raised table where we culinary judges went about our happy work, led by Winnipeg Senior judge, chef Jeff Gill, Director of Food Services at Red River College. Joining us at the table was writer Christine Hanlon, co-author of The Manitoba Book of Everything, writer, editor and broadcaster Arvel Gray, chef, restaurateur and patisserie specialist Barbara O’Hara and last year’s gold medallist, Chef Kelly Cattani of Elements by Diversity.

And the food? Extraordinary. All but three of the chefs were new to the competition; every one of them thrilled guests and judges alike. In the end, after considerable analysis and deliberation, the judges were unanimous in their decision, though the gap between the marks for bronze and silver medals was minuscule.

 

Chef Edward Lam's bronze-winning dish

Chef Edward Lam’s bronze-winning dish

The bronze medal went to chef Edward Lam of Yujiro. He prepared a tender, richly flavourful loin of lamb in a most original way, marinating and glazing the meat in sweet miso and Japanese barbecue spices then wrapping it in tissue-thin kombu and caul fat before searing it in the pan. Beside it was a fresh salad of red and green wakame seaweed in a yuzu and sesame dressing and some halved Brussels sprouts finished with a balsamic and shoyu glaze. A billow of puréed kabucha pumpkin seasoned with mirin rose like a yellow wave from the plate and the dish was finished with a splendid sauce – a classic veal and lamb demiglace enriched with roasted fish heads and bones for maximum umami. Introducing it, chef Lam told the judges something none of us knew, that the two Chinese characters that depict the word “umami” mean “lamb” and “fish” – the inspiration for his sauce. The wine he chose to accompany was one of the best matches of the evening – the sophisticated, ripe, tangy 2013 Baco Noir from Henry of Pelham in Niagara.

Chef Norm Pastorin's silver dish

Chef Norm Pastorin’s silver dish

Taking the silver medal was chef Norm Pastorin of The Cornerstone. He chose to work with rabbit, wrapping the dainty loin in prosciutto and carving a little drum of it for every plate then topping it with a spoonful of pickled mustard seeds that added a refreshing acidity to the dish. Beneath the loin was a splendid rabbit stew that used up the rest of the animal, its seasoning perfectly judged, its gravy voluptuously thick. Again, a dramatic purée added visual excitement, this time a red-orange colour that seemed to glow like the setting sun. It was simplicity itself, explained chef Pastorin, just gorgeous local carrots and salt – no butter, nothing else at all. Chopped chives and a crostini like a fin of crisp lace finished the plate, together with a limpid jus from the rabbit bones, spiked with some of Chef’s chosen wine, the elegantly oaky Quail’s Gate Chardonnay from the Okanagan.

Gold for Chef Luc Jean

Gold for Chef Luc Jean

And the gold? Everyone agreed that the evening’s stand-out dish came from chef Luc Jean of Jane’s. Just for the record, Luc Jean is also an instructor and a colleague of our Senior Judge, so Jeff Gill did not mark the dish; instead we took the average of the marks from the other judges, used that as Jeff Gill’s mark and applied the result to the scoresheet. What was so impressive about the dish? For one thing, as the food runners set the plates down on the judging table, we all remarked that it smelt absolutely heavenly. Flavours were big and bold but precisely balanced. There was plenty of textural contrast and every component made perfect sense on the palate. The central protein was a pork tenderloin, cooked sous-vide then seared with Chinese barbecue spices that lent the meat a forthright degree of peppery heat. A new potato had been confited in duck fat while a vivid orange-coloured purée of butternut squash and carrot was enriched with a hint of maple and anise. A mound of lightly fermented cabbage was nicely judged – not too tart but far from insipid – and the garnishes all made a telling contribution: morsels of candied orange that were more fruity than sweet, a scattering of ethereal pork cracklings and crispy fried onions. Chef’s sauce was a veal jus, subtly sharpened with a honey and lime juice gastrique. The wine match, Pelee Island’s Lighthouse Riesling from Ontario, was exact.

So we have our first champion! He must wait until next February to fly to Kelowna and take part in the Canadian Culinary Championship. Meanwhile, the journey continues in Halifax on October 16. One down; ten more cities to go!

A big thank you to Ian McCausland, who took the pictures. www.ian.ca

And now, here is the wine report from that memorable evening, courtesy of GMP’s National Wine Advisor, David Lawrason.

Stunning Silent Auction Wines Headline in Winnipeg
by David Lawrason, National Wine Advisor

The 2014  Gold Medal Plates campaign launched with a bang on October 2 in Winnipeg where guests were greeted with a stunning line-up of very rare silent auction wines arrayed in the centre of the competition room.  Assembled by Christopher Sprague of 529 Wellington restaurant, and the new National Rare Wine Auction Wine Advisor for Gold Medal Plates, the selection featured an incredibly hard to find Chateau Haut-Brion 1945, plus an Imperial (6 litres) of the stunning Mouton-Rothschild 1986 and three double magnums of Cheval Blanc 1995. Over on the Burgundy side were single bottles of Richbourg and La Tache 1997, as well as several bottles of turn of millenium Montrachet.  Sales were brisk by night’s end.

Mr Sprague joined two other local wine authorities and myself to judge the Best of Show Wine Award. The judges included Ben McPhee-Sigurdson, a good friend and judge with for the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada and wine columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press. We were also joined by Aaron Alblas, who works in the  Purchasing Department for Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries and is currently in a development term, being mentored by product consultants to become education director. Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries played a major role in the festivities, sponsoring most of the wine poured by the chefs as well as the wines for the Celebration portion of the evening. It is the only liquor board in the country to take such a pro-active role.

Squirreled away in a convention hall meeting room overlooking the gold draped ballroom, the wine panel tasted through a dozen Canadian wines competing for the Best of Show honours.  We were most impressed by a pair of newly-minted 2013 reds from Niagara, with only one vote separating first and second place.  The winner was Cave Spring 2013 Gamay, the best gamay this winery has yet produced with ripe plummy fruit, florals and pepper reminiscent of Beaujolais.  The runner-up was the equally juicy Henry of Pelham 2013 Baco Noir, which may be the best these baco specialists have yet produced.  In third spot came the hefty, complex Le Vieux Pin 2013 Blanc from B.C, a white blend inspired by viognier-based whites from the south of France.

Other wines on the docket included Peller Ice Cuvee, which was paired with dessert during the Celebration. Peller is donating this wine across the country in celebration of their big win as Winery of the Year at the WineAlign National Wine Awards. Out on the competition floor guests sampled Quails Gate 2012 Chardonnay, Pelee Island 2012 Lighthouse Riesling and Gray Monk 2013 Pinot Gris among the whites.  Other reds included Stratus 2011 Wildass Red, Nk’Mip Cellars 2008 Meritage, Henry of Pelham 2011 Cabernet-Merlot and Open 2012 Cabernet Merlot.

Pelee Island’s 2012 Lighthouse Riesling was paired with a sous vide pork tenderloin by gold medal dish by CHEF Luc Jean of Jane’s, so Pelee Island will be invited to join him at the Canadian Culinary Championship in Kelowna. Silver medalist Norm Pastorin selected Quails’ Gate Chardonnay with prosciutto-wrapped rabbit and bronze medallist Edward Lam of Yujiro paired Henry of Pelham’s 2013 Baco Noir, a personal favourite matching of the night.

And a grand night it was!

 

 

 

 

Highland Fling

25 Jun
All dressed up and off to a grand dinner

All dressed up and off to a grand dinner

I am almost at a loss for words. Wendy and I just got back from two weeks in the very far north of Scotland where we had the spectacular time of our lives, helping to host the latest Gold Medal Plates trip. If you’ve ever been to a GMP event you’ll know that we auction trips to fascinating parts of the world at our gala events in 11 Canadian cities – the proceeds go to programs that support Canada’s Olympic athletes – which means a guest list of couples drawn from across Canada. This time, we took over the entirety of Ackergill Tower, a 15th-century castle about 10 feet from the North Sea, a gaunt and defensible property that is as luxe as Downton Abbey behind it’s massive stone walls. It is staffed by the friendliest, wisest, most professional group of people you will ever meet, who seemed delighted to drive us about the countryside in Land Rovers, to stay up with us til two o’clock in the morning in the Tower’s private pub, to transform the Great Hall at the drop of a hat from the perfect venue for an educational gin tasting (led by me) to a glittering, candlelit whisky dinner (led by Malcolm Waring of the local Old Pulteney distillery) and still have it ready for breakfast the following morning.

I have no space here to describe the full events of our week. Those who wished to learn were taught clay pigeon shooting or fly fishing on Ackergill’s private loch. We had our own GMP Highland Games featuring archery and toss-the-welly. We took to the sea in superfast rubber rib boats, getting up close and personal with tens of thousands of fulmars, guillemots, cormorants, puffins, oyster catchers, terns and gulls and watching seals in their deep cliff caves. We hiked along cliff tops to ruined castles and visited one that was most decidedly not a ruin – the Queen Mother’s former retreat, the Castle of Mey. We walked from Thurso to Scrabster and had a spectacular lunch at Chef Jim Cowie’s extraordinary little restaurant, the Captain’s Galley, recently rated the best seafood restaurant in the U.K. Four enterprising members of our group took a private helicopter across the breadth of Scotland to Skye for lunch at Three Chimneys; the rest of us took ship to the Orkneys for a private VIP tour of Highland Park distillery. And wherever we went we had music. Staying with us were Spirit of the West’s frontmen Geoffrey Kelly and John Mann, B.C. troubadour Dustin Bentall, the brilliant fiddler Kendel Carson and guitarist Matthew Harder. They played for us most evenings and some afternoons and never failed to enchant. Our resident Olympian was none other than Steve Podborski, who regaled us with tales of the ski slopes and his more recent experiences as chef de mission of the Canadian team at Sochi.

Did I mention the food? Ackergill Tower’s chefs and kitchen are masters of Scottish country house cooking. For the whisky dinner, they prepared the best lamb I’ve eaten in years (sourced from the flock of the Castle of Mey). Lunch might be a perfectly dressed local crab or lobster and chips and a mug of cullen skink (smoked haddock chowder). For the grand dinner on the last night, where the men all wore kilts and full highland regalia and the women wore sashes over their gowns, we were served venison and a mighty haggis piped in by Wick’s local bagpipe and drum marching band. Another night, we all went down to the bothy by the loch and found a great barbecue had been prepared: when we had eaten our fill we went back to the beach and toasted marshmallows over a massive bonfire. No one got burned and there was music and whisky and a northern twilight that lasted almost till dawn.

And we were blessed by the weather. Yes it was windy, and we often awoke to mornings of fog and moist air that curled our hair and made complexions look ten years younger. But the sun came out within an hour. Changeable might be the best way to describe it, but it only added to the challenges of the golfers in our midst who played the local links courses or drove down the coast to try Royal Dornoch. In my heart, I hoped for a mighty storm, such as one often gets up here where the North sea meets the North Atlantic, but it wasn’t to be. Maybe next year… Because we will be doing this again next June, gathering a new clan of guests at the GMP gala events across Canada this fall – people who want to live like lairds and ladies for a week of luxury and aristocratic country activities, wonderful music and delicious food, Champagne teas and rare whisky tastings, highland dancing and fling-the-welly.

Ackergill in the distance

Ackergill in the distance

 

Montreal Gold Medal Plates 2013

04 Dec

 

Nick Hodge of Ice House won bronze

Nick Hodge of Ice House won bronze

 

Antonio Park of Restaurant Park in Westmount won the silver

Antonio Park of Restaurant Park in Westmount won the silver

 

Gold went to Danny St-Pierre from Auguste in Sherbrooke

Gold went to Danny St-Pierre from Auguste in Sherbrooke

Yesterday we flew into Montreal - in and out – to meet up with a merry group and set out into the city in a luxurious and colourfully lit stretch charabanc to find our 2013 Montreal Gold Medal Plates champion. Ten first-class contenders had already emerged from the other 10 cities across the country where we had held our gala events; but how could we show up in Kelowna next February without a Montreal star? Impossible. Hence the road-trip, a “GMP plan B” that has worked very well for us before. Four of us represented GMP – our fearless leader, Stephen Leckie, our two senior Montreal judges, Lesley Chesterman and Robert Beauchemin, and me, together with World Champion short-track speed skater and three-time Olympic medallist Isabelle Charest, and many new friends from Deloitte and Impact de Montréal. We visited five very different restaurants, tasted five exceptional dishes and emerged at the end of it with a very worthy new champion.

I must say, the marks were scarily close. Kudos to the chefs, who welcomed us into their restaurants and honoured the rules we insisted upon – with one exception… Of which more later.

Our bronze medal was awarded to Nick Hodge, Texas-born chef of the ruggedly unconventional Ice House, a brilliant, casual restaurant with its roots in the southern U.S. The splendidly bearded Hodge introduced his dish as “Quebec-Mex” and served it up on an earthenware dish with a handle – very rustic and effective. The heart of his concept was local Wagyu beef brisket, cool-smoked over Texas oak wood then cooked sous vide for 72 hours. The texture he achieved by this method was remarkable – not fibrous, perfectly moist, with a crispness and firmness to the meat that met with universal appreciation. The block of beef sat on the edge of a drift of silky corn pudding, made from organic Quebec corn whipped with egg yolk, a knob of butter and a little salt until it was utterly smooth. The second sauce on the plate was in total contrast in terms of flavour, a black and intense sour cherry mole, laboured over for days and involving dried fruits, nuts, seeds, dried chilies, and – instead of using traditional but foreign-to-Canada chocolate – toasted wild elderflowers, that Chef explained had a kick just like inhaling cocoa. This sauce was amazingly deep, tangy, layered and great with the beef. The finishing touch was a garnish of fresh and pickled watermelon radish cut to the minuscule size of those tiny, worthless Sharjah postage stamps that every schoolboy collected when I was a nipper. The final flourish, the panache to the dish, lay on top – a crunchy, dehydrated, pickled, flattened okra. It was a sturdy, forthright dish with great depths of flavour in the three main components. Chef Hodge matched it with Norman Hardie’s unfiltered 2012 County Cabernet Franc, a wine that “screamed fresh cherry” to Chef Hodge and inspired the mole sauce. Like the garnishes, it contributed refreshing acidity along with its own fruity personality.

Our silver medal went to chef Antonio Park of Restaurant Park in Westmount, who also won silver last year. I have to say, his dish was exceptional – complex, technically impeccable, imaginative… Alas, there was a serious issue with the beverage he chose to accompany it. Gold Medal Plates is a celebration of Canadian excellence and we insist the chosen drink must be Canadian, whether it be a wine, beer, spirit or anything else. Chef Park paired his drink with a fine green tea from Japan brewed with brown rice. As a result we were obliged to score him a zero for Wine Compatibility, a category that commands ten percent of the total marks. We took our lead from the Olympic athletes we strive to support: break the rules of your particular discipline, and you must suffer the consequences. This in no way detracted from Chef Park’s fabulous dish which was centred around snapper. Introducing his creation to the table, Chef Park explained that he had used seven acupuncture points to numb the living fish into a state of neural oblivion before dispatching it and preparing it three ways. First there was a tartare, the raw fillet chopped and mixed with a sauce of yoghurt, ginger flowers, minced shallots, Japanese microchives, onion, carrot and Japanese plum that had been fermented for two months before being introduced to its fellow ingredients. It was a divine tartare. The second “way” was a seared fillet, still raw in the centre but lightly charred on the edge – absolutely gorgeous! The third way involved the fish’s bones, boiled down to make a broth in which to poach some yellow soshito peppers (with some three-month-old kimchee to add a touch of pep). Over to the side was a finger of seared foie gras. Did it belong with the snapper? Would, say, monkfish liver have been more à propos? Either way, the foie was totally yummy. There were many other elements in the bowl. A red sauce of pickled anchovies in wine vinegar, olive oil, garlic and ginger, spiked with a dash of Korean red pepper sauce, added serious umami. As did molecular pearls of balsamic vinegar marinated in soy sauce. As did the tissue-thin ribbons of bacon that lay on top of the fish, alongside burdock chips and shavings of white truffle. The final component, and the only heavy-handed moment on the plate, were some hard, crunchy “chips” made from deep-fried albacore tuna. Such a complex, delicious, intellectual construction! Most of our group scored it very highly indeed. If only that tea had been from Canada…

And then there was our gold-medal-winning dish, from chef Danny St-Pierre who has a restaurant called Auguste, in Sherbrooke. In order to make life easier for the judges, he had borrowed a downtown-Montreal restaurant space belonging to the Soupesoup chain, and was there to greet us and present his composition. His protein was beef tongue, sliced as thin as carpaccio and arranged into a rectangle on the plate. It was incredibly soft and tender – not slimy or stringy, as tongue can be – and its flavour had been subtly boosted by an umami-crazy drizzle of balsamic, soy and Vietnamese fish sauce. Truly subtle… If he hadn’t described it, I wouldn’t have sussed it at all. Other components were strewn about on the bed of tongue. We found shaved radish, soft discs of purple beet, crispy little croutons with the diameter of nickles that had been infused with bonemarrow, chopped chives, dots of cranberry purée like warm, tangy jam spiked with five-spice flavours that reached out to the wine, some finely grated parmesan. On top of it all was a quail egg, sunny side up, its runny yolk providing the simplest but most sublime of sauces to the tongue. Chef St-Pierre found his wine first and then created the dish to match it – and what a wine! It was something I had never tasted before. From the Venice range, grown and produced in Quebec by the Carone winery, it was a lightly chilled 2011 Cabernet Severnyi (a variety normally associated with the Czech Republic) – full-bodied, fruity, intense, purple, like some civilized cousin to a Baco Noir. A really good match for this dish!

So we found our Montreal champion. And that concludes the Gold Medal Plates 2013 campaign. Eleven chefs are coming to Kelowna in February – on the same day that the Sochi Olympics open, coincidentally. After the intense three days of competition, we will be crowning our own Canadian Culinary Champion. If anyone would like to join me there, just let me know (www.jameschatto.com) and we can talk. It’s going to be AWESOME.

 

Ottawa-Gatineau Gold Medal Plates 2013

19 Nov

The last big party of the 2013 Gold Medal Plates campaign had been the first to sell out and anyone who thought Ottawa on a Monday night was going to be a tough crowd had their mind changed last night. It was a brilliant affair with a full roster of Olympians, eloquently bilingual emceeing from Sylvie Bigras and a blazing performance from our musical stars Jim Cuddy, Anne Lindsay, and Spirit of the West’s John Mann and Geoffrey Kelly.

The gathering of chefs was also notably strong, with two of them proving something we have noticed across the country – that this is the year of the rabbit, gastronomically speaking. And they gave us some other fascinating dishes, most memorably lamb neck in a mole sauce garnished with maguey worms from René Rodriguez of Navarra Restaurant. It was the first time we have served worm at a GMP event and they were crispy, spicy and delicious. More importantly, last night female chefs outnumbered male on the podium – for the first time in Gold Medal Plates’s history.

So the judges had lots to think about and discuss and I was fortunate to have such a dazzling group beside me, led by our Ottawa-Gatineau Senior Judge, author, editor and the city’s finest restaurant critic, Anne DesBrisay, together with author and tv star, Canada’s culinary ambassador, Margaret Dickenson, author, food stylist, teacher and culinary columnist, Pam Collacott, culinary guru and owner of Thyme and Again Creative Catering, Sheila Whyte, culinary Olympian, Chairman of the Canadian Culinary Federation and Executive Chef at the House of Commons, Jud Simpson, and of course last year’s gold medal winner, and silver medallist at the Canadian Culinary Championship, Chef Jamie Stunt.

Bronze for Chef Katie Brown Ardington of Beckta Dining & Wine

Bronze for Chef Katie Brown Ardington of Beckta Dining & Wine

We awarded the bronze medal to Katie Brown Ardington of Beckta Dining and Wine. Her elegant dish consisted of three major elements and she instructed us in the order in which we should eat them so that flavours and textures would build from delicate to intense. The first figure was a sleek block of ahi tuna sashimi crowned with a black crust of salty pork bone ash. The tuna sat on a bed of finely minced grilled leeks in a porcini vinaigrette. The central component was a stack of firm, glossy slices of king eryngii mushroom that had been poached in a pork demiglace. They were strewn with threads of crispy leek and pork rind and on either side were dots of crème fraiche topped with golden whitefish caviar. Part three was slices of a dense, soft-textured lobster sausage, spiced as powerfully as any chorizo with paprika and cumin and set over a dab of red-eye mayo (mayo with espresso and pork fat). Pickled shimiji mushrooms were the tart little garnish, together with a crisp, strongly seasoned potato and lobster chip. A scattering of lemon balm leaves finished things off. The whole dish was a clever and delicious weave of seafood, pork and mushrooms with its own strong sensory narrative and it worked well with Chef’s chosen wine, the dry, sparkling Dolomite Brut from Cave Spring Cellars in Niagara.

Silver for Chef Jonathan Korecki of Sidedoor

Silver for Chef Jonathan Korecki of Sidedoor

We gave the silver to Jonathan Korecki of Sidedoor. Escorting his dish to the judges’ table, he explained that it was a play on a Singaporean laksa soup with all that traditional treat’s intense features transformed on our plates. Three seafood elements served as protein anchors to the idea – a tender cured spot prawn, a perfectly bronzed scallop and a similarly sized piece of arctic char, cut on the bias, its postage stamp of skin crisply intact. Lapping all three was a rich laksa foam (like a sort of coconut béarnaise) and some ramen noodles that Chef had made himself from parsnip. Partially dried wands of green dinosaur kale added colour and a vegetable component while halved sea buckthorn berries brought a tart acidity. Tiny slices of red chili added further excitement while Chef finished the dish by grating on an XO dust made by drying a paste of scallop, prawn and char soaked in fish sauce. The judges loved the bold combination of flavours, the texture of the seafood and the wine match – Megalomaniac Wines 2012 Sparkling Pinot Noir from Niagara.

Gold for Chef Marysol Foucault of Edgar

Gold for Chef Marysol Foucault of Edgar

We awarded the gold medal to Marysol Foucault of Edgar, in Gatineau, by a unanimous decision. She introduced her dish to the judges by first enthusing over her chosen wine, a big, rich 2011 Chardonnay known as ‘The Brock’ made with Niagara River fruit by Closson Chase of Prince Edward County. “I’m so in love with this wine,” she explained, “I wanted to build a very earthy dish around it, a dish that also expressed the terroir of Quebec and Ontario.” Her answer was to begin with wild boar belly, cured for 24 hours and then slow-cooked sous vide for 24 more before a final crisping. We each had two succulent pieces and sandwiched between them we found a juicy piece of rabbit loin, cooked separately sous vide. The meats sat on a rich, loose-textured mousse of rabbit liver and brown butter and there were two sauces in play, one a soft chestnut purée seasoned with espalette and lemon, the other a beautifully judged beet gastrique. Pure white dice of pickled turnip brought the necessary sweet acidity to cut the boar’s fattiness while beside them Chef had placed a beignet made with a dough formed of parsnip flour and fried to a golden crust. She garnished the dish with a single nasturtium leaf and a crispy hank of lichen cured in sortilège maple whisky.

Chef Foucault was a popular winner. She is also a writer, visual artist and competitive gymnast, talents which may or may not be of value in Kelowna next February when she competes at the Canadian Culinary Championship. Now we have one last champion to find, two weeks from today, in Montreal…

And now, here is the Ottawa event wine report from GMP’s National Wine Advisor, David Lawrason

A Sparkling Finale in Ottawa
by David Lawrason

The 2013 Gold Medal Plates season came to an end in Ottawa on November 19 with a sparkling evening at the National Arts Centre that saw three chefs pair with Ontario bubbly.  One waltzed off with the Best Of Show Wine Award, and two were swept onto the podium with their respective chefs.

The Best of Show Award went to Cave Spring 2009 Dolomite Brut, a razor sharp, tingling, classic Niagara sparkler named for the genre of limestone that underlies the Niagara Escarpment.  It also was matched to the bronze medal seafood dish by chef Katie Brown Ardington of Beckta.  The Dolomite narrowly squeezed by runner-up Tawse 2010 Grower’s Blend Pinot Noir, one of the better balanced and structured pinots of the 2010 vintage.  Third spot went to Lailey 2011 Brickyard Chardonnay, an elegant yet fulsome 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.

Two of the three judges who joined me in Ottawa are good friends and partners with me at WineAlign.com. The third, our guest judge, is Canada’s only elected wine expert. Michelle Rempel MP for Calgary Centre-North is the Minister for Western Economic Diversification and a graduate of the Advanced level of the International Wine & Spirits Education Trust.

Janet Dorozynksi is the Global Practice Lead for Foreign Affairs and International Trade, helping stock Canada’s embassies and helping Canadian wineries promote and sell their wines abroad.  Call her Canada’s Chef de Mission du Vin. She is also a veteran wine competition judge with the National Wine Awards of Canada.

And Rod Phillips, is Ottawa’s  long, and still standing, and still feisty wine columnist for the Ottawa Citizen.

But back to the podium, where Closson Chase 2011 The Brock Chardonnay, took top culinary honours when matched to a wild boar belly by young Gatineau chef Marysol Foucault.  Closson Chase rep Keith Tyers was present in Ottawa, and said the victory was no fluke.  He revealed that he had made four trips to Ottawa to discuss and tweak the match.  As a reward, both are off to the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna.

Silver medal winning chef Johnathan Korecki of Sidedoor chose Megalomanic 2009 Sparkling Pinot Noir with his seafood medley.

Other wines poured this night included an impressive pair of reds by Thirty Bench, a winery more recognized for its riesling and chardonnay. The Thirty Bench 2011 Red is an impressive, firm, cellarworthy blend of cabernet and merlot, while the Thirty Bench 2011 Small Lots Pinot Noir is a surprisingly big and firm pinot that also needs some cellaring time.  Thirty Bench is owned by Andrew Peller Wines, our National Celebration Wine Sponsor, who generously donated Wayne Gretzky 2012 Cabernet Merlot and Trius 2012 Sauvignon Blanc to the Ottawa proceedings.

 

 

St. John’s Gold Medal Plates 2013

15 Nov
Gold for Chef Roger Andrews of Relish

Gold for Chef Roger Andrews of Relish

Ay me… St. John’s! I can’t say the name of the place without cracking a smile. Gold Medal Plates has had some notoriously splendid evenings there since we embraced Newfoundland and Labrador and last night was no exception. Our fearless leader, Stephen Leckie, was missing in action, stricken by the flu and confined to quarters, but Karen Blair was there to rally the troops and Seamus O’Regan was our dashing emcee. Curt Harnett conducted the athletes’ interviews to the delight of the sold-out crowd and we had music coming out of (and into) our ears from Jim Cuddy, Ed Robertson, Anne Lindsay and Spirit of the West’s John Mann and Geoffrey Kelly. John and Geoffrey are coming with me on the Scottish GMP trip next June and I anticipate some great songs from them amid all the other splendours we have in store up there on the very northern edge of Britain. A good many St John’s guests bought the trip last night thanks to auctioneer Wayne Bartlett’s persuasive ways: it’s going to be a PARTY.

You never can tell how the chefs will cross the line at a Gold Medal Plates event – all in a pack or strung out across the field. Last night we had a unanimous winner and by the widest margin I can remember, followed by a very tight huddle of half a dozen chefs, anyone of whom could have made the podium. Working it all out was a roster of palates considerably changed from previous years. Senior Judge, Karl Wells, was beside me as always at the judging table, and chef and culinary instructor, owner of Chef to Go, Bob Arniel was also back in his chair. Joining us this year was author, screenwriter and wine and food guru, Edward Riche; chef, food writer and culinary blogmeister, Nicholas Gardner; home economist and culinarian Debbie Youden; and, of course, Chef Shaun Hussey of Chinched Bistro, who won gold last year and represented Newfoundland and Labrador most commendably at the 2013 Canadian Culinary Championships.

Bronze for Chef Andrew Hodge of the Holiday Inn

Bronze for Chef Andrew Hodge of the Holiday Inn

Taking the bronze medal was chef Andrew Hodge of the Holiday Inn St. John’s Govt Centre. Introducing his dish at the judges’ table, he explained that it was a snout-to-tail tribute to Newfoundland’s excellent pork. There was a raviolo filled with a moist farce of pork cheek and pork belly, subtly perfumed with some Italian black winter truffle. A juicy little cabbage roll was stuffed with minced pork shank and shoulder. The third main component was a swooping shard of biscuitty tuile that curled up from the plate, weighted down by a tiny puck of herbed goat cheese and a very tasty croquette made from the pork liver and heart flavoured with roasted garlic. A soft nugget of roasted carrot and three moments of spiced carrot purée nestled up to the cabbage roll. Dots of yellow beet purée and a bold stripe of red beet jam decorated the plate while a balsamic fig reduction provided some welcome acidity. Chef chose a great wine for pork – the tangy, beautifully balanced, complex Cave Spring Cellars 2009 CSV Riesling from Niagara.

Our silver medal was won by chef Ruth Wigman from Bistro Sofia. She is the first female competitor St John’s has ever given us and she stepped up onto the podium to a standing ovation. Her dish took a more Asian take on that great Newfoundland pork, centring on a handsome slab of lacquered pork belly, marinated with citrus, soy and Korean chili. Flanking it we found two tortellini filled with Peking duck – gorgeous bites of flavour – and topped with a delicately flavoured Szechuan foie gras foam. A sprinkle of crumbled crackling garnished the pork belly and the plate was beautified by perfect Brussels sprout leaves, pink discs of pickled radish, a strewing of sprouts and seedlings and a touch of soured pear. Chef’s wine was a fine choice, its cherry and violet notes playing nicely with the gentle Chinese flavours on the plate – Red Paw Vineyard 2011 Pinot Noir from Coyote’s Run Estate Winery in Niagara.

Silver for Chef Ruth Wigman of Bistro Sofia

Silver for Chef Ruth Wigman of Bistro Sofia

And so to gold – our runaway victor – chef Roger Andrews from Relish. He chose to work with squab, stuffing the bird’s breast with chopped pistachios and chanterelles and cooking it sous vide to moist, pink perfection. He made a squab jus, flavoured it with a low-lying evergreen shrub called Labrador tea and reduced it down to a well-judged consistency, thickened but not sticky. Dots of squash purée spiced with cumin and cayenne kept their distance from the meat but buddied up to little dice of pressed apple scented with maple and finely chopped green onion. The tour de force of the dish was a fascinating and delicious salad of crunchy, slightly charred, puffed wild rice tossed with juicy fresh bakeapples and other berries, garnished with edible flowers and moistened with a hibiscus vinaigrette. Each mouthful was a delightful adventure. Chef went the Pinot Noir route, choosing one of Canada’s finest – Norman Hardie’s unfiltered 2012 Pinot Noir from Prince Edward County, a wine that came across as all silk and cherries and was a dazzling bride for the squab.

Chef Andrews could not hide his emotions on the podium and was a thoroughly popular champion with the other chefs as well as the crowd. We now have nine contenders for the championships in Kelowna. Onwards to Ottawa on Monday!

And now here is the St. John’s Wine Report from Gold Medal Plates National Wine Advisor, David Lawrason:

Norman Hardie Rules the Rock

For the first time in the 2013 campaign one wine has won both major awards at Gold Medal Plates event. The seamless, charming Norman Hardie 2012 County Pinot Noir took the Best of Show Wine Award, then moments after I made that announcement – to the predictably rowdy audience in St. John’s – Chief Culinary Judge James Chatto revealed that the same wine had won the culinary gold as well, matched to a delicious squab by Chef Roger Andrews of Relish.

The culinary gold earns Norman Hardie a berth at the Canadian Culinary Championships, where last year he had donated the 2010 Prince Edward County Pinot classic as the Mystery Wine.  In fact Norman Hardie has very generously donated on four separate occasions this year, including a second wine – his 2010 Pinot Noir Unfiltered from Niagara – in St. John’s.

It was a very strong field of contenders for Best of Show, the best group yet assembled in St. John’s. I had only one point separating my top three picks.  The First Runner-up Award went to another Ontario Pinot Noir, the intense, cran/sour cherry scented Coyote’s Run 2010 Red Paw Pinot Noir; which also won the culinary silver medal with chef Ruth Wigman of Bistro Sofia.  The second-runner up spot went to the massive, impressive Lake Breeze 2009 Tempest from the Okanagan Valley, a blend of merlot and cabernets from a winery better known for its white wines.

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.

I was joined in the judging by the two leading local wine writers in St. John’s. Tom Beckett is the creator of Beckett on Wine, a blog that chronicles the vinous life of St. John’s.  Steve Delaney is the wine critic for the St. John’s Telegram and a board member of the St. John’s chapter of the Opimian Society.

This night Andrew Peller Ltd, our National Celebration Wine Sponsor, stepped up during the awards, auction and entertainment portion of the evening with Wayne Gretzky 2010 Cabernet-Merlot from Niagara, a red that has settled into a balanced groove with a year or two under its belt.  They also donated the Trius 2011 Riesling, which two judges placed in their top five, thanks to maturing complexity and great acid balance.

Another Niagara Riesling reached the culinary podium, with Cave Springs 2009 CSV nicely matched to bronze medal chef Andrew Hodge of the Holiday Inn.  Other wines enjoyed over the evening included the delicious Malivoire 2012 Gamay that I placed in my top three, and Mission Hill 2011 Five Vineyards Pinot Noir.

 

 

 

Saskatoon Gold Medal Plates

09 Nov

 

Gold... Trevor Robertson's spectacular duck

Gold… Trevor Robertson’s spectacular duck

2013 might just be the best Gold Medal Plates tour ever, every evening so far subtly distinct but uniformly triumphant. Saskatoon was no exception. The sold-out event was simply amazing. Ed Robertson took a night away from his 68-town tour of the U.S. to join us, renewing his friendly bantering feud with Jim Cuddy as to which of the Gold Medal Plates auction trips is best. They were joined on stage by Anne Lindsay, Dustin Bentall and Kendel Carson, all playing and singing like the stars they are.

We also had a star-studded judiciary around the judging table led by Senior Judge, author, photographer and broadcaster CJ Katz with author and food columnist Amy Jo Ehman, chef-restaurateur turned food-writer-poet, dee Hobsbawn-Smith, restaurateur and entrepreneur Janis Hutton, pastry chef and food blogger Renée Kohlman, chef and restaurateur Dale Mackay, whose new place is opening in Saskatoon next week, and last year’s gold medallist, Chef Darren Craddock of Riverside Country Club.

It was certainly a meaty night for us, with only two piscine moments in the entire evening – a tiny morsel of smoked trout on Chef Kevin Tetz’s plate and an oyster and an octopus agnolotto as two of the nine, separate, meticulous components on Chef Anthony McCarthy’s splendid and extraordinary “Taste of a Tasting” dish. Otherwise, it was meat all the way including no less than four duck dishes. In the end, six of our 10 competitors were bunched as they turned into the home stretch. As the judges discussed and debated, three of the chefs began to pull away… And as the numbers were crunched, they crossed the line cleanly - first, second and third. The medals were awarded.

Bronze... Mike McKeown's duck

Bronze… Mike McKeown’s duck

The bronze medallist was Mike McKeown of Prairie Harvest and he cooked duck. This dish really exemplified the prairies. One of the two major elements was a crisp, warm perogy filled with a scrumptious mix of duck confit and pumpkin. A dab of ricotta perched on top while underneath lay a brunoise of crunchy fried onion and bacon – greaseless and completely delicious. A “turducken glace” was the quintessence of a poultry jus. A runway of puréed beet led across the plate to the other main component of the dish, a delicately flavoured, moist terring of chicken and turkey meat studded with heirloom carrot and wrapped in a skin of pickled cabbage. A dot of pea shoot purée added another colour and flavour to Chef McKeown’s conception. As an accompaniment, he poured a local currant wine from Living Sky Winery, a lovely fruit wine that reminded me of an amontillado sherry and was particularly well-matched to the pierogy.

Silver... Mike Link's duck

Silver… Mike Link’s duck

Our silver medallist was Mike Link, chef of Western Concessions, the Credit Union Centre and he cooked duck. Centring the dish was a mound of loosely forked, moist duck confit, topped with a little pancetta. A round apple crisp perched on top like a jaunty little cap – it was beguilingly crisp and tasted precisely of apple. Next to the confit Chef had set two slices of tender duck breast, lightly touched with hoisin and seared medium rare. A slice of seared duck foie gras was the third ducky moment. Two sauces finished the dish – a runny sour cherry compote and a first-class jus made from duck and vegetable stock with a hit of chokecherry. It was a dish that wowed the judges not by any complexity, fancy presentation or particular technical difficulty but because the flavours were natural and true and in perfect harmony, the textures exactly what they ought to have been. It was an absolute pleasure to eat. Chef Link’s wine match also worked well – the demure, subtly refreshing Sussreserve Riesling from Angels’ Gate Winery in Niagara.

The gold medal went to Trevor Robertson of the Radisson Hotel and he cooked… duck – arranged on only one half of the official plate in a most visually dramatic way. The main element of the dish was a slice of “duck press” like a moist, rich but lightweight duck terrine made from local Muscovy ducks that had been corn-fed and custom-reared for Chef Robertson’s kitchen. The pressed meat was mixed with foie gras and freckled with truffle and pickled shiitake, all of which played a part in enhancing its flavour. Flanking this were broad hoops of fried duck breast prosciutto that answered the question of what happens to bacon when it goes to heaven. A pinch of freeze-dried, crushed and crumbled blueberries were sprinkled over the terrine – after that it was all corn, a chefly tour-de-force. There was a ball of smoked corn sorbet; shards of super-crisp, super-tasty, corn “paper” as thin as tissue; some dots of corn gel; and some “caviar pearls” made from liquified corn. Such a collation of subtle variations of yellow! Such intriguing textures. Chef finished the dish with a streak of tangy haskap berry gastrique and a strewing of colourful petals and seedlings. His chosen wine was the 2010 Pinot Noir from Nk’Mip in the Okanagan, a fine match for the duck elements in the dish.

Chef Trevor Robertson is no stranger to the Saskatoon podium but this is the first time he has won gold. We now have eight strong champions for next february’s Canadian Culinary Championship in Kelowna. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

And now here is the evening’s Wine Report from Gold Medal Plates’s National Wine Advisor, David Lawrason

Friday Night. Saskatoon. Party

It didn’t take long for Saskatoon to get into the mood when Gold Medal Plates touched down on a cold November night.  A Grey Cup warm-up perhaps?  Or was it the array of local VIP reception Paddock Wood brews and Gambit Gin martinis – including a doozie called Hemingway’s Gambit – that accompanied the “Cowboy Caviar” (small bits of beef jerky).  Whatever the reason, when it came time to announce our Best Wine of Show late in the evening, we are not sure that anyone heard the news.

The wine of the night was not quite the unanimous choice but two of three judges placed it first and one placed it second. Thirty Bench 2012 Riesling from the Niagara Peninsula proved to be scintillating, with great riesling acidity and ripe fruit.  Our second choice went to the very amiable Road 13 2011 74K, an Okanagan blend of merlot and syrah with a dash of cabernet.  Again in Saskatoon two wines tied for third:  Orofino’s 2011 Red Bridge, a very solid, complex Bordeaux blend from the Similkameen Valley, and the finely organically grown, very Euro Summerhill 2008 Zweigelt.

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.

In Saskatoon I was joined on the judging panel by two Saskatchewan gents. Rob Dobson, one of the leading palates of Saskatchewan made the trip from Regina. He is a wine educator, consultant and contributor to SavourLife Magazine and www.savourlife.ca.

Robert Peterson-Wakeman is an invaluable member of the Gold Medal Plates committee in Saskatoon and an avid fan of wine – and Canadian wine in particular. His says that all it takes is ‘practice, practice, practice’

This night Andrew Peller Ltd., the National Celebration Wine Sponsor, poured two very well received wines for the sit-down entertainment and auction portion of the evening: Sandhill 2011 Chardonnay and well balanced Wayne Gretzky 2012 Merlot from the Okanagan Valley.  And of course Peller’s reps in Saskatoon were delighted that one their flock – Thirty Bench Riesling – fared so well.

None of the four wines we put forward as finalists for Best of Show accompanied winning chefs to the podium. Bronze medalist Mike McKeown Prairie Harvest Café chose locally made Living Vine 2011 Currant fruit wine to accompany his.  Silver medalist chef Mike Link Western Concessions chose the off-dry Angels Gate 2010 Riesling Sussreserve; and gold medalist Trevor Robertson Radisson Hotel paired his winning duck with Nk’Mip Cellars 2011 Pinot Noir, which also narrowly missed being a finalist for the Wine award.

It was a loud and very successful evening, but we expected nothing less.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Victoria Gold Medal Plates 2013

08 Nov

Dancing in the Isles

It’s always exciting to bring the Gold Medal Plates phenomenon to a new city. Last night we were, for the first time, in Victoria, British Columbia, where chefs from the city challenged their colleagues from elsewhere on Vancouver island, from Vancouver itself and from Sonora Island to see who would win the gold medal and progress to Kelowna in February. It was an extraordinary evening with a sold-out crowd of 500 completely involved in proceedings, with emcee Adam Kreek in fine form and more dancing to the music than I’ve ever seen at any GMP event. It seemed like half the room was up and rocking to a veritable orchestra of musicians – Jim Cuddy, Barney Bentall, Dustin Bentall and Kendal Carson, John Mann and Geoffrey Kelly from Spirit of the West, and trumpeter Daniel Lapp.

The competing chefs also performed brilliantly, crossing the line like some kind of gastronomic peleton, all marks tightly bunched within a mere 12 percentage points. Fortunately, I had a brilliant team of judges to help me sort them out, led by co-Senior Judge, educator and international wine and food guru Sid Cross and co-Senior judge, author and editor, Andrew Morrison, alongside writer, blogger, editor and culinary judge, Shelora Sheldan, hotelier, international food and wine judge and Slow Food ambassador, Dr. Sinclair Philip, former chef, sommelier and innkeeper, now writer and editor, Gary Hynes, and last year’s gold medallist from our Vancouver competition, Chef Mark Filatow of Waterfront Restaurant and Wine Bar in Kelowna.

Chef Terry Pichor's dish (image courtesy of Andrew Morrison)

Chef Terry Pichor’s dish (image courtesy of Andrew Morrison)

Taking the bronze medal was Terry Pichor of Sonora Resort on Sonora Island. Ambitiously, he included a foie-gras-filled raviolo on his plate, pulling off the textural challenge in a masterful way for the pasta was tender and the foie almost liquid. Under the raviolo was a cushion of duck leg confit surrounded by a rich butternut squash purée but the dish’s main focus were two slices of duck breast that chef had brined poached in duck fat with star anise, the pink meat ending up with the sleek and juicy texture of ham. A number of garnishes added nuance. Black garlic granola had a very fine texture, sprinkled onto the ravioli with a spoonful of the duck’s natural jus bolstered by a brunoise of pine mushroom. Candied squash seeds and a sprinkling of vividly purple young beet seedlings completed the plate. Chef Pichor chose Foxtrot Vineyard’s 2010 Pinot Noir from the Naramata Bench, a wine that picked up the mushrooms and brought a refreshing acidity to the dish.

Silver for Chef Darren Brown

Silver for Chef Darren Brown

Our silver medal was won by Darren Brown, executive chef of the Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel in Vancouver. He worked with local Camp River Farms pork belly, deliberately grown to be leaner than most pork belly, confiting it in Kahlua and carving a thin slice that had a lovely crust and a flavour like first-class bacon. The meat lay on a pool of poi made not with the traditional starchy taro but with much lighter lotus root, coconut and heart of palm. Limning the poi was a second sauce, a sweet pineapple and maple-mustard glaze thickened by a syrup made from Chef’s chosen wine. Sprinkled on top were some tangy mustard seeds, slices of crunchy betel nut, a cross of puffed white pork cracklings and a scattering of dehydrated pineapple flecks that worked particularly well with the wine. A final flourish of welcome green came from a floret of baby bok choy. And the wine? An old friend – JoieFarm Winery’s delicious 2012 Noble Blend, an Alsatian-style melange of Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Auxerrois and Schoenberger.

Who won gold? Chef Brian Skinner of The Acorn in Vancouver, who achieved the exceedingly rare feat of winning at GMP with a vegetarian dish. His dish was a casual assembly of pale drums, some of them cut from smoked king oyster mushrooms, others turning out to be confited potatoes. Thumbelina carrots had been roasted to soft caramelization while others had been turned into “carrot meringue” like shards of paper-thin wafer. Minute braised shallots no bigger than chickpeas were a sweet component while acidity came from dots of intensely flavoured sherry fluid gel. A combination of mushrooms were used to make the fragrant mushroom jus and the coup de grace was a scattering of wild-foraged watercress. The dish was relatively simple but most effective, with every ingredient coming from within 100 miles of his restaurant, and the wine pairing worked on many levels. Clos du Soleil’s 2012 Chegwin & Baessler Pinot Blanc is delightfully aromatic with a hint of sweetness that worked with the carrot and shallot components and a sly acidity boosted by the sherry gel, all in a fine balance.

Gold for Chef Brian Skinner

Gold for Chef Brian Skinner

All in all, Victoria provided a very welcoming and energized West Coast adventure and Chef Skinner will be just as welcome in Kelowna in February. Next stop – tonight – is Saskatoon!

 

And now here is the Victoria Wine report by GMP’s National Wine Advisor, the great David Lawrason

An eclectic brew of local spirits, beers and wines from both Vancouver Island and the Okanagan spiced up a very lively night in Victoria, as Gold Medal Plates touched down in the B.C. capital for the first time. And Victoria can dance, demanding a double encore from the seven musicians who performed well passed the appointed hour.

So maybe the winning beverage this night packed more than great flavours. It was a creative blend of Granville Island Sake and Long Table Gin that took off in several herbal and citrus directions but was grounded by a beautiful texture. It was paired with an equally exotic risotto, onsen egg and salmon roe by Mokoto Ono of Pidgen.

But the cocktail only prevailed by one point over the runner-up wine – Clos de Soleil 2012 Pinot Blanc Growers Series from Similkameen growers Chegwin and Baessler. Made by BC/Ontario winemaker Ann Sperling it was a subtle but complex wine with a great sense of taut power and length. And two Okanagan classics tied for third position: Synchromesh 2012 Thorny Vines Riesling and Meyer Family 2011 McLean Road Vineyard Pinot Noir.

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.

Our judging panel I was joined by two very talented and incredibly knowledgeable ladies who care deeply about the progress of wine in Canada. Both are good friends, and colleagues at WineAlign.com where we judge the National Wine Awards of Canada.

DJ Kearney of Vancouver is a widely travelled wine writer, judge and educator, perhaps best known for her work with Vancouver Magazine, and as the director of the VanMag Wine Awards. Treve Ring has been raised right here in Victoria. She is writing for Eat Magazine, Sip Northwest and Edible Canada, and was a major contributor to a prize winning book called Island Wineries of British Columbia.

In all over 20 wines, beers and spirits were poured in Victoria – the number bumped by the kind donation by three Vancouver Island wineries:  Averilll Creek and Enrico from the Cowichan Valley, and deVine from Saanich.  The day prior I went ‘up Island’ to visit Averill Creek, a stunning property focused on sleek, bright, mineral-driven estate grown pinot noir and pinot gris.  Owners Andy and Wendy Johnson poured four wines at the Gold Medal Plates VIP Reception.

I also visited Unsworth Vineyards, and impressive 12-acre start-up that just completed a new winery this autumn, and boasts a fine dining restaurant near Cobble Hill in the Cowichan Valley.  Unsworth paired with local Duncan chef Daniel Hudon, providing a crisp, tidy almost muscadet-like white called Allegro that blends of pinot gris, pinot noir and a hybrid called petit milo.

In terms of the winning wines that went to the podium with the winning chefs, the bronze medal went to the complex, powerful Foxtrot 2010 Pinot Noir paired with chef Terry Pichor’s duck-foie gras-butternut squash ravioli. Silver went to the always populat Joie Farm 2012 Noble Blend which was expertly matches to Darren Brown’s pork belly. The gold spotlight shone again on Clos du Soleil 2012 Pinot Blanc, paired with Brian Skinner’s vegetarian dish that included smoked king oyster mushroom.

Other beverages included an excellent Twisted Oak Scotch Ale by Victoria’s Phillips Brewing, a pair of delicious martini’s by Victoria Gin and Merridale Cider from Vancouver Island.