Archive for the ‘Gold Medal Plates’ Category

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 ( 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 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

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 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.





Calgary Gold Medal Plates 2013

04 Nov

We left Regina on a sunlit autumn morning and landed in the teeth of a Calgary snowstorm, winter finally catching up to Gold Medal Plates and bringing the sense of Sochi into a new and closer perspective. The team had configured the Telus Centre differently than in years gone by and the wall of windows was uncurtained, giving a splendid view of the city and the falling snow as dusk slunk away into the darkness, leaving us to our revels. It was another triumphant evening with a sold-out crowd who had clearly come to party. Jim Cuddy, Barney Bentall and Eric Reed thrilled us with their music while our brilliant emcee was Canadian Olympian and hockey superstar, Jennifer Botterill. In no time at all, it seemed, she was calling me up on stage to announce the winning chefs.

It had not been so easy for the posse of judges up in our secluded garret as we added up numbers and pondered the plates. Beside me was Senior Judge, author, editor and educator, John Gilchrist, caterer and gastronomic entrepreneur Susan Hopkins, chef, broadcaster and culinary instructor, Michael Allemeier, food writer, publisher and editor, Kathy Richardier and last year’s Gold Medallist, from Crazyweed Kitchen in Canmore, Chef Eden Hrabec. In the end, less than four percentage points separated the top five chefs and decisions hung on the finest of details. We agreed that it was probably the best line-up of chefs Calgary had ever fielded for the GMP, that the nuanced, contemporary, cosmopolitan dishes were demonstrative of a city that was kicking itself up a notch or two in gastronomic terms – and then we agreed on the winners.

Daren Maclean's "Textures of Mushrooms" (thanks to Peter Moscone for the picture)

Daren Maclean’s “Textures of Mushrooms” (thanks to Peter Moscone for the picture)

Taking bronze was Darren Maclean of Downtown Food who created an extraordinary dish he called Textures of Mushroom and Goat Cheese Salad. He began with half a dozen different wild mushrooms and treated each species in a different way, creating all manner of textures and flavours. Tiny white shemiji were lightly pickled; firm white king oyster mushrooms were smoked, sliced and grilled; shiitake were lacto-fermented in vacuum packs then cooked, emerging incredibly soft and slippery with a fascinating lactic tang; a big slice of juicy grilled matsutake posed beside black and yellow chanterelles while Chef had turned hen-of-the-woods mushrooms into tempura. Some grated white truffle was the final fungus. There were other elements of course, each one of which added to the general effect. A little puck of soft, tangy local goat cheese brought in a sharp note, a golden croquette contained a perfectly textured quail egg yolk, trapped between liquid and solid states; another tiny fried quail’s egg lay beside it, sunny side up. Chef Maclean’s wine choice worked really well the dish, its subtle, careful aromatics outlining the different flavours of the mushroom feast – the 2012 Viognier from Black Hills Estate in B.C.

Roy Oh's tofu extravaganza took silver

Roy Oh’s tofu extravaganza took silver

Our silver medal went to Roy Oh of Anju who made the brave decision (in Calgary, too) to use tofu as his star ingredient. His dish consisted of three treatments of the curd. The first was a strip of pink mousse, the dimensions of a pencil stub, that turned out to be tofu whipped with foie gras. It was soft, light, but extraordinarily rich and flavoursome – the single most delicious thing of the entire evening according to more than one judge. Chef Oh garnished this with minute cubes of colourless jelly made from his chosen wine, a dot of Thai basil oil, half a teaspoon of a brunoise of Korean pear and a brittle fin of toasted brioche. A few grains of sea salt set the flavours in motion. The second element was a shot glass of lobster bisque into which tofu had been whipped until it dissolved. The flavour was profoundly crustacean but there was more going on behind it for Chef had spiked the thin but intense broth with a dash of the Korean chili oil he makes from ginger, chilies and garlic – just enough to add a hint of spicy bitterness. The third component was a cube of trembling tofu crusted with panko and fried – perfectly light and greaseless – paired with some gorgeous fried pork belly that had been cured in maple and miso and a little sautéed kimchi set over a puddle of citrus aïoli. This was particularly good with the wine Chef Oh chose, a Gewurztraminer-Riesling blend from B.C., the Nichol 9 Mile White.

Gold for Duncan Ly of Yellow Door Bistro

Gold for Duncan Ly of Yellow Door Bistro

Our gold medal was awarded, not for the first time, to Duncan Ly of Yellow Door Bistro. He presented 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 pork neck. Once sliced, the prawns showed as white circles against the meat while the pig’s ear (amazingly tender) was a narrow stripe curving across the surface. The flavours were subtle indeed, repaying the judges’ concentration. To contrast with the terrine, Chef 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 sort of rosette of confited squid tentacles, a miniature rice crisp and some pink and violet flower petals – looked as pretty as a picture. Chef’s wine match was remarkably successful – the Peller Estates Ice Cuvée rosé sparkler from Niagara. Its icewine dosage gives the bubbly an off-dry richness (with great acidity) that enhanced all the flavours on the plate.

Duncan Ly will return to the Canadian Culinary Championship in February, representing a Calgary gastronomical scene that, last night, proved absolutely fascinating.


And now, our Wine Report from Gold Medal Plates National Wine Advisor, David Lawrason

Sparkling Wines Glitter in Calgary

On a snowy night in Calgary  sparkling wine made Gold Medal Plates history, in more ways than one. Peller Ice Cuvee Rose sparkling became the first wine to repeat as  gold medal champion, accompanying Hotel Arts chef Duncan Ly to the podium. In fact three sparkling wines were paired with chefs creations this night, again a record.  And those three sparkling wines were from three different provinces – with Benjamin Bridge 2009 Brut from Nova Scotia joining Ice Cuvee from Ontario and Cipes Brut from B.C.

Could this be a foreshadowing of a central role for bubbly in defining Canadian wine both nationally and globally?  I wouldn’t bet against it.

But when it came to the very close voting for Best Wine of Show, the sparklers were overtaken by two British Columbia icons. It was the scintillating and complex Tantalus 2012 Riesling that eked out the win, over a wonderfully authentic and well balanced Gamay Noir 2012 by Blue Mountain that all three judges voted a solid second. The Benjamin Bridge 2009 Brut made it into third place tie with Black Hills 2012 Viognier

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 wine judging by the two of Calgary’s top palates, both also judges with the WineAlign National and World Wine Awards. Tom Firth is a writer and educator whose work appears in contributing to Avenue, City Palate and Culinaire.  Sommelier Brad Royale spends time as the wine director for Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts, overseeing wine programs at several  properties in Alberta and British Columbia.

The gold podium appearance for Peller’s Ice Cuvee Rose was a fitting kudo for Peller, which is the National Celebration Wine Sponsor for 2013.  This night they donated the quite delicious, fresh and flavourful Wayne Gretzky 2012 Pinot Grigio, and the nicely complex quite savoury Sandhill 2011 Merlot.

The other major Sponsor in Calgary was the Okanagan’s Black Hills Winery. They impressed the judges with a pair of new wines called Cellarhand. Both the First Press White and Punch Down Red are mult-grape blends, and both were not far out of the running for the top three spots. In particular the Frist Press White is very nicely composed and balanced.

The Black Hills 2012 Viognier, which was one of my favourites of the night, not only tied for third in the Best of Show Awards, it made it to the podium with bronze medal chef Darren Maclean of Downtown Food who expertly matched it to a wild mushroom exploration.  Silver medal chef Chef Roy Oh of Anju Restaurant paired his “tofu three ways” with Nichol 9 Mile White.

The fine roster of wines this night was filled out with Mission Hill 2011 Reserve Chardonnay (a WineAlign National Wine Awards Gold Medalist) and Vineland Estates 2011 Pinot Meunier which was nicely matched to an albacore tuna credo by Dave Bohati of Market Eatery,




Regina Gold Medal Plates 2013

02 Nov

On Friday evening, Regina’s elite gathered at the Conexus Arts Centre, a unique venue where Gold Medal Plates had set out guests’ tables on the stage of the theatre, turning our audience into the star performers. We listened to inspiring speeches and a fascinating q&a with our Olympian athletes conducted by Marnie McBean, who was in brilliantly irreverent form. Emcee and Olympic hockey legend Jennifer Botterill kept the whole evening belting along like a breakaway. Jim Cuddy and Barney Bentall scored repeatedly with their power play and helped sell a record number of trips. All in all, it was a thoroughly merry and successful evening.

Joining me to do the heavy lifting where eating was concerned was our formidable team of local judges led by Senior Judge, author and broadcaster CJ Katz; author and food columnist, Amy Jo Ehman; Executive Chef of the Provincial Legislature and International culinary competitor, Trent Brears; chef and culinary teacher Thomas Rush; restaurant columnist and broadcaster Aidan Morgan, and last year’s gold-medal-winner and bronze medallist at the last Candian Culinary Championship, chef Milton Rebello.

Bronze - wild elk and cattail cornbread from Chef Laurie Wall

Bronze – wild elk and cattail cornbread from Chef Laurie Wall

Meat was dominant in the line-up last night, a single (beautifully cooked) steelhead trout the only representative of the finny tribe and all the judges felt standards had leaped forward since last year’s Regina GMP debut. Our bronze medal was won by Laurie Wall of Wallnuts Expressive Catering. She prepared a wild elk tenderloin by smoking it over a fire of white birch and setting a slice of the perfectly tender meat on a square of birch bark, moistened with a spoonful of chokecherry and port reduction. On top of this she placed a spoon-sized piece of cattail cornbread, made with the fluff of cattails that had gone to seed instead of flour. It had a unique texture and a delicious corn flavour that harmonized beautifully with the elk. Sharing the birchbark raft was a potage of diced vegetables from Chef Wall’s own garden – orange and yellow carrots, purple and white potatoes, beets, onion, butternut squash, diced and roasted separately to retain their distinct integrities then bound by a squash mash and topped with a crisp sage leaf. The lovely dish was nicely matched by Hillside Winery’s 2009 Mosaic, a Bordeaux blend from Penticton, B.C.

Silver - a trio of lamb from Chef Ricardo Rodriguez

Silver – a trio of lamb from Chef Ricardo Rodriguez

Our silver medal went to Ricardo Rodriguez of The Artful Dodger Café & Music Emporium who proposed a trio of local lamb. There was a gorgeously juicy rib, the meat so tender it fell from the bone, glistening with a roasted chipotle honey glaze that had some real spicy heat beneath its sweetness. The lamb flank was rolled around phoenix mushrooms, roasted and then sliced into a sort of Catherine wheel, a succulent and tasty treatment.The third part of the trio was a teaspoonful of mousse made from the lamb’s brains, subtly scented with citrus. As garnish, we found a streak of black Persian thyme oil, a mound of crushed purple raspberries that created a visually dramatic scarlet stripe on the plate, and a crispy kale chip dusted with maple and mustard. Chateau des Charmes 2010 Generation Seven, a fascinating red blend from Niagara, proved to be an inspired pairing.

Gold - rabbit ballotine from Chef Jonathan Thauberger

Gold – rabbit ballotine from Chef Jonathan Thauberger

Taking the gold last night was Jonathan Thauberger from Crave Kitchen + Wine Bar who worked with rabbit from local Fenek Farms. “The whole dish is designed around the wine,” he explained as the plates were brought to the judges. Front and centre was a moist, flavourful ballotine of the rabbit using several cuts and a forcemeat all bound around a green dot of leek. A pool of rabbit jus was absolutely delicious and quickly mopped up using the slice of brioche toast and rabbit-stock-infused whipped butter chef thoughtfully provided. Cattail hearts had been stained pink and yellow with purple and golden beet juice to make a wee salad garnished with nasturtium petals and a hint of mint while nasturtiums (picked from chef’s own garden) also featured as a sweet, peppery jelly and as a powder presented in a free-standing mound for anyone who wanted to add a touch more of its gentle, mustardy heat. Miniature carrot and baby beet balanced the dish and the finishing touch was a potato crisp, deep fried and translucent. And the wine match? Chef Thauberger was as good as his word – a seamless pairing with Fairview Cellars 2010 Two Hoots, a rich, ripe, tangy Bordeaux blend from the Okanagan.

So we are half way through what is proving to be a brilliant and hugely successful campaign. Tonight we move on to Calgary but we already have five strong champions who will compete in Kelowna in February. The ultimate champion, incidentally, will find a delightful prize from Gold Medal Plates’s newest sponsor, BMW cars… Whoever wins the Canadian Culinary Championship receives a two-year lease on a brand new 2014 BMW 640-I x-Drive Gran Coupe. Certainly something to play for!

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

Big Reds Rule the Prairies

Every wine poured by Regina’s chefs at the 2013 edition of Gold Medal Plates was crimson; perhaps because every dish they prepared featured a great plains beast of some description – from hare to lamb to elk, not to mention good old beef tenderloin. With winter setting it’s time to bulk up.

So the winner of the Best of Show Wine Award was right in its element – the complex, savoury Sandhill 2010 One from the Phantom Creek Vineyard.  Winemaker Howard Soon has added a bit of syrah to this vintage, which brings some elevated peppery spicy to the mix of smoke and currant fruit, and the finish travels for several minutes. One also won in Edmonton.

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 runner-up was virtually unanimous, a surprisingly deep yet piquant Blue Grouse 2009 Pinot Noir from Vancouver Island’s Cowichan Valley. In third place was the powerful Hillside 2009 Mosaic, a five-grape Bordeaux blend that needs either more time in bottle, or to be opened and decanted astride a dish like the wild elk with cattail cornbread by Chef Laurie Wall of Wallnuts Expressive Catering.

Sandhill One is in the portfolio of Andrew Peller Ltd., the National Celebration Wine Sponsor that is donating wine at eleven events across Canada this fall.  In Regina they also provided a juicy, young  Wayne Gretzky 2012 Merlot from the Okanagan Valley and a maturing 2010 Sandhill Chardonnay for over 500 guests.

I was re- joined this year in the plush “judges chambers” at the Conexus Centre by two of Regina’s most respected palates. Debbie Tetlock is a product consultant, educator and manager of the SLGA liquor store at Broad St and 12th.  Rob Dobson is a wine educator and writer with Savour Magazine and  And he is a true gentleman, who shared a personal favourite bottle of white Burgundy with us when our duties were done.

Only one of our wine picks went to the big podium with a medalling chef (not meddling chef) – the aforementioned Hillside 2009 Mosaic, which paired with bronze medal winner Laurie Wall.  Silver medalist Ricardo Rodriguez of The Artful Dodger Café & Music Emporium chose the juicy Chateau des Charmes 2010 Generation Seven to match to his trio of local lamb.

And gold medalist Jonathan Thauberger of Crave Kitchen + Wine Bar will be going to Kelowna with Fairview 2009 Two Hoots, a vibrant, complex Bordeaux blend by Okanagan iconoclast Bill  Eggert .  (This was my choice for best wine of the night)

Other wines poured this night included Pelee Island 2012 Alvar, Henry of Pelham 2012 Baco Noir and Peller 2011 Syrah.


Toronto Gold Medal Plates 2013

31 Oct
Lorenzo Loseto of George won gold with perfect ahi tuna

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

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

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  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.








Winnipeg Gold Medal Plates 2013

27 Oct

“…And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That ate with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”

Yes, Friday night was the feast of Saints Crispian and Crispianus, 598th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt, and we celebrated it in style in Winnipeg. We few, we happy few, we band of judges – Jeff Gill (chef, Director, Food Services at Red River College and our Senior Judge), Christine Hanlon (author and food critic), Barbara O’Hara (pastry chef and restaurateur) and last year’s gold medallist, Chef Östen Rice of Wasabi Sabi – we kept our cool amidst the hurly-burly. Shakespeare makes no reference to it, but chroniclers relate that King Henry V left Southampton for Harfleur with a full personal retinue of cooks and entertainers, the latter admirably represented last night by troubadours George Canyon (I’m going to buy all his CDs now) and Jim Cuddy (already got all his) with Olympians Curt Harnett and Simon Whitfield sharing the emcee duties.

Bronze went to chef Simon Resch of Terrace in the Park

Bronze went to chef Simon Resch of Terrace in the Park

As for the chefs – we ended up with the tightest scoring I can ever remember between bronze, silver and gold, all three dishes separated by a mere 1.4 percent. Taking bronze was Simon Resch of Terrace in the Park. He took a pan-Canadian theme with four separate elements on the plate, each one representing a different region of the country. For the west, he took a slice of octopus limb he had cooked sous vide to a remarkable tenderness and set it on a plinth of mirin-spiked sticky rice. Two nifty garnishes were a cube of soy-marinated mango and a postage stamp of crispy salmon skin. For the prairies, he made a rich rillette of northern pike, pulled pork belly and lentils set in a crispy, fragile little basket that turned out to be made of strands of the pulled pork belly set in place by a judicious and undetectable dash of cornstarch. For Quebec, he made a torchon of foie gras as soft and delicately flavoured as butter which he rolled in smoked and blanched black sesame seeds, Malden salt and (his young daughter’s idea) rice crispies for crunch. On top posed a sliver of pear from a tree in his father’s garden. The fourth component of the dish was a perfectly timed chunk of butter-poached lobster tail, not so rare that it lacked flavour and not so cooked that it clenched, just tremblingly tender, juicy and sapid. Chef resch set this treasure in a broad hoop of tissue-thin potato crisp and garnished it with doll-sized moments of cucumber, marinated cippolini onion and Nova Scotian seaweed. The fifth and final element was the wine he chose, the dry, lightweight but intense and tangy 2011 John Howard’s Traveller’s Series Riesling from Megalomaniac winery in Niagara. It worked equally well with all four food components and brought them together in much the same way (dare I say) as GMP brings together the far-flung regions of Canada.

Silver went to Tim Palmer of The Velvet Glove at the Fairmont Winnipeg

Silver went to Tim Palmer of The Velvet Glove at the Fairmont Winnipeg

Our silver medal was won by Tim Palmer of The Velvet Glove at The Fairmont Winnipeg. He called his dish Duck3 and indeed there were three treatments of duck on the plate. The first was a torchon of duck liver mousse streaked with a pleasantly bitter cocoa-nib glaze and garnished with raspberry pearls that chef and his team made à la minute at his station, and little seedlings of carrot cress and lamb’s lettuce. A crumble of crispy fried duck skin added interesting crunch. Then there was a “chop” of the duck breast rolled in its own skin and cooked sous vide then finished in a sauté pan, the meat firm and juicy, a dainty duck rib bone sticking out of the top to justify the name of chop. Chef spooned a reduced duck jus to the side of the cutlet. The third element of the dish was a jambonette, a breaded and fried croquette made of pulled duck leg confit, well-seasoned and spiked with meyer lemon and minced cornichons. A mound of raspberry powder and dots of hibiscus coulis looked amazingly colourful but provided all sorts of fruit flavours to the various ducky bits. Chef Palmer’s wine was the 2012 Quail’s Gate Gewurztraminer from the Okanagan, a wine with just the right amount of aromatic beauty and a dot of residual sweetness that worked really well with the dish.

And gold to Kelly Cattani of Elements the Restaurant, by Diversity

And gold to Kelly Cattani of Elements the Restaurant, by Diversity

Our gold medal went to Kelly Cattani, chef at Elements the Restaurant, by Diversity. She used elk striploin tataki as her principal protein, searing it briefly in avocado oil then finishing it in a circulator. The thinly sliced meat ended up delectably supple and tender, crumpled like crimson satin over a hank of perfect soba noodles on a bed of thick, chunky edamame purée. Matchsticks of lightly pickled carrot and crumbled rice crisp added textural fun while two oils, one of chili, the other green and herbal made their own subtle points. A tooney-sized pool of caramelized onion gel, like a sweet onion soubise was the final moment of inspiration. The dish was a fascinating mosaic of cool, fresh flavours and Chef Cattani’s wine choice scored near perfect marks as a companion – Blue Mountain’s lightweight but fruity Pinot Noir.

As mentioned, the marks were incredibly close between these three chefs and they all deserved their standing ovation, but Kelly Cattani was a worthy winner, upon St. Crispin’s Day. I look forward very much to seeing what she will accomplish in Kelowna in February.


And now here is the Wine Report from Winnipeg courtesy of David Lawrason, Gold Medal Plates’s National Wine Advisor:


Blue Mountain Pinot Peaks in Winnipeg

The bright, layered and seductive Blue Mountain 2011 Pinot Noir carted off the two top honours of the evening at the Winnipeg edition of Gold Medal Plates 2013.  It was the unanimous choice of the wine judges as Best Wine of Show, and the food judges also hailed it as a fine match to the elk-based dish of gold medal chef Kelly Catani of Elements The Restaurant.  So Blue Mountain returns to its home in the Okanagan for the Canadian Culinary Championships in February.

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 pristine, beautifully fresh and delicate Quails’ Gate 2012 Gewurztraminer also wowed both sets of judges. It was runner-up for Best Wine of Show and was matched with silver medal winning chef of Tim Palmer of Velvet Glove at the Fairmont.  A second Winnipeg chef, Terry Gereta of Mise, also chose it to pair with his dish.

The second runner up was Sandhill 2011 Chardonnay from the Okanagan Valley, a lovely rich yet balanced oak-aged chardonnay served to all 500 guests at the Celebration.  It was joined by Wayne Gretzky 2011 Cabernet Syrah, both being from the portfolio of Andrew Peller Ltd,  this year’s National Celebration Wine Sponsor.  Peller also provided Trius 2102 Sauvignon Blanc, Sandhill 2012 Merlot and Red Rooster 2011 Pinot Blanc to the VIP Reception.

Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries is also a major sponsor in Winnipeg, the only provincial liquor board to be supporting our Olympic athletes through direct product donation. As well as helping some of the chefs this year, they also donated Sibling Rivalry 2012 Red to the Celebration, which was specifically matched to a black forest cake. And as a dry wine it worked very well.

In Winnipeg I was joined at the judges table by two rising stars of the local wine scene. Andrea Eby is a sommelier, wine consultant and educator at Banville & Jones Wine Company, a private wine retailer.  She is a contributing editor of the Cellar Door magazine, secretary of the Manitoba Chapter of the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers and an instructor of wine at Red River College.

Stephanie Mills is a Product Consultant for the Manitoba Liquor Marts, currently at the Grant Park location. She won the Wine Taster of the Year award from the Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries after completing her studies with the International Sommelier Guild. She developed her passion for wine while travelling in Europe in 2006, and there is no looking back.

The judging process involved each judge ranking their top five wines. After the virtual unanimity of our first three selections we began to differ on the remaining contenders. The following all received at least one placement in the top five:  Megalomaniac 2011 Riesling; Stratus 2011 Wildass White, Burrowing Owl 2010 Merlot and Flat Rock 2010 Pinot Noir.

Last year Winnipeg chefs served three different brews, this year only Chef Jason Sopel of Chaise Café & Lounge went that route serving hearty perogies with a dark savoury Muskoka Beard Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout.

All in all it was a strong showing for Canadian wine in Winnipeg, which due to its midway point in the country has the best balanced selection of wines from both sides of the country.

Onward to Toronto.