Archive for the ‘Gold Medal Plates’ Category

Saskatoon Gold Medal Plates

22 Nov

It took almost an entire day for the GMP team to get from Victoria’s Indian summer to winter in Saskatoon. I’m not complaining. I was in excellent company. And there were just enough minutes to check in to the hotel, change and get to Prairieland Park in time to greet old friends. It was a spectacular event and a fitting denouement to a rip-roaring tour. This time, Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue shared MC duties – brilliantly, I must add – while, musically speaking, we were privileged to welcome the core of this year’s campaign: Jim Cuddy, Anne Lindsay, Colin Cripps, Jim’s two sons, Sam Polley and Devin Cuddy, and special guest Danny Michel. They played and sang with such verve and energy the crowd had no choice but to give a standing ovation.

They did the same thing for our gold medal-winning chef, chosen by a tip-top judiciary panel led by our Saskatoon Senior Judge, writer, caterer and dining columnist for Planet S magazine, Noelle Chorney, together with poet, author, restaurateur and co-founder of Slow Food Saskatoon, dee Hobsbawn-Smith; chef and restaurateur Megan MacDonald of Sushiro and Duck Duck Goose; chef and culinary instructor Michael Beaulé; chef, restaurateur, educator and food guru Moe Mathieu; and of course last year’s gold medal winner, Chef Chris Hill of the Delta Bessborough hotel. It was a pleasure spending the evening with such fine palates and such discerning minds. In every city, the team of judges we assemble – volunteers all – do a difficult task superbly well. Looking back on this campaign, I feel enormously proud of the network of 60-or-so expert gastronomes who judge for Gold Medal Plates. Taken together, they comprise Canada’s most qualified and extraordinary culinary college.

Darby Kells won bronze

Darby Kells won bronze

But the chefs…! We awarded the bronze medal to Darby Kells of Riverdale Deli and Capanna. He called his dish “farm to plate” and it was as pretty as a garden with edible flower petals, tiny “thinning” carrots as slender as a pencil lead, and a host of other scattered morsels – lightly pickled mushrooms, crispy carrot dimes and green sprouts and herbs. All of these lay on a mound of edible soil,which piqued the interest of one of our judges who is a self-confessed albeit part-time geophagist, but turned out to be made not of actual loam but a crumble of dehydrated mushrooms, breadcrumbs and roasted cocoa that tasted most strongly of porcini. Chef finished the garden with a sprayed-on mist of white truffle oil and porcini stock. Meanwhile there was a mighty protein in this dainty Eden – a pork tenderloin cooked sous vide and sauced with a reduction of pork bone stock browned with lactose powder. Chef Kells’s chosen wine was a good match – a minerally 2012 Pinot Noir from Orofino Winery in B.C.’s Similkameen Valley.

Scott Torgerson took silver

Scott Torgerson took silver

Scott Torgerson of the Radisson hotel won our silver medal with a succulent brined and hay-smoked pheasant breast glazed with a super-subtle birch syrup. This golden-skinned meat sat on a soft, warm pillow of foie gras mousse, lapped by a little pool of pheasant jus. Baby patty pan and crookneck squashes and a tangy pearl onion were the bird’s adorable sidekicks, nesting amidst fried fennel fronds and strewn with hemp hearts and crushed hazelnuts. To compliment these delicate woodsy flavours, Chef presented the 2014 Grand Reserve Chardonnay from Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate in Oliver, B.C., an excellent decision.

Gold for Darren Craddock (again). Thanks to Noelle Chorley for the image!

Gold for Darren Craddock (again). Thanks to Noelle Chorley for the image!


Who won the last gold medal of our campaign? For the sixth time this year it ended up around the neck of a chef who has won before: Darren Craddock of Riverside Country Club. He chose to work local Golden Prairies wild boar, starting with a drum of the neck meat cooked sous vide and subtly scented with a version of five-spice powder. The meat had the texture of a top-quality sausage, nicely contrasted by the boar’s other incarnation as a beautifully textured pork belly cooked for 48 hours and glazed with birch syrup. Chef played to the natural sweetness of the meat in a number of sophisticated and delectable ways – tiny pearls of cherry mead and a cube of wobbly cherry jelly. Chunks of marinated and another gel from crab apples. Sunchoke chips and a stripe of apple gastrique spiked with cardamom and cinnamon. Seedlings of peppery baby mazuma and chard brought a fresh, chlorophyl edge to the plate. The necessary acidic contrast came from a terrific mustard infused with the chosen wine. There were a lot of flavours happening on the plate – eating it was an exciting adventure – but the wine rose to the challenge, gliding amiably around the palate, quarrelling with nothing and finding real affinity with the apple moments in the dish – the crisp, lightly acidic 2010 Trebbiano from Hester Creek Estate Winery in the Okanagan.

So there you have it. Bravo Chef Craddock! The line-up for the Canadian Culinary Championship is now complete, and it is going to be a hell of a contest! Here are the gold medallists from each city (an asterisk means that chef has won before). We will be welcoming them to Kelowna in February to find and celebrate the next Canadian Culinary Champion.

St. John’s        *Roger Andrews – Relish Gourmet Burgers

Ottawa                        *Marc Lepine – Atelier

Toronto           Stuart Cameron – Byblos

Calgary            Matthew Batey – The Nash Restaurant & Off Cut Bar

Halifax                        *Martín Ruiz Salvador – Fleur de Sel

Regina             *Jonathan Thauberger – Crave kitchen & wine bar

Edmonton       *Jan Trittenbach – Solstice Seasonal Cuisine

Winnipeg         Norm Pastorin – The Cornerstone

Montreal          Guillaume Cantin – Les 400 Coups

Victoria           Alex Chen – Boulevard Kitchen and Oyster Bar

Saskatoon        *Darren Craddock – Riverside Country Club


Saskatoon Wine Report

By Rob Dobson

Regrettably, David Lawrason, the National Wine Advisor for Gold Medal Plates, had to miss the Saskatoon event. He was in Toronto, teaching a group of potential sommeliers. If you have seen the movie Somm, David was being the distinguished, rather stern-looking gentleman asking the trembling candidates to name nine Croatian grape varieties.   Who could begrudge him that kind of fun?!

Capably stepping in for David as acting head judge was Robert Peterson-Wakeman, one of Saskatoon’s finest palates. Filling out our panel were Dawn Wreford, the WSET-trained, head purchaser for Saskatoon’s excellent Co-op Wine and Spirits store; Derek Morrison, a London, England-based wine professional who was born in Saskatoon; winemaker and Champagne-lover Gavin Jensen and myself, Rob Dobson, wine writer and Certified Wine Educator.

The wine judging portion of Gold Medal Plates recognizes the excellence and generosity of those Canadian wineries, brewers and distillers who support the GMP cause by donating their products. A shout-out also goes to the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority who have made it possible for Saskatoon’s competing chefs to source from Canada’s best wines, beers and spirits. Consequently, Gold Medal Plates has become a spectacular opportunity to experience some of Canada’s very best culinary, musical and oenological talents, while supporting our Olympic athletes. The judging process also subjects the wines to the same friendly spirit of competition that the participating chefs endure and that our Olympic athletes live for.

Saskatoon’s chefs seem to favour British Columbia wines, as there were eight represented. Two very fine wines from Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula were also poured and, as seems to be a growing trend in culinary competitions, a complex locally-crafted beer was matched with one of the dishes.

On to the judging.

The Bronze Medal went to Hester Creeks’ 2014 Old Vines Block 16 Trebbiano. This is Canada’s only commercially available Trebbiano and it is made from a small block of vines that were brought to British Columbia’s Golden Mile Bench from Italy about 40 years ago. Trebbiano is an under-appreciated white grape variety that is used to produce much of Italy’s inexpensive table wine. However, in this case, it has been elaborated into a surprisingly rich wine, with tropical fruit flavours and a long, mineral-infused finish. It was a beautiful match to Chef Darren Craddock’s Gold Medal-winning wild boar dish. This wine was my personal favorite of the evening and I will be rooting for this dark horse when it goes to Kelowna to compete with the heavyweights at the Canadian Culinary Championships.

As our Silver Medalist, we chose the 2012 Home Vineyard Pinot Noir from Orofino Winery in the Similkameen Valley in British Columbia. Orofino has established a track record for producing world-class wines and the winery belongs to a young couple from Saskatchewan, John and Virginia Weber. On this evening, their 2012 Pinot showed lovely varietally-correct aromas with a tight core of focused red fruit. This wine had a sense of energy and precision that won the judges over. It also made it onto the culinary podium as a foil to Chef Darby Kells’ Bronze Medal pork tenderloin dish.

This year’s Best of Show award went to the 2012 LaStella Fortissimo. LaStella is situated in southern British Columbia on Osoyoos Lake. Being in the warmer part of the province allows them to fully ripen their red wine grapes. LaStella Fortissimo is their riff on the Super-Tuscan style of wine and they have pulled it off magnificently. All of the judges loved it. This wine is a blend of 39% Merlot, 38% Cabernet Franc, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon with the balance being Sangiovese. This big red offered luscious flavours of chocolate, anise and pepper. The Merlot gives it richness, the Cab Franc keeps it fresh, the beautifully-resolved tannins of the Cabernet Sauvignon contribute a velvety mouthfeel and the Sangiovese adds a crisp finish. Very much a complete wine. Bella!

Saskatoon was the last stop on the 2015 Gold Medal Plates campaign until the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna next February. Much like the final gig on a rock band’s tour, there was an elevated level of energy among the athletes, chefs, guests and volunteers who began the party to the outstanding music of recent Order of Canada recipient Jim Cuddy along with Colin Cripps, Anne Lindsay, Danny Michel, Devon Cuddy, Sam Polley and then continued late into the evening at the lively after-party that Saskatoon has become famous for.

Thanks to the producers who generously donated the following wines and beer in support of the Saskatoon event:

Stoneboat Vineyards Piano Brut, Okanagan Valley, BC

Hester Creek Estate Winery, 2014 Old Vines Trebbiano, Okanagan Valley, BC

Kevin O’Leary 2013 Unoaked Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula, ON

Tinhorn Creek 2013 Chardonnay, Oliver, BC

Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate 2014 Grand Reserve Chardonnay, BC

Orofino Winery 2012 Home Vineyard Pinot Noir, Similkameen Valley, BC

Summerhill Pyramid Winery 2012 Baco Noir, Okanagan Valley, BC

Red Rooster Winery 2013 Hen House Ruffled Red, Cabernet Franc/Merlot, Okanagan Valley, BC

Kacaba Vineyards 2012 Cabernet/Syrah, Niagara Peninsula, ON

LaStella Winery 2012 Fortissimo, Okanagan Valley, BC

Prairie Sun Brewery 2015 Batch 88 Oyster Stout, Saskatoon, SK



Victoria Gold Medal Plates 2015

22 Nov

Our fearless leader, Stephen Leckie, is wont to describe Gold Medal Plates’s Victoria event as one of the country’s great parties, the western equivalent to GMP St. John’s, and I’m not about to disagree. A storm had blown in off the Pacific the night before, taking down power lines, but all was restored by Thursday and a warm sun shone down from a placid blue sky as our super-efficient local and national teams set up the show in the Victoria Conference Centre. It turned out to be a superb evening, with Curt Harnett in top form as MC and the great Adam Kreek interviewing the dozens of athletes in attendance. And the music! We had our largest band ever on stage – and surely the entire room was on its feet dancing and pogoing when John Mann sang “Home for a Rest.” Up there with him was Jim Cuddy, Matthew Harder, Barney Bentall, Anne Lindsay, Sam Polley, Dustin Bentall, as well as Spirit of the West’s Tobin Frank on accordion and Daniel Lapp on trumpet and fiddle.

The culinary side of things was every bit as exciting. We invited chefs from across British Columbia, including a strong contingent from Vancouver, and each one of them brought his A game. For the judges, this meant much pleasure and delight braided into the night’s work and we had fun at our table, tasting in a private room away from the madding crowd. The panel is a most impressive line-up, led by our joint Chiefs of staff for British Columbia, Senior Judge Sid Cross – one of Canada’s great authorities on food and wine – and Senior Judge Andrew Morrison, author, critic and editor-in-chief of Scout Magazine, together with writer, editor and culinary judge Shelora Sheldan; hotelier, restaurateur and recipient of the Nation’s Table Governor General’s award, Dr. Sinclair Philip; sommelier, chef, writer and founder of EAT magazine, Gary Hynes; and of course last year’s gold medal-wining chef, Kristian Eligh of Hawksworth.

Ned Bell's tribute to the shoreline

Ned Bell’s tribute to the shoreline

We awarded the bronze medal to Ned Bell of YEW seafood + bar at the Four Seasons Hotel, Vancouver, the only chef in the history of Gold Medal Plates who has competed in three different cities – Calgary, Vancouver and Victoria. He built his dish around his chosen wine, the 2014 Stella Maris from Sea Star Vineyards on Pender Island. It’s a dry, crisp, aromatic white blend of five grapes – Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Schoenberger and Ortega, and Chef Bell echoed this with five kinds of shellfish, all freshly shucked at his station and piled into two mounds on the plate. The freshness and quality of the seafood was impeccable – thick slices of sweet raw Great Bear scallop with a dusting of grated scallop roe “bottarga;” mussels and clams, briefly steamed and then even more briefly marinated; a whole oyster in its shell topped with a creamy oyster emulsion; gorgeous, juicy side stripe shrimp poached for seconds in a broth of kelp and ocean aromatics… This variety of textures and flavours was nicely set off by dabs of tangy crab apple butter and then finished with a covering of foam made by reducing the cooking liquid for the mussels and clams and adding some cucumber for freshness. The final touch was a pair of tiny cucumber and lime meringues, one for the top of each billowing mound. “I wanted to show off the ingredients in their cleanest form,” said Chef Bell, “but adding components that naturally blend together with the Stella Maris. I imagined the waves crashing, the froth and aroma of the ocean at the foot of the vineyard on Pender Island with the shellfish and seafood only steps away…”

Chris Whittaker's hearty tortellini

Chris Whittaker’s hearty tortellini

Chris Whittaker of Forage, in Vancouver, won the silver medal. His dish looked relatively simple on the plate but it offered a huge depth of irresistible flavours and accomplished the technical challenge of cooking fresh, tender pasta for 600 guests without batting an eyelid. Whittaker is a chef who honours and makes much of his suppliers and was proud to explain that some of the produce on the dish came from Covert Farms, in Oliver, in the Okanagan, which was also the source for his chosen wine, the ripe, dense 2012 Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. There was a sliver of Covert Farms onion at the bottom of the dish and Covert Farms potato crackling on top – like brittle shards of crispy bacon. The main event was a giant tortellini, warm, soft and delectable, filled with a profoundly flavourful ragout of Turtle Valley bison heart and tongue, braised to perfect tenderness. For extra moisture and richness, Chef had added a little bison liver mousse and then reduced and strained the braising liquid to a topaz-coloured jus. A wee dab of tomato jam on top of the pasta added sly acidity but the crowning glory were some juicy yellowfoot chanterelles. A single leaf of sheep sorrel was bright green feather in the cap. This was a dish, agreed the judges, that you would want to eat all the time, that would be a star on any restaurant menu.

Alex Chen's head-to-tail terrine

Alex Chen’s head-to-tail terrine

Our gold medal went to Alex Chen of Boulevard Kitchen and Oyster Bar in Vancouver. Seeking to “evoke a sense of Autumn and Balance,” he presented a warm terrine of head-to-tail pork. There was a long, rectangular slice on each plate like an extraordinarily beautiful mosaic studded with crimson pork tenderloin, morels of jowl, crunchy ear and tender tongue as well as nubbins of foie gras torchon and perigord truffle, all bound in a herb-flecked matrix of pork farce. Beside this multi-textural slice were complimentary elements – a whole glossy chestnut as shiny as Christmas; celery that had been seasoned with a lemon vinaigrette and then compressed (adding lovely freshness); a tiny dome of gelee in which floated pickled mustard seeds and flecks of charred leek; a single blood sorrel leaf. Chef had made a glorious jus for his warm terrine, starting with the pork juices but then adding oxtail, bonito, dried mushroom and parmesan until it was an umame bomb, strained and purified but not reduced so far as to be sticky. All of this was contained most precisely between two lines of brown butter-carrot purée, as precisely drawn as a railway track. The wine match was one of the best of the evening – the stunning 2012 Henricsson Vineyard Pinot Noir from Foxtrot Vineyards in Naramata.

Congratulations to Alex Chen – see you in Kelowna next February! And congratulations to all the chefs and their teams, who performed magnificently. It was a terrific evening and it has produced a most worthy champion.


Victoria Wine Report

Foxtrot Pinot Noir Takes it All in B.C. by David Lawrason

A textbook Naramata pinot noir waltzed off with two top honours at the Victoria edition of Gold Medal Plates, winning Best Wine of Show as well as accompany gold medal winning chef Alex Chen of Boulevard Kitchen and Oyster Bar to the podium. The gorgeously appointed Foxtrot Vineyards 2012 Henricsson Vineyard Pinot Noir placed in the top two of all five judges, sporting wonderful cherry fragrance beautifully integrated with oak accents. On top of which it showed great depth of flavour.

It stole the thunder in a very strong line-up of wines. In second spot, and again garnering votes from all five judges, came the impeccably balanced if not hugely powerful CC. Jentch 2013 The Chase, a blend of merlot and cabernet from the Okanagan Valley’s newly-minted Golden Mile Bench appellation. In third spot came Tinhorn Creek’s 2014 Gewurztraminer, a particularly fragrant and focused dry edition that has placed in other cities as well. Both runners-up were served during the Celebration portion of the evening.

The Best of Show Award is designed to showcase all the wines donated to the event (a complete list is below). In Victoria five judges gathered before the event to taste, rate and discuss the wines, beers and cocktails poured by the chefs, and donated to the VIP Reception and Celebration.

Three of the five judges were from Victoria. Sharon McLean is a leading wine educator teaching WSET and a partner in the Cru Consultancy with Treve Ring. Brent Muller is deep into his WSET studies and helping prepare for the imminent opening of Vessel Liquor Store. Daniel Stiefvater is a sommelier with Trialto Wines, one of Canada’s leading wine agencies.   And from Vancouver we were joined by Sid Cross, a legendary wine taster and long-time judge of Canadian wine with the former Canadian Wine Awards. Sid doubled us as a culinary judge at the event as well.

There was great diversity across the line-up this night, with an even split of white and red wines. I was particularly intrigued by the range and quality of the “alternative” whites. There were no chardonnays, pinot gris or rieslings this night, showing a willingness by the BC chef community to venture into other less well known varieties that have a strong future in the province. I was very taken by the Joie Farm 2014 Muscat and a semillon by a new Okanagan winery called The Hatch.

But I was also intrigued by two Vancouver Island whites. Sea Star 2014 Stella Maris – which took a bronze medal after being thoughtfully paired with shellfish by veteran chef Ned Bell of YEW seafood + bar at the Vancouver Four Seasons – is a very finely tuned Alsatian-style blend of five local varieties including pinot gris, gewürztraminer, ortega and schoenberger – all grown on Pender Island. And from the Cowichan Valley came an exotic petit milo, a newly developed hybrid from the Blattner family of Swiss hybrids.

The Vancouver Island theme continued very strongly through the selection of fine beers from Vancouver Island Brewing, and in three different gin-based cocktails from local distillers. We were of course on home court of Victoria Gin, a national sponsor of Gold Medal Plates. But a new bourbon-barrel-aged gin from DeVine served by chef Castro Boetang turned the judges heads. Another cocktail by Okanagan Spirits Gin also wowed – an exotic beauty based on West Coast Spice Vermouth, blackcurrant, orange and juniper bitters.

Silver medal chef Chris Whittaker took the biggest red to the podium, a whopping, texturally very rich, organically grown 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon by Covert Hills of Oliver. And Gold medal chef Alex Chen, brilliantly matched the Foxtrot Pinot to a head-to-tail pork terrine, earning Foxtrot a berth at the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna in February.

Here is a complete list of the Victoria wines, beers and spirits presented in judges tasting order.

Stoneboat Piano Brut Okanagan, BC

Sea Star Vineyards 2014 Stella Maris Pender Island, BC

Unsworth Vineyards 2014 Vintners Selection Petit Milo, Mill Bay, BC

Fairview Cellars 2014 Sauvignon Blanc Golden Mile Bench, Oliver BC

The Hatch 2014 ‘hobo series’ Semillon Kelowna, BC

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards 2014 Gewürztraminer

Joie Farm 2014 Muscat, Naramata Bench, BC

Fairview 2013 Crooked Post Pinot Noir, Golden Mile Bench, Oliver BC

Summerhill 2013 Organic Pinot Noir, Okanagan Valley, BC

Foxtrot Vineyards 2012 Henricsson Vineyard Pinot Noir Naramata, BC

Calliope Figure 8 2014 Red, Okanagan Valley, BC

Hester Creek Block 3 Cabernet Franc Reserve, Okanagan Valley, BC

CC Jentsch Cellars 2013 “The Chase” Golden Mile Bench, BC

Covert Farms 2012 Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Oliver, BC

Victoria Gin Classic Gin Martini

DeVine New Tom Barrel-Aged Gin Old Fashion Saanich, BC

Vancouver Island Brewery Islander Lager

Vancouver Island Brewery Mile High

Vancouver Island Brewery Hermann’s Dark Lager









Montreal Gold Medal Plates 2015

17 Nov

Things are done differently in Montreal. Instead of a Gold Medal Plates gala, we join together with our national sponsor, Deloitte, and our friends from Montreal Impact, gather 100 guests and set off to tour the city. We are divided into five groups; we visit five restaurants; we reassemble and the party goes on while the judges confer. In the end, the medals are announced and the new Montreal GMP champion is crowned. That’s how it went down last night – at five very different, very sophisticated restos. We were joined by Olympians Isabelle Charest and Jen-Luc Brassard and by Impact stars Hassoun Camara, Cameron Porter and Maxim Tissot, and everyone agreed the evening was a splendid success. Indeed, the only dissent was in the judges’ room after the dishes were tasted, when we discovered that our gallant and hard-working judiciary – Robert Beauchemin (Senior Judge for Montreal), and writers Gildas Meneu, Rollande Desbois and yours truly –differed quite markedly in our assessment of the chefs. Debate was necessary, and even when we had come to a result upon which we all agreed, only one quarter of a percentage point separated gold from silver. It was as close as any 100-metre dash in the Olympics.

Dany Bolduc won bronze

Dany Bolduc won bronze

We awarded our bronze medal to Dany Bolduc of H4C who offered a delicate dish, exquisitely presented and full of subtle harmonies. A perfectly cylindrical canneloni stood on its end at one side of the plate like a glossy, four-inch, ivory-coloured tower. The pasta was so thin and soft you could almost break it by looking at it and inside we found a soft, subtle scallop mousse. Beside this was a slice of raw hamachi, partially rolled and set on its side – the fish’s natural sweetness and richness perfectly matched that of the scallop. A streak of white horseradish crème fraîche echoed the softness of the mousse and also cradled a teaspoonful of Northern Divine sturgeon caviar from British Columbia. Tiny dots of watercress purée and green apple butter stood at a decorous distance from the proteins; a brunoise of celeriac and a scattered pinch of powdered bonito finished the plate. Chef had found an excellent match for his ethereal flavours – the zingy, bright, off-dry Stratus 2014 Riesling from Niagara.

Takeshi Horinoue won silver

Takeshi Horinoue won silver

We gave our silver medal to Takeshi Horinoue of Lavanderia, a restaurant owned by last year’s gold medal winer, Antonio Park (a connection which Chef Park felt prevented him from joining us as a judge). This, too, was a dish of unabashedly soft tetures, centred upon a little block of Gaspor farm piglet flank, cooked sous vide until the white fat layers were trembling, the leaner meat barely blushing pink, then finished in the oven to give the skin a marvellous crunchy, chewy, sticky glaze. Two purées nestled up to the pork like discarded silk blankets – one of kabocha squash, the other a chorizo mousse. Hidden beneath them lurked a ragout of juicy corn kernels and white haricot beans poached in coconut milk. A farofa of dried and crumbled yucca flour was scattered lightly over a corner of the dish and there were two sauces – a subtle green thyme oil and gastrique made from the piglet’s own juices. Softness, richness, an underlying sweetness… The wine Chef chose seemed bold by comparison – the gorgeous 2012 Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay from Hidden Bench in Niagara.

Gold for Guillaume Cantin

Gold for Guillaume Cantin

We hung our gold medal around the neck of Guillaume Cantin from Les 400 Coups. His dish might be described as a very suave take on pork and beans but it would be better to approach it from the same direction in which it was created, by starting with a consideration of the accompanying beverage. This was a fascinating beer called À Table! from Brasseur du Monde de Saint-Hyacinthe, a local micro-brewery. A reddish ale with a healthy sparkle, it includes 16 herbs and botanicals in the recipe, which together lend it a citrussy, hoppy complexity I found most compelling. Chef had tasted this beer closely and identified flavours in it that he then worked into his dish. But first, the pork – a thick slice of shoulder of suckling pig, cooked to a pink rareness and touched with a maple lacquer that avoided excessive sweetness and let the flavour of the meat shine through. Flanking this stood two tiny drums of boudin noir, soft and moist inside a delicate crust. Field peas, baked to an old recipe with motes of bacon cured from the piglet’s cheek, lay alongside, still firm enough to offer textural contrast; a compote of saskatoon berries played the role of ketchup, adding a gentle tang that cut the maple sweetness. Chef spoke of sunchokes and there they were – three slivers, the size of loonies, lightly pickled. Fragments of butter nut were strewn about to add their own nutty flavour and another textural shift. The final touch were some fresh tarragon leaves – another note Chef had found in the beer. It was a surprisingly complex dish when you analyzed what was going on but its true quality emerged when you put a bit of everything on the fork and tucked in.

So we have our Montreal champion. He will head to Kelowna in February! And now only two cities remain – Victoria and Saskatoon. I can’t wait.


















St. John’s Gold Medal Plates 2015

13 Nov

It is one of the happiest of all life’s coincidences that Gold Medal Plates St. John’s almost always takes place on my birthday. It’s a very good place to celebrate an anniversary, and a splendid group of friends to share it with, especially when the occasion is something of a milestone. One highlight was being called on stage so that the band could sing Happy Birthday to me – thank you, Jim Cuddy, Sam Roberts, Anne Lindsay, Colin Cripps and Devin Cuddy! They were all in very fine voice, thrilling the sold-out crowd at the Delta with the rest of their performances and helping to sell a ton of trips. The incomparable Tessa Virtue was the evening’s MC, to the delight of all, and Scott Moir conducted the interview of the athletes with great charm and energy.

Gastronomically, standards were as high as I can remember in this city that has become famous across Canada as a culinary destination. Our team of judges performed impeccably, led by our St. John’s Senior Judge, author, journalist and broadcaster Karl Wells with chef and educator Bob Arniel of Chef to Go; food writer and blogger for the Independent, Nicholas Gardner; chef, caterer and restaurant critic, Peter Gard; and last year’s gold-medal-winning chef, Mark McCrowe of Evoo.

Adam Grevatt used pork jowl

Adam Grevatt used pork jowl

Taking the bronze medal, Adam Grevatt of Blue on Water worked his chosen wine, the lightweight, frizzante, off-dry Selkie from Jost Winery in Nova Scotia, into his dish in a number of ways. His principal protein was a square of soft, unctuously fatty pork jowl sandwiched between slim layers of toasted citrus brioche – the most decadent sandwich you ever saw. Almost everything else on the plate was designed to cut such richness – and made excellent use of locl rhubarb and Nova Scotian honeycrisp apples. There was the apple balled and poached in a Selkie-infused caramel and there again as a Selkie and apple foam. Apple slaw was delightfully refreshing while an apple and parsley chip provided textural contrast. Chef had mixed the Selkie with rhubarb and formed wobbly little orbs of tangy flavour and used the rhubarb again in a ginger reduction to form a different, equally brisk purée. A final sprinkle of coriander and cardamom powder added an interesting floral note to the dish.

Roary MacPherson used local lamb

Roary MacPherson used local lamb

We awarded the silver medal to a veteran of our competition, Roary MacPherson of Oppidan. He chose local Newfoundland lamb (a hardy, exceptionally flavourful breed) as his main event, offering three different cuts. In the centre of the plate was a thick slice of the rolled, poached breast, the meat wonderfully tender and succulent. It was topped with a dab of sunchoke purée and a dense little dumpling to help mop up the juicuiness. Beside it was a mound of pulled shank meat that had been braised with a little pork and a vegetable mirepoix and now wore a crown of pickled and julienned rutabaga with pea shoots and microgreens. On the other side was a crisply coated croquette of moist lamb neck paired with a hummock of eggplant purée. The plate was painted with a broad stripe of haskap berry jus simultaneously tangy and sweetly fruity, and finished with a texturally fascinating granola of puffed rice, quinoa, oats, garam masala spices and a jaunty jalapeño jelly. It was a beautifully composed and presented dish, well matched to one of the evening’s big red wines, the Kraze Legs Merlot from Kraze Legs Vineyard and Winery in British Columbia.

Roger Andrews won gold with sea urchin

Roger Andrews won gold with sea urchin

And our gold medallist? As has been the case across the country this year, experience has been a factor in the creation of superior competition plates. Taking gold for the second time was Roger Andrews of Relish Gourmet Burgers with a dish that was elegant to look at and heaven to eat. Its main event was a rectangular slice of a trembling, moussy, honey-coloured sea urchin bavarian, its uni flavour perfectly judged. Chef had removed a round piece of the slice and set it on the other side of the plate then topped it with a teaspoonful of the splendid Acadian sturgeon caviar, topped with a curl of crisp shallot toast. The hole in the slice of bavarian was now filled with a morsel of chewy buckwheat crisp. Several elements were set out on top as a garnish, a clever play on the usual egg-and-onion accompaniments of a traditional caviar service. A tiny dome of pure white meringue represented the egg white; it was subtly flavoured with pink peppercorn and finished with three or four specks of cayenne. Playing the role of yolk were very fine shavings of a bottarga made by pressing and drying the vivid orange-coloured roes of scallops. It tasted like an amplification of the uni bavarian – such a flavour of the sea! Two curls of lightly pickled shallot stood in for the onion. The final components of the dish were three dots of rich lemon curd spaced far apart and topped with a green chive oil – optional condiments should anthing be required. Chef’s chosen wine was the best match of the evening – a lovely dry, sparkling white from Nova Scotia – Benjamin Bridge Tidal Bay.

So we now have three Nova Scotian wines coming to Kelowna in February. I suspect tey will open some eyes in the rest of Canada! And chef Roger Andrews joins the increasingly impressive roster of champions who will do battle for the ultimate title. Three cities to go! Next Monday, Montreal!


Ottawa-Gatineau Gold Medal Plates 2015

11 Nov
Marc Lepine won gold with this elegant creation

Marc Lepine won gold with this elegant creation

Ottawa is usually brumal and bitterly cold by the time Gold Medal Plates sets up there in November, but not this week! There was warmth in the sun that caught the last of the leaves in Confederation Park and put a smile on every face I passed. This is our second year in the spacious splendour of the Shaw Centre and the evening was once again totally sold out. The eager crowd loved the show (run as smoothly as butter by MCs Curt Harnett and Sylvie Bigras) and cheered like teenagers when the band began to play – Jim Cuddy, Anne Lindsay, Colin Cripps, Sam Polley and Devin Cuddy bringing the house down.

From the culinary perspective it was one of the best years I can remember in the nation’s capital, fully reflective of the exciting local restaurant scene. Our gold and silver medallists were jostling for victory right up to the tape so it was lucky we had such a great team of judges to sort things out. Leading the way was our Senior Judge, author, editor, restaurant critic, Anne DesBrisay, alongside author, television star and Canadian culinary ambassador, Margaret Dickenson; author, stylist, educator and culinary maven Pam Collacott; industry leader and owner of Thyme and Again Creative Catering, Sheila Whyte; Chairman of the Canadian Culinary Federation and executive chef of the House of Commons, Judson Simpson; and last year’s gold medal winner, Chef Patrick Garland of Absinthe Café.

Joe Thottungal took the bronze with his Keralan lamb

Joe Thottungal took the bronze with his Keralan lamb

Joe Thottungal of Coconut Lagoon won the bronze medal. He had taken note of the Rio Olympics theme and his dish was a riot of bold colours. It also featured a quenelle of yucca and coconut mash as a tribute to South America, though the rest of the flavours on the plate owed much more to the magnificent cuisine of Kerala. Front and centre was a seared lamb loin cooked with garlic, lemon juice, star anise, chickpea flour, coconut il and green chili, then roasted inside a banana leaf parcel with a tomato masala marinade ( a heavenly harmony of spices with just enough chili heat to rouse the palate). The sliced lamb was set onto the yucca-coconut mash which itself was dressed with a spoonful of vividly yellow mango curry and a spicy green bean thoran. Fresh beet purée added colour and earthy sweetness while a mustard yoghurt kichadi brought yet another subtle flavour to the party. The finishing flourish was a maple leaf made from a crisp papadom. Chef Thottungal found a really good local beer for a most impressive match – Two Flags India Pale Ale from Dominion City Brewing Company.

Jon Svazas won silver with this extraordinary emu carpaccio

Jon Svazas won silver with this extraordinary emu carpaccio

Jon Svazas of fauna won our silver medal – a first-time competitor who took some ambitious risks and brought them off brilliantly. He chose to work with Quebec emu, slicing the lean meat into a delicately flavoured, slightly sweet carpaccio as the base of his dish and moistening it with white soy-miso emulsion to bring out the latent umame in the supple, subtle flesh. He had taken egg yolks, cured and dried them until they had the texture of bottarga; now he grated this over the emu like a carpet made of soft shards of gold. He slivered lightly pickled slices of matsutake mushroom here and there, and scattered broken walnut. A nest of matsutake crackers was ethereally brittle while baby blood sorrel leaves startled the eye with their crimson veined greenery. The last touch was a generous teaspoonful of Acadian sturgeon caviar, adding its salty intensity – a different kind of egg from the cured golden yolks, but a wonderfully welcome treat. Chef Svazas’s wine was a doosey and another fine match – the 2013 Unfiltered Niagara Peninsula Chardonnay from Norman Hardie Winery in Prince Edward County.

The gold medal ws awarded to Marc Lepine of Atelier. He won gold before, you may recall, and then went on to win the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna in 2012. That victory ment he could not compete again in Gold Medal Plates for the next three years. This was his first time back and, once again, he aced it. There were many elements in his dish but by serving them in a bowl with a broth and a spoon to eat it, he ensured that flavours never reached our palates in isolation. Chef finished the dish at our table by bringing a spirit-heated cona from his station in which corn cobs were steeping in a miso and bonito broth as clear and tan as tea. This was poured into the bowl where the solid components had already been placed around the principal protein, a chunk of impeccably tender hot-smoked steelhead trout glazed with a sticky mix of molasses, miso and Newfoundland screech. Under the fish we found a loose, nutty porridge of barley and corn, the lovely, earthy, grainy flavours sharpened by crunchy coriander seed and a hint of lemon confit. There were soft little pillows of white cured pork belly and pieces of tender golden beet. Dill fronds brought a fresh herbal note and tiny smoked cinnamon cap mushrooms a fleeting impression of swetness and acidity. Chef had transformed carrot into flakes with the texture of bonito and he fnished the dish with a dramatic hoop made from a tuile batter scented with toasted fennel and coriander seed that rose up above the bowl like a crisp bracelet. An orchestra of flavours and textures – but playing sublimely harmonious music. Chef Lepine found a stellar wine for his match – the 2012 “Le Grand Clos” Chardonnay from Le Clos Jordanne in Niagara.

So the roster of talent heading to Kelowna in February continues to grow with another returning champion throwing his toque into the ring. It’s beginning to look as if it will be a true battle royale.

























Toronto Gold Medal Plates 2015

06 Nov


Victor Barry's amazing carrot

Victor Barry’s amazing carrot

Oh my goodness, what a great party that was!! Last night at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Gold Medal Plates threw an amazing shindig – as smooth a ride as the new BMW we’re giving to the chef who wins the Championship next February, but with even more energy. Curt Harnett was our MC, the effervescent Marnie McBean interviewed (count ’em) 26 other athletes, while the whole idea of the Rio Olympics was expressed with a riot of feathered dancers, martial artists and drumming. And the band played on, to the delight of the sold-out crowd of 760 guests – Jim Cuddy, Royal Wood, Anne Lindsay, Colin Cripps, Devon Cuddy and Sam Polley totally rocking the house.

The food was no less spectacular, including delectable Scottish oysters, smoked eel and other marine delights at Patrick MacMurray’s extravagant raw bar – a non-competing addition to the event that created line-ups as long as any. The judges, of course, do not wait in line; dishes are brought to us at our splendid table behind the velvet rope while the accompanying wines are poured. It’s all very civilized. Last night’s posse had a fine old time, led by yours truly and acting Senior Judge Chef John Higgins, culinary director of George Brown College, flanked by the keen palates of author, educator and gastronomic guru Lucy Waverman; chef and genius of the airwaves Christine Cushing; author, journalist and culinary maven Amy Rosen; our special guest judge, gourmet extraordinaire Geddy Lee of Rush; and last year’s Toronto Gold Medal Plates champion, Chef John Horne.

The dishes we encountered were among the most imaginative of the year so far and four or five chefs could have made it onto the podium behind our gold medallist, who was a clear and unanimous winner. When the dust settled, we found our bronze medal going to a man who has won it before, Victor Barry of Splendido. His bold creation was a vegetarian treat – a perfect purple carrot, slow-roasted for five hours with butter, thyme and garlic then bathed in a gastrique of ginger, honey and coriander. Sprinkled with a crunchy granola of pumpkin seeds and coriander, it offered a deep quintessential carrot flavour, simultaneously, fragrant, earthy and sweet. Chef crowned the carrot with an equally fragrant cloud of orange foam and set it beside a deep-fried cracker decorated with dots of gingered date purée and spiced pumpkin purée, their soft textures delightfully at odds with the cracker’s chicharon-like crispness. The final element was a dollop of pungently smokey crème fraîche which held a puddle of pumpkin seed oil. It was all very autumnal and nicely contrasted by the incisive acidity of Hidden Bench’s excellent 2013 Estate Riesling, one of Niagara’s finest.

Damon Campbell's awesome lamb neck

Damon Campbell’s awesome lamb neck

We awarded the silver medal – for the third time in as many years – to Damon Campbell of Bosk at the Shangri-La hotel. He arrived at the judging table with a whole lamb’s neck on a carving board to show us what had been sliced and plated under the cloches set down by the servers. When they were lifted away the heavenly scent of the lamb was released – the braised neck amazingly tender and succulent. Beneath it was a mound of grains that looked like a risotto but was made from toasted wheat berry, rye berry and spelt, moisted with a hay cream and strewn with a brunoise of smoked lamb’s tongue. Chef had made a stunning copper-coloured crisp out of parsnip “bark” and scattered it with a few fresh white rings of shaved kohlrabi and piquant pink petals of pickled shallot. It was a profoundly delicious dish with its own suave rusticity, well paired with the 2012 Cabernet Franc from Stratus Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Stuart Cameron's exotic, fragrant quail

Stuart Cameron’s exotic, fragrant quail

Our gold medal went to a chef who has never before competed in Gold Medal Plates, Stuart Cameron of Byblos. He chose to work with quail, pressing two breasts together, cooking them sous vide then crisping the golden skin around the perfectly moist, wonderfully sapid meat. Beside the quail lay a tan-coloured borek the size of a Russian cigarette, a crisp tube filled with almost-liquid foie gras mousse. A dab of rose jam added exotic, floral aromatics – as did the colourful dried flower petals that were an integral part of the crunchy pistachio gremolata that shared the plate. The sauce was reduced from the quail juices spiked with orange flower water and the finishing touch was a tiny purple pepper blossom on the golden quail skin. It was a fascinating dish, full of subtle perfumes and unexpected textures, brilliantly matched with a similarly scented wine, the 2013 Nova 7 from Benjamin Bridge in Nova Scotia, an off-dry sparkler made from seven different varieties of Muscat.

So hats off to Chef Cameron, who will be travelling to Kelowna in February to compete in the Canadian Culinary Championship. I have no idea if he will choose to reprise his gold-medal dish there – there is no compulsion to do so. If he doesn’t, we’ll just have to go to Byblos and pray it’s on the menu there. Next week, Ottawa and St. John’s!

And now here is David Lawrason’s Wine Report for our Toronto event

A Record Breaking Night For GMP Wine

Not only was the 760-strong crowd one of the largest and most generous of the year, the Toronto event cemented wine records as well. It boasted the largest number of different wines donated to a Gold Medal Plates (16 – see the list below). It boasted the largest, most illustrious cadre of ten wine judges, and it was the first time that we have served wines from Canada’s five leading wine appellations. From east to west they were: Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley, Ontario’s Prince Edward County, the Niagara Peninsula, Lake Erie North Shore and B.C.’s Okanagan Valley. As Canada’s largest showcase for Canadian wine, it has always been my mission to have the breadth of the country’s wine on display.

But it was the lone B.C. wine – Osoyoos-Larose 2010 Grand Vin – that carried off the Best of Show Award. This is a wine that has come to define the highest aspiration of Bordeaux-style wine in Canada, a merlot-based blend of estate-grown varieties grown on bench lands above the border town of Osoyoos. It was established 15 years ago as a joint venture between former Vincor Canada and Groupe Taillan of Bordeaux, but now is wholly owned by the latter, with a young French winemaking team at the helm. The 2010 showed impressive depth and structure against its peers this night, garnering four first place votes and two seconds. It sells for $40 to $45 in most Canadian provinces.

The strong runner up placed in the top five of seven judges. It was the Stratus 2012 Cabernet Franc, an intense, firm and fragrant red that will continue to age nicely for another ten years of more. And in third position we had a tie between two always popular whites – the intense, dry Hidden Bench 2013 Riesling from Niagara’s Beamsville Bench and the racy, taut Norman Hardie 2014 Calcaire from Prince Edward County. Other wines that came within a hair’s breadth in the judging included the complex and profound Malivoire 2012 Mottiar Chardonnay and the impeccably balanced Cave Spring 2013 Dolomite Riesling (my personal favourite)

The Best of Show Wine Award was created to gain exposure for the dozens of wines donated to Gold Medal Plates by Canadian wineries. Not only does the program highlight the wines it gives them exposure to some of the leading wine writers, judges, educators, sommeliers and retailers in the country.

In Toronto I called on ten of my friends and colleagues – the crème de la crème of Toronto’s wine writing and education community – and all responded. From WineAlign my close friends and National Wine Awards Judges included John Szabo, Master Sommelier; Sara d’Amato, President of the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers, Michael Godel, wordsmith extraordinaire and Margaret Swaine, one of the most prolific and well-travelled wine and spirits writers in the country.

We were also joined by Tony Aspler, founder of the Ontario Wine Awards, author of many books on Canadian wine, Order of Canada recipient and my friend and mentor of over 30 years. Michael Vaughan of Vintages Assessments has been writing about wine in Toronto just as long. Carolyn Evans-Hammond has just recently been named the new wine columnist for the Toronto Star. And we also welcomed Zoltan Szabo, a palate and gentleman about town extraordinaire.

This night we had a record number of wineries donating to our Celebration. Guests did not have all the same wines on their tables but this was by design in the spirit of diversity. The line-up included O’Leary 2013 Unwooded Chardonnay, Malivoire 2012 Mottiar Chardonnay, Fielding 2013 Viognier, Malivoire 2013 Courtney 2013 Gamay, Kacaba 2012 Cabernet Syrah, Colio Bricklayer Small Lot 2012 Syrah, Chateau des Charmes 2012 St. David’s Vineyard Merlot and Henry of Pelham 2014 Baco Noir.

The Best of Show Wine Awards program is all about the wines, but other wines rose to the top when it came to the chef pairings. Gold Medal Chef Stuart Cameron of Byblos will be taking Nova Scotia’s Nova 7 to the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna. Silver medalist Damon Campbell of Bosk at the Shangri-La chose to match his Cumbrae lamb with Stratus 2012 Cabernet Franc. And Bronze medalist Victor Barry’s very excellent five hour carrot was beautifully paired with Hidden Bench 2013 Riesling.

Here is the portfolio of wines served in Toronto 2015, presented in tasting order as presented to the judges.

The Whites

Benjamin Bridge 2013 Nova 7, Nova Scotia

Norman Hardie 2014 Calcaire, Prince Edward County

Cave Spring 2013 Dolomite Riesling, Niagara Peninsula

Hidden Bench 2013 Riesling. Beamsville Bench

O’Leary 2013 Unwooded Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula

Grange of Prince Edward County 2012 Chardonnay Select, Prince Edward County

Malivoire 2013 Mottiar Chardonnay. Niagara Peninsula

Pearl Morrisette 2012 Chardonnay Cuvee Dix-Neuvieme, Niagara Peninsula

Fielding 2013 Viognier, Niagara Peninsula

The Reds

Malivoire 2013 Courtney Gamay, Niagara Peninsula

Stratus 2012 Cabernet Franc, Niagara-on-the-Lake

Cave Spring 2013 Dolomite Cabernet Franc, Niagara Peninsula

Kacaba 2012 Cabernet Syrah, Niagara Peninsula

Colio Bricklayers Small Lot 2012 Syrah, Lake Erie North Shore

Chateau des Charmes 2012 St. Davids Vineyard Merlot, St.David’s Bench

Osoyoos-Larose 2010 Le Grand Vin, Okanagan Valley

Henry of Pelham 2014 Baco Noir, Ontario






















Calgary Gold Medal Plates 2015

04 Nov

On Tuesday, Calgary gave us our first intimation of winter, temperatures well below zero as we drove in from the airport, the dun-coloured prairie grass rimed white with frost. But the city centre was bustling and the exhibition halls in the Telus Centre looked unusually glamorous as the team set up the show. In the event, it was downright amazing, emceed by Curt Harnett with his customary suavity and wit, with Olympic gold medallist Michelle Cameron Coulter interviewing the inspiring parade of no less than 29 elite Olympian athletes, and auctioneer Bill Brown coaxing the crowd into buying a gobsmacking number of trips. And then there was the music from our band of all-stars – Jim Cuddy, Barney Bentall, Anne Lindsay, Colin Cripps, Devin Cuddy and Sam Polley. Each song was greeted with an ovation, each solo brought people to their feet and there was way too much dancing in the aisles and at the front of the stage.

Last year, you may recall, our Calgary champion was chosen by a drive-around event for a trio of judges, so it was great to get the judiciary back to strength. The Calgary panel of judges is certainly one of the most illustrious in the country, led by Senior Judge, author, broadcaster, educator and culinary adventurer John Gilchrist with chef, culinary instructor and television star Michael Allemeier; chef, mentor and restaurateur Michael Noble; writer, traveller, editor and publisher of City Palate, Kathy Richardier; Red Seal Chef, caterer and entrepreneur Susan Pataky of J. Webb Market Wines; and last year’s gold medal winner, Chef Dave Bohati of The Fine Food Stop.

What no one was expecting was that we would make GMP history last night with a dead heat for the bronze medal. Two chefs scored 82.14% – Shaun Desaulniers of ChefBar and Kenny Kaechele of Workshop kitchen+culture. We judges debated, tried hard to find a reason why one of them was better than the other, and failed. So, for the first time in all our years and in all our cities, the two men shared the bronze podium, to the delight of the audience. In no particular order, here is what they cooked.

Shaun Desaulniers's elegant rabbit

Shaun Desaulniers’s elegant rabbit

Shaun Desaulniers offered a slice of a classic crepinette of rabbit, the meat perfectly juicy and flavourful in a matrix of chanterelle mousse, held in place by the merest suggestion of cawl fat. Beneath the slender disc we found four or five miniature yam gnocchi, unabashedly substantial and finished ion the pan to give them a light crust. A truffled cauliflower purée was precisely that – a sort of ethereal cream in deliberate contrast to a couple of big chunks of Brussels sprout, candied with maple syrup and then tanned in the searing pan. A natural rabbit jus served as sauce and the whole dish was finished with a pretty garnish of sunflower seeds, celery leaf and a dime of peppered radish. All the flavours were lucid and true and the wine match was inspired – the 2012 Pinot Noir from Summerhill Winery in the Okanagan.


kaechele smallest

Kenny Kaechele’s delectable ribeye


Scoring identical marks in total, though in widely different categories, Keny Kaechele started his dish by contemplating his wine, the 2012 Small Lots Malbec from Sandhill Estate Vineyard in the Okanagan. It’s an elegant, disciplined Malbec with delicate tannins and aromatic fruit and Chef decided that beef was the ideal match. He cooked rib eye steaks sous vide just long enough to leave them red at heart, marinated them briefly in a vibrant chimichurri then seared them to an ideal medium-rare level. Each plate received three slices. Beside that were two thick little sandwiches made by layering ridiculously tender, moist beef neck between crisped ground chickpea panisse, like a version of polenta. Almost stealing the show, a creamy sauce the colour of pistachio ice cream turned out to be an emulsion of charred leek soubise and smoked butter. Pickled turnips provided a nice edge, a simple veal stock reduction reinforced meaty flavour and a scattering of cilantro microgreens offered a fresh reference back to the chimichurri marinade.

Jinhee Lee's deconstructed banh mi

Jinhee Lee’s deconstructed banh mi

Our silver medal went to Jinhee Lee of Raw Bar in the Hotel Arts. Chef Lee is an old friend of Gold Medal Plates, having come to Kelowna last year as sous chef to Calgary champion Duncan Ly, and her dish was spectacular, a deconstructed bánh mi inspired by the contemporary Vietnamese cooking one finds in her restaurant. The main protein was a slice of a meaty torchon made with the picked meat from a pork hock bound by rillettes and spiked with green onion and pickled thai red chilies. There was real heat in it – a risky step – but the judges were delighted. Beside the torchon we found a slice of supersoft, butter-rich parfait of chicken liver and foie gras topped with a bright green stripe of scallion butter. The chili idea popped up again in a dynamic jalapeño purée, matched by some tart crunchy little pickled vegetables and dots of unctuous satay sauce. In lieu of the bread you’d expect in a bánh mi, Chef Lee included tiny cut-out circles of crispy steamed bread and finished with a scattering of mint leaves and flower petals. There were some challenging elements for a wine in the dish – pickles, chilies, peanuts, etcetera, but Chef responded brilliantly with a sturdy, off-dry rosé, the 2014 Blanc de Noirs Rosé from Baillie-Grohman Estate Winery in Creston, B.C., which she deliberately presented at room temperature.

Matthew Batey's sable and octopus

Matthew Batey’s sable and octopus

And our gold medalist? Matthew Batey of The Nash Restaurant & Off Cut Bar. Before anyone raises a hand to point out that one of the judges, Chef Miuchael Noble, happens to own Nash, let me reassure you that he was forbidden from marking Chef Batey. Instead, an average mark was calculated from the other judges’ scores and applied – something we do wherever there might be a perceived conflict of interest by critical eyes. Chef Batey’s dish was a popular winner with the crowd and the judges. It was remarkably delicate and technically flawless. Set apart from the rest of the plate stood a warm chunk of tender, juicy alder-smoked sablefish, as rich and soft a nugget as you could hope to find. Close by lay a thin but quite large rectangular slice of an octopus compression held together by its own juices and the merest hint of an aspic made from the accompanying wine. The octopus had a fine, faint flavour of the sea echoed in the hint of uni that Chef had beaten into a foamy sabayon. A spoonful of said sabayon sat like a mushroom cap on a wee drum of potato croquette flavoured with lemon zest and minced prosciutto. On top of it all was half a teaspoonful of Northern Divine sturgeon caviar. Various minutiae decorated the plate, all of them offering unexpectedly powerful flavours – dots of crimson mint and beetroot purée; flower petals; flecks of what could have been raw lemon but was more likely Asian pear soaked in lemon juice. It was a very accomplished dish and brilliantly matched with the dry but rich, acidic sparkling Chenin Blanc from Road 13 Vineyards in Oliver B.C.

Matthew Batey will be going to Kelowna in February for the Canadian Culinary Championship. We are half way through this year’s campaign and the bar is rising higher all the time. Tomorrow: Toronto!



Halifax Gold Medal Plates 2015

02 Nov

With the remnants of Hurricane Patricia pushing us towards the Atlantic, the Gold Medal Plates team had a bumpy ride to Halifax but horizontal rain and a gusting gale couldn’t dampen the warmth of our welcome. Nor did it deter the jubilant crowd who filled the Cunard Centre last Thursday night, ready to taste, listen, bid, and finally rock with our brilliant house band of Jim Cuddy, Danny Michel, Anne Lindsay, Colin Cripps and Jim’s two sons, Devin Cuddy and Sam Polley. Curt Harnett and Nancy Regan shared the MC duties, keeping the mood merry and the energy levels high. Meanwhile we judges had our hands full with one of the strongest line-ups of Nova Scotian chefs we have ever brought together. Joining me were Halifax Senior Judge Bill Spurr, the restaurant critic for the Chronicle-Herald; chef, author and educator, the Kilted Chef, Alain Bossé; sommelier, educator and passionate culinarian Amy Savoury; chef and educator, currently the Hospitality chair at the Nova Scotia Community College, Ted Grant; chef and local gastronomy advocate Jason Lynch; and last year’s Halifax Gold Medalist, the Feisty Chef herself, Renée Lavallée of The Canteen.

Pork belly was much in evidence at the chefs’ stations but prepared in delectably different ways, and we were treated to a wide variety of local marine life, not to mention some of Nova Scotia’s finest wines. And while the marks were very close between our second, third and fourth favourites, our gold medallist was a clear and unanimous victor.

Ardon Mofford's pork loin and scallop

Ardon Mofford’s pork belly and scallop

We awarded the bronze medal to Chef Ardon Mofford of Governor’s Pub & Eatery in Sydney. His dish offered a lively contrast of rich and tangy flavours and a double-whammy in terms of protein with an impeccably seared scallop and a deliciously caramelized slab of slow-cooked pork belly that still retained its textural integrity. A stripe of butternut squash purée, spiked with maple syrup, picked up and amplified the natural sweetness of the pork and the scallop. Acidity was provided at three levels of sharpness with dots of a smoked chorizo-tomato gel, a forthright kale chimichurri and a disc of pickled candystripe beet the size of a quarter. A candied tomato chip leaned jauntily against the pork belly and the final flourishes included a scattering of pea shoots and a sprinkle of powder made from pumpkin seed and brown butter. Chef Mofford chose his matching wine for its racy acidity and citrus notes – the 2014 Reserve Riesling from Domaine de Grand Pré in Grand Pré, Nova Scotia.

Thomas Carey's pork belly and kimchee

Thomas Carey’s pork belly and kimchee

Chef Thomas Carey from Fresh Twenty One in Dartmouth won the silver medal with a dish of relatively simple but perfectly pitched harmonies. He too chose to work with pork belly, cooking it sous-vide for 48 hours and glazing it with peanut and sweet chili. A mound of crunchy white kimchee was more pickled than fermented, tart little ribbons of cabbage that contrasted beautifully with the pork. A ginger-apricot purée proved a gentler, fruitier condiment and the dish was finished with a dusting of onion ash and some delicious puffed pork shreds as a garnish. Chef Carey chose a Select Late Harvest wine, its sweetness working beautifully with the pork in one of the evening’s most successful pairings – the 2013 Martock Select Late Harvest Vidal from Avondale Sky Winery in Newport Station, Nova Scotia.

Martin Ruiz Salvador's "Rabbit and Snails"

Martin Ruiz Salvador’s “Rabbit and Snails”

The gold medal was awarded to Chef Martín Ruiz Salvador of Fleur de Sel in Lunenburg – the third time he has won Gold Medal Plates Halifax. His was a dish of great sophistication and ambition, dazzlingly well executed and satisfying on every level. It was inspired by Chef’s chosen wine, the 2013 Ancienne Chardonnay from Lightfoot and Wolfville winery in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Aged in French oak in the Burgundian style it nonetheless showed the crisp acidity and minerality of Nova Scotia’s vineyards, and Chef decided to take that as his theme, bringing classic French dishes to his plate but giving them a decidedly Nova Scotian twist. There were four principal elements grouped under the title “Rabbit and Snails,” though the snails in question were whelks from the Atlantic shore. Chef’s Maritime take on a traditional French ham hock and parsley terrine used not ham but the rabbit’s shoulder, brined and confited and seasoned with sea parsley, then topped with a dab of bone marrow mayonnaise and a bonnet of soft green sea lettuce. The second component was a tiny drum of the rabbit loin stuffed with whelks and shallots and wrapped in bacon. Topped with slices of rabbit kidney and toasted breadcrumbs it was served with a whelk shell used as a vessel for a sensationally delicious sauce, a smooth cream of local ceps, Dijon mustard and white wine, to be poured over the loin. The third element was a “cassoulet,” interpreted by the rabbit leg stuffed with a moussy sausage and dressed with a scattering of bright green edamame beans. They had been tossed with rabbit “lardons” made by curing and smoking the rabbit bellies, cooking them sous-vide then sautéeing them. A pungent parsley root purée based this part of the dish. To finish, a doll-sized quenelle of rabbit liver parfait sweetened with a local apple brandy was set on a disc of apple that had been poached in wine and butter. A confit of onion, mustard seed and honey enhanced the light, creamy parfait and a tiny rabbit-suet chicharon provided the coup de grace. It was an extraordinarily complex dish, but every element made its own contribution to a seamless overall brilliance. And yes, it worked extremely well with that impressive Chardonnay.

So we have our fourth champion in Martín Ruiz Salvador. Like two of our other gold medallists this year, Jan Trittenbach from Edmonton and Jonathan Thauberger from Regina, he has competed in the Canadian Culinary Championship before. Just four cities into the campaign and already Kelowna is shaping up to be a clash of titans. Later this week, Calgary and Toronto!



Regina Gold Medal Plates 2015

24 Oct

I have a soft spot for Regina’s Conexus Arts Centre, despite its somewhat Brutalist concrete demeanour. They built it beside a lake in a rural setting on the edge of town and yesterday evening it looked splendid amidst the trees, bathed in warm prairie sunshine. We use a most imaginative set-up there, with the chefs’ stations constructed on various levels of the theatre foyers and the lavishly decorated tables for the sit-down celebration placed on the actual stage. There we build a stage-upon-a-stage for our parades of chefs and athletes, our dignitaries and our auctioneer, our unflappable and hilarious MC, Curt Harnett, and of course our awe-inspiring musical show, last night starring Colin Cripps, Geoffrey Kelly and Matthew Harder of Spirit of the West, Devin Cuddy, Sam Polley and the incomparable Anne Lindsay whose violin solo in Five Days in May brought the entire crowd to its feet for a spontaneous standing ovation.

Before all that, we judges mingled with the VIPs during the reception then retired to a private chamber to taste and make our deep decisions led by our Senior Judge for Regina, author, photographer, broadcaster and journalist C J Katz, together with Execuitive Chef of the Regina Legislature and captain of the Saskatchewan Culinary Team at the 2000 Culinary Olympics, Trent Brears; chef and educator Thomas Rush; writer, blogger, restaurant columnist and television producer Aidan Morgan; and last year’s gold medallist, Chef Milton Rebello of Wascana Country Club.

Leo Pantel's pork belly

Leo Pantel’s pork belly

It was a fine array of dishes this year, starting with ethereal Japanese flavours paired with sake and finishing with a rich harmony of chicken liver taco and mixed sweet and savoury elements matched with a hearty oatmeal stout. The dish that won the bronze medal for Chef Leo Pantel of the Conexus Art Centre was well towards the meaty end of this spectrum. It centred upon a generous slab of juicy Berkshire pork belly, cooked sous vide and then seared with a sweet crust of panko and pomegranate molasses. Two incredibly dainty rye and gruyère crisps crowned the meat, topped with a sprinkling of red amaranth microgreens. A dark raisin sauce echoed the sweetness of the glaze, as did slivers of port-infused figs, while a piquant pickled ramp, pinked with beet juice, added crunch and sharpness. Chef Pantel’s wine match was very successful – the 2012 Norman Hardie Pinot Noir from Prince Edward County, Ontario, its minerality and acid structure in lively contrast to the richness of the pork.

David Straub's Freshly Dug Potatoes

David Straub’s Freshly Dug Potatoes

Chef David Straub of Flip Eatery and Drink won our silver medal with a dish he called “Freshly Dug Potatoes.” “It’s a play on my growing up as a farm boy,” he explained, and indeed his plating had a touch of the farm pond landscape about it. Three turned parisienne potatoes about three-quarters of an inch in diameter were placed in a pool of intensely flavourful duck demi-glace, banked around with a piped ring of goose foie gras mousse – a trio of umame-rich elements that delighted the judges. Strewn across them was a scattering of “soil” made by dehydrating roasted parsnip, celeriac and sunchoke, roasting them again to caramelize the surface and then crumbling all to powder. A broad green stripe of asparagus, dill and chive emulsion brought freshness to the party and the plate was finished with some perfect, tissue-thin salt-and-vinegar potato chips to use as scoops for the foie and the demi. Chef Straub’s wine match – the 2014 Chenin Blanc from Quail’s Gate Estate Winery in the Okanagan – was deliberately integrated into the concept of the dish, balancing the richness with a dry, grassy coolness.

Jonathan Thauberger's Trip to the Beach

Jonathan Thauberger’s Trip to the Beach

Our gold-medal winner has won it before – Chef Jonathan Thauberger of Crave Kitchen & Wine Bar. He too had a name for his dish – “A Trip to the Beach.” Elegantly plated, it began with a crescent of “sand” made with dried brioche breadcrumbs tossed with pulverized seaweed and powdered dehydrated mussels and scallops with some finely chopped chives for colour. Lying across this delicious shoreline was a piece of “driftwood” – actually a crisp tempura scallion. Beside it lay some silky-soft slices of lightly poached diver scallops, their rims stained mauve with beet juice and their sweet, rich flavour sparked by a scattering of green tobiko roe. The pièce de resistance of the dish was a dome of jellied dashi broth, set not with gelatin but with the natural collagen of fish bones in the stock. Transfixed inside was a miniature pansy blossom and various fruits de mer – morsels of king crab, langoustines, peeled Pacific shrimp – and a raw quail’s egg yolk that oozed out as a sauce when my fork pierced the dome. Beside this treasure trove were dots of “sea foam” – in fact a tasty béarnaise sauce dotted with dark green arugula purée. It was a marvellous dish, sensitively paired with a subtly aromatic, full-bodied white blend of Viognier, Marsanne and Rousanne called Ava, made by Le Vieux Pin in the South Okanagan.

So Chef Thauberger will return to Kelowna next February, a very worthy local champion bearing the hopes of Regina on his shoulders. Next week, we move on to Halifax!


Edmonton Gold Medal Plates 2015

23 Oct

Gold Medal Plates loves Edmonton! Last night, it was clear that the feeling is mutual. The sold-out crowd of 780 (a new record) at the Shaw Centre came to party as if we were already in Rio, cheering on our Olympic athletes, our splendid chefs and their teams, and a stage-full of dazzlingly talented musicians – a veritable orchestra of rock starring Barney Bentall, Anne Lindsay, Colin Cripps, Devin Cuddy, Sam Polley and Geoffrey Kelly and Matthew Harder of Spirit of the West. Curt Harnett was the smoothest and most amusing of MCs. There was much dancing in the aisles and an eye-popping energy level that was sustained right through the auction (so many trips sold!) to the final announcement of the winning chefs.

Choosing who made it to the podium was no cakewalk for our panel of judges led by Edmonton Senior Judge, Mary Bailey, who is a food, wine and travel writer, certified sommelier and publisher of The Tomato Food & Drink, alongside world-class pastry chef and chef instructor, Clayton Folkers; award-winning reporter for The Edmonton Journal, Liane Faulder; Red Seal Chef, food writer, educator and owner of Seasoned Solutions’ Loft Cooking School, Culinary Tours, Gail Hall; chef Chris Wood; chef, author and owner of Kitchen culinary studio, Brad Smoliak; and of course last year’s Edmonton gold medal winner and reigning Canadian Culinary Champion, Chef Ryan O’Flynn of the Westin Edmonton hotel.

Chef Rakowski's beef

Chef Rakowski’s beef

It’s fascinating to see how far Edmonton’s food scene has come in the last decade of Gold Medal Plates competitions. Last night was remarkable for the imagination, sophistication and precision of so many of the dishes, as well as the wide variety of culinary styles on show. While we ended up with a clear winner, our bronze and silver medallists were separated by only 0.5 of a percentage point. We awarded the bronze to Cory Rakowski of 12 Acres, an extraordinary restaurant that exists in partnership with 12 Acres Farm in Pickardville, Alberta, and operates a true pasture-to-plate concept, self-sustaining where all ingredients except cheese are concerned. Chef Rakowski presented a triptych of beef from an animal raised on the farm, moving from cold to hot and raw to well done. The raw component was tartare of beef heart served in a miniature buckwheat tuile cup and sprinkled with toasted buckwheat groats. The warm element was sliced flat iron steak, admirably tender and seasoned with finishing salt. The piping hot moment was a crisp croquette of pulled beef cheek moistened and enriched with foie gras. All three items sat upon a bed of toothsome wheatberry and squash pilaf, decorated with rolled up ribbons of squash. A saskatoonberry gastrique finished the plate and served as a fine bridge into Chef’s chosen wine, the 2012 Castoro de Oro Estate Winery Merlot from Oliver, B.C.

Chef Cowan's silky charcuterie

Chef Cowan’s silky charcuterie

Our silver medallist, Andrew Cowan from Packrat Louie Kitchen and Bar, approached the competition from a very different direction, announcing to the judges that he wanted to do a dish that used his three favourite foods – charcuterie, bread and foie gras. The result was universally relished by all the judges, a sort of deconstructed sandwich that looked beautiful and tasted even better. The bread was a fine fresh white sourdough, torn up into ragged pieces and smothered with a mostarda made of chunks of fresh peach and soft juicy knobs of foie gras in a tangy mustard dressing. Draped over everything like a sleeve of pink and white silk were tissue-thin slices of pork loin that chef had cured, lightly smoked and then dry-aged for three months – a heavenly cold cut! Mustard seed “caviar” was the condiment and a scattering of carrot tops completed a disarmingly simple but perfectly executed dish. The wine match, Mission Hill’s 2014 Reserve Riesling from the Okanagan Valley, had just the ringing acidity to cut the fat on the plate.

Chef Trittenbach's pork

Chef Trittenbach’s pork

Our gold medallist has won Gold Medal Plates Edmonton before, in 2011 – Jan Trittenbach from Solstice Seasonal Cuisine. He chose to work with pork, offering a sensational bite-sized piece of pork belly that was delightfully lean but unctuously soft beneath its crisp surface. As a second component he made a roulade of pork stuffed with ricotta and wrapped in a skin of soft leek. Between them stood a perfect mushroom that turned out to be the cap of a cremini lightly marinated with soy, sesame and vinegar, but with a stalk made of a porcini tuile tube filled with silky bacon “caviar.” A fourth element was an elfin cup hollowed from a morsel of sweet potato and filled with coarsely puréed mushroom. There were moments of beet purée and spinach purée on the plate and a mound of “soil” made from powdered beet and pistachio from which the mushroom appeared to be growing. Microgreens added to the impression of a forest floor. Technically impeccable, the dish was finely matched with a red blend from the Okanagan, Sandhill 2012 Small Lots Three.

Et voila! Jan Trittenbach is going back to Kelowna next February, representing Edmonton. Tonight? On to Regina!