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Regina Gold Medal Plates 2014

22 Nov
On the podium in Regina - Silver: Leo Pantel; Gold: Milton Rebello; Bronze: Geoffrey Caswell-Murphy

On the podium in Regina – Silver: Leo Pantel; Gold: Milton Rebello; Bronze: Geoffrey Caswell-Murphy

Regina was the last date for Gold Medal Plates this year and it proved an amazing evening! The event was more than sold out, squeezing in extra tables onto the stage of the Conexus Arts Centre. The crowd was pretty well perfect – merry but attentive, in a mood to buy all our trips with generous abandon, and totally into the athletes and the awesome music from Jim Cuddy, Colin Cripps and violinist Miranda Mulholland. Jenn Heil was our charming and supersmooth MC and Jennifer Botterill was as brilliant as ever as our athlete interviewer. All in all, it was a truly great finale to what has been our best campaign ever.

Last night’s culinary competition was also formidable – Regina is a city that continues to raise the bar higher every year. We judges had our work cut out and tasted some extraordinary dishes. With me at the table were Regina’s Senior Judge, author and broadcaster CJ Katz; 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, chef Jonathan Thauberger of Crave.

Geoffrey Caswell-Murphy's bison took bronze

Geoffrey Caswell-Murphy’s bison took bronze

Taking the bronze medal was Geoffrey Caswell-Murphy of Double Tree by Hilton with a very elegant and precise presenation. In the foreground of the plate were three slices of perfect bison tenderloin, cooked sous vide, seared and lightly crusted with a coffee and pepper dust. A brush of veal reduction looked like a silk carpet on which stood three separate elements. To the left rose a mound of a rich, intensely flavourful ragout of shredded oyster mushroom and tomato. In the centre, a wafer-thin apple chip stuck up jauntily from a hummock of apple-and-celery-root purée. On the right, a green mound of shredded, subtly wilted spinach was flecked with powdered dried cranberries and moistened with a refined Champagne and goat cheese vinaigrette. Chef’s wine was a fine match for the bison and for the earthier notes of mushroom and celeriac, a blended Shiraz-Cabernet from Saint And Sinner in Oliver, B.C.

Leo Pantel's beef cheek won silver

Leo Pantel’s beef cheek won silver

Loyal GMP supporter Leo Pantel of Conexus Arts Centre won silver on his own turf. His dish was seriously beautiful to look at and offered some very sophisticated flavour harmonies. At its heart was beef cheek, impeccably marinated and braised, the meat divinely rich and succulent. Beside it was a tiny square of blue cheese panna cotta that contained some fragrant powdered chanterelles and showed a pink dot of redcurrant gelee on its surface. The blue cheese and the meat were marvellous together. The beef rested on a pale pillow of puréed seasonal vegetables – celery root, parsnip and potato smoothed with butter and cream. Two sturdy little butternut squash gnocchi added a moment of weight and the dish was finished with some bright yellow mustard blossoms on the beef and an orange-coloured firestick blossom. Chef chose a big wine but it proved to be an excellent match – Mission Hill’s 2009 Quatrain, a rich blend of Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

Milton Rebello's two-bite masterpiece won gold

Milton Rebello’s two-bite masterpiece won gold

And so to the last gold medal of the campaign – awarded unanimously, and by a considerable margin, to a chef who also won gold here two years ago and then went on to win bronze at the Canadian Culinary Championships, Milton Rebello of Wascana Golf & Country Club. To say his dish stood out last night would be a gross understatement. It was one of the most imaginative – and courageous – notions of the year, just two things on the plate, each of which needed to be consumed in a single bite. First, what looked like a tan-coloured puff perched on a rainbow-filled shot glass. “Pop the puff into your mouth give it  couple of chews then do the shooter,” chef instructed. The judges obeyed. The puff was an air tuile made of semolina. Inside it were some flecks of chestnut that had been puréed and then deep fried, seasoned with lemon, chili, coriander and cumin. Also inside was a small finger of warm belly pork, nicely crusted. It was indeed a delightful mouthful, the spices spreading a warm glow across the palate. Then the shooter… Pow! Those spices began to glow as they were hit by salted lemon chili water, pickled apple and a dab of cranberry chutney. It was such an exciting, complex experience – and then it was over and we turned to the second component. Here Chef had taken the same ingredients but used them in completely different ways. The pork was a crisp chicheron, the chestnut had become a dab of mousse, the cranberry chutney had been turned into pearls. The apple reappeared as dainty chips garnished with chili threads. It was similar but quite different – soft flavours, soothing almost, with the greaseless crunch of the chicheron. Chef’s wine match worked remarkably well – Red Rooster’s 2013 Gewurztraminer.

So we now have our line-up for the Canadian Culinary Championship in Kelowna next February, and it’s a list of extraordinary talent: Luc Jean of Jane’s in Winnipeg, Renée Lavallée of The Canteen in Dartmouth, Ryan O’Flynn of The Westin Edmonton in Edmonton, Kristian Eligh of Hawksworth in Vancouver, Antonio Park of Restaurant Park in Montreal, Dave Bohati of Market in Calgary, Chris Hill of the Delta Bessborough in Saskatoon, John Horne of Canoe in Toronto, Mark McCrowe of Aqua in St. John’s, Patrick Garland of Absinthe Café in Ottawa and Milton Rebello of Wascana Golf & Country Club. It’s going to be an amazing competition!

 

Ottawa-Gatineau Gold Medal Plates 2014

18 Nov
The gold medal dish in Ottawa-Gatineau, from Chef Patrick Garland

The gold medal dish in Ottawa-Gatineau, from Chef Patrick Garland

I believe that on Monday night, Gold Medal Plates staged the best Ottawa-Gatineau event we have ever presented. An essential component was the new venue – the recently opened Ottawa Conference Centre, with its stunning views, gleaming escalators and more-than-generous space. The endless elbow room allowed us to invite 10 chefs and to sell out the event. The mood was amazingly exuberant for a Monday and the guests were rewarded by a brilliant MC job from Jennifer Botterill, an extraordinarily efficient and dynamic auctioneer who was none other than former-Tory-ideologue Stockwell Day, and one of the best concerts I can remember from Jim Cuddy, Colin Cripps and Anne Lindsay. Just the three of them – but that seemed to concentrate the quality: songs were longer and more intense, giving Annie and Colin more opportunity to scale Himalayan heights on their solos. The audience was left breathless, standing, applauding, hollering, and feeling like we were 18 again.

Meanwhile, food and wine (and beer) were also on offer! Judging the dishes in one of Canada’s burgeoning gastronomic centres is always going to be tough. I was lucky to be joined by some world-class palates, led by Ottawa-Gatineau Senior Judge, author, editor and restaurant critic, Anne DesBrisay. Also on the hugely qualified team was 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; chef for our Parliament buildings and all who eat therein, Culinary Olympian and Chairman of the Canadian Culinary Federation, Jud Simpson; and, of course, last year’s gold medal winner, Chef Marysol Foucault. In previous years, for reasons of space, we have judged in camera; last night we were raised on a dais in the centre of the room, as we judges are in other cities. Such exposure was not to everyone’s taste – but all judges rose gallantly to the occasion.

The bronze dish in Ottawa - so delicious!

The bronze dish in Ottawa – so delicious!

We gave the bronze to John Morris, chef of Le Café at the National Arts Centre, our erstwhile GMP venue. He presented a superbly tender filet of Alberta veal, crusted with sweetbreads that had been dusted with chickpea flour and pan-seared then turned into a sort of farce to cradle the pink filet. A sprinkling of salt crystals brought out the flavour. Next to the slices of meat was a gorgeous, peeled, smoked, poached tomato stuffed with mussels and tarragon pesto. Oh My God, so juicy! A chewy black olive lace tuile provided visual and textural contrast while two sauces brought their own considerable talents to the party. A mussel broth had been reduced from the poaching liquid for the mussels that lurked like Homeric guerillas inside the tomato. A butter sauce was further enriched by the marrow from the veal bones while small green dots on the plate turned out to be tarragon jelly. It was a rich, intelligent compilation, nicely matched with the tangy, grapefruitty 2013 Dragonfly Pinot Grigio from Pondview Estates in Niagara.

Silver... Simple but pretty much perfect!

Silver… Simple but pretty much perfect!

Stephen Wall of Supply and Demand won the silver medal. His dish was a picture of elegant simplicity. Begin with impeccable raw beef tenderloin, aged for two months and sliced, raw, so thinly you could read the headlines of a newspaper through it. Then take some smoked oysters and purée them into a mayonnaise; dab some half-teaspoonsfuls of same here and there on the beef. Bring in something the judges had never encountered before in all their long, attentive lives – the unopened flower buds of the elder tree, tiny as green peppercons, and then pickled like capers so they were tangy and sharp and salty but still possessed of the indelible flavour-DNA of the elder god. Spoon on some petals of pickled baby white onion and drizzle on an amount of oil to balance and mute the acid on the onions. Garnish wth soft, vegetal sprouts of sorrel, mache and chervil… Yes, it’s an uncomplicated dish – but that makes perfection of execution all the more important. Chef Wall did it, and paired his dish with a herbacious, tart 2013 Sauvignon Blanc from Redstone Winery on Niagara’s Twenty Mile bench. Yum.

Buit it didn’t quite trounce our gold medal winner, Patrick Garland from Absinthe Café. His protein was quail,  the tender breast enriched with foie gras like an invisible layer of fat beneath the soft, delicious skin. The quail leg was braised, the meat pulled and turned into a lightly breaded croquette – so crisp on the surface, so moist and unctuous within. To accompany and flatter the wee birds into their gastronomic afterlife, Chef chose a litle pickled onion to counteract the sweetness, and some teeny-weeny battered, deep-fried shallot rings, smaller than a fairy’s hoola-hoop. There were cinnamon cap mushrooms on the plate, and some delicately confited, peeled Concorde grapes, and small mounds of clear pink jelly that tasted just like the grapes… But the master stroke was the sauce – a classic jus from the quail carcases enriched with many bottles of Chef’s chosen wine, reduced to something heavenly. That wine? Tawse 2013 Quarry Road Vineyard Gewurztraminer, aromatic, rich, but fit and muscular, aristocratic, a hell of a wine.

So we have our Ottawa-Gatineau gold medalist. I’ve been keeping track. On Friday we will be in Regina to close off this stage of the regional campaign, to gather our strengths for Kelowna in February, where I’ll be doing my best to come up with tests that will challenge the talents and nimble minds of the champions from all our Canadian cities. If you want to be the Canadian Culinary Champion, you have to earn the privilege!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gold Medal Plates St. John’s 2014

16 Nov
On the podium in St. John's: left to right, silver medalist, Chris Chafe; gold medalist, Mark McCrowe, bronze medalist, Shaun Hussey.

On the podium in St. John’s: left to right, silver medalist, Chris Chafe; gold medalist, Mark McCrowe, bronze medalist, Shaun Hussey.

What an excellent evening in St. John’s! While the Conference Centre is under construction, we availed ourselves of the Delta hotel’s ballrooms, packing a typically hospitable, great-hearted and energetic crowd of almost 400 into the space. It was a super event, with the great Ron Maclean as MC (is there anything he doesn’t know about sports and Canada’s athletes?) and rocking music from Jim Cuddy, Neil Osborne, Anne Lindsay and Ed Robertson (who later went down to Water Street and thrilled a local cover band by playing with them for half a set). The chefs were all pumped and eager and their dishes delighted the judges – St. John’s Senior Judge, author, journalist and broadcaster Karl Wells;  chef and educator Bob Arniel of Chef to Go (who cooked me an absolutely dazzling birthday lunch before the competition); food writer and blogger for the Independent, Nicholas Gardner; gastronome and food columnist with The Telegram, Cynthia Stone; home economist and international trade professional, Deborah Youden; chef, caterer and restaurant critic, Peter Gard; and last year’s gold-medal-winning chef, Roger Andrews. It turned out to be an enthralling contest, with all judges agreeing on the top three chefs, though in various permutations of order. In the end, the final conclusion satisfied us all completely.

Shaun Hussey's dish won bronze

Shaun Hussey’s dish won bronze

We gave the bronze medal to Shaun Hussey of Chinched, who won the gold a couple of years ago. Last night he gave us a tremendous dish that he called “An Unlikely Trio of Pork with Seasonal Flavours.” It starred parts of a local sucking pig, beginning with a thick slice of corned and smoked tongue – the tenderest tongue some of the judges had ever eaten. Running close to it in terms of divine textures was a thickly cut slice of lean bacon with a forthright smokiness; but eclisping both these treats was a round of tender trotter stuffed with spongey boudin blanc. The technical tour de force continued with crispy little “chips” of deep-fried ear, scented with truffle, and an unctuous pork bone reduction. It was a night for puréed root vegetables and Chef Hussey gave us a silky parsnip version, strewn with micro-planed truffles, creating an aromatic atmosphere that seemed to hover over the plate. For acidity, he brought in marshberries, a local berry that looks like a blueish cranberry and tastes very similar. Some had been turned into a purée and with that chef painted a broad purple stripe across the plate; others had been deliberately picked in a tart, unripe state and were included whole for a jab of tanginess among all the other smooth, rich flavours. The final touches were a trickle of green parsley oil and a spoonful of a thick apricot and orange marmalade that worked well with the pork and with Chef’s chosen wine, a complex, intense 2011 Merlot called La Droite from Rollingdale Winery in West Kelowna, B.C., that also reached out to the parsnip on the plate.

Chris Chafe took silver

Chris Chafe took silver

Chris Chafe of The Doctor’s House Inn and Spa won our silver medal. About an hour from St. John’s, this property includes 100 acres of gardens and trails that provided the inspiration for Chef’s dish. “We started with apples from the property and berries from Trinity Bay,” he explained, “then thought of a way of showing them off.” The answer was a medley of duck charcuterie, each element beautifully seasoned and texturally distinct. At the top of the plate was a duck liver paté with the texture of a stiff mousseline and a suave, not-too-funky flavour, topped with a little walnut granola and a tiny amount of an intense raspberry compote. Rich moist rillettes of the duck leg were scented with fresh thyme, rolled into a ball and deep-fried to perfect crispness. A ribbon of ethereal duck breast prosciutto was draped over a firm seed-crisp cracker (there were a couple more of these useful and delicious biscuits for eating the paté, too) and a mound of apple-poached mustard seeds were available for spicing things up. The berries were present in various guises – as a partridgeberry paint on the plate or a bakeapple gastrique, and as colourful dots of various coulis – while the tissue-thin slices of lightly pickled apple threatened to steal the entire show. Chef’s wine was the fruity, mellow 2012 Pinot Noir from Meyer Family Vineyards in the Okanagan.

Mark McCrowe's "Moose and Juice" won the gold

Mark McCrowe’s “Moose and Juice” won the gold

Mark McCrowe won the gold medal, to the great delight of the crowd and of his fellow chefs. Chef McCrowe has competed every year in St. John’s and has reached the podium before, but this is his first gold medal. His dish was quintessentially, delectably Newfoundland – “Moose and Juice,” he called it – and as the plates were brought in to the judges (we worked in camera last night) chef followed with a hand-held smokemaker that spread a haze of pine into the room. On the plate, the central protein was a pink and tender slice of charcoal-grilled moose loin sprinkled with a sugestion of chanterelle dust. Chef had braised and pulled the shank into a dark, rich ragout which he set on a thick pillar of “Nan’s” lightly toasted white yeast bread. The bread soaked up some of the meaty juices in a most engaging way! Because the moose meat was so lean, he also involved some fatback scrunchions (like tiny lardons of salted pork belly) to round out taste and texture. Vegetables reflected time and place perfectly – roasted roots with deep, sweet, earthy flavours, and a delicate turnip purée. Whole pickled blueberries and partridgeberries lurked about the plate, bursting into tangy juice in one’s mouth; garnishes included a moment of bakeapple syrup and a hank of crispy caribou moss for texture. And then there was the “Juice” – actually the moose jus, profound but not overly reduced, scented with the low-growing local shrub known as Labrador tea. Chef’s choice of wine was inspired, picking up the berry and vegetable components of the dish without threatening to overwhelm the subtle meat: the rarely seen 2013 Zweigelt from Norman Hardie’s Winery in Prince Edward County, Ontario.

Congratulations to Chef McCrowe and to all the chefs who performed so brilliantly here. No doubt about it, St. John’s is one of the gastronomic hubs of Canada these days! Only two more parties to go. Ottawa-Gatineau, here we come!

 

And now, here is the Wine Report – St. John’s, penned by Senior Judge Karl Wells who announced the winning wines from the stage in David Lawrason’s absence.
Rollingdale Rolls to Victory
The outstanding 2011 Merlot “La Droite” by Rollingdale Winery of West Kelowna, BC has scored a victory as Best of Show Wine at Gold Medal Plates St. John’s 2014. Merlot “La Droite” is a full bodied blend of late harvested Merlot from the south Okanagan, slightly younger Merlot from the Similkameen and a small amount of Black Sage Rd. Cabernet Sauvignon. It made a delicious pairing with Chinched Bistro Chef Shaun Hussey’s Bronze winning plate of suckling pig charcuterie.
First Runner-Up Award at the St. John’s event went to the 2010 Red Paw Pinot Noir from Coyote’s Run Estate Winery of Ontario. The popular cherry scented Pinot Noir has been the St. John’s first runner up for two years in a row.
Second Runner-Up Award went to the smartly balanced 2010 Pinot Noir from Meyer Family Vineyards, BC.
The Best of Show Wine judging takes place in all Gold Medal Plates cities and is meant to recognize and salute the generosity of the 60 plus wineries in Canada that donate wine to Gold Medal Plates.
Our St. John’s event wines were judged this year by an outstanding group of individuals. Tom Beckett of Beckett on Wine is a wine educator, Steve Delaney is the Telegram’s wine critic and member of the board of the Opimium Society, and Andrew Facey is a sommelier and Senior Product Knowledge Consultant with the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation.
Wines that made the culinary podium this year included:
Gold: Chef Mark McCrowe, Aqua, paired with Zweigelt 2013, Norman Hardy Winery, Ontario
Silver: Chef Chris Chafe, The Doctor’s House, paired with Pinot Noir 2012, Meyer Family Vineyards, BC
Bronze: Chef Shaun Hussey, Chinched Bistro, paired with the Best of Show Wine, Merlot “La Droite”, Rollingdale Winery, BC
Special thanks once again this year to Andrew Peller Limited, Gold Medal Plates National Celebration Wine Sponsor for providing the always enjoyable Trius Brut!

 

 

 

Toronto Gold Medal Plates 2014

14 Nov

 

There they are!! Left to right, silver: Damon Campbell, the Shangi-La; gold: John Horne, Canoe; bronze, Jason Bangerter, Langdon hall.

There they are!! Left to right, silver: Damon Campbell, the Shangi-La; gold: John Horne, Canoe; bronze, Jason Bangerter, Langdon hall.

We are really on a roll now. The Toronto gala was a triumph in every department with an enthusiastic multitude of 770 guests thoroughly involved with the event. Awesome silent auction? Check! Innumerable trips auctioned? Check! Inspiring Olympians? (Like it was ancient Greece!) Food, wine, cocktail excellence? Need you ask? Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir were our delightful emcees and the all-star line-up of musicians performed superbly – thanks, Jim Cuddy, Ed Robertson, Barney Bentall, Neil Osborne, Colin Cripps, Danny Michel and Anne Lindsay! Many thanks are also due to our team of judges in Toronto: Senior Judge, food writer, editor and leading light of The Walrus, Sasha Chapman; author and Canada’s greatest culinary activist, Anita Stewart; celebrity chef and actual chef, Christine Cushing; chef instructor and the mind behind George Brown College’s culinary program, chef John Higgins; and last year’s gold medal winner and Canadian Culinary Champion, Lorenzo Loseto. Sitting together and reviewing the dishes to come, we all agreed that it may very well have been the strongest line-up of Toronto chefs we have ever assembled.

Jason Bangerter's bronze dish (thanks, Ron Ng, for all the pics)

Jason Bangerter’s bronze dish (thanks, Ron Ng, for all the pics)

Our bronze medal went to Jason Bangerter of Langdon Hall. His team had created an extraordinary station covered in living mosses and mushrooms, with turf on the ground and stone pillars – it even smelt like a forest. Chef’s dish was equally arresting. It looked dainty and elegant on the plate, small amounts of many elements carefully set out, but with the surreal off-centrepiece of a quail’s leg standing vertically, its tiny claws curled, (almost as if it were giving the judges the talon?). Beside it lay a cylindrical slice of sausage wrapped in quail skin – both the leg and the sausage had been glazed to a golden patina with a glossy reduction of game birds. The birds themselves had been turned into the sausage that stuffed the cylinder and the leg beneath that other-worldly claw – quail, squab, partridge and duck, all of them lightly and sweetly smoked in the Japanese manner with sugar, salt, rice, herbs and flowers rather than wood. And, we discovered, those miniaturist accompaniments were possessed of flavours far beyond their size. A herb-spiked celeriac purée was the Platonic ideal of all celeriac purées. Half a blackberry had been coached to become the quintessential representation of its species. A pink dust made from berries and wildflowers was heady with flavour and Chef had even drawn perosnality from the morsel of lichen on the plate (caribou moss is interesting but it doesn’t taste of anything unless you are a savvy seasoner). In short, and despite appearance, there was an awful lot going on. His choice of wine, Leaning Post’s 2010 Pinot Noir, picked up the smoke and berries on the dish in a most satisfactory way.

 

Damon Campbell, silver, perfect lobster

Damon Campbell, silver, perfect lobster

 

We awarded our silver medal to Damon Campbell, executive chef of the Shangri-La hotel. His dish was as pretty as a picture and technically flawless; it also tasted wonderful. Curling around the side of the plate was a wedding-braid of ingredients. Morsels of butter-poached lobster (their texture impeccable – juicy, rare but still flavourful) were the big protein, but this was a symphony, not a concerto. Equally important were the perfect little potato gnocchi underneath, flavoured with wild mushrooms and light as nubbins of mousse, and the crispy rice crackers perched on top that were scrunchily dusted with surprisingly sweet and intense tomato powder. Chef shaved nickel-sized petals of black truffle over these treats and scattered edible flowers and micro-herbs. The secret ingredient was a brunoise of tomato, its sweet tang lifting other flavours like Atom Ant lifting a car. Chef finished the dish at our table, syphoning on an aerated lobster emulsion, like a bisque “whipped until peaks form.” It was a fascinating dish – charming and perfectly balanced with all flavours bright and true. For a wine, Chef chose Southbrook Vineyards 2011 “Poetica” Chardonnay, a classic lobster match that showed the worth of conventional wisdom.

Eat the national emblem... Gold for John Horne!

Eat the national emblem… Gold for John Horne!

Damon Campbell’s dish would certainly have taken gold if it weren’t for the last offering the judges tasted, from John Horne of Canoe. It was one of the most extraordinary things we’ve ever been offered at Gold Medal Plates, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. In essence, it was beef short rib with tree syrups – simple as that – but the flavours and the execution and the thinking behind it continue to resonate. To begin with, the Grandview Farms short rib was perfectly cooked – sous vide at 68 C for 72 hours – then cut into 1-inch cubes of tender flesh and glazed with different tree syrups – birch, maple, sumac, cedar and juniper – giving each little block of succulent meat its own sweet, tangy identity. One of them was perched on the end of a broad, roasted beef rib bone, just for the sheer drama and fun of it. Two small moments of parsnip purée on the plate lent a sweet, earthy, perfumed component and parsnip recurred as a crispy ribbon, showing the textural yin and yang of which this root is capable. Christmassy cedar fronds lent visual interest, nonchalantly breaking the old rule that everything on the plate should be edible. And then there was the maple leaf, a green one, the size of a child’s hand, marinated for a very long time in cider and then flash-fried, leaving it crisp and translucent. I have never eaten a maple leaf before. It was only very slightly resinous, not tangy or in any way mentholic. Indeed, its flavour was incidental when compared with the symbolically adventurous, unique and patriotic act of eating a maple leaf. Chef’s wine was a good match for the beef, the 2012 Iconoclast Syrah from Creekside Estate in Niagara.

Bravo, Chef… Bravo and Brava Chefs! It was an amazing evening, and I regret that only one of you can come to Kelowna. Tomorrow, St. John’s!

 

And now here is David Lawrason’s accompanying wine report:

Once again this year the wineries of Ontario stepped up to the plate and uncorked their big guns at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre for the Toronto running of Gold Medal Plates. It was the highest quality level from bottle to bottle I have seen in the country this year, making the judging of the Best of Show Award rather tough. But when each judge ranked their top five, the same five wines showed up. It was then the ordering that became difficult, and only two points separated first and second place.

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 winner this night was Norman Hardie 2011 Niagara Pinot Noir, a light, wonderfully aromatic pinot of uncommon finesse.  Mr. Hardie has been a great supporter of Gold Medal Plates over the years, indeed even contributing enough wine to Canadian Culinary Championship in Kelowna in 2012 to serve over 300 people for two hours.

The first runner-up position went to the Hidden Bench 2012 Nuits Blanche, a deft barrel-aged blend of sauvignon blanc and semillon that in my mind is one of the great whites of Canada – indeed an earlier vintage did capture White Wine of the Year honours at the Canadian Wine Awards.

The second runner-up was Creekside’s 2012 Iconoclast Syrah, a finely balanced, ripe syrah by winemaker Rob Power, that bridges northern Rhone and Australian sensibilities. And as it happened this wine also won the day at the podium with gold medal chef John Horne, who matched it to his amazing shortribs glazed with tree syrups. This earns Creekside a spot with Chef Horne at the CCC in Kelowna in 2015.

Other wines to reach the podium included Southbrook’s suave and complex chardonnay paired with a seamless lobster and gnocchi plate by silver medal winning chef Damon Campbell of the Shangri-la Hotel, and Leaning Post 2010 Pinot Noir matched to herb smoked game fowl by bronze chef Jason Bangerter from Langdon Hall.  From a renovated barn near Winona, Leaning Post winemaker IIlya Senchuk is specializing in single vineyard sub-appellation wines.

For the judging I was joined by two close friends and colleagues from WineAlign.com.  Sara d’Amato is an accomplished sommelier, writer and educator and the only woman to have won the Toronto International Blind Wine Tasting Challenge. She is also a judge at the National Wine Awards of Canada.  Michael Godel is also a WineAlign reviewer, a former chef himself, a blogger on wine at Canada.com and wine director at Barque Steak House.

This night, Peller Estates came up big at the Celebration, donating their off-dry Ice Cuvee Rose to match with the dessert, as well as a well-balanced 2013 Private Reserve Chardonnay and 2013 Baco Noir.  Ice Cuvee has been poured across the country in celebration of Peller Estates Niagara’s big win as Winery of the Year at the 2014 National Wine Awards of Canada.

And what were the other wines that made our job so difficult?  Well among the whites the rich, maturing Stratus 2010 White and Rosewood’s opulent 2010 Origin Chardonnay.  Among reds we enjoyed 13th Street 2012 Gamay and a tiny two-barrel lot of The Farm 2012 Pinot Noir from the Neufeld family. And Rosewood very generously doubled up this year with its 4th-place-finishing 2012 Origin Cabernet Franc.

Many thanks to all participating wineries that made GMP Toronto one of the great shows of the tour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saskatoon Gold Medal Plates 2014

09 Nov
On the podium! Left to right, silver medalist Darren Craddock, gold medalist Christopher Hill and bronze medalist Simon Reynolds

On the podium! Left to right, silver medalist Darren Craddock, gold medalist Christopher Hill and bronze medalist Simon Reynolds

Winter finally caught up with us in Saskatoon… A sky of cloud-blurred sunshine like a Turner painting but snow on the ground and a cold breeze stirring the surface of the river. But nothing could deter the amazing crowd of 500 who showed up at Prairieland at dusk to revel in the party atmosphere, rocking it up and dancing in front of the tables to the brilliant music of Jim Cuddy, Danny Michel and (hip hooray) the incomparable Anne Lindsay on violin. Michelle Cameron Coulter (Olympic gold medalist in synchronized swimming) was our eloquent MC and Olympic diver Marie-Éve Marleau interviewed a score of other Olympians on the stage. Bidding was delightfully enthusiastic during the auction and the party continued late with a local glam-rock band channelling a vibe I haven’t seen since the early ’80s.

On the culinary side, each of the ten competing chefs brought their A-game, raising the bar for Saskatoon yet again. Discernible themes emerged from several of them – an affection for the superb local bison and for clever interpretations of First Nations food. It was a difficult task for the judges to decide between the best four or five dishes. Our Saskatoon judging panel is now led by Senior Judge, author and food writer Amy Jo Ehman, joined by writer and blogger at amazoninthekitchen.com Noele Chorney, restaurateur and all-round gastronome Janis Hutton, pastry chef, journalist and blogger at sweetsugarbean Renee Kohlman, poet, chef-restaurateur turned author and culinary activist dee Hobsbawn-Smith, and last year’s Gold Medal Winner, Chef Trevor Robertson. When the discussion ended we were all very happy with our conclusions.

Simon Reynolds won bronze

Simon Reynolds won bronze

We awarded the bronze medal to chef Simon Reynolds of Simon’s Fine Foods who created an umame-bomb of a dish based upon superb Canadian lamb. He presented two little drums of the sirloin, cooked sous vide with thyme and a hint of truffle and topped each one with a finely minced tapenade of green olive and anchovy. Beside them he set a miniature spring roll with the lightest and crispest of wrappers, filled with moist, rich pulled meat from the shoulder. A smooth carrot and fennel purée lay beneath the sirloin and he added a sweet prune compote as a condiment. Perfectly textured haricot beans were a nice, earthy touch, paddling in a suave lamb jus and half a dozen crisp fried capers brought yet another flavour to the plate. All the elements worked beautifully together, producing innumerable permutations of flavour and texture. Chef’s wine was the marvellous 2011 Cabernet Franc from Lailey Vineyard in Niagara, a Cab that successfully bridged the divide between the fruit and the olives.

 

Saskatoon silver for Darren Craddock

Saskatoon silver for Darren Craddock

The silver medal went to chef Daren Craddock of Riverside Country Club, our gold medalist in 2012. He gave us a generous tranche of bison striploin, letting the meat speak simply for itself then used the tongue and cheek to create a dazzling terrine that fell apart at the touch of the fork, revealing a heart of foie gras as rich and firm as butter. Over this he scattered a crumble made of dried wild blueberry pemmican with some puffed wild rice for crunch. Two sauces were paragons of intense but lucid flavour. A green dandelion purée spoke of the wild prairies while the smoked corn emulsion was so good I could have eaten jars of it. Chef’s sauce was a reduction of the bison’s jus spiked with wild blueberry vinegar and a foie gras poivrade. His wine was the deep, dry, sophisticated 2011 Merlot from Dirty Laundry Vineyard in Summerland, B.C.

Gold for Christopher Hill

Gold for Christopher Hill

And the gold? Standing on the top of the podium when all was said and done was chef Christopher Hill from the Delta Bessborough hotel. He described his dish as a reflection of his Saskatchewan childhood, using “humble ingredients,” but there was nothing humble about the visual elegance of his presentation. He cooked lamb sirloin sous vide to the point of tenderness and created a “pliable sausage” from other parts of the animal, rolling it out until it was as thin as a fruit leather and cutting it into dainty ribbons. Tucked between the meats was a tiny carrot and some slices of ruby radish. Two green moments of pea purée made their own contribution while more peas had been transformed into a shard of pea wafer that rose like a dorsal fin from the structure. Chef’s sauce was a lamb jus sweetened with a sour cherry reduction and there was a spoonful of pickled mustard seed to provide tangy contrast. Microgreens (celery and radish sprouts) and bright yellow mustard flowers were the finishing garnish. The wine match was impeccable – the lamb and cherry flavours linking arms with the soft tannins and blackberry-cassis flavours of the 2012 McWatters Collection Meritage from the Okanagan.

So now we are more than halfway through the campaign and the line-up of chefs who will be heading west to Kelowna in February is a roster of formidable talent. Next week, Toronto and St. John’s!

 

Calgary Gold Medal Plates 2014

08 Nov
Chef Darren Maclean of Downtown Food won silver, seen here applying his new Gold Medal Plates Emblem of Excellence to the restaurant window.

Chef Darren Maclean of Downtown Food won silver, seen here applying his new Gold Medal Plates Emblem of Excellence to the restaurant window.

Blimey, Calgary is such an accomplished and exciting food city! This year, it was Calgary’s turn to host the Canadian Olympic Foundation’s Hall of Fame festivities in the summer which means Gold Medal Plates does not throw a great big gala. Instead we found our 2014 champion with an intimate drive around – a merry afternoon for a delightful group of nine enthusiastic gastronomes, including our four judges, Calgary Senior Judge, writer, broadcaster and educator John Gilchrist, chef Michael Allemeier, last year’s gold medal winner, chef Duncan Ly and yours truly. We visited five establishments – each one of which now sports the new Gold Medal Plates Emblem of Distinction on their doors. Each dish was strikingly different and the standards were extremely high, just six percentage points separating all five competitors. Back at Hotel Arts, we crunched the scores and discussed the dishes in detail, eventually finding our medalists.

Chef Alison Bieber's elegant dish took bronze

Chef Alison Bieber’s elegant dish took bronze

Taking the bronze, by less than one percent, was Alison Bieber of Black Pig Bistro. Her dish was elegant, flawless and deceptively simple. At its heart was a repurposed glass container of the exact type used to package yoghurt in Spain. Inside was a rich, moussy parfait of foie gras and chicken liver topped with an intense sherry jelly, as delicious as a schooner of amontillado. A crispy fried sage leaf stuck out jauntily then crumbled delectably as we dug in. Three perfect rounds of buttery, lightly toasted aerated brioche were there to act as yummy little rafts for the parfait and beside them was a pyramid of stacked, pea-sized spheres of caramelized apple. They formed a great bridge with Chef’s chosen wine, the renowned 2009 Riesling Icewine from Tawse in Niagara, an elixir that was beautifully in tune with the flavours of the dish.

The silver dish

The silver dish

Our silver medal went to Darren Maclean of Downtown Food. His dish was extraordinarily imaginative and technically perfect, a double act involving local rabbit in a dim sum idiom. A bowl held a treasure trove of ingredients centred upon a tender wonton stuffed with moist minced rabbit meat, topped with red tobiko roe. Around it were fragments of “char siu” pressed smoked bacon, heirloom carrot chips, cauliflower and locally foraged orange fungus. Chef completed the dish at the table by pouring on a rich rabbit consommé redolent of authentic Asian flavours and offering serious umame. The second component was a dainty roll of roasted rabbit saddle stuffed with confit of rabbit leg and a core of soft scallions. This was chef’s take on Peking duck, but using rabbit and with cute little chive blinis instead of the traditional pancakes. A sweet-spicy hoisin-like sauce moistened the roll which was topped with shards of super-crispy chicken skin. Tissue-thin rounds of cucumber and a nest of green onion “hair” added refreshment while occasional dots of sriracha added suprising moments of chili heat from time to time. Flecks of pistachio butter pickled chili added delightful textural variety. Chef paired his creation with the bright, citrussy Riesling from Tantalus in the Okanagan.

Dave Bohati's tuna and foie gras dish won gold

Dave Bohati’s tuna and foie gras dish won gold

Taking gold by a small but signficant margin was Dave Bohati of Market Restaurant, a frequent competitor at Gold Medal Plates. His dish was far more abstract in its presentation, with many components giving an endless series of different textural and flavour effects. The principal protein was yellowfin tuna carpaccio, two pink, thinly sliced slabs of the sweet fish. Draped over one was a petal of foie gras torchon cured with Remy Martin and orange peel. Perched on the other was a deliciously crusty piece of cherrywood-smoked, pan-seared foie gras. Then the fun began. Precisely placed to give an illusion of randomness, all sorts of little treats played their roles. Dots of a golden beet and preserved lemon purée. Dots of a green pistachio dashi purée. Dots of a third purée, this one purple and made from purple beets and pickled plum. There were shallow pools of a vinaigrette made with purple cabbage concentrate and scented with the merest hint of truffle oil. There were crumbled fragments of a sweet pistachio sponge toffee. And for colour and herbal flavours, Chef scattered tiny buds of blue oyster flowers, baby nasturtium leaves, purple shiso and sorrel, their subtle, vegetal acidity the last piece of the puzzle. Chef’s chosen wine was a fine match – an off-dry 2013 Riesling from Wild Goose Vineyards.

It was a splendid day and all five chefs deserved our full congratulations. So we have our Calgary champion and will see him again in Kelowna in February. Tomorrow, Saskatoon!

 

 

 

 

 

Montreal Gold Medal Plates 2014

04 Nov

What an extraordinary event that was, last night in Montreal! We began with an imperative – to find a worthy Gold Medal Plates champion to represent the city at February’s Canadian Culinary Championship in Kelowna. Our method was a new departure, reliant on a special partnership in Montreal between Gold Medal Plates and Joey Saputo’s Fondation Impact de Montréal, a charitable foundation with its roots in the Montreal Impact soccer team. With the invaluable inspiration and assistance of our friends at Deloitte, we gathered together 84 VIP guests, meeting for a cocktail at Hotel 10. Then we broke off into five groups and set out into the night to visit five restaurants, taste the chef’s dish and paired drink and find our champion.

Divided between the luxurious vehicles were seven GMP judges – Montreal’s Senior Judge, writer and educator Robert Beauchemin; someone who needs no introduction to the gastronomes of the province of Quebec, author and broadcaster Rollande DesBois; and, completing a quartet of scribes, writer, broadcaster and restaurant critic Gildas Meneu. Also judging were three renowned chefs, each of whom had also won Gold Medal Plates Montreal. First Mathieu Cloutier who went on to win the Canadian Culinary Championship in 2009; beside him Martin Juneau who won the Canadian Culinary Championship in 2011; and finally the mischevious Danny St. Pierre who won the Gold medal here last year. Also mingled amongst us were players from the Montreal Impact and the great Olympic speed skater, Isabelle Charest, lending a little dazzling star power to her particular posse.

So we set off into the chilly Montreal night. Weaving in a complicated choreography through the construction-choked city (a brilliant organisational job by event planner Leidy Ojeda) we visited each restaurant, a shortlist chosen by Robert Beauchemin and the judges that consisted of Impasto (chef Michele Forgione), La Famille (chef Simon Mathys), Barbounya (chef Fisun Ergan), Restaurant Park (chef Antonio Park) and Hôtel Herman (chef Marc-Alexandre Mercier) which isn’t a hotel at all but a cool little bistro. Four hours later, everyone reconvened at the Hotel 10 for an after party while we judges sloped off to crunch our numbers and compare notes. Here’s how it all shook down.

Salmon and carrots from chef Simon Mathys

Salmon and carrots from chef Simon Mathys

Taking the bronze medal by a tiny margin was Simon Mathys. His restaurant La Famille can only seat 12 so he hosted us in another property, a wine bar that he has recently purchased and is about to turn into a new restaurant called Le Beau Frère (definitely one to watch for). His dish was typical of his love for naturalistic presentations and vegetables. At its heart was a generous helping of thickly sliced raw Atlantic salmon, sweet and superbly fresh, the slices jumbled up together. Slivered coins of raw, crunchy pickled carrot were scattered onto the fish – almost the same colour – which had been set onto a base of silky pumpkin purée. Chef makes a fresh cheese in his kitchen using vinegar to curdle his curds and this was crumbled over everything along with a healthy amount of crunchy, nutty sunflower seeds. It was not a dish to dissect – it worked best with all elements crowded onto the fork; hence the presentation. Chef’s match was a dry, delicate hydromel, a honey wine called Envolée from a meadery called Desrochers D, with a honeysuckle nose and a subtle flavour that matched the taste of the salmon.

Chef Michele Forgione gave us octopus and nduja and won silver

Chef Michele Forgione gave us octopus and nduja and won silver

The silver medal went to chef Michele Forgione of Impasto. He chose octopus as his principal protein, pan-searing the thick but delectably tender limbs to a boldly dark degree then quenching the heat with a marinade of honey, lemon juice and olive oil. Slightly charred and sticky, it was an impressive and perfectly seasoned centrepiece. Beneath it, like a coarse purée, chef had spread a pillow of his house-made nduja, that gooey, spicy, skinless salami from Calabrian cooking, vibrant with chili heat. It was a brilliant counterpoint to the octopus. There were tiny seedlings strewn over the octopus for freshness, while plain white kidney beans, left al dente, contributed texture. A surprising addition were little cloaks of smoked cheese that had been melted over the octopus and allowed to harden into something chewy. It was a robust, rustic dish, well matched with a light, fruity wheat-and-barley beer called Cheval Blanc.

Winning gold, chef Antonio Park created an exquisite version of bibimbap

Winning gold, chef Antonio Park created an exquisite version of bibimbap

We awarded our gold medal to a chef who has twice won silver in previous years – Antonio Park of Restaurant Park. Though he grew up in Argentina, Chef Park is Korean and his dish last night was a highly refined translation of the signature Korean dish, bibimbap. Instead of rice and vegetables and egg and hot sauce in a bowl, Chef began by making a very precise roulade of finely julienned vegetables – moist zucchini, carrot, red pepper, nine-hour-braised shiitake mushrooms and cauliflower – all wrapped in spinach, the roll no wider than my thumb. This he wrapped in a chicken mousse to create a sort of boudin blanc with a vegetarian heart. Rather than squirting gochujang chili sauce over it, he took the sauce, merged it with agar-agar and turned it into tiny sheets of fine jelly which he applied as an outer layer to his roll. Then he painted the plate with a brushstroke of the sauce. He set three tomtom-shaped slices of this roll onto each plate as if it were the most elegant maki you  ever saw. The egg component of bibimbap was similarly transformed into something rich and rare – a quail egg, slow-cooked for 2 hours at 63 degrees until it was a semi-liquid, semi-solid entity, was then insinuated into a second, raw quail egg that was quickly poached. Gilding the lily, perhaps, but every one of us went ooh and aaah… To finish, he scattered a crunchy mix of puffed rice – a mixture of basmati, wild rice, brown rice and quinoa – over the dish and shaved some gorgeous black truffles onto everything. It was an extraordinary creation that scored near-maximum points for technique and wow factor. The chosen beverage was a beer called Session Houblon from Le Castor all-organic microbrewery, an ISA, which stands for a style of beer called India Session Ale, and is like a (relatively) mildly hopped, less alcoholic IPA. I thought it was still a bit too hoppy for the dish, but last night no one was going to catch Chef Park. We look forward to his arrival in Kelowna next February with keen anticipation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gold Medal Plates 2014 Victoria

01 Nov

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

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

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

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

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

Wesley Young won silver

Wesley Young won silver

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

Gold for Kristian Eligh

Gold for Kristian Eligh

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

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

 

Victoria Wine Report

By David Lawrason
National Wine Advisor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Gold Medal Plates Emblem of Distinction

29 Oct

EMBLEM

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

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

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

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

 

 

Gold Medal Plates 2014 Edmonton

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

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

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

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

Lindsay Porter's dish won bronze

Lindsay Porter’s dish won bronze

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

Blair Lebsack's dish took silver

Blair Lebsack’s dish took silver

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

Ryan O'Flynn won gold with this dainty plate

Ryan O’Flynn won gold with this dainty plate

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

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

And thank you photographer Johwanna Alleyne for sharing these images.

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

 

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

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

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

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

During the Celebration portion of the evening, when guests are bidding, meeting the athletes and listening to the musicians, there were three wines on every table. In each city, Peller’s Niagara Estate is very generously donating its popular Ice Cuvee matched to the dessert, this in celebration of their big win as Winery of the Year at the Wine Align National Wine Awards of Canada.

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

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

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

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