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.
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.
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.
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
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