“…And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That ate with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”
Yes, Friday night was the feast of Saints Crispian and Crispianus, 598th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt, and we celebrated it in style in Winnipeg. We few, we happy few, we band of judges – Jeff Gill (chef, Director, Food Services at Red River College and our Senior Judge), Christine Hanlon (author and food critic), Barbara O’Hara (pastry chef and restaurateur) and last year’s gold medallist, Chef Östen Rice of Wasabi Sabi – we kept our cool amidst the hurly-burly. Shakespeare makes no reference to it, but chroniclers relate that King Henry V left Southampton for Harfleur with a full personal retinue of cooks and entertainers, the latter admirably represented last night by troubadours George Canyon (I’m going to buy all his CDs now) and Jim Cuddy (already got all his) with Olympians Curt Harnett and Simon Whitfield sharing the emcee duties.
As for the chefs – we ended up with the tightest scoring I can ever remember between bronze, silver and gold, all three dishes separated by a mere 1.4 percent. Taking bronze was Simon Resch of Terrace in the Park. He took a pan-Canadian theme with four separate elements on the plate, each one representing a different region of the country. For the west, he took a slice of octopus limb he had cooked sous vide to a remarkable tenderness and set it on a plinth of mirin-spiked sticky rice. Two nifty garnishes were a cube of soy-marinated mango and a postage stamp of crispy salmon skin. For the prairies, he made a rich rillette of northern pike, pulled pork belly and lentils set in a crispy, fragile little basket that turned out to be made of strands of the pulled pork belly set in place by a judicious and undetectable dash of cornstarch. For Quebec, he made a torchon of foie gras as soft and delicately flavoured as butter which he rolled in smoked and blanched black sesame seeds, Malden salt and (his young daughter’s idea) rice crispies for crunch. On top posed a sliver of pear from a tree in his father’s garden. The fourth component of the dish was a perfectly timed chunk of butter-poached lobster tail, not so rare that it lacked flavour and not so cooked that it clenched, just tremblingly tender, juicy and sapid. Chef resch set this treasure in a broad hoop of tissue-thin potato crisp and garnished it with doll-sized moments of cucumber, marinated cippolini onion and Nova Scotian seaweed. The fifth and final element was the wine he chose, the dry, lightweight but intense and tangy 2011 John Howard’s Traveller’s Series Riesling from Megalomaniac winery in Niagara. It worked equally well with all four food components and brought them together in much the same way (dare I say) as GMP brings together the far-flung regions of Canada.
Our silver medal was won by Tim Palmer of The Velvet Glove at The Fairmont Winnipeg. He called his dish Duck3 and indeed there were three treatments of duck on the plate. The first was a torchon of duck liver mousse streaked with a pleasantly bitter cocoa-nib glaze and garnished with raspberry pearls that chef and his team made à la minute at his station, and little seedlings of carrot cress and lamb’s lettuce. A crumble of crispy fried duck skin added interesting crunch. Then there was a “chop” of the duck breast rolled in its own skin and cooked sous vide then finished in a sauté pan, the meat firm and juicy, a dainty duck rib bone sticking out of the top to justify the name of chop. Chef spooned a reduced duck jus to the side of the cutlet. The third element of the dish was a jambonette, a breaded and fried croquette made of pulled duck leg confit, well-seasoned and spiked with meyer lemon and minced cornichons. A mound of raspberry powder and dots of hibiscus coulis looked amazingly colourful but provided all sorts of fruit flavours to the various ducky bits. Chef Palmer’s wine was the 2012 Quail’s Gate Gewurztraminer from the Okanagan, a wine with just the right amount of aromatic beauty and a dot of residual sweetness that worked really well with the dish.
Our gold medal went to Kelly Cattani, chef at Elements the Restaurant, by Diversity. She used elk striploin tataki as her principal protein, searing it briefly in avocado oil then finishing it in a circulator. The thinly sliced meat ended up delectably supple and tender, crumpled like crimson satin over a hank of perfect soba noodles on a bed of thick, chunky edamame purée. Matchsticks of lightly pickled carrot and crumbled rice crisp added textural fun while two oils, one of chili, the other green and herbal made their own subtle points. A tooney-sized pool of caramelized onion gel, like a sweet onion soubise was the final moment of inspiration. The dish was a fascinating mosaic of cool, fresh flavours and Chef Cattani’s wine choice scored near perfect marks as a companion – Blue Mountain’s lightweight but fruity Pinot Noir.
As mentioned, the marks were incredibly close between these three chefs and they all deserved their standing ovation, but Kelly Cattani was a worthy winner, upon St. Crispin’s Day. I look forward very much to seeing what she will accomplish in Kelowna in February.
And now here is the Wine Report from Winnipeg courtesy of David Lawrason, Gold Medal Plates’s National Wine Advisor:
Blue Mountain Pinot Peaks in Winnipeg
The bright, layered and seductive Blue Mountain 2011 Pinot Noir carted off the two top honours of the evening at the Winnipeg edition of Gold Medal Plates 2013. It was the unanimous choice of the wine judges as Best Wine of Show, and the food judges also hailed it as a fine match to the elk-based dish of gold medal chef Kelly Catani of Elements The Restaurant. So Blue Mountain returns to its home in the Okanagan for the Canadian Culinary Championships in February.
The Best of Show Wine Award is a judging of all the wines in each city to recognize the generosity of the Canadian wine industry, which each year counts over 60 wineries as donors. The winning wineries have increased odds in a draw to spend a week at Borgo San Felice in Tuscany.
The pristine, beautifully fresh and delicate Quails’ Gate 2012 Gewurztraminer also wowed both sets of judges. It was runner-up for Best Wine of Show and was matched with silver medal winning chef of Tim Palmer of Velvet Glove at the Fairmont. A second Winnipeg chef, Terry Gereta of Mise, also chose it to pair with his dish.
The second runner up was Sandhill 2011 Chardonnay from the Okanagan Valley, a lovely rich yet balanced oak-aged chardonnay served to all 500 guests at the Celebration. It was joined by Wayne Gretzky 2011 Cabernet Syrah, both being from the portfolio of Andrew Peller Ltd, this year’s National Celebration Wine Sponsor. Peller also provided Trius 2102 Sauvignon Blanc, Sandhill 2012 Merlot and Red Rooster 2011 Pinot Blanc to the VIP Reception.
Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries is also a major sponsor in Winnipeg, the only provincial liquor board to be supporting our Olympic athletes through direct product donation. As well as helping some of the chefs this year, they also donated Sibling Rivalry 2012 Red to the Celebration, which was specifically matched to a black forest cake. And as a dry wine it worked very well.
In Winnipeg I was joined at the judges table by two rising stars of the local wine scene. Andrea Eby is a sommelier, wine consultant and educator at Banville & Jones Wine Company, a private wine retailer. She is a contributing editor of the Cellar Door magazine, secretary of the Manitoba Chapter of the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers and an instructor of wine at Red River College.
Stephanie Mills is a Product Consultant for the Manitoba Liquor Marts, currently at the Grant Park location. She won the Wine Taster of the Year award from the Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries after completing her studies with the International Sommelier Guild. She developed her passion for wine while travelling in Europe in 2006, and there is no looking back.
The judging process involved each judge ranking their top five wines. After the virtual unanimity of our first three selections we began to differ on the remaining contenders. The following all received at least one placement in the top five: Megalomaniac 2011 Riesling; Stratus 2011 Wildass White, Burrowing Owl 2010 Merlot and Flat Rock 2010 Pinot Noir.
Last year Winnipeg chefs served three different brews, this year only Chef Jason Sopel of Chaise Café & Lounge went that route serving hearty perogies with a dark savoury Muskoka Beard Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout.
All in all it was a strong showing for Canadian wine in Winnipeg, which due to its midway point in the country has the best balanced selection of wines from both sides of the country.
Onward to Toronto.