Owning the podium, left to right, silver medallist, Mark Gray, gold medallist, Renee Lavallee and bronze medallist, Jason Lynch
The second great gala of the current Gold Medal Plates campaign took place in Halifax last night with an eager crowd of 500 thronging the Cunard Centre to show their support for Canada’s Olympic athletes. Word has got out that the colour red is our chromatic theme this year and that end of the spectrum was much in evidence. The evening’s emcee was none other than chef Michael Howell, himself a former GMP competitor and silver medallist back in 2006; interviewing the horde of elite athletes, Jennifer Botterill had him at a slight advantage in that department with her four Olympic hockey medals – three golds and a silver – but both performed to a championship level last night. As did our musicians, of course – Jim Cuddy, Barney Bentall and Danny Michel.
The line-up of chefs was, I think, the strongest we have ever assembled in Nova Scotia and their creations were keenly anticipated by the culinary jury – a highly professional crew who were also excellent company. Joining me were Halifax Senior Judge Bill Spurr, the restaurant critic for the Chronicle-Herald; chef, author and educator, the Kilted Chef himself, Alain Bosse (splendid in red tartan); sommelier, educator and passionate culinarian Amy Savoury; chef and educator, currently the Hospitality chair at the Nova Scotia Community College, Ted Grant; sommelier, educator, writer and editor Mark DeWolf; and last year’s Halifax Gold Medallist, chef Martin Ruiz Salvador of Fleur de Sel in Lunenburg.
Jason Lynch’s dish won bronze
The chefs did not disappoint. The localist movement is strong here and there were few elements on any of the plates that weren’t from Nova Scotia. In the end, the marks separating second, third and fourth positions were less than one percent. Taking the bronze medal was Jason Lynch of Le Caveau restaurant in Grand Pré. He prepared a tartar of locally farmed red deer, hand-cutting it all at his station – an amazing feat for 500 guests! On the delicate meat he set a quail’s egg yolk like a tiny sun and there were three sauces alongside. The first was a toony-sized pool of green tomatillo hot sauce subtly infused with spruce buds. The second was an amber Dijon, sharpened with verjus. The third was a chunky red tomato chutney. Chef advised us to finish the experience by nibbling a bannock crisp with sea salt as a palate-cleanser. His chosen wine was a fine Nova Scotian Riesling, the 2013 Vintner’s Reserve from Domaine de Grand Pré, its tangy, citric crispness a lovely contrast to the rich tartar.
Mark Gray’s lamb won silver
The silver medal was awarded to Mark Gray of Brooklyn Warehouse in Halifax who chose to work with local lamb shoulder, braising the meat with maple and fenugreek, pulling it like rillettes, then pressing it into a patty which he rolled in milk solids and seared in a pan. It was moist, flavourful and cleverly orchestrated with a smooth, cheese-spiked kohlrabi purée, a smudge of arugula purée and a mound of crunchy, toasted red and white quinoa providing dramatic textural contrast. Strips of pickled Swiss chard were a tart little flourish, fresh baby greens added colour and herbaceousness and the dish was finished with a rich maple and lamb-bone glacé. Chef’s pairing was The Vicar’s Cross Double IPA from Boxing Rock Brewing Co, its powerful hopping proving a tad too aggressive for the dish.
Rene Lavallee’s charming Nova Scotia Picnic won the gold
And so to gold. Our new Halifax champion is Renée Lavallée of The Canteen, in Dartmouth. She named her dish The Nova Scotia Picnic and described it as something her grandmother might have packed up for her when she was a child and on her way to the beach. The separate elements were set out on a small square of red-and-white checked paper and Chef suggested we begin by eating the two fresh green oyster leaves, a local wild plant that really does taste like a raw oyster. It was enough to transport us to the seaside of the chef’s imagination. The main event of the picnic was a stunning little sandwich of moist, flavourful chopped lobster and snow crab with a touch of truffled mayonnaise, presented in a delectably buttery brioche. Beside it was a single potato chip topped with a little mound of very finely textured potato salad and a garnish of Acadian sturgeon caviar. In front of that was an arrangement of exquisite little pickles, each with its own appropriate intensity of saltiness and acidity, all fresh and texturally impeccable – sweet bread-and-butter pickles, a delicately pickled quail egg, crisp yellow beans and a crunchy mess melon, like a minuscule watermelon, the size of a caper berry. A scattering of edible flower petals added colour and charm. Continuing the picnic theme, Chef paired her dish with a refreshing, elegant, fairly dry local cider from Tideview Cider in the Annapolis Valley, a most successful idea.
Congratulations are due to all the chefs who took part last night, and especially to Renée Lavallée. Now we have two names on the roster for Kelowna and the Canadian Culinary Championships. Next week, Edmonton!
And now… Here is the wine report from Halifax, by GMP’s National Wine Advisor, David Lawrason:
Gold Medal Plates Halifax 2014
Nova Scotia wines ruled the waves on October 16 as over 500 guests tasted through the creations of nine chefs from Halifax, Dartmouth, Wolfville and Cape Breton. All but one of the wines, beers and spirits served this night at the Cunard Centre on the Halifax waterfront were also from Nouvelle Écosse. And I must say there was some excitement about what was in the glass, and growing confidence in the current state and future of Nova Scotia wine.
Before we get to the results of the Best of Show Wine Award, a brief digression to say that I had the great pleasure of arriving a day earlier for an update on the progress of NS wines, touring the Annapolis and Gaspereau Valleys with the two friends and colleagues who also joined me at Gold Medal Plates – Craig Pinhey and Sean Wood. I was very impressed by the purity of the whites at Avondale Sky and Painters Ridge, the precision and delicacy of the Benjamin Bridge vintage-dated sparkling wines and the surprising quality of chardonnay and pinot from yet-to-open Lightfoot and Wolfville.
The Best of Show Wine Award goes to the best wine, beer or spirit as judged by a panel of three experts. It was up to the Culinary Judges to rate the food and beverage pairings, we judges looked solely at what’s in the glass.
I was joined by Craig Pinhey from Saint John, New Brunswick, an accomplished wine and beer writer for the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal, a broadcaster, educator, and a veteran judge for the National Wine Awards of Canada and other competitions. Sean Wood of Dartmouth is the former wine columnist for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, and the author of Wines of Nova Scotia, and is just launching his own website Wood on Wine. Both these gentlemen are incredibly passionate and knowledgeable about Nova Scotia and they have had great influence on and have been a sounding board for Nova Scotia’s wine industry.
Our results for the top two beverages were virtually unanimous, with only one point separating them. The very finely tuned, complex Domaine Grand Pré 2013 Vintners Reserve Riesling was named Best of Show, showing the potential of this variety in NS as vines mature. It was followed closely by the delicious Tideview Cider Heritage Semi-Dry, made from a blend of original Normandy apples including Baldwin and Cox’s Orange Pippin. In third spot came Jost 2013 Tidal Bay, a shiny white that reminded me of a slimmed-down New Zealand sauvignon blanc.
The Jost Tidal Bay was poured for guests during the Celebration and Awards portion of the evening, and it was joined by Gaspereau 2013 Lucie Kuhlmann, an almost syrah-like red from a leading local hybrid varietal. Both were generously donated by Carl Sparks of Devonian Coast, a recently created wine company that owns both Jost Vineyards and Gaspereau Vineyards, and makes a third brand called Mercator. Devonian Coast was the exclusive sponsor of the Celebration.
L’Acadie Vineyards was the only wine sponsor of the VIP Reception with Bruce Ewert pouring his Vintage Brut 2011 before and during the Chef’s competition. He has been the most loyal supporter of Gold Medal Plates from Atlantic Canada, donating wines to events in Halifax, St. John’s and Toronto. Guests at the VIP Reception were also treated to a wide range of craft beers by Garrison Brewing Company led in my books by the lovely 3 Fields Harvest Wet Hopped Ale. And Ironworks Distillery created a delicious vodka martini especially for the event.
It was a big night for Tideview Cider, as their semi-dry accompanied the gold medal that went to the podium with the winning chef Renée Lavallée of The Canteen in Dartmouth. This earns Tideview the right to pour alongside René Lavallée at the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna. Silver medal-winning chef Mark Gray of Brooklyn Warehouse poured The Vicar’s Cross Double IPA from Boxing Rock Brewing Co; and the bronze medalist, Jason Lynch of Le Caveau restaurant in Grand Pré, poured his winery’s award-winning 2013 Vintners Reserve Riesling.
Other wines and spirits kindly donated and poured this night included Gaspereau Vineyards Tidal Bay, Benjamin Bridge Tidal Bay, Avondale Sky Benediction, Luckett Vineyards Rosetta, Thirty Bench Red 2008 (the only non-NS wine) and Glenora 14 Year Old Cape Breton Rare Whisky.