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  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 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 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


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.









Restaurants for Change TOMORROW!

21 Oct


Tomorrow is the big night! October 22! I do hope you’ll be supporting Restaurants for Change by having dinner at one of the following restaurants. Amazing food for a very worthwhile cause.

In Calgary, Charcut, Rouge and NOtaBLE

In Halifax: Chives Canadian Bistro.

In Montreal: Garde Manger, Le Bremner and Nora Gray.

In Ottawa: Atelier and Juniper Kitchen and Wine Bar.

In Perth: The Masonry.

In Stratford: Foster’s Inn.

In Vancouver: Hawksworth Restaurant and Vij’s Restaurant.

In Winnipeg: Deer + Almond and Elements by Diversity Restaurant.

And Here in Toronto, it’s Bar Buca, Buca and Buca Yorkville, Edulis, Jacobs Steakhouse, Richmond Station, Ruby Watchco, The Drake One Fifty, The Saint Tavern and THR+Co.

You can learn more at | Facebook/LinkedIn: Community Food Centres Canada | Twitter/Instagram/YouTube: @aplaceforfood #foodforgood


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Halifax Gold Medal Plates 2014

17 Oct
Owning the podium, left to right, silver medallist, Mark Gray, gold medallist, Renee Lavallee and bronze medallist, Jason Lynch

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

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

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

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

Wine Report


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.





Restaurants for Change

08 Oct


To The Saint Tavern last night for the launch of a very exciting project! Let me cut to the chase. We must all go out and have dinner at one of 25 excellent Canadian restaurants on October 22. If we do that, certain extraordinary things will start to happen. Great wheels will begin to move. Social inertia will be suddenly galvanized by a spark of energy. The complicated mechanism of that splendid organisation called Community Food Centres Canada will speed up its work bringing people together to grow, cook, share and advocate for good, healthy food for all.

The CFCC is Nick Saul’s creation, a nationwide extrapolation of the amazing success he had with The Stop in Toronto. The fundraising push on October 22 is called Restaurants for Change and in this, its first year, it involves 25 restaurants in nine cities across Canada. You’ll find them listed below. It’s a list we should all print and carry in our wallets, not just to make our reservations on October 22 but so we can remember and visit these places whenever we feel the urge to eat out.

I am in awe of the chefs and restaurateurs who have signed up for this initiative, donating all or part of their restaurants’ proceeds on that particular evening to the CFCC. No people in our community are called upon more often to donate their time, money and genius to worthy causes than our chefs and restaurateurs,  and it is amazing how often they answer, “Yes, okay, of course I’d be glad to help.”

They are the engine that powers the machine for social justice that was built by the CFCC. You, dear restaurant-goer, are the fortunate passenger, having a fabulous meal in a renowned restaurant, with every mouthful made more savoury and delicious by the knowledge that you are doing good.

I know, I know, it is disgraceful that in a country as rich as Canada there are still millions of people who rely on Community Food Centres for their next meal. Our politicians sit gazing into their mirrors, year after year, enthralled by their own reflections, and do nothing. So it is up to these heroes to step to the plate. Here is the list of the restaurants involved:

In Calgary, Charcut, Rouge and NOtaBLE

In Halifax: Chives Canadian Bistro.

In Montreal: Garde Manger, Le Bremner and Nora Gray.

In Ottawa: Atelier and Juniper Kitchen and Wine Bar.

In Perth: The Masonry.

In Stratford: Foster’s Inn.

In Vancouver: Hawksworth Restaurant and Vij’s Restaurant.

In Winnipeg: Deer + Almond and Elements by Diversity Restaurant.

And Here in Toronto, it’s Bar Buca, Buca and Buca Yorkville, Edulis, Jacobs Steakhouse, Richmond Station, Ruby Watchco, The Drake One Fifty, The Saint Tavern and THR+Co.

In other words, The Young and the Righteous! And the talented… Dining in these places will be a hedonistic thrill as well as a noble endeavour.

That’s all I’ll say for now. You can learn more at | Facebook/LinkedIn: Community Food Centres Canada | Twitter/Instagram/YouTube: @aplaceforfood #foodforgood

Tell your friends! Let’s PACK these restaurants on October 22. And next year let’s grow it from 25 names to 100.


Gabriel Li took this picture of some of us at The Saint last night. True Toronto foodies should be able to name everyone here...

Gabriel Li took this picture of some of us at The Saint last night. True Toronto foodies should be able to name everyone here…