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.
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.
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.
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.