Toronto Gold Medal Plates 2015

06 Nov


Victor Barry's amazing carrot

Victor Barry’s amazing carrot

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.

Damon Campbell's awesome lamb neck

Damon Campbell’s awesome lamb neck

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.

Stuart Cameron's exotic, fragrant quail

Stuart Cameron’s exotic, fragrant quail

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.

The Whites

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

The Reds

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






















Calgary Gold Medal Plates 2015

04 Nov

On Tuesday, Calgary gave us our first intimation of winter, temperatures well below zero as we drove in from the airport, the dun-coloured prairie grass rimed white with frost. But the city centre was bustling and the exhibition halls in the Telus Centre looked unusually glamorous as the team set up the show. In the event, it was downright amazing, emceed by Curt Harnett with his customary suavity and wit, with Olympic gold medallist Michelle Cameron Coulter interviewing the inspiring parade of no less than 29 elite Olympian athletes, and auctioneer Bill Brown coaxing the crowd into buying a gobsmacking number of trips. And then there was the music from our band of all-stars – Jim Cuddy, Barney Bentall, Anne Lindsay, Colin Cripps, Devin Cuddy and Sam Polley. Each song was greeted with an ovation, each solo brought people to their feet and there was way too much dancing in the aisles and at the front of the stage.

Last year, you may recall, our Calgary champion was chosen by a drive-around event for a trio of judges, so it was great to get the judiciary back to strength. The Calgary panel of judges is certainly one of the most illustrious in the country, led by Senior Judge, author, broadcaster, educator and culinary adventurer John Gilchrist with chef, culinary instructor and television star Michael Allemeier; chef, mentor and restaurateur Michael Noble; writer, traveller, editor and publisher of City Palate, Kathy Richardier; Red Seal Chef, caterer and entrepreneur Susan Pataky of J. Webb Market Wines; and last year’s gold medal winner, Chef Dave Bohati of The Fine Food Stop.

What no one was expecting was that we would make GMP history last night with a dead heat for the bronze medal. Two chefs scored 82.14% – Shaun Desaulniers of ChefBar and Kenny Kaechele of Workshop kitchen+culture. We judges debated, tried hard to find a reason why one of them was better than the other, and failed. So, for the first time in all our years and in all our cities, the two men shared the bronze podium, to the delight of the audience. In no particular order, here is what they cooked.

Shaun Desaulniers's elegant rabbit

Shaun Desaulniers’s elegant rabbit

Shaun Desaulniers offered a slice of a classic crepinette of rabbit, the meat perfectly juicy and flavourful in a matrix of chanterelle mousse, held in place by the merest suggestion of cawl fat. Beneath the slender disc we found four or five miniature yam gnocchi, unabashedly substantial and finished ion the pan to give them a light crust. A truffled cauliflower purée was precisely that – a sort of ethereal cream in deliberate contrast to a couple of big chunks of Brussels sprout, candied with maple syrup and then tanned in the searing pan. A natural rabbit jus served as sauce and the whole dish was finished with a pretty garnish of sunflower seeds, celery leaf and a dime of peppered radish. All the flavours were lucid and true and the wine match was inspired – the 2012 Pinot Noir from Summerhill Winery in the Okanagan.


kaechele smallest

Kenny Kaechele’s delectable ribeye


Scoring identical marks in total, though in widely different categories, Keny Kaechele started his dish by contemplating his wine, the 2012 Small Lots Malbec from Sandhill Estate Vineyard in the Okanagan. It’s an elegant, disciplined Malbec with delicate tannins and aromatic fruit and Chef decided that beef was the ideal match. He cooked rib eye steaks sous vide just long enough to leave them red at heart, marinated them briefly in a vibrant chimichurri then seared them to an ideal medium-rare level. Each plate received three slices. Beside that were two thick little sandwiches made by layering ridiculously tender, moist beef neck between crisped ground chickpea panisse, like a version of polenta. Almost stealing the show, a creamy sauce the colour of pistachio ice cream turned out to be an emulsion of charred leek soubise and smoked butter. Pickled turnips provided a nice edge, a simple veal stock reduction reinforced meaty flavour and a scattering of cilantro microgreens offered a fresh reference back to the chimichurri marinade.

Jinhee Lee's deconstructed banh mi

Jinhee Lee’s deconstructed banh mi

Our silver medal went to Jinhee Lee of Raw Bar in the Hotel Arts. Chef Lee is an old friend of Gold Medal Plates, having come to Kelowna last year as sous chef to Calgary champion Duncan Ly, and her dish was spectacular, a deconstructed bánh mi inspired by the contemporary Vietnamese cooking one finds in her restaurant. The main protein was a slice of a meaty torchon made with the picked meat from a pork hock bound by rillettes and spiked with green onion and pickled thai red chilies. There was real heat in it – a risky step – but the judges were delighted. Beside the torchon we found a slice of supersoft, butter-rich parfait of chicken liver and foie gras topped with a bright green stripe of scallion butter. The chili idea popped up again in a dynamic jalapeño purée, matched by some tart crunchy little pickled vegetables and dots of unctuous satay sauce. In lieu of the bread you’d expect in a bánh mi, Chef Lee included tiny cut-out circles of crispy steamed bread and finished with a scattering of mint leaves and flower petals. There were some challenging elements for a wine in the dish – pickles, chilies, peanuts, etcetera, but Chef responded brilliantly with a sturdy, off-dry rosé, the 2014 Blanc de Noirs Rosé from Baillie-Grohman Estate Winery in Creston, B.C., which she deliberately presented at room temperature.

Matthew Batey's sable and octopus

Matthew Batey’s sable and octopus

And our gold medalist? Matthew Batey of The Nash Restaurant & Off Cut Bar. Before anyone raises a hand to point out that one of the judges, Chef Miuchael Noble, happens to own Nash, let me reassure you that he was forbidden from marking Chef Batey. Instead, an average mark was calculated from the other judges’ scores and applied – something we do wherever there might be a perceived conflict of interest by critical eyes. Chef Batey’s dish was a popular winner with the crowd and the judges. It was remarkably delicate and technically flawless. Set apart from the rest of the plate stood a warm chunk of tender, juicy alder-smoked sablefish, as rich and soft a nugget as you could hope to find. Close by lay a thin but quite large rectangular slice of an octopus compression held together by its own juices and the merest hint of an aspic made from the accompanying wine. The octopus had a fine, faint flavour of the sea echoed in the hint of uni that Chef had beaten into a foamy sabayon. A spoonful of said sabayon sat like a mushroom cap on a wee drum of potato croquette flavoured with lemon zest and minced prosciutto. On top of it all was half a teaspoonful of Northern Divine sturgeon caviar. Various minutiae decorated the plate, all of them offering unexpectedly powerful flavours – dots of crimson mint and beetroot purée; flower petals; flecks of what could have been raw lemon but was more likely Asian pear soaked in lemon juice. It was a very accomplished dish and brilliantly matched with the dry but rich, acidic sparkling Chenin Blanc from Road 13 Vineyards in Oliver B.C.

Matthew Batey will be going to Kelowna in February for the Canadian Culinary Championship. We are half way through this year’s campaign and the bar is rising higher all the time. Tomorrow: Toronto!



Halifax Gold Medal Plates 2015

02 Nov

With the remnants of Hurricane Patricia pushing us towards the Atlantic, the Gold Medal Plates team had a bumpy ride to Halifax but horizontal rain and a gusting gale couldn’t dampen the warmth of our welcome. Nor did it deter the jubilant crowd who filled the Cunard Centre last Thursday night, ready to taste, listen, bid, and finally rock with our brilliant house band of Jim Cuddy, Danny Michel, Anne Lindsay, Colin Cripps and Jim’s two sons, Devin Cuddy and Sam Polley. Curt Harnett and Nancy Regan shared the MC duties, keeping the mood merry and the energy levels high. Meanwhile we judges had our hands full with one of the strongest line-ups of Nova Scotian chefs we have ever brought together. Joining me were Halifax Senior Judge Bill Spurr, the restaurant critic for the Chronicle-Herald; chef, author and educator, the Kilted Chef, Alain Bossé; sommelier, educator and passionate culinarian Amy Savoury; chef and educator, currently the Hospitality chair at the Nova Scotia Community College, Ted Grant; chef and local gastronomy advocate Jason Lynch; and last year’s Halifax Gold Medalist, the Feisty Chef herself, Renée Lavallée of The Canteen.

Pork belly was much in evidence at the chefs’ stations but prepared in delectably different ways, and we were treated to a wide variety of local marine life, not to mention some of Nova Scotia’s finest wines. And while the marks were very close between our second, third and fourth favourites, our gold medallist was a clear and unanimous victor.

Ardon Mofford's pork loin and scallop

Ardon Mofford’s pork belly and scallop

We awarded the bronze medal to Chef Ardon Mofford of Governor’s Pub & Eatery in Sydney. His dish offered a lively contrast of rich and tangy flavours and a double-whammy in terms of protein with an impeccably seared scallop and a deliciously caramelized slab of slow-cooked pork belly that still retained its textural integrity. A stripe of butternut squash purée, spiked with maple syrup, picked up and amplified the natural sweetness of the pork and the scallop. Acidity was provided at three levels of sharpness with dots of a smoked chorizo-tomato gel, a forthright kale chimichurri and a disc of pickled candystripe beet the size of a quarter. A candied tomato chip leaned jauntily against the pork belly and the final flourishes included a scattering of pea shoots and a sprinkle of powder made from pumpkin seed and brown butter. Chef Mofford chose his matching wine for its racy acidity and citrus notes – the 2014 Reserve Riesling from Domaine de Grand Pré in Grand Pré, Nova Scotia.

Thomas Carey's pork belly and kimchee

Thomas Carey’s pork belly and kimchee

Chef Thomas Carey from Fresh Twenty One in Dartmouth won the silver medal with a dish of relatively simple but perfectly pitched harmonies. He too chose to work with pork belly, cooking it sous-vide for 48 hours and glazing it with peanut and sweet chili. A mound of crunchy white kimchee was more pickled than fermented, tart little ribbons of cabbage that contrasted beautifully with the pork. A ginger-apricot purée proved a gentler, fruitier condiment and the dish was finished with a dusting of onion ash and some delicious puffed pork shreds as a garnish. Chef Carey chose a Select Late Harvest wine, its sweetness working beautifully with the pork in one of the evening’s most successful pairings – the 2013 Martock Select Late Harvest Vidal from Avondale Sky Winery in Newport Station, Nova Scotia.

Martin Ruiz Salvador's "Rabbit and Snails"

Martin Ruiz Salvador’s “Rabbit and Snails”

The gold medal was awarded to Chef Martín Ruiz Salvador of Fleur de Sel in Lunenburg – the third time he has won Gold Medal Plates Halifax. His was a dish of great sophistication and ambition, dazzlingly well executed and satisfying on every level. It was inspired by Chef’s chosen wine, the 2013 Ancienne Chardonnay from Lightfoot and Wolfville winery in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Aged in French oak in the Burgundian style it nonetheless showed the crisp acidity and minerality of Nova Scotia’s vineyards, and Chef decided to take that as his theme, bringing classic French dishes to his plate but giving them a decidedly Nova Scotian twist. There were four principal elements grouped under the title “Rabbit and Snails,” though the snails in question were whelks from the Atlantic shore. Chef’s Maritime take on a traditional French ham hock and parsley terrine used not ham but the rabbit’s shoulder, brined and confited and seasoned with sea parsley, then topped with a dab of bone marrow mayonnaise and a bonnet of soft green sea lettuce. The second component was a tiny drum of the rabbit loin stuffed with whelks and shallots and wrapped in bacon. Topped with slices of rabbit kidney and toasted breadcrumbs it was served with a whelk shell used as a vessel for a sensationally delicious sauce, a smooth cream of local ceps, Dijon mustard and white wine, to be poured over the loin. The third element was a “cassoulet,” interpreted by the rabbit leg stuffed with a moussy sausage and dressed with a scattering of bright green edamame beans. They had been tossed with rabbit “lardons” made by curing and smoking the rabbit bellies, cooking them sous-vide then sautéeing them. A pungent parsley root purée based this part of the dish. To finish, a doll-sized quenelle of rabbit liver parfait sweetened with a local apple brandy was set on a disc of apple that had been poached in wine and butter. A confit of onion, mustard seed and honey enhanced the light, creamy parfait and a tiny rabbit-suet chicharon provided the coup de grace. It was an extraordinarily complex dish, but every element made its own contribution to a seamless overall brilliance. And yes, it worked extremely well with that impressive Chardonnay.

So we have our fourth champion in Martín Ruiz Salvador. Like two of our other gold medallists this year, Jan Trittenbach from Edmonton and Jonathan Thauberger from Regina, he has competed in the Canadian Culinary Championship before. Just four cities into the campaign and already Kelowna is shaping up to be a clash of titans. Later this week, Calgary and Toronto!



Toronto Symphony Fine Wine Auction on November 10

31 Oct


It’s hard to believe that this is the 25th anniversary of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra Fine Wine Charity Auction! The great event takes place on Tuesday, November 10, up on the 56th floor of the CIBC, Commerce Court West, 199 Bay Street.

This year the amazing inventory consists of about half a million dollars worth of fine and rare wines – a good opportunity to fill some gaps in your wine cellar.

And of course it is all for a very worthy cause, raising much-needed funds for The Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

To join in the fun you must register online as a bidder. Go to to do that, check out the huge catalogue and find out everything else you need to know.

Reception 5:30 pm; Auction 6:15 for 6:30 p.m. start Auctioneer: Stephen Ranger




Regina Gold Medal Plates 2015

24 Oct

I have a soft spot for Regina’s Conexus Arts Centre, despite its somewhat Brutalist concrete demeanour. They built it beside a lake in a rural setting on the edge of town and yesterday evening it looked splendid amidst the trees, bathed in warm prairie sunshine. We use a most imaginative set-up there, with the chefs’ stations constructed on various levels of the theatre foyers and the lavishly decorated tables for the sit-down celebration placed on the actual stage. There we build a stage-upon-a-stage for our parades of chefs and athletes, our dignitaries and our auctioneer, our unflappable and hilarious MC, Curt Harnett, and of course our awe-inspiring musical show, last night starring Colin Cripps, Geoffrey Kelly and Matthew Harder of Spirit of the West, Devin Cuddy, Sam Polley and the incomparable Anne Lindsay whose violin solo in Five Days in May brought the entire crowd to its feet for a spontaneous standing ovation.

Before all that, we judges mingled with the VIPs during the reception then retired to a private chamber to taste and make our deep decisions led by our Senior Judge for Regina, author, photographer, broadcaster and journalist C J Katz, together with Execuitive Chef of the Regina Legislature and captain of the Saskatchewan Culinary Team at the 2000 Culinary Olympics, Trent Brears; chef and educator Thomas Rush; writer, blogger, restaurant columnist and television producer Aidan Morgan; and last year’s gold medallist, Chef Milton Rebello of Wascana Country Club.

Leo Pantel's pork belly

Leo Pantel’s pork belly

It was a fine array of dishes this year, starting with ethereal Japanese flavours paired with sake and finishing with a rich harmony of chicken liver taco and mixed sweet and savoury elements matched with a hearty oatmeal stout. The dish that won the bronze medal for Chef Leo Pantel of the Conexus Art Centre was well towards the meaty end of this spectrum. It centred upon a generous slab of juicy Berkshire pork belly, cooked sous vide and then seared with a sweet crust of panko and pomegranate molasses. Two incredibly dainty rye and gruyère crisps crowned the meat, topped with a sprinkling of red amaranth microgreens. A dark raisin sauce echoed the sweetness of the glaze, as did slivers of port-infused figs, while a piquant pickled ramp, pinked with beet juice, added crunch and sharpness. Chef Pantel’s wine match was very successful – the 2012 Norman Hardie Pinot Noir from Prince Edward County, Ontario, its minerality and acid structure in lively contrast to the richness of the pork.

David Straub's Freshly Dug Potatoes

David Straub’s Freshly Dug Potatoes

Chef David Straub of Flip Eatery and Drink won our silver medal with a dish he called “Freshly Dug Potatoes.” “It’s a play on my growing up as a farm boy,” he explained, and indeed his plating had a touch of the farm pond landscape about it. Three turned parisienne potatoes about three-quarters of an inch in diameter were placed in a pool of intensely flavourful duck demi-glace, banked around with a piped ring of goose foie gras mousse – a trio of umame-rich elements that delighted the judges. Strewn across them was a scattering of “soil” made by dehydrating roasted parsnip, celeriac and sunchoke, roasting them again to caramelize the surface and then crumbling all to powder. A broad green stripe of asparagus, dill and chive emulsion brought freshness to the party and the plate was finished with some perfect, tissue-thin salt-and-vinegar potato chips to use as scoops for the foie and the demi. Chef Straub’s wine match – the 2014 Chenin Blanc from Quail’s Gate Estate Winery in the Okanagan – was deliberately integrated into the concept of the dish, balancing the richness with a dry, grassy coolness.

Jonathan Thauberger's Trip to the Beach

Jonathan Thauberger’s Trip to the Beach

Our gold-medal winner has won it before – Chef Jonathan Thauberger of Crave Kitchen & Wine Bar. He too had a name for his dish – “A Trip to the Beach.” Elegantly plated, it began with a crescent of “sand” made with dried brioche breadcrumbs tossed with pulverized seaweed and powdered dehydrated mussels and scallops with some finely chopped chives for colour. Lying across this delicious shoreline was a piece of “driftwood” – actually a crisp tempura scallion. Beside it lay some silky-soft slices of lightly poached diver scallops, their rims stained mauve with beet juice and their sweet, rich flavour sparked by a scattering of green tobiko roe. The pièce de resistance of the dish was a dome of jellied dashi broth, set not with gelatin but with the natural collagen of fish bones in the stock. Transfixed inside was a miniature pansy blossom and various fruits de mer – morsels of king crab, langoustines, peeled Pacific shrimp – and a raw quail’s egg yolk that oozed out as a sauce when my fork pierced the dome. Beside this treasure trove were dots of “sea foam” – in fact a tasty béarnaise sauce dotted with dark green arugula purée. It was a marvellous dish, sensitively paired with a subtly aromatic, full-bodied white blend of Viognier, Marsanne and Rousanne called Ava, made by Le Vieux Pin in the South Okanagan.

So Chef Thauberger will return to Kelowna next February, a very worthy local champion bearing the hopes of Regina on his shoulders. Next week, we move on to Halifax!


Edmonton Gold Medal Plates 2015

23 Oct

Gold Medal Plates loves Edmonton! Last night, it was clear that the feeling is mutual. The sold-out crowd of 780 (a new record) at the Shaw Centre came to party as if we were already in Rio, cheering on our Olympic athletes, our splendid chefs and their teams, and a stage-full of dazzlingly talented musicians – a veritable orchestra of rock starring Barney Bentall, Anne Lindsay, Colin Cripps, Devin Cuddy, Sam Polley and Geoffrey Kelly and Matthew Harder of Spirit of the West. Curt Harnett was the smoothest and most amusing of MCs. There was much dancing in the aisles and an eye-popping energy level that was sustained right through the auction (so many trips sold!) to the final announcement of the winning chefs.

Choosing who made it to the podium was no cakewalk for our panel of judges led by Edmonton Senior Judge, Mary Bailey, who is a food, wine and travel writer, certified sommelier and publisher of The Tomato Food & Drink, alongside world-class pastry chef and chef instructor, Clayton Folkers; award-winning reporter for The Edmonton Journal, Liane Faulder; Red Seal Chef, food writer, educator and owner of Seasoned Solutions’ Loft Cooking School, Culinary Tours, Gail Hall; chef Chris Wood; chef, author and owner of Kitchen culinary studio, Brad Smoliak; and of course last year’s Edmonton gold medal winner and reigning Canadian Culinary Champion, Chef Ryan O’Flynn of the Westin Edmonton hotel.

Chef Rakowski's beef

Chef Rakowski’s beef

It’s fascinating to see how far Edmonton’s food scene has come in the last decade of Gold Medal Plates competitions. Last night was remarkable for the imagination, sophistication and precision of so many of the dishes, as well as the wide variety of culinary styles on show. While we ended up with a clear winner, our bronze and silver medallists were separated by only 0.5 of a percentage point. We awarded the bronze to Cory Rakowski of 12 Acres, an extraordinary restaurant that exists in partnership with 12 Acres Farm in Pickardville, Alberta, and operates a true pasture-to-plate concept, self-sustaining where all ingredients except cheese are concerned. Chef Rakowski presented a triptych of beef from an animal raised on the farm, moving from cold to hot and raw to well done. The raw component was tartare of beef heart served in a miniature buckwheat tuile cup and sprinkled with toasted buckwheat groats. The warm element was sliced flat iron steak, admirably tender and seasoned with finishing salt. The piping hot moment was a crisp croquette of pulled beef cheek moistened and enriched with foie gras. All three items sat upon a bed of toothsome wheatberry and squash pilaf, decorated with rolled up ribbons of squash. A saskatoonberry gastrique finished the plate and served as a fine bridge into Chef’s chosen wine, the 2012 Castoro de Oro Estate Winery Merlot from Oliver, B.C.

Chef Cowan's silky charcuterie

Chef Cowan’s silky charcuterie

Our silver medallist, Andrew Cowan from Packrat Louie Kitchen and Bar, approached the competition from a very different direction, announcing to the judges that he wanted to do a dish that used his three favourite foods – charcuterie, bread and foie gras. The result was universally relished by all the judges, a sort of deconstructed sandwich that looked beautiful and tasted even better. The bread was a fine fresh white sourdough, torn up into ragged pieces and smothered with a mostarda made of chunks of fresh peach and soft juicy knobs of foie gras in a tangy mustard dressing. Draped over everything like a sleeve of pink and white silk were tissue-thin slices of pork loin that chef had cured, lightly smoked and then dry-aged for three months – a heavenly cold cut! Mustard seed “caviar” was the condiment and a scattering of carrot tops completed a disarmingly simple but perfectly executed dish. The wine match, Mission Hill’s 2014 Reserve Riesling from the Okanagan Valley, had just the ringing acidity to cut the fat on the plate.

Chef Trittenbach's pork

Chef Trittenbach’s pork

Our gold medallist has won Gold Medal Plates Edmonton before, in 2011 – Jan Trittenbach from Solstice Seasonal Cuisine. He chose to work with pork, offering a sensational bite-sized piece of pork belly that was delightfully lean but unctuously soft beneath its crisp surface. As a second component he made a roulade of pork stuffed with ricotta and wrapped in a skin of soft leek. Between them stood a perfect mushroom that turned out to be the cap of a cremini lightly marinated with soy, sesame and vinegar, but with a stalk made of a porcini tuile tube filled with silky bacon “caviar.” A fourth element was an elfin cup hollowed from a morsel of sweet potato and filled with coarsely puréed mushroom. There were moments of beet purée and spinach purée on the plate and a mound of “soil” made from powdered beet and pistachio from which the mushroom appeared to be growing. Microgreens added to the impression of a forest floor. Technically impeccable, the dish was finely matched with a red blend from the Okanagan, Sandhill 2012 Small Lots Three.

Et voila! Jan Trittenbach is going back to Kelowna next February, representing Edmonton. Tonight? On to Regina!












Tonight! Restaurants for Change!

21 Oct
"Where did you have dinner on October 21, Daddy?"

“Where did you have dinner on October 21, Daddy?”

Tonight is the night! Restaurants across the country are most generously donating the proceeds for the dinner service tonight to Community Food Centres Canada, an amazing cause. Please support these noble chefs and restaurateurs by making sure their establishments are sold out! Here are the restaurants involved this year:

restnts fior change


Winnipeg Gold Medal Plates 2015

17 Oct

What a way to kick off the new Gold Medal Plates campaign! It was a very busy night in Winnipeg with the Jets home opener (they won!) and many eyes on Kansas City for the Jays game (we know what happened there). But our sell-out crowd gave their full attention to the awesome show we put on at the Convention Centre, emceed by the eloquent and witty Curt Harnett. Rocking the room were our musical stars Barney Bentall, Matthew Harder from Spirit of the West, Rebecca Harder, Devin Cuddy and Sam Polley.
This is GMP’s 10th anniversary and there was plenty of talk about the event here in 2006 when chef Makoto Ono won the gold medal and then went on to win the first ever Canadian Culinary Championship. And of course anticipation of the Rio Olympics was also strong among the 15 Olympic athletes – and everyone else who showed “a splash of colour” in their finery.
Our expert judges certainly looked splendid, led by Senior Judge Barbara O’Hara (a Chef of Distinction herself and owner of Dessert Sinsations Café), Jeff Gill (a chef, chef instructor and Director, Food Services at Red River College), Christine Hanlon (journalist, food writer and co-author of The Manitoba Book of Everything), Mike Green (writer, broadcaster and top-five finisher on MasterChef Canada) and last year’s Winnipeg champion, Chef Luc Jean.

A new component of our events this year is an afternoon tasting of all the wines, spirits and beers poured during the evening, hosted by David Lawrason. It was a huge success, with David and his posse of wine judges joined by whichever culinary judges wish to be present. From our point of view it was a great opportunity to get to know the chefs’ paired beverages before encountering them in the actual competition, and a merry, casual, conversational chance for Winnipeg’s wine professionals to hobnob with the food gurus, something that happens less often than one might think. Huge kudos to David for coming up with this idea! David has more details about this in his wine report below.
I have no hesitation in saying the calibre of the dishes was higher than ever in Winnipeg – plates full of imagination and finesse – and the quality of the wines (and one whisky) chosen by the chefs was seriously impressive. It was a pleasure critiquing such talent and in the end the judges were unanimous in their decision.

Melissa Makarenko's lovely lamb

Melissa Makarenko’s lovely lamb

Taking home the bronze medal was Melissa Makarenko of Resto Gare Restaurant. She presented a duality of lamb starting with a cube of confited spare rib, perfectly textured and glazed with a sticky reduction that was pure umame. Beside it posed a slice of exceptionally tender lamb loin that had been briefly smoked with maple and birch branches. A mound of prairie millet grains spiked with mustard served as a balancing carb and a whole, toothsomely firm baby carrot brought a sweet, earthy splash of colour to the plate. Chef’s primary sauce was a lamb jus infused and flavoured with Manitoba chaga mushroom (a parasitic but delectable fungus that grows on birch trees) while the subtle coniferous theme was brought into fine focus by dabs of a super-smooth green purée of spring spruce buds, wheat grass and pea. Chef Makarenko’s wine match was nicely judged – the ripe, smooth Winnipeg Blue Bomber Premium Reserve Cabernet Reserve from Pondview Estate in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Jesse Friesen's spectacular scallops

Jesse Friesen’s spectacular scallops

Our silver medallist was Jesse Friesen from 295 York. His was the most delicate and refined dish of the evening, ambitious, requiring great balance of flavours and ultimately impeccably executed. He began with plump Bay of Fundy scallops, cured ever so briefly in salt and sugar then carved into silky, sweet slices that tasted of the sea. Chef dressed them with a few precious drops of a vinegar infused with smoked red pepper and then orchestrated the natural sweetness of the scallops with other boldly sapid ingredients – drops of chili oil that tasted beautifully of pickled jalapeño, dots of a truffle aïoli and a spoonful of local whitefish caviar. Crowning the dish was a perfect oyster, still raw at its heart but rolled in powdered blue corn and fried for mere seconds to give a fleeting moment of crunch. A garnish of cilantro seedlings and pea shoots completed the taste spectrum as a green, herbal element to the dish. Chef’s wine was the always delightful Stellar’s Jay Brut bubbly from Sumac Ridge in the Okanagan.

Norm Pastorin's sensational salmon

Norm Pastorin’s sensational salmon

Taking the gold medal, by just three percentage points, was Norm Pastorin of The Cornerstone. He created a confit of B.C. salmon, poaching whole fillets sous-vide in shallot-infused olive oil then slicing them into portions the size of two fingers. The fish was marvelously medium-rare, soft as butter and full of the salmon’s own glorious flavour, topped with a crunchy crumble of finely chopped bacon, quinoa, salmon roe and chives. A couple of judiciously placed pickled shallot rings brought a pleasant acidity and a garnish of white pea flowers and red nasturtiums were far more than mere decoration. The salmon rested on a flat disc of tissue-thin tamagoyaki made from egg yolk sweetened with soy and mirin. A teaspoonful of soy-ginger-anise glaze and a sprinkling of powdered B.C. seaweed made their own contributions and the finishing touch was a rosette of kale lightly touched with a sesame-ginger dressing. Burrowing Owl Chardonnay from the Okanagan was a smart choice, the wine perfectly enhancing the salmon.
So we’re off and running! We have the first gold-medallist who will be going to Kelowna next February. Already the bar has been set intriguingly high.

10th Anniversary Uncorks With a Winning Night in Winnipeg

By David Lawrason, National Wine Advisor

Gold Medal Plates launched its milestone 10th season at the RBC Convention Centre in Winnipeg on October 16, uncorking the city’s strongest yet selection of Canadian wine in the process. And it was very fitting that the Best of Show Wine Awards should go to a sparkling wine – Blue Mountain Brut, a traditional method, very complex brut that bristled with tension, minerality and excellent length.

In fact it was the clear winner with four first place votes by a panel of eight judges who assembled to taste through the line-up for two hours in advance of the culinary competition. We moved through a total of two sparklers, four whites, five reds and Forty Creek Copper Pot Whisky, each judge ranking their top five. In second spot came the richly detailed yet firm Burrowing Owl 2013 Chardonnay, followed by the lean, sour red fruit-laden Sandhill 2012 Small Lots Sangiovese, narrowly edging Osyoos Larose 2010 Grand Vin.

The Best of Show Wine Award is designed to highlight the generous donations of Canada’s wineries. In ten years I am estimating that about 150 wineries have donated up to 2000 cases in support of our Olympic athletes. In recent years in Winnipeg, Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries has stepped up to cover all the wine costs; the only liquor board in the Country to make this generous gesture.

This year the Best of Show judging is being expanded to include several wine professionals in each city – journalists, buyers for liquor boards and private stores and top sommeliers. The aim is to expose the Gold Medal Plates wines to key influencers as a way to thank the wineries, and to promote Canadian wine in each of the country’s major cities. Gold Medal Plates is the country’s largest consumer showcase for Canadian wine.

An impressive group of judges was assembled with the help of good friend and co- judge at National Wine Awards of Canada; Ben McPhee Sigurdson, wine columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press.

The roster included repeat visits by Aaron Albas, who guides purchasing and education for Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries, as well as Christopher Sprague , the man behind the great wine list at 529 Wellington. Christopher has joined Gold Medal Plates to help procure rare wines for our silent auction.

Sylvia Jansen, a recent WSET Diploma grad, and Gary Hewitt are key buyers and leading educators at Banville and Jones, one of Manitoba’s fine private wine stores. Sean Dolenuk, who recently joined a group of leading Canadian sommeliers in Argentina plies his talents at Boutique Del Vino. Domer Rafael who manages the wine program for the Rossmere Golf and Country Club, rounded out the roster.

Well not quite. This year the Culinary Judges are being invited to attend the pre-event wine judging. Barbara O’Hara, a leading pastry chef in Winnipeg, was delighted to sit in on the judging. “It truly allowed me to better tune into the food and wine pairings later in the evening. It also gave the culinary judges a chance to mingle with the community, which does not often happen.

“Winnipeg has a very strong and diverse wine community” said Ben McPhee-Sigurdsen, “with great people working in restaurants, private stores and the Manitoba Liquor Board. It’s very important for us to get together like this.” Many of the GMP judges are in the Manitoba chapter of the Canadian Association of Sommeliers.

Out on the competition floor, Burrowing Owl 2013 Chardonnay took a gold medal paired with a fine salmon recipe by Norm Pastorin of The Cornerstone. “ I knew what dish I would prepare as soon as I was invited to compete”, said Norm, “ but not the wine. I encountered the Burrowing Owl Chardonnay two months later and I knew that was the wine I wanted”.

The Silver medal went to Sumac Ridge Stellars Jay, paired with cured Bay scallops by Chef Jesse Friesen of 295 York. And the bronze went to a robust, rich Pondview Cabernet Sauvignon from Niagara, labeled for the Manitoba as Winnipeg Blue Bomber Premum Reserve.

On this night many eyes were on smart phones checking the progress of the home opener of the Winnipeg Jets, and on the Toronto Blue Jays as they played Game One of the American League Championship. Both favourites lost, but it was a winning night for Canadian wine in Winnipeg.



Restaurants for Change

10 Oct

Go out to dinner on October 21 at one of our Restaurants for Change and you can help change Canada for the better.

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Restaurants for Change supports organizations like the Dartmouth North Community Food Centre

The Dartmouth North Community Food Centre launched last week, and is the first of its kind in Atlantic Canada. It is located in a neighbourhood where 61% of the population lives on less than $20,000 per year.

“This is a place for the community to come together in so many different ways. We provide access to high-quality food and use it to connect people to other opportunities – cooking skills for adults and kids, community gardening, a low-cost veggie market, workshops on health and active living, an advocacy office,” says Manager Deborah Dickey.

Take a few minutes this holiday weekend to watch their inspiring video on how food can bring communities together. And then make a reservation at a participating restaurant on October 21 and support more good food work like this across the country!


Our Kitchen Builds Community

10 questions with Steve MittonSteve Mitton from Ottawa’s Murray Street loves a good roast chicken dinner and believes in supporting local farmers. Find out more about this chef ambassador who’s making waves in supporting a healthier and fairer food system.

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Global News is talking about Restaurants for ChangeThanks to our sponsor Global News for helping us spread the word about Restaurants for Change! Click below to watch chef ambassadors from across the country show off their cooking and advocacy chops live on air!

Frequently asked questionsHow do I join in for the year’s Restaurants for Change? Where will the event take place and who’s participating?

Have burning questions about this year’s Restaurants for Change? We’ve got you covered with these frequently asked questions and answers!

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Book your reservation now!With less than two weeks to go until Restaurants for Change on October 21, it’s time to get reserving! Restaurants are booking up fast so make sure you check out the 59 restaurants involved in this year’s event and make your reservation today!

Book now

Thanksgiving sides shake-up!In honour of the many delicious Thanksgiving festivities happening this weekend, we’re sharing with you The National Post‘s Thanksgiving sides shakeup!

Find tasty holiday recipes from Restaurants for Change chefs and supporters like Danny Smiles, Renée Lavallée, Ted Corrado, Lynn Crawford, Justin Cournoyer, Vikram Vij, Bonnie Stern, Chris Brown and more!

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Our supporters: Garland CanadaFor two years running, Garland Canada has been supporting Restaurants for Change as a national sponsor, including a $5,000 prize for one lucky restaurant participant to outfit their kitchen with some of the industry’s best supplies.

Garland Canada is dedicated to bringing value to foodservice operators by equipping them with real-world answers and solutions that enhance menus, service, profits and efficiency. Thank you Garland Canada for your support!

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Thank you to our generous sponsors!


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Canadian Culinary Championships Documentary

01 Sep

Gentle reader,

Many of you have asked me, over the years, why the Canadian Culinary Championships was only filmed once, long ago, when it is the nonpareil of Canadian gastronomic competitions. Well, last year we were blessed by a brilliant team, led by our own Peter Moscone, who created the following documentary about the event.  It captures all the stress and energy and excitement of the Gold Medal Plates Championship.  I hope you enjoy it.  Click here.