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…


Winnipeg Gold Medal Plates

04 Oct
On the podium! Left to right: Chef Norm Pastorin won silver, Chef Luc Jean won gold, Chef Edward Lam won bronze

On the podium! Left to right: Chef Norm Pastorin won silver, Chef Luc Jean won gold, Chef Edward Lam won bronze

And here we go again! Winnipeg and the first big gala of the new Gold Medal Plates campaign was a rip-roaring success. A beautiful fall day on the prairies slid gracefully into a gorgeous evening as the 600 guests made merry at the RBC Convention Centre, the space splendid in black and scarlet. The eloquent and charming Jennifer Botterill was the evening’s emcee, and music was provided by BC legend Barney Bentall, the incomparable Anne Lindsay and Andy Maize from the Skydiggers. Needless to say the room was jumping and bidding was fierce for the famous GMP trips – VIP vacations in Scotland, Provence, Tuscany, New Zealand and South America. I have never seen such a spectacular selection of rare wines at our silent auction – regiments of bottles surrounding the raised table where we culinary judges went about our happy work, led by Winnipeg Senior judge, chef Jeff Gill, Director of Food Services at Red River College. Joining us at the table was writer Christine Hanlon, co-author of The Manitoba Book of Everything, writer, editor and broadcaster Arvel Gray, chef, restaurateur and patisserie specialist Barbara O’Hara and last year’s gold medallist, Chef Kelly Cattani of Elements by Diversity.

And the food? Extraordinary. All but three of the chefs were new to the competition; every one of them thrilled guests and judges alike. In the end, after considerable analysis and deliberation, the judges were unanimous in their decision, though the gap between the marks for bronze and silver medals was minuscule.


Chef Edward Lam's bronze-winning dish

Chef Edward Lam’s bronze-winning dish

The bronze medal went to chef Edward Lam of Yujiro. He prepared a tender, richly flavourful loin of lamb in a most original way, marinating and glazing the meat in sweet miso and Japanese barbecue spices then wrapping it in tissue-thin kombu and caul fat before searing it in the pan. Beside it was a fresh salad of red and green wakame seaweed in a yuzu and sesame dressing and some halved Brussels sprouts finished with a balsamic and shoyu glaze. A billow of puréed kabucha pumpkin seasoned with mirin rose like a yellow wave from the plate and the dish was finished with a splendid sauce – a classic veal and lamb demiglace enriched with roasted fish heads and bones for maximum umami. Introducing it, chef Lam told the judges something none of us knew, that the two Chinese characters that depict the word “umami” mean “lamb” and “fish” – the inspiration for his sauce. The wine he chose to accompany was one of the best matches of the evening – the sophisticated, ripe, tangy 2013 Baco Noir from Henry of Pelham in Niagara.

Chef Norm Pastorin's silver dish

Chef Norm Pastorin’s silver dish

Taking the silver medal was chef Norm Pastorin of The Cornerstone. He chose to work with rabbit, wrapping the dainty loin in prosciutto and carving a little drum of it for every plate then topping it with a spoonful of pickled mustard seeds that added a refreshing acidity to the dish. Beneath the loin was a splendid rabbit stew that used up the rest of the animal, its seasoning perfectly judged, its gravy voluptuously thick. Again, a dramatic purée added visual excitement, this time a red-orange colour that seemed to glow like the setting sun. It was simplicity itself, explained chef Pastorin, just gorgeous local carrots and salt – no butter, nothing else at all. Chopped chives and a crostini like a fin of crisp lace finished the plate, together with a limpid jus from the rabbit bones, spiked with some of Chef’s chosen wine, the elegantly oaky Quail’s Gate Chardonnay from the Okanagan.

Gold for Chef Luc Jean

Gold for Chef Luc Jean

And the gold? Everyone agreed that the evening’s stand-out dish came from chef Luc Jean of Jane’s. Just for the record, Luc Jean is also an instructor and a colleague of our Senior Judge, so Jeff Gill did not mark the dish; instead we took the average of the marks from the other judges, used that as Jeff Gill’s mark and applied the result to the scoresheet. What was so impressive about the dish? For one thing, as the food runners set the plates down on the judging table, we all remarked that it smelt absolutely heavenly. Flavours were big and bold but precisely balanced. There was plenty of textural contrast and every component made perfect sense on the palate. The central protein was a pork tenderloin, cooked sous-vide then seared with Chinese barbecue spices that lent the meat a forthright degree of peppery heat. A new potato had been confited in duck fat while a vivid orange-coloured purée of butternut squash and carrot was enriched with a hint of maple and anise. A mound of lightly fermented cabbage was nicely judged – not too tart but far from insipid – and the garnishes all made a telling contribution: morsels of candied orange that were more fruity than sweet, a scattering of ethereal pork cracklings and crispy fried onions. Chef’s sauce was a veal jus, subtly sharpened with a honey and lime juice gastrique. The wine match, Pelee Island’s Lighthouse Riesling from Ontario, was exact.

So we have our first champion! He must wait until next February to fly to Kelowna and take part in the Canadian Culinary Championship. Meanwhile, the journey continues in Halifax on October 16. One down; ten more cities to go!

A big thank you to Ian McCausland, who took the pictures.

And now, here is the wine report from that memorable evening, courtesy of GMP’s National Wine Advisor, David Lawrason.

Stunning Silent Auction Wines Headline in Winnipeg
by David Lawrason, National Wine Advisor

The 2014  Gold Medal Plates campaign launched with a bang on October 2 in Winnipeg where guests were greeted with a stunning line-up of very rare silent auction wines arrayed in the centre of the competition room.  Assembled by Christopher Sprague of 529 Wellington restaurant, and the new National Rare Wine Auction Wine Advisor for Gold Medal Plates, the selection featured an incredibly hard to find Chateau Haut-Brion 1945, plus an Imperial (6 litres) of the stunning Mouton-Rothschild 1986 and three double magnums of Cheval Blanc 1995. Over on the Burgundy side were single bottles of Richbourg and La Tache 1997, as well as several bottles of turn of millenium Montrachet.  Sales were brisk by night’s end.

Mr Sprague joined two other local wine authorities and myself to judge the Best of Show Wine Award. The judges included Ben McPhee-Sigurdson, a good friend and judge with for the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada and wine columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press. We were also joined by Aaron Alblas, who works in the  Purchasing Department for Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries and is currently in a development term, being mentored by product consultants to become education director. Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries played a major role in the festivities, sponsoring most of the wine poured by the chefs as well as the wines for the Celebration portion of the evening. It is the only liquor board in the country to take such a pro-active role.

Squirreled away in a convention hall meeting room overlooking the gold draped ballroom, the wine panel tasted through a dozen Canadian wines competing for the Best of Show honours.  We were most impressed by a pair of newly-minted 2013 reds from Niagara, with only one vote separating first and second place.  The winner was Cave Spring 2013 Gamay, the best gamay this winery has yet produced with ripe plummy fruit, florals and pepper reminiscent of Beaujolais.  The runner-up was the equally juicy Henry of Pelham 2013 Baco Noir, which may be the best these baco specialists have yet produced.  In third spot came the hefty, complex Le Vieux Pin 2013 Blanc from B.C, a white blend inspired by viognier-based whites from the south of France.

Other wines on the docket included Peller Ice Cuvee, which was paired with dessert during the Celebration. Peller is donating this wine across the country in celebration of their big win as Winery of the Year at the WineAlign National Wine Awards. Out on the competition floor guests sampled Quails Gate 2012 Chardonnay, Pelee Island 2012 Lighthouse Riesling and Gray Monk 2013 Pinot Gris among the whites.  Other reds included Stratus 2011 Wildass Red, Nk’Mip Cellars 2008 Meritage, Henry of Pelham 2011 Cabernet-Merlot and Open 2012 Cabernet Merlot.

Pelee Island’s 2012 Lighthouse Riesling was paired with a sous vide pork tenderloin by gold medal dish by CHEF Luc Jean of Jane’s, so Pelee Island will be invited to join him at the Canadian Culinary Championship in Kelowna. Silver medalist Norm Pastorin selected Quails’ Gate Chardonnay with prosciutto-wrapped rabbit and bronze medallist Edward Lam of Yujiro paired Henry of Pelham’s 2013 Baco Noir, a personal favourite matching of the night.

And a grand night it was!





In Extremis

08 Sep


Rare early Mayan clay figurine of a restaurant critic. Plus ca change.






Ned Bell – hero

03 Aug
El Hombre

El Hombre

Chef Ned Bell literally rolled into Toronto last Thursday, almost exactly a month after setting off from St. John’s in his bid to cycle across Canada, all to raise awareness about the parlous state of the fish in our beautiful oceans. It was great to see him looking so amazingly fit and spry – every inch the athlete. I don’t think I’ve seen a guy in such good shape since hanging out with Simon Whitfield at the Beijing Olympics. His bike was on display in one of the larger party rooms at the Four Seasons hotel (Ned is currently Executive Chef of the Vancouver Four Seasons) and it was there that scores of us gathered to welcome him. Paul Boehmer and Martin Kouprie represented the chefly community and there were some fine speeches made. Isadore Sharp was inspiring, reminding us that other movements for change had started with a courageous individual’s gesture. Many people recalled Sharp’s lifelong support for Terry Fox. And Dolf Dejong, vice president, Conservation and Education at the Vancouver Aquarium, made a persuasive appeal for support in the struggle to encourage sustainable fisheries. As Ned said, we can all make it happen by innumerable personal decisions, by asking your waiter next time you order fish in a restaurant if the species is sustainably caught, by politely suggesting your fishmonger wise up about the virtues of some creatures over others. Many righteous and responsible scientific predictions point to empty oceans by 2048 if we don’t get our act together, which would be a tragedy for our grandchildren – even worse for the two billion humans who rely on the sea for their daily source of protein. Ned has two-and-a-half months more cycling to go before he reaches Vancouver. You can follow his progress (and find useful data) at, as well as keep tags on the 20 special events in which he is taking part across the country. “In 20 years,” said Ned, “we could have every person in Canada eating sustainable seafood.” Ned’s cycling 8,000 k for the cause; we just to have eat for it, albeit in a more informed manner than we’re used to doing. No problemo.


Talking brogue

30 Jul
Lorena Agolli, brilliant cobbler and owner of Sole Survivor

Lorena Agolli, brilliant cobbler and owner of Sole Survivor

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an Englishman in possession of a pair of shoes never wants them to look new. They should shine like the mirror of Venus, regularly cleaned and brushed with a military spit and polish, but that surface gloss should not conceal the decades of living in this rough-and-tumble world; that lustre should enhance, not camouflage the patina of age. Old shoes are comfortable, the leather gradually softening and stretching to accommodate the shape of their owner’s feet. But for the English, well-looked-after but obviously elderly footwear is also a matter of pride – even of a harmless kind of snobbishness. As well as advertising a proper notion of thrift, longevity implies quality. Only the very best shoes will last for years and years.

But not, alas, for ever. Last week, I came to the sad conclusion that it was time to have my favourite shoes put down. They are a pair of old-fashioned cap-toed English brogues bought in London more than 20 years ago as a birthday present from my mother. But what makes them unique is their colour. It is the rich raw sienna of the golden-brown crayon in my prep school pencil case, paler than a palomino pony’s coat but slightly darker than its mane, and the original shoemaker had worked extraordinary depth of tone into his creation. Harry Rosen himself once complimented me on their colour (a memorable moment). He had only seen brogues of such a particular hue once before, he recalled; shoes that had sat for years in a Roman calzolaio’s front window until the sun faded them to a unique tan… He had tried to buy them but the salesman had urged him towards another pair of a more conventional tone.

I remember the first time I wore my shoes, a trifle self-consciously because they looked so very new – but we were in Manhattan not England and I thought I could get away with it. We spent the entire day walking through Central Park and then around the Metropolitan Museum, and by teatime my feet were in agony. I walked into the hotel in my socks, carrying the instruments of torture. Clearly, these were not shoes that could be taken for granted. They would need time.

Years passed and tolerance changed into a comfortable affection. They became my favourite summer shoes, well-matched to beige or tan trousers – not so good with blue jeans which made them look, in certain lights, almost orange. And they acquired the desired patina – small scars and scuffs, lovingly attended to but, once acquired, never completely disappearing. I had them soled and heeled whenever necessary, changed the laces when required, used nothing but neutral polish on them, but, God help me, I abused them. They were made for boulevards and cricket pavilions but I wore them on rocky Mediterranean beaches and over gritty Moroccan dunes and into the damp heather of Scottish moors. Indeed, it was on a recent trip to Scotland that I realized their time might be up. Like two faithful golden retrievers they gazed up at me with loyal but exhausted eyes. The stitching had been lost around the top of both heels and on the top of one heel a ribbon of leather had torn away. The uppers were split, a tongue frayed. Gaps between the sole and the welt had started to let water in and the heels were once more in need of replacement. Even the colour seemed to have darkened a little, while the polish looked more like a coat of varnish than anything that could still penetrate the layers of time to reach and refresh the actual leather.

Only one slim chance remained – to find a cobbler who would commit to a complete refurbishment, who could somehow repair the terrible damage, close up the wounds, stitching them with a surgeon’s patience, cleanse the layers of age and return them to their former glory. It seemed a superhuman undertaking – impossible, surely.

Lorena Agolli is the owner of Sole Survivor, a low-ceilinged, dark basement emporium in Kensington Market. She has had a lot of press recently, and deservedly so, but it was the Toronto Star that first drew attention to her work in an article that made much of how unusual it is to find a woman in her twenties taking on this traditional craft. Her tools are vintage, her prices more than reasonable and she has recently found considerable success. The first time I took a pair of shoes there – chestnut Oxfords in need of a simple heel and sole replacement – she was doing everything herself. Now she seems to have an apprentice and sometimes a third young woman to work the antique till.

I handed over the brogues. Can anything be done? Like a kindly veterinarian, Agolli examined them and explained the work they needed, how the back of the heels could be rebuilt with a new leather lining, the upper patched from inside, the stitching replaced and, yes, she could thoroughly clean and repolish the leather, bringing back its youthful glow. Her calm confidence was encouraging. The tiny ember of hope began to smoulder. “Come back in a week,” she said.

The day in question dawned. I reached Sole Survivor before lunch, ducking into the deep shade of the shop, my eyes still dazzled by the sun. The shoes were ready. Everything was as Agolli had promised – the heels restored and firm again, the splits invisibly patched, all the leather soft and supple. The whole transaction, including a new pair of honey-coloured laces: just over fifty bucks. My brogues are back, so comfortable, and familiar. They certainly don’t look new – but that, of course, is the point.

Sole Survivor is at 16 Kensington Avenue, 647 995 3306,



Highland Fling

25 Jun
All dressed up and off to a grand dinner

All dressed up and off to a grand dinner

I am almost at a loss for words. Wendy and I just got back from two weeks in the very far north of Scotland where we had the spectacular time of our lives, helping to host the latest Gold Medal Plates trip. If you’ve ever been to a GMP event you’ll know that we auction trips to fascinating parts of the world at our gala events in 11 Canadian cities – the proceeds go to programs that support Canada’s Olympic athletes – which means a guest list of couples drawn from across Canada. This time, we took over the entirety of Ackergill Tower, a 15th-century castle about 10 feet from the North Sea, a gaunt and defensible property that is as luxe as Downton Abbey behind it’s massive stone walls. It is staffed by the friendliest, wisest, most professional group of people you will ever meet, who seemed delighted to drive us about the countryside in Land Rovers, to stay up with us til two o’clock in the morning in the Tower’s private pub, to transform the Great Hall at the drop of a hat from the perfect venue for an educational gin tasting (led by me) to a glittering, candlelit whisky dinner (led by Malcolm Waring of the local Old Pulteney distillery) and still have it ready for breakfast the following morning.

I have no space here to describe the full events of our week. Those who wished to learn were taught clay pigeon shooting or fly fishing on Ackergill’s private loch. We had our own GMP Highland Games featuring archery and toss-the-welly. We took to the sea in superfast rubber rib boats, getting up close and personal with tens of thousands of fulmars, guillemots, cormorants, puffins, oyster catchers, terns and gulls and watching seals in their deep cliff caves. We hiked along cliff tops to ruined castles and visited one that was most decidedly not a ruin – the Queen Mother’s former retreat, the Castle of Mey. We walked from Thurso to Scrabster and had a spectacular lunch at Chef Jim Cowie’s extraordinary little restaurant, the Captain’s Galley, recently rated the best seafood restaurant in the U.K. Four enterprising members of our group took a private helicopter across the breadth of Scotland to Skye for lunch at Three Chimneys; the rest of us took ship to the Orkneys for a private VIP tour of Highland Park distillery. And wherever we went we had music. Staying with us were Spirit of the West’s frontmen Geoffrey Kelly and John Mann, B.C. troubadour Dustin Bentall, the brilliant fiddler Kendel Carson and guitarist Matthew Harder. They played for us most evenings and some afternoons and never failed to enchant. Our resident Olympian was none other than Steve Podborski, who regaled us with tales of the ski slopes and his more recent experiences as chef de mission of the Canadian team at Sochi.

Did I mention the food? Ackergill Tower’s chefs and kitchen are masters of Scottish country house cooking. For the whisky dinner, they prepared the best lamb I’ve eaten in years (sourced from the flock of the Castle of Mey). Lunch might be a perfectly dressed local crab or lobster and chips and a mug of cullen skink (smoked haddock chowder). For the grand dinner on the last night, where the men all wore kilts and full highland regalia and the women wore sashes over their gowns, we were served venison and a mighty haggis piped in by Wick’s local bagpipe and drum marching band. Another night, we all went down to the bothy by the loch and found a great barbecue had been prepared: when we had eaten our fill we went back to the beach and toasted marshmallows over a massive bonfire. No one got burned and there was music and whisky and a northern twilight that lasted almost till dawn.

And we were blessed by the weather. Yes it was windy, and we often awoke to mornings of fog and moist air that curled our hair and made complexions look ten years younger. But the sun came out within an hour. Changeable might be the best way to describe it, but it only added to the challenges of the golfers in our midst who played the local links courses or drove down the coast to try Royal Dornoch. In my heart, I hoped for a mighty storm, such as one often gets up here where the North sea meets the North Atlantic, but it wasn’t to be. Maybe next year… Because we will be doing this again next June, gathering a new clan of guests at the GMP gala events across Canada this fall – people who want to live like lairds and ladies for a week of luxury and aristocratic country activities, wonderful music and delicious food, Champagne teas and rare whisky tastings, highland dancing and fling-the-welly.

Ackergill in the distance

Ackergill in the distance