To Saskatoon for the penultimate event of this tremendous campaign, and the friendly confines of TCU Place, where we have always contrived to throw a particularly rip-roaring party in years gone by. We have been blessed to have the dazzling Heather Moyse as our emcee in a number of cities and she was on top form last night – scoring another touchdown with our jubilant crowd. Music of the highest order was provided by Neil Osborne and his band 54-40 in its entirety, with Kandle Osborne bewitching the audience as ever and local phenom Kris Klyne also rocking his way to a standing o. I think the whole crowd was dancing by the end of the evening, but even before the music began they had been wooed by some splendid food – everything from super Cajun-dusted bullfrog lollipops from Karl Cantrelle Jr. of Southern Roots to a gorgeous fillet of pike from Scott Dicks of Odla. The People’s Choice went to Taszia Thakur, owner-chef of Calories, who offered slices of smoked bison tenderloin with parsnip purée and pickled sour cherries. Some of the judges felt strongly she should also have reached the podium – indeed, we debated long and hard about many of the dishes before we all came to a consensus.
Who were these judges, you ask? We were led by our Senior Judge for Saskatoon, Noelle Chorney (creative wordsmith, food writer, Slow Food leader, edgewalker, change maker), togather with dee Hobsbawn-Smith (award-winning writer, poet, chef, ex-restaurateur, runner, and chocolate lover), Jenni Lessard (chef and culinary consultant, Indigenous culinary knowledge seeker), Renee Kohlman (award-winning cookbook author, food columnist, baker of delicious jumbo gourmet cookies), Michael Beaulé (chef, mentor, SaskPolyTech instructor, enjoys food, friends and travel), Everett Nelson (Culinary Instructor/Program Head, Saskatchewan Polytechnic, mentor, former President CCF Saskatoon branch) and Darren Craddock of Aroma restaurant, three-times Great Kitchen Party gold medallist, most recently in 2019. Chef Craddock provided the VIP reception canapé – a perfect slice of sleek albacore tuna garnished with yuzu gel, sesame and pickled vegetables, all set upon a crisp black rice chip.
Our bronze medallist this year was Anthony McCarthy of Stoked Kitchen & Bar. His dish came to the judges’ table hidden beneath a glass cloche filled with swirling smoke. Beneath it we found a colourful assembly, the principal protein a piece of bison short rib that Chef had injected with a purée of apricot and apple and then smoked with cherry wood for eight hours. On top of was a spoonful of pink foam made from tangy buffaloberries (aka soapberries) and beautifully executed tempura-battered chanterelle. Chanterelles reappeared in a number of other guises – as a sweet-tart purée, and as flavouring for a butter that Chef used to make a wild sage and rice risotto. Wild blueberries also danced attendance on the bison, as a compote and as a gel, dotting the plate. Little clouds of crisp caribou moss reinforced the sense of the woodlands. We had a wee vessel of rich, opulent demiglace made from the smoked bison bones to pour around the dish, bringing the many components together. Chef’s wine found echoes in the smoke and the berries – the 2019 Moonchild Merlot from Hugging Tree Winery in B.C.’s Similkameen Valley.
Tracy Leonhardt of Leopold’s Tavern won the silver medal with a dish she described as a love letter to Saskatchewan and a celebration of her Indigenous heritage. Every component was local including the principal protein – succulent slices of certified angus petite tenderloin (a specialist’s cut also called the teres major). Cooked sous vide, then crusted with a powder of smoked cocoa nibs and hemp hearts before being pan-seared to finish, it had a superb beefiness and just the sort of sturdy texture real beef should offer. We also admired the texture of the long kaleidoscope carrots Chef had poached in blackcurrant tea and finished with thyme butter (such interesting subtle flavours). Tiny charred pearl onion petals had real oomph, as did a rich purée made from wild parsnips, which are sweeter and more pungent than their tamer kin. Here was a big juicy pickled blackberry intensified by juniper, rosehip, thyme and ginger in the brine, adding a bright acid moment; and there were two transparent shards of potato-starch glass that tasted of rosemary. A delicate blackcurrant jus allowed flavours to shine and a jaunty nasturtium leaf perched on top of everything like an orange tamoshanter. Chef’s wine match was excellent with just the right weight for the beef – the Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon from Gray Monk Estate Winery in B.C.
We awarded the gold medal to Steve Squier of Picaro and Cohen’s Beer Republic. He began by curing foie gras with a kiss of miso, spruce and whisky then pressing it into a classic torchon. He cured thickly cut duck breasts with dried morels and a little wood ash, then brushed them with white truffle shoju. After that he wrapped the torchon with the duck breast to create a sensational roulade, the textures beguilingly different, the flavours intricate. Beside a thick slice of this was a structural echo – a juicy morel stuffed with a smooth duck-meat farce. Puffed faro gave the dish a base of pleasantly chewy grain; roasted celeriac purée was as smooth as silk. A spoonful of redcurrant jell brought tangy acidity and garnishes included a moment of caribou moss, a scattering of shiso sprouts and a dainty tuile that looked like the skeleton of an autumn leaf, made from crisped duck skin. Chef poured on a perfectly judged demiglace, leavened and brightened by dashi. He went to Eastern Canada for his pairing – a wine that sought out the foie gras more than the duck – spritzy, apple-scented Pétillant Naturel from Benjamin Bridge from Nova Scotia.
Congratulations to Chef Squier. He has been to the Canadian Culinary Championships before, as sous chef with Chris Hill. Now he returns in his own right. As for the Kitchen Party team: onwards to Vancouver!