Cr: Chris Gardiner Photography
Marc Lepine of Atelier Restaurant in Ottawa has won the prestigeous title of Canadian Culinary Champion for 2012. Coming in silver was Rob Feenie, representing the Cactus Club in Vancouver and and bronze was awarded to JP St-Denis from Kitchen Gallerie Poisson in Montreal.
James Chatto's CCC 2012 Report (www.jameschatto.com)
Another year, another magnificent competition! Last weekend we gathered in Kelowna B.C. for the sixth Canadian Culinary Championships, bringing the winning chef from each of our nine Gold Medal Plates regional events to compete in three gruelling challenges. As ever, I was joined by the Senior Judges from our GMP cities who formed the judging panel, palates akimbo and glorious in their impartiality. I will name them first, proceeding from east to west: Karl Wells from St. John's, Robert Beauchemin from Montreal, Anne DesBrisay from Ottawa, Sasha Chapman from Toronto, Jeff Gill from Winnipeg, CJ Katz from Saskatchewan, Mary Bailey from Edmonton, John Gilchrist from Calgary, Perry Bentley from Kelowna, Sid Cross from Vancouver and our culinary referee, Vancouver's Andrew Morrison.
We began on Thursday night with a reception party at Quail's Gate winery, gorging on B.C. oysters and chanterelle risotto, before the chefs and their sous chefs were introduced, together with the enthusiastic local students from Okanagan College's culinary arts program who were to assist them. Olympic kayaking superstar Adam Van Koeverden represented the athletes who are GMP's principal beneficiaries. Each chef was given a bottle of the mystery wine, unlabelled, anonymous, and given 24 hours to create a dish to perfectly match the wine. The catch – they had to cook the dish for 350 people and they had to do their shopping on a budget of only $500 – about a $1.47 a head. Economy is a valuable trait in a chef.
On Friday night they presented their dishes, each at his station in the lovely 1920s-style Hotel Eldorado. While the judges ate in a sequestered chamber, the guests moved upstairs and down, tasting and sipping the mystery wine, recording their own verdict for the ever popular People's Choice award. It was a wonderful party, merrily exuberant, casual but intense, brought to a fine climax as the People's Choice Award was handed to Chef Marc Lepine of Atelier in Ottawa.
The mystery wine had been chosen by GMP's National Wine Advisor, David Lawrason – the multi-award winning 2008 Old Vines Riesling from Chateau des Charmes in Niagara. I believe we drank the last bottles in the world unless you are lucky enough to have one or two in your own cellar. It was a medium-bodied wine of racy acidity, exuding complex aromas of citrus, peach and petrol – uncompromisingly dry but rich, refreshing and delicious. We had speculated on what the chefs might make of it – how many would opt for seafood (expensive on their tiny budget); or whether others might choose to work with pork or fowl… As always, they amazed us with their creativity. Here is what they did…
Jean-Philippe St-Denis from Kitchen Gallerie Poisson in Montreal was clearly reminded of Alsace by the wine. He created a delectable choucroute of braised cabbage and bacon and set a slice of firm Pacific halibut on top of it, beside a tranche of juicy Ukrainian sausage he had found at a store in the city. A salad of shredded baby spinach added freshness while the sauce was beurre blanc that picked up the richness in the wine. The garnish of fried potato matchsticks and crunchy crumbled pretzel added an extra dimension.
Michael Dacquisto from WOW Hospitality Concepts in Winnipeg took a completely different approach, making a coarse pork paté de campagne studded with roasted hazelnuts to echo the aromas of honey and hazelnuts he found in the wine. He toasted a crunchy crostini of German caraway rye bread and crowned it with a slice of lightly grilled Asian pear and a wedge of brie that he brûléed with a blowtorch. A compote of gala apple, triple-smoked bacon and caramelized onion spiked with sherry vinegar, honey, black pepper and lots of fresh thyme was one condiment; another was a jam of apricots quickened with orange and lemon zest. Arugula leaves were lightly dressed with olive oil while a ribbon of pickled butternut squash also helped the richness of the paté. He even found time to make his own mustard, cooked down in the German style with beer, malt vinegar, caraway and honey. A lot going on? To be sure, but it all made perfect sense.
Michael Dekker from Rouge in Calgary presented a beautiful dish, making his ownpasta and turning it into 1300fabulous agnolotti filled with mascarpone and Quebec foie gras he managed to source from a local restaurant called Bouchon. A light sautée of corn kernels, golden raisins, kale and bacon and a scattering of chopped chives finished the dish. It was a good match with the Riesling, the flavours subtle but true. Jan Trittenbach from Packrat Louie in Edmonton found fresh ling cod at Kelowna's renowned Codfathers fishmonger. He pan-seared it lightly, leaving the perfectly seasoned fish juicy and medium rare. Beneath the paillard was a compressed salad of pear, apple and fennel and a very gentle picallili of beautifully turned carrot, zucchini and cauliflower florets with a delicate turmeric flavour. The lightest apple purée imaginable dressed the plate while a jaunty strip of crisp, very salty cooked prosciutto added a sudden moment of intensity to an elegantly understated dish that found all sorts of echoes in the wine. Anthony McCarthy from the Saskatoon Club in Saskatoon worked with ivory spring salmon, a fish that has extra fat and really is the colour of ivory, a condition brought about by its diet. He confited the belly in a circulator leaving it incredibly succulent and set it over a gastrique of riesling and clementine that had all sorts of happy fun with the wine. Swiss chard was chopped with ginger while a smooth "verde" of parsley and Granny Smith apple added brightness to the dish. A spoonful of red tobiko caviare brought saltiness and crunch but the garnish almost stole the show – a crsip, ethereal taro root tuille dusted with chili and powdered, toasted kaffir lime leaf. If he sold those tuilles by the bag, the judges agreed, he could make a fortune.
Jonathan Gushue from Langdon Hall Country House Hotel & Spa, representing Toronto, presented the evening's most courageous dish, dividing the judges into those who found it inspired and others who did not. He took Nova Scotia squid and chopped it so finely it looked like grains of rice then presented it like risotto in a runny purée of parsnip and gala apple, tinted faintly pink by the natural colour in the squid's tentacles. Chopped fresh celery hearts was one garnish, the other was a burnt onion crumble with an almost sugary caramelization that isolated an inherent residual sweetness in the wine. The avant-garde presentation left some guests scratching their heads but the dainty flavours worked well with the Riesling. Mike Barsky from Bacalao in St. John's gave us our pork – a cider-glazed pork jowl, to be precise, braised for three hours but still offering its sweet pale fat. Beside it was delectable roll of lightly pickled cabbage stuffed with braised lentil and smoked ham and the braising liquid became a streak of sauce on the plate. Two lightweight purées also featured – one of tangy spiced carrot, the other of Granny Smith apple. Over the top he scattered traditional Newfoundland scrunchions of pork fat brined with apple, thyme and spices and then deep-fried to an irresistible crunchiness. The moments of acidity in the dish were perfectly balanced with the tang of the wine – for me, the best wine match of the evening. Rob Feenie of Cactus Club Café in Vancouver found apple and lemon in the wine and set about echoing them in a Riesling jus enriched with apple, lemon and a roast chicken stock reduced for four hours. He made extraordinarily soft little gnocchi from butternut squash and paired them with local bacon and a brussels sprout petal sautéed in bacon fat to add visceral weight to the dish, an effect amplified by a crumble of bacon and pumpkin seed. Chef Feenie added the finishing touch at our table – a rich foam of cream, honey and parmesan cheese.
Marc Lepine from Atelier in Ottawa chose to work with langoustines, chopping them up and shrouding them in tissue-thin slices of avocado. There were many other elements on the plate and to read them gives the impression of crowding, but each new discovery drew admiring sighs from the judges. Here was puffed wild rice seasoned with fennel and coriander seed. Beside it lay two small pieces of fennel seed sponge cake aerated in a syphon and cooked for 40 seconds in a microwave for a soft, spongey texture. Tiny, pea-sized balls of Granny Smith apple were spiked by a chili marinade while celery was compressed with salt and sugar until it was almost a jelly. A parsnip crisp added sweet crunch, while orange zest and powdered ash made by charring lemon rind found the citrus notes in the wine. It was a brave but ultimately brilliantly harmonized creation. Retiring to debate their evening's work, the judges were unanimous in awarding Marc Lepine top marks, followed by Rob Feenie and then, close behind, a posse of four other chefs, with Mike Barsky about an inch in front of anyone else. But the weekend had only begun.
Saturday morning, mild, still and foggy, found the chefs, each with a chosen sous chef, standing outside the hotel while the judges milled around close by, all ready to head off to the venue for the Black Box competition in the teaching kitchens of Okanagan College. This is the most intense and rigorous challenge of the entire competition with the chefs sealed in a distant room to be brought out one at a time. They don't know the order in which they will be called and it's only when they make their way through the crowd in the kitchen and open their box that they fully understand the task that lies ahead. They must create two dishes using the mystery ingredients in one or other, plating 12 identical portions of both for the judges, and if they run over the allotted hour by even a few seconds they will be penalized. They also have access to a generous communal pantry. A crowd of several hundred guests was expected (the event is always the first to sell out) and the good people from Van Houtte coffee were there with a kiosk offering six different brews and a chance for anyone who wished to discover his or her personal coffee profile by taking a simple but revealing test. The Van Houtte profile combines one's taste for the intensity and darkness of the roast with the more subtle characteristics of terroir – fruitiness, acidity, earthiness, spiciness, etcetera – a reflection of the provenance of the beans. Me? I'm Bold & Woodsy.
Once the chefs were hidden away the judges revealed the ingredients to the expectant crowd. Last year, we had drawn everything from British Columbia; this year we invited six judges to provide a list of items from their own regions and put together the fiendish inventory from those. From Newfoundland we selected jars of bakeapples (also known as cloudberries), tart, subtly flavoured berries about the size of a raspberry with a nuisance of pips inside. From Mariposa Farm outside Ottawa, we chose goose breasts – two for each chef – with a fine layer of fat between skin and flesh. From Montreal, we brought a wonderful, firm blue cheese called Le Rassembleu. Manitoba's contribution was a one-pound bag of Shoal Lake Oh Canada wild rice (something that would require a deal of cooking!). From Saskatchewan came some splendid Lake Diefenbaker steelhead trout and from Calgary, two pounds of parsley roots that looked (but didn't taste) like parsnips. The point of course was to find harmony between such curiously matched ingredients. Mike Barsky (St. John's) began the proceedings. He cut fillets from the trout and seared them briefly then set them over splendidly velvetty purée of parsley root. He made a sauce of the blue cheese, thyme, lemon, cream and white wine which gave the lie to the old adage that cheese and fish are a poor match. His presentation was just as impressive for the goose – seared briefly, fat-side-down but leaving the ruby-coloured flesh still rare and bloody. He boiled the wild rice but not enough to bring it to an al dente level and mixed it up with wilted spinach and minced shallots. Recognizing the bakeapples (of course) he turned them into a chutney with wine, herbs and shallots and used it to dress the goose. Pan-seared goose breast became the leitmotif of the morning. Every chef did it that way and the judges wondered if their approach would have been so conventional if we had put a steak into the box. Marc Lepine (Ottawa) emerged next. Would he crash and burn after his triumph of the previous evening? Far from it. He crisped the goose skin and sliced it relatively thinly which mitigated its chewiness without diminishing its robust flavour. Charred, lightly pickled rings of onion provided an acidity that cut the goose fat while the meat was raised up on a short pillar of potato confited in olive oil with rosemary until it was soft and tempting. He used the blue cheese in a mayo beside the meat and solved the wild rice's textural issue by puffing it in hot oil for a moment, finishing the dish with a natural jus from the goose. His trout dish was equally impressive. The fish fillets were pan-fried in butter until the skin was crisp and set over herbed spätzle. There was a smooth coulis of the bakeapples that eliminated the crunchy seeds from the berries and let the tangy flavour shine forth. Crisp ribbons of parsely root crowned the fish and Lepine even found time to make his own ricotta as an extra moment of dairy on the plate. A luxe brown butter hollandaise was poured on at the table. Both dishes showed a marvellous sense of harmony.
Rob Feenie (Vancouver) was the third competitor. His treatment of the trout was a star turn – curing it in citrus juices for twenty minutes then softening it in warm olive oil until it glowed like coral and was as soft and smooth as satin. Feenie also puffed his rice and made a bakeapple sauce – another visually stunning presentation. His seared goose breast was cut even more thinly, its richness equalled – even surpassed – by a purée of parsley root and blue cheese. A second, spinach purée brought refreshment and the meat was strewn with deep-fried shallots and panko crumbs fried in butter and lemon thyme. Michael Dacquisto (Winnipeg) came out next. His trout was pan-seared to firmness and garnished with wilted, garlic-spiked spinach, then set over chewy wild rice. A salsa of tomato, chopped basil and cilantro livened things up and the dish was finished with a sharp gastrique of white wine, vinegar and butter. The ruby-red goose breast was pan-seared and full of flavour and matched with a chunky parsley and blue cheese sauce and soft chips of fried parsley root. Shavings of the blue cheese provided saltiness to season the meat while a second sauce, a fruit vinaigrette, was a deft final touch. Jean-Philippe St-Denis (Montreal) salted his trout with fresh herbs then confited it in olive oil until it was meltingly tender. The wild rice (again undercooked) was tossed with baby spinach leaves and freshened with chopped tomato robustly flavoured with shallots and herbs. A sauce of pure egg yolk rimmed the plate. J-P's goose breast saw the oven before being sliced over a delicious mix of coarsely broken boiled potato and plenty of the blue cheese, sliced thinly and on the point of melting which brought out its magnificent flavour perfectly. A very crisp, panko-crusted onion ring crowned the goose while a bakeapple gastrique fulfilled the need to use them.
Anthony McCarthy (Saskatoon) delighted the judges with his take on a "fish breakfast." His trout was pan-fried and set next to a perfectly poached egg and a tomato-and-onion salad. The wild rice was cleverly involved in a thick potato pancake smothered in melted cheese. Also on the plate was a cup of a thick, chilled pale orange liquid – he had used the bakeapples to make a smoothie – a huge success with the judges. For once, the goose found a new role to play, with two slices of the breast decorating a bowl of the chicken broth from the pantry, subtly enhanced with lemon zest and chopped herbs. Also bathing in the clear golden liquid were two tortellini filled with parsley root and ricotta. Jonathan Gushue (Toronto) is a Newfoundlander, so he recognized the bakeapples immediately. He used the juice of the berries to make a gastrique with vinegar and sugar, then, having salted the filleted trout, he cured the fish in the liquid. "How long for?" asked the judges. "Forty-one minutes," he answered. The fish was cut into big, glistening chunks and served with parsley root chips, decorated with a sprig of basil. Gushue's goose was marinated in garlic and thyme then pan-seared to the point of bloody rareness and served over a toothsome wild rice risotto. He made two sauces, both of them awesome – a basil purée as green as an emerald and another involving the delectable Rassembleu. Michael Dekker (Calgary) poached his trout by laying the fillets in cold olive oil then gently bringing up the heat until the fat in the fish seized into tiny white dots. A citrus beurre blanc added further richness, balanced by a tangy salad of onion and tomato. A comma of intensely flavourful parsley root purée perched cheekily on the trout's back, wearing a green crown of basil leaves. Seared and thickly sliced, the goose breast was served atop wild rice stirred up with spinach and shallots. A dab of the unadulterated blue cheese allowed meat and dairy to fight it out while the bakeapples were transformed into a tasty compote with sugar, salt and white wine. All the flavours in Dekker's dishes were clear and true, integration taking place in one's mouth rather than on the plate.
Jan Trittenbach (Edmonton) was our final competitor. He presented a "modern fish and chips" with a trout tartare seasoned with garlic, onion, herbs and soy set on top of a superb brick of fondant potato fried in butter with rosemary. In lieu of tartare sauce, he made a hollandaise with fresh herbs and pickled shallots. His goose breast was ruby-red, filled with a stuffing of shallots and egg but the show was stolen by an unabashedly pungent garlic purèe beneath the meat. A stiff custard moulded into the shape of a maple leaf was another element, topped with a hearty slice of the remarkable cheese (we never tired of its marvellous flavour). He turned the bakeapples into a yummy pickle as a condiment for the goose. But where was the wild rice? Summoned back by the judges, Trittenbach explained that he had not used it. Ten valuable points were lost… The judges agreed it had been a challenging box and that next time we would avoid wild rice and offer a more accessible meat than goose breast - if only for the sakes of our own constitutions. The one ingredient I still hadn't had enough of was the Rassembleu cheese - Canada's first blue and still the best. Damn, it's good. It was party frocks for the Grand Finale, held in the majestic salons of the Delta Grand hotel. Our judging table was set apart in the Celebration Ballroom so we had peace and quiet and optimum conditions for tasting.
We began with Winnipeg champion Michael Dacquisto's dish, a "Freshwater Trio" of Manitoba pickerel, pike and whitefish. It's rare to find a chef going nose-to-tail with fish but that's we were presented with. In the centre of the plate were two pickerel pectoral fins, battered and deep fried. "Hold the actual fin and suck the flesh from the cartilege," suggested the chef, so we did and it was delicious – soft, rich and delicately flavoured. Beside the fins were pretty slices of applewood-smoked pike mousse wrapped in pickerel fillets and then tender green leek – so pretty! Beneath it was a tangle of crispy shaved fennel tossed with whitefish caviar. Close by were two beautiful pickerel cheeks dusted with powdered toasted wild rice and to the right of the plate a stripe of purple beet purée topped with beads of beet gelee and "caviar" made from the wine Chef dacquisto chose as his accompaniment, the sparkling Odyssey Rosè Brut from grey monk Estate Winery in B.C. Overall it was, a lovely, delicately flavoured dish, full of different textures.
Calgary`s Michael Dekker was next up, offering a dish with a Southern theme. He chose to work with Louisiana catfish, marinating the fillets in buttermilk to mute their flavour a little then blackening them with a perfectly judged mix of sweet and smoked paprika, garlic and thyme. There was a delicious spicy tingle to the meaty fish that he topped with a garland of tiny microgreens – celery, cilantro and watercress. Propping up the fish was a spherical cheddar biscuit like a glossy little scone with the texture of brioche. Around it were impeccable grits, smooth but not too heavy, their richness complementing the fish. Chef`s chosen wine was the crisp, racy 2010 Charles Baker Riesling from Niagara. It cut through the richness of the dish like a blade of yellow light, its acidity dancing with the spiciness of the blackened fish. Another really fine dish.
Jonathan Gushue from Langdon hall, representing Toronto was our third competitor, escorting the food runners to our table and providing a small brochure and recipe card explaining his dish. At its heart was a mound of diced raw Digby scallops stirred with mascarpone, lime juice and fleur de sel, a sweet, sticky confection. Laying across the top was a single leaf of Paris Dusk kale from Langdon Hall`s garden, sautèed in butter for 30 seconds then drizzled with a gastrique made from Langdon Hall honey, cider vinegar and containing crumbled black walnuts. A vanilla and apple purèe added further sweetness and then the dish was finished with a scattering of yellow oxeye daisy petals and a grating of a sort of landlocked bottarga made from confited duck gizzards to add an intense little dust to the whole adventure. The wine pairing was a beauty – Organized Crime 2008 Riesling Reserve from Niagara, a clean, crisp Riesling with zesty lemon and ruby grapefruit on the nose and a hint of musk as it starts to age.
Marc Lepine from Atelier in Ottawa delighted the judges with his dish. Lying like a lid across the top of the bowl was a crisp celery-root parchment upon which was sprinkled a white powder (dehydrated bacon powder) and some jewel-like pike roe. Beneath this cap we found two pank-crusted chorizo meatballs and a perfect Quadra Island scallop lightly bronzed from the pan. Sharing the intimate space at the bottom of the bowl were some pickled chanterelles, flecks of dehydrated fennel, bacon, lovage and lemon balm, and dainty motes of celery that had been compressed with sambucca. An aerated purée of potato and truffle worked like a creamy sauce, ably seconded by a lemon thyme cream. For his final effect, chef Lepine took an atomiser filled with lemon-rind-infused sambucca and gave each bowl a little squirt. Serving the dish in a bowl was a deliberate act on lepine's part. He wanted us to taste all the elements together and randomly rather than separating and analysing them on a plate. It worked: flavours swirled, levels of intensity and textural experiences jumped all over the place while the wine acted as a delicious anchor – Hidden Bench 2009 Estate Chardonnay from Niagara.
Next up was Jean-Philippe St-Denis from Kitchen Galerie Poisson in Montreal with the same famous dish he used to win the regional event. It was a vitello tonnato – which I love, of course, but which might not have been enough to win a GMP gala in its own right. "Wait til you see it," advised Montreal judge Robert Beauchemin – for of course I hadn't yet seen it, having missed the Montreal event because I had to be at the Winnipeg event on the same night! Anyway… It was worth the wait. J-P had turned the dish on its head, laying thinly sliced albacore tuna carpaccio onto the plate then smothering it in a variety of different ingredients – little slices of super-tender veal tongue sharpened by a mustard-tarragon vinaigrette. Motes of crispy parmesan. Tiny dice of pain brioché. Crunchy fried capers like sudden shots of salt. Shiny black balsamic jelly cut into cubes that were starting to melt under the lights. Dots of preserved lemon skin. A shaving of bottarga on top like Gentleman's relish turned to powder. Raking my fork through it all I picked up different flavours and textures with every mouthful and the accompanying beer - St-Ambroise Cream Ale from the McAuslan brewery in Quebec was probably the match of the evening. It looked like a chaos but ate like a dream and the judges absolutely loved it, propelling J-P St-Denis forward and out from the middle of the pack. The dish won the evening but would it be enough to catch the front-runners?
Mike Barsky from Bacalao in St. John's provided our first red wine. His dish was also a repeat of the creation that had proved a GMP winner, thrilling me and the other St. John's judges, but tonight the presentation wasn't as spot-on and the textures seemed to lack immediacy. Barsky had exercised his powers on Newfoundland goat, using all parts of the unfortunate animals. We had a rare but delectably tender seared loin, a drum of goat rillettes in crispy panko crumbs, a slice of pickled tongue, a puddle of thick, creamy, glossy goat-brain mousse, a smashing spherical turnip cooked sous vide with saffron and mustard, a stripe of saffron-dyed goat milk pudding, one or two Brussels sprouts petals, a demi-glace made with pinot Noir and partridgeberry and a scattering of mustard seedlings. The accompanying wine, Pelee Island 2010 Pinot Noir Reserve, from Pelee Island, Ontario, did its best to keep up with the range of textures, temperatures and tastes on the plate.
Rob Feenie from Cactus Club, representing Vancouver, also chose to work with a Pinot Noir – the 2010 from Haywire Winery in British Columbia. It was a fine choice for his dish, a variation of the creation that had won him the Vancouver competition last fall. First came a slender shot glass filled with clear barbecued duck broth in which flecks of black truffle were floating. We downed that first to clear our palates and set them up for the main event. The plate was beautifully put together. At its heart was a slice of a layered terrine of moist, tender, pink rabbit meat and bacon that had been pressed together with duck fat for 24 hours. On top, like an ivory-coloured torpedo, sat a whole, miniature boudin blanc, speckled with chopped black truffle. Soft as a mousse inside, it was made from more of the rabbit meat and foie gras. A thick slice of truffle was propped against it and there was yet more truffle in the jus that painted the plate. And then there were carrots – some turned into a silky purée and whipped with brown butter; some transformed into caviare beads; others completely morphed into a crisp and delicate wafer. "I found a hint of carrot in the wine," explained Chef Feenie – and such is the power of suggestion that I did too.
Anthony McCarthy from The Saskatoon Club in Saskatoon decided to work with duck, placing slices of Brome Lake duck breast on a vinous demi-glace that worked very well with the wine. To the left lay a drum-shaped pavé of layered vegetables crowned with pancetta scratchings. A bright orange-coloured swipe of sea buckthorn berry purée offered fruitiness to the bird; as did a pool of Carmen Jewel sour cherry sauce. A salad of crisp julienned peppers and other vegetables hid under a latticed crisp of two-year-old goat cheese, waiting to jump out and revive a flagging palate. As a treat, Chef also gave us a moment of aerated foie gras with black truffle, textured like a stiff mousse and posed prettily in the cherry sauce. It was a beautifully composed dish and one of the best wine matches of the evening, reaching out to Nichol Vineyard's 2007 Cabernet Franc-Syrah from British Columbia as if they were old school friends.
Our final dish came from Jan Trittenbach of Packrat Louie in Edmonton, whose family had flown in from Switzerland to watch him compete. He presented us with a slice of gorgeous, lean venison, the colour of red wine, which had been rolled around a centre of pulled beef chuck, the meat cooked sous vide and admirably moist and rich. "This is the best meat of the entire weekend," said one of the judges, and no one argued with him. A crumbly, lightweight canoli was stuffed with creamy, mild-flavoured goat cheese while a pink beet purée added colour and a sweet earthiness to the spectrum of flavours. A wee watercress salad dressed with truffle vinaigrette refreshed the palate and balls of pickled butternut squash in a blackberry gastrique offered a different but equally tasty element. Chef had grated horseradish but politely left it on the side of the plate so we could add as much or as little as we wished. His wine proved a great match for the venison – the 2009 Peller Estates Private Reserve Syrah from Niagara. Back in the judges' lair we began our deliberations and calculated the marks.
None of us was surprised to see that Marc Lepine was the clear champion, or that Rob Feenie had won the silver medal. Both had set the pace since the beginning of the weekend and had made no mistakes tonight. From the tight group of chefs in pursuit, Jean-Philippe St-Denis had used the Grand Finale to break away from the pack to take the bronze with his amazing deconstructed vitello tonnato. And then it only remained to return to the party, to marvel at the bidding for the trips to Tuscany, Chile, California and other exotic locales, to cheer Ed Robertson and Barney Bentall as they sang for us all, to listen to Adam van Koeverden's inspiring stories (and hilarious jokes) and then to hand out the medals and trophies to the victorious chefs. Marc Lepine's fellow chefs in Ottawa had got together in an extraordinary show of support and cooked at Atelier each night he was away in Kelowna. Otherwise the restaurant would have had to close at one of the busiest times of the year. I have no doubt they will be as excited as anyone in the country to welcome the champion home. Weird but true: 5 out of 6 Canadian Culinary Champions have a first name that begins with the letter M: Makoto, Melissa, Mathieu, Martin, Marc... Hayato is the only exception. What if his nickname was Momo? Now that would be weird. photocredit: Brian Chambers for all the beauty shots of the plates
The 2011 Canadian Culinary Championships convened in Kelowna – the heart of B.C. wine country – on a mild and foggy weekend in Feb 2012. In the span of three public events, and four invitational events for judges, chefs and invited guests, almost 60 wines were poured, and it was a tour de force, especially for the wines of the Similkameen Valley. The Similkameen Wineries Association – eight wineries strong – hosted the Grand Finale Event at the Delta Grand Hotel on February 11.
This year, for the first time, a Best of Show Wine Competition was incorporated into the Canadian Culinary Championships – a judging of the wines in their own right, without taking the chef’s pairings into account. (The matter of judging the pairings is the mandate of the food judges, and weighs heavily in their decision).
This year I invited two prominent western Canada wine professionals to join me on a panel. Rhys Pender is one of three Canadian Masters of Wine, residing in the Similkameen Valley of B.C. where he conducts his business as a wine educator, writer and Canadian wine judge. Gurvinder Bhatia of Edmonton is wine writer for the Edmonton Journal and owner of Vinomania, one of the finest specialty wine shops in the country.
Judging over two days, the panel selected Orofino 2009 Syrah from the Similkameen Valley as the Best Wine of Show. It was the first syrah produced by John Weber at Orofino, and the tiny production of 90 cases sold out quickly. The runner up hailed from Ontario, the Hidden Bench 2009 Chardonnay from Niagara’s Beamsville Bench, which had been brought to Kelowna to pair with the dish by Ottawa’s Marc Lepine. The second runner-up was Sandhill 2009 Cabernet-Merlot from the Vanessa Vineyard, also from Similkameen.
Before moving onto the series of events, a special note of recognition and thanks to Harry McWatters who was a critical link to the local wine community as part of the Kelowna organising committee. He also very kindly donated several cases of his new McWatters Collection wines that debuted at the Mystery Wine competition. Both the McWatters Collection 2010 Chardonnay and 2007 Meritage are classics of their genre with all kinds of structure and complexity.
I also want to thank and acknowledge Catherine Frechette of Kelowna Tourism who set up an afternoon wine judges trip on the Lake Country Scenic Sip Trail, visiting the refurbished Gray Monk, and the spiffy new Ex Nihilo. I was not with the food judges at Tantalus Winery for their tasty retreat on June 8 but I hear the Tantalus wines showed beautifully.
The first official Gold Medal Plates event of the (very long) weekend was billed as The Last Supper. It took place at a private residence at the Big White Ski Resort on February 8 as a wrap up event for successful bidders from across Canada for the Big White/CCC auction ski package enjoyed a fabulous four course dinner prepared by 2010 CCC champion chef Martin Juneau of Montreal. Four B.C. wineries stepped up to donate their finest to this event, led by the terrific Tantalus 2010 Riesling. Many thanks to Tantalus owner Eric Savics, who joined us on the mountain. Other wines included the well-known Sumac Ridge Steller’s Jay sparkling, the vibrant Black Hill’s 2010 Viognier and the layered, very fine Painted Rock 2008 Syrah expertly matched to chef Juneau’s main course bison creation. The wine had actually been shipped to Montreal by Painted Rock owner John Skinner so that Juneau could consider the match in his preparations – a great demonstration of the kind of detail carried on behind the scenes.
The Chef and Judges Reception took place June 9 at Quails’ Gate winery where a pair of wines were poured at two food stations. The racy and quenching Quails’ Gate 2010 Chenin Blanc was served with a selection of Pacific oysters, while the fragrant, fresh Quails’ Gate 2009 Pinot Noir was matched with a very good risotto. During this event the chefs were presented with an unmarked bottle of the Mystery Wine to which they would have to create a matching dish – for 380 people – 24 hours later. On a budget of $500!
The Mystery Wine Pairing returned to the cosy confines of the lakeside El Dorado Hotel on June 10. Guests were greeted with Trius Brut sparkling wine, a much awarded crisp and dry sparkler made by Andrew Peller’s Hillebrand winery in Niagara. After being introduced to the concept and flow of the evening the chef stations opened and the very professional and attentive El Dorado staff began passing the glasses. The crowd was quick to pounce on riesling as the grape involved, with local sentiment saying it was the Tantalus Riesling. But not so! It was the Chateau des Charmes 2008 Old Vine Riesling from the Niagara-on-the-Lake appellation in Ontario, a beautiful, maturing, complex riesling that was named White Wine of the Year at the 2011 Ontario Wine Awards. Our deepest thanks to the Bosc Family of Chateau des Charmes for donating the last available cases of this great Niagara riesling.
The final day of events on June 11 was a wine lover’s dream. It began for the wine judges and invited guests at a private tasting by the Similkameen wineries, many of which brought out older vintages to show how the reds in particular developed. With only an hour to spare the winemakers then had to ready for the VIP Reception, where each poured two wines. Many thanks to Cerelia Vineyards, Clos du Soleil, Eau Vivre, Forbidden Fruit, Orfino, Robin Ridge and Rustic Roots for making the trip to Kelowna and putting on a fascinating show for our guests, many of whom had to be prodded out of the VIP Reception to enjoy the main event.
In the Grand Finale the chefs brought the same wine, or at very least a wine from the same winery, that helped them win gold in their respective cities. These are listed elsewhere on the Gold Medal Plates website. The wines, plus one beer from Montreal, were equally divided among the east and west, and ranged across several styles, and the medalists spanned three provinces. The bronze medal went to McCauslan Brewery’s rich and exotic St.Ambroise Cream Ale paired with chef the always offbeat and fun-loving J.P. St Denis of Montreal. The silver medal went to the taut and juicy Haywire 2010 Pinot Noir from the Okanagan, paired with Rob Feenie of the Cactus Club in Vancouver. And the Gold Medal went to the stately, complex and well structured Hidden Bench 2009 Chardonnay from the Beamsville Bench in Niagara, paired brilliantly with the creation of gold medal Chef Marc Lepine on Atelier in Ottawa.
But the fun did not end there! Several new Celebration Wines appeared on the tables as guests sat down to listen to athlete presentations, await the awards and enjoy great performances by Ed Robertson of Bare Naked Ladies and B.C.’s own Barney Bentall. The Similkameen Wineries added new wines to the festivities, and they were joined by a brilliant Township 7 2009 Syrah, Black Hills 2010 Alibi and 2010 Viognier, and the Sandhill 2008 Cabernet-Merlot, the aforementioned third place finisher in the Wine Competition.
So that’s a wrap, but in ending this report I must add a personal note of satisfaction, and thanks to all involved, for the wonderful recognition and acceptance that Canadian wine is receiving through the Gold Medal Plates program. Gold Medal Plates is the country’s largest showcase for Canadian wine, and it’s getting bigger and better every year.
National Wine Advisor
Michael Dacquisto - WOW Hospitality. Paired with Gray Monk Estate Winery Gray Monk Riesling
Jean-Philippe St-Denis - Kitchen Galerie Poisson. Paired with McAuslan Brewery St. Ambroise Cream Ale
Michael Dekker - Rouge. Paired with Stratus Vineyards 2008 Cabernet Icewine
Jan Trittenbach - Packrat Louie. Paired with Peller Estates Winery, 2007 Private Reserve Syrah
Rob Feenie - Cactus Club Restaurants. Paired with Haywire Winery 2010 Pinot Gris
Anthony McCarthy - Saskatoon Club, Saskatoon. Paired with Nichol Vineyard's 2007 Cabernet Franc Syrah
Jonathan Gushue - Langdon Hall Country House Hotel & Spa. Paired with The Organized Crime Winery 2009 Fumé Blanc
Marc Lepine - Atelier. Paired with Hidden Bench Vineyards & Winery 2009 Chardonnay
Mike Barsky - Bacalao. Paired with Pelee Island Winery Pinot Noir Reserve
2011 Canadian Culinary Champion, Martin Juneau of Newtown in Montreal, 2nd Place Jeremy Charles of Raymond's in St. John's and 3rd Place Robert Clark of C Restaurant in Vancouver
James Chatto's Report (www.jameschatto.com)
This weekend we gathered in Kelowna B.C. for the Canadian Culinary Championships, bringing the winning chef from each of our eight Gold Medal Plates regional events to compete in three gruelling challenges. My team of judges, profound of palate and splendid in their impartiality, performed magnificently and I will name them first, proceeding from east to west: Karl Wells from St. John's, Robert Beauchemin from Montreal, Anne DesBrisay from Ottawa, Sasha Chapman from Toronto, CJ Katz from Saskatchewan, Clayton Folkers from Edmonton, John Gilchrist from Calgary, Perry Bentley from Kelowna, Sid Cross from Vancouver and our culinary referee, Vancouver's Andrew Morrison. Google their names with pride.
We began with a reception party at Quail's Gate winery, introducing the chefs, their sous chefs, the enthusiastic local students from Okanagan College's culinary arts program who were to assist them, the judges, and Olympic rower Adam Kreek representing the athletes who are GMP's principal beneficiaries. Each chef was given a bottle of the mystery wine, unlabelled, anonymous, and given 24 hours to create a dish to perfectly match the wine. The catch – they had to cook the dish for 350 people and they had to do their shopping on a budget of only $500 – about a $1.47 a head. I couldn't do a dinner party for that but the chefs rose to the occasion, rising at dawn to shop. One chef handed back nine cents – all he had left; another returned an unspent $247! Such impressive parsimony.
On Friday night they presented their dishes, each at his station in the lovely 1920s-style main floor of the Hotel Eldorado, while the guests tasted, sipped the mystery wine and recorded their own verdict. It was quite the party, packed and exuberant, casual but intense, and though a People's Choice Award was given the judges kept their silence. Until they all came back to my hotel room and talked and talked…
The wine was a doozy – La Stella Fortissimo 2008 from the Okanagan, B.C.'s version of a SuperTuscan, mostly Merlot and Cabernet but with slightly less than 10 percent Sangiovese Grosso aged in Slavonian oak. It was inky black, very young and tight, massive with tannin and acidity but with all kinds of fruit and cinnamon-liquorice spice eager to burst out – a rowdy adolescent full of promise. The challenge for the chefs was to tame its aggression and only a couple of the competitors managed to do that. The dishes were delicious, and full of imagination. Here's what the chefs decided to do.
Jeremy Charles from Raymonds in St. John's, Newfoundland, assembled a very pretty composition of creamy polenta, finely chopped bittersweet rapini with lemon, chili and garlic nuances, braised beef short rib, a potato raviolo topped with tomato concassé and a dab of a profound, almost offaly jus.
Martin Juneau from Newtown in Montreal spent a deal of time trying to find pig's blood but eventually succeeded and turned it into a seductively soft boudin noir with a savoury crust which he set over a smooth white bean purée. The blood and the legume tamed the tannins in the wine – the only dish to do so. He surrounded the boudin with a deconstructed Bordelaise sauce – a brunoise of shallot turned into a chutney, a Melba-thin toast topped with bone marrow butter, a reduction of the mystery wine, and some fresh tarragon leaves as a crown. There was a drizzle of parsley oil, too, but it was the blood and bone marrow that cast a magic spell over the wine, making it crouch down and purr.
Michael Moffatt from Beckta Dining and Wine and also from Play, both in Ottawa, had competed in the CCC before, back in 2007. He made a terrine of lamb liver, dense, subtle and spiked with pistachio and sundried cranberries which he served on a slice of painstakingly made brioche spread with apple-red onion butter. A cilantro and cucumber relish refreshed the dish nicely and a smear of grainy mustard spiked with a reduction of the mystery wine added piquancy.
Toronto champion Frank Dodd from Hillebrand Winery restaurant in Niagara made 350 tiny perfect pies filled with minced beef and chopped mushroom – delicious and irresistible with ambrosial flaky pastry. Beside the pie was a wee mound of red cabbage cooked with icewine and cherries that reached into the wine and drew out the Sangiovese fruit, and a stripe of a reduction made from the wine.
Dan Walker from Weczeria Food & Wine in Saskatoon represented Saskatchewan. He presented a cold dish of gorgeously tender beef striploin, pink and perfect, patted with grainy mustard and rosemary. There was a mound of pulled beef short rib braised with a hint of vanilla and a bed of potato and parsnip salad with leek and a buttermilk dressing. Roasted garlic aïoli acted as a condiment; red onion and cherry marmalade was another luxe component. "Meat and potatoes," was how Chef described it. Some judges thought the striploin-wine match was magnificent; others were unconvinced.
Andrew Fung from Blackhawk Golf Club outside Edmonton also chose beef short rib as his star. He braised it for five-and-a-half hours, removed the bone then roasted it some more. The effort was well worth it for the meat was amazingly tender and flavourful over ribbons of mustard-flecked spätzle. On top, he set a tangle of crunchy bean sprouts in a chili-spiked Thai red curry dressing and finished the dish with a parsley-chive oil.
Duncan Ly from Hotel Arts in Calgary decided to use chicken – the dark meat fortified by marination with the wine like a crisp-skinned, magnificently tender coq au vin. Beneath it was a take on the classic chasseur sauce with pearl onion, bacon flecks, a turned carrot, celery leaf and a gastrique using tayberry – a berry like the love child of a raspberry and a bramble. It was totally delicious but it circled the wine warily rather than engaged it.
Robert Clark of C restaurant in Vancouver had also competed in a CCC before – our inaugural one, held in Whistler back in 2006 – an event with a very different mood to the series of parties held this weekend. He had brought his sommelier, Kim Cyr, to the competition, and she pulled off a spectacular feat, not only analyzing the components of the wine but correctly identifying it. Clark made a thick purée of a sauce to mimic the spicy flavours in the Fortissimo using cranberries, cinnamon, star anise and liquorice. He found bison and turned it into a tartare pressed into a tube of fried pastry, like a wonton wrapper. He draped a slice of pancetta over the roll and also worked tarragon and chervil into the dish. Yes, it echoed the fruity aromas of the wine exactly, but it didn't seem to address the tannin and acidity quite so well.
The people's choice went to Jeremy Charles by a considerable margin.
Saturday dawned bright and cold as the judges and chefs, each with his chosen sous chef, made their way to Okanagan College for the Black Box competition. Start time was 8:00 a.m. but the production team, assisted by the invaluable Chef Michael Lyon of Hotel Eldorado, himself a two-time winner of Gold Medal Plates regional events, had already been busy for hours preparing the arena. We were expecting a crowd of hundreds and we were not disappointed. The chefs and sous chefs were introduced then forced to surrender their cell phones and BlackBerries before being led away to their sequestered lair, to be summoned when their turn came.
Judge Perry Bentley had chosen the ingredients for the black box, all of which had to be used by the chefs in their two dishes. It was a deliberately challenging inventory: two large Dungeness crabs, alive and kicking, courtesy of Codfathers Seafood market; a smoked wild boar shank from North Okanagan Game Meats; a gnarly little liquorice root dug up on Vancouver Island and acquired through Mikuni Wild Harvest (a tricky ingredient to use as the liquorice flavour only emerges when it's cooked and must be used sparingly or its bitter pungency can overwhelm a dish; some gorgeous local heritage candy cane and golden beets from Green Croft Gardens; and some juicy Asian kosui pears, grown in B.C.. Each chef had access to an identical pantry of vegetables, dairy, herbs, spices, oils, stocks, wine, flours and seasonings to enhance the mystery ingredients, and they all rose manfully to the occasion, completing plating within their allotted hour, all except Dan Walker who went over time by 90 seconds, a mistake that cost him points with the judges.
Andrew Fung from Edmonton led off the contest. He boiled his crabs in a lemon court-bouillon then used the meat to make a tasty crab cake, stirring in onion and garlic and coating the cake in panko crumbs. With it he made a relish of shredded golden beets and chunks of crunchy Asian pear dressed with vinegar and sugar. For his second dish he braised and pulled the boar meat, setting it over a creamy potato "risotto" flavoured with thyme and (ever so subtly) with the liquorice root. A sweet salad of pickled candy-stripe beet finished the dish.
Robert Clark from Vancouver went next. He too made a beautifully textured crab cake, spiked with mustard and cilantro and bound with a little egg. He paired it with a salad of grated pear and cilantro and a tart liquorice butter sauce that cut the richness of the crab nicely. Having tenderized the boar (a crucial first step) he diced the meat and aranged it in the bottom of a bowl with pickled beet, basil leaves and a little basil oil then joined the judges in their chamber to finish the dish by pouring on a thick velouté of golden beets, quickened with more of the liquorice root. It was a visually stunning presentation and tasted as good as it looked.
Dan Walker from Saskatoon's first dish was a riot of colour – a boar shank ragout set over beet and potato rösti beside a bright yellow purée of liquorice root and golden beet, garnished with crunchy pickled candy stripe beets. He also made a crab cake, mixing the crab with shallots, ginger, garlic, tomato, basil and cilantro; a pear purée served as a splendid sauce and a tomato concassé was the final flourish.
Martin Juneau from Montreal was our fourth competitor. His crab salad moistened with cilantro-scented cream delighted the judges, set as it was in the centre of a pool of strongly vinegared tomato-and-onion gazpacho, ringed by olive oil. His boar dish was like an extrapolation of a breakfast, the shank cut into pieces and arranged over a sweet-sour onion, Asian pear and liquorice marmalade together with a hearty potato pancake. The raw beets were shaved on top and the whole ensemble crowned with a perfectly poached egg.
Michael Moffatt from Ottawa made the dishes that scored highest with the judges that morning – the juicy crab meat posed in a cold, delicate tomato consommé. He used the liquorice to flavour a salad of julienned Asian pear and also in the garnish, a tangle of confited lemon zest. His tender boar meat lay on a bed of creamy potato and beet "risotto" ringed with a pungent salsa verde of many herbs.
Duncan Ly from Calgary created a stunning presentation of lightly sautéd crabmeat with liquorice-infused cream and a hollandaise sauce, beside a slaw of Asian pear and cilantro. He braised the boar shank and set it in its own clear broth with a perfect potato fondant, firm chunks of the beets and a diadem of crispy potato threads.
Frank Dodd, representing Toronto, made best use of the Asian pear, turning small spheres of the fruit and poaching them with liquorice, bringing out just the right amount of liquorice flavour. He made a syrup from the pear juice and used both to accompany a chilled salad of crabmeat with basil and olive oil. He cooked down his boar meat until it was tender and shredded it between two discs of pasta like a giant, open raviolo, moistened by the boar broth. With this, he served chunks of perfectly cooked beet then set a poached egg on top, its runny yolk acting as a second sauce.
Our final competitor was Jeremy Charles from St. John's. He used both the crabmeat and the finely diced and fried boar shank in one dish, tossed with fettucine (made à la minute) sharpened with lemon zest, white wine and a tomato concassé. His second dish was vegetarian – chunks of crisp raw pear and sliced beets dressed with a liquorice vinaigrette and pear purée, crowned with crisp matchstick frites.
And that was the Black Box competition. The judges were most impressed by the dishes they tasted, but hoped fervently that smoked boar shank was not on the menu for the evening's Grand Finale in the Delta Grand hotel.
In past years, the CCC's Grand Finale has been a relatively small affair. Last night's event was anything but – a major gala that began with a VIP reception featuring Victoria gin and wineries from the Naramata Bench Winery Association and ended with a sit-down dessert, inspiring words from Adam Kreek, great music from Colin James, Barney Bentall and their attendant musicians, and a most successful auction (I'm proud to say the winning bidder for the trip I'm leading to hike the Yorkshire Dales in June paid $12,000 to join the party). In between, the 600 guests tasted each chef's signature dish and matching wine, moving from station to lavishly decorated station. We the judges sat in grandeur at a spotlit table and had the plates brought to us. As one might expect, the gastronomic standards were exceptionally high. Here are the dishes the chefs presented, the order in which we tasted them determined by the weight of the food and wine.
Frank Dodd, representing Toronto, wowed us once again with his technical skills and imagination. In the centre of his plate sat a miniature glass cloche filled with smoke pumped in from a tray of smoldering vine wood. We lifted the cloche and there was a slice of succulent salmon that had been cured in icewine and smoked, then wrapped around a finger of pickled golden beet and a small bundle of seedlings and baby spinach leaves. Beside it was a tiny perfect spherical croquette made with potato and Monforte Toscano cheese, a few dots of icewine syrup and a sweet-tart popsicle made of beet juice and icewine sorbet. The fascinating little collation worked brilliantly with Dodd's chosen wine, the fruity Brut Rosé sparkling wine from Trius.
Duncan Ly from Calgary also chose to work with salmon, bringing his supplier to the party. He in turn brought two mighty coho salmon he had caught off the Queen Charlotte Islands, each as big as a man's leg, displaying them on a bed of ice. Chef Ly cooked the salmon fillets sous vide until they were meltingly soft then cut a piece for every plate, sprinkling it with a crunchy powder made of crushed duck crackling. Beside it was a slice of duck torchon, the tender, ruby-coloured breast rolled with duck confit rillettes and wrapped in duck prosciutto. A purple stripe of beet emulsion was dotted with tiny segments of peeled orange and garnished with a curly, very crunchy cranberry-nut cracker. Chef Ly's wine was the tangy 2009 Tantalus Riesling from the Okanagan, its racy acidity in dramatic contrast to the soft, sweetish flavours of the dish.
Michael Moffatt from Ottawa was the next chef to bring his dish to the judges' table. He had sliced a firm, coarsely textured and deliciously flavourful terrine of rabbit, studded with pistachios and set it on a crisp melba toast, topping the meat with finely diced pickled pineapple. Beside it, he had impaled some tender grilled squid on a fork with a taro-flour tortellini, both generously dressed with lush, creamy bonemarrow butter sauce – an amazing mouthful. The third element on the plate was a "duck reuben" – thick, juicy slices of corned duck breast, cooked rare, draped over a mellow sauerkraut and topped with crumbled motes of aged Beemster cheese that had somehow been rendered crunchy. It all proved a fine match to the 2008 Pinot Gris from Fielding Estates in Niagara.
Robert Clark from Vancouver followed next, making magic from Fraser Valley quail. "I created this dish entirely to match the wine," he explained, and indeed it was the pairing of the evening, brilliantly wed to the white Bordeaux-style 2008 Alibi from Black Hills in the Okanagan. Chef Clark had poached the small plump breast of the quail then glazed it with orange citrus. He turned the wee leg into a ballotine stuffed with a citrus-scented farce. A quail egg, cooked sous vide so that its white was set but its yolk still runny was coated in a delicately crunchy powder made from the crisped and ground-up quail skin; the egg was set on a coin-sized puck of French toast flavoured with coriander seed. In a tall shot glass, two Lilliputian mushrooms bobbed about in piping-hot quail consommé, its flavour disarmingly pure, while a slice of kumquat could be seen drowned at the bottom, gently adding a citrus hint to the soup. The jus on the plate was a reduction of the consommé and a mound of fragrant coriander salt allowed the judges to season things to their taste.
Martin Juneau from Montreal was our fifth competitor. He confited St-Canut piglet belly until the fat almost melted into jelly and the lean milk-white flesh was improbably soft, the skin a delicate, brittle crisp. Then he glazed the meat with red beet juice and heaped it with dill fronds, pickled beet and strips of crunchy onion pickled in beet juice. A broad stripe of purple beet purée painted the plate which was also decorated with intensely flavourful dots of dill-green apple jelly. Chef Juneau paired his dish with a dazzling aged apple cider from La Face Cachée de la Pomme cidery in Quebec, the 2007 Cuvée Dégel Reserve – a brilliant match.
Up next was Dan Walker from Sakatchewan with a rustic, seasonal dish that he felt fully represented the province. Front and centre was a moist fillet of bacon-wrapped Saskatchewan pickerel dusted with lemon, dill and salt. Beside that were two slices of a dainty cabbage roll filled with a stuffing of finely ground elk meat seasoned with garlic and onion. A mound of buckwheat groats with the texture of Israeli couscous added body to the dish while a swirl of puréed beet and two wands of air-dried carrot brought colour and sweetness. A drizzle of apple cider gastrique finished the plate. Chef Walker found a good match to the elk and bacon in the 2009 Pinot Noir from Road 13 in the Okanagan.
Andrew Fung from Edmonton was the penultimate contender, presenting a slice of Asian-style pork belly darkly marinated in soy. Bringing acidic contrast to the meat were some juicy sautéed pieces of Granny Smith apple and a tangy Asian slaw dressed with sugar and vinegar. Slices of peppery duck-and-blueberry sausage provided a second protein and a toasted pistachio biscotti served as a most original garnish. Chef Fung worked with another wine from Road 13, the 2008 Jackpot Pinot Noir.
Jeremy Charles from St. John's brought our final dish, a treatment of wild Newfoundland rabbits he had trapped himself. Everything on the plate was sized for a doll's house – the tiny frenched rack of ribs, the swirl of rabbit liver mousse on a crunchy coin of Melba toast, the slice of roulade made with the tenderloin set in a firm matrix of herb-scented, confited leg meat. Perched on top of a mound of steamed Brussels sprout leaves flecked with rabbit bacon was a crispy raviolo filled with braised leg meat, mushroom duxelles, a dot of feta and a trace of sweet date. A turned baby carrot seemed like something out of Beatrix Potter and for sauces Chef Charles had made a purée of Jerusalem artichoke and a dark sticky reduction of the braising jus. The dish was a technical tour de force that worked beautifully with Ravine Vineyard's 2008 Merlot from Niagara.
While the guests found their seats in the hotel's ballroom and settled down to the show, the judges retired to their lair to deliberate and enter their scores. It had been a most interesting weekend. Three chefs had pulled ahead of the pack during the first, Wine-Matching Challenge; a fourth competitor had aced the Black Box. Three or four chefs stood out in the Grand Finale. We knew the marks would be close – they always are at the CCC with chefs of this extraordinary calibre. At last the moment came to announce the medalists and summon them to the podium. But first the judges were invited up on stage and presented with a small token of appreciation from the Gold Medal Plates organisation – a solid gold toothpick – a gift both beautiful and practical.
Winning the bronze medal was chef Robert Clark of C restaurant in Vancouver, B.C.
Winning the silver medal was chef Jeremy Charles of Raymonds in St. John's, Newfoundland.
Our gold medallist and new Canadian Culinary Champion was Chef Martin Juneau from Newtown in Montreal, Quebec.
Huge congratulations to him, his team, his cider-maker – and to all the chefs and winemakers who were part of an incredibly successful weekend. We'll be back in Kelowna this time next year to do it all again with different dishes, wines and a new cast of chefs. I for one cannot wait.
GOLD: Marc Lepine of Atelier in Ottawa
SILVER: Rob Feenie of Cactus Club in Vancouver
BRONZE: JP St-Denis of Kitchen Gallerie Poisson in Montreal
GOLD: Martin Juneau of Newtown in Montreal
SILVER: Jeremy Charles of Raymonds in St. John's
BRONZE: Robert Clark of C Restaurant in Vancouver
GOLD Mathieu Cloutier - Kitchen Gallerie, Montréal
SILVER David Lee - Nota Bene
BRONZE Matthew Carmichael - Restaurant 18
GOLD Hayato Okamitsu - Catch Restaurant, Calgary
SILVER Frank Pabst - Blue Water Café
BRONZE Deff Haupt - Le Renoir
GOLD Melissa Craig - The Bearfoot Bistro, Whistler
SILVER Anthony Walsh - Canoe
BRONZE Roland Ménard - Manior Hovey
GOLD Makoto Ono - Gluttons Bistro, Winnipeg
SILVER Michael Blackie - Perspectives Restaurant
BRONZE Mark McEwan - Bymark
2009 Canadian Culinary Champion Crowned
Canadian Culinary Challenge 2009 Report
By James Chatto (Gold Medal Plates National Culinary Advisor and Head Judge)
Participating chefs (in alphabetical order):
Nathin Bye from Lazia in Edmonton
Matthew Carmichael from 18 in Ottawa
Mathieu Cloutier from Kitchen Galerie in Montreal
Rob Feenie from Cactus Club Café in Vancouver
Jan Hrabec from Crazyweed Kitchen in Canmore
Ivan Kyutukchiev from Bianca's in St. John's
David Lee from Nota Bene in Toronto
The Wine Pairing Challenge
The Canadian Culinary Championships began on Thursday night with a reception at Gotham steak house in Vancouver. Gold Medal Plates CEO, Stephen Leckie, quickly recapped the regional campaign that had brought the champion chefs from seven Canadian cities to Vancouver. James Chatto's dream team of judges was introduced - the senior judge from each city (Karl Wells from St. John's, Robert Beauchemin from Montreal, Anne DesBrisay from Ottawa, Sasha Chapman from Toronto, Clayton Folkers from Edmonton, John Gilchrist from Calgary and Sid Cross from Vancouver) plus culinary referee, Andrew Morrison. Each chef then stepped forward and introduced the crowd to his or her sous chefs. And we met some of the students from the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, two of whom would be assisting each chef.
An anonymous bottle of the mystery wine, chosen by GMP's National Wine Advisor, David Lawrason, was given to each chef and the rules were reiterated. The chefs were given 24 hours to create a dish that would be a perfect match for the wine. They were told to make enough of the dish to feed 250 people and handed a meagre $400 to spend on ingredients. Furthermore, they had to buy all their ingredients at Granville Island Market, the most expensive grocery-shopping precinct in Vancouver. They had to prepare their dish in the friendly confines of the Dirty Apron cooking school and taxi the food to the venue, a hip nightclub on Granville called the Republic.
This was truly a challenge for our intrepid chefs - and, it turned out, for the judges. The wine itself was a fascinating test - Black Hills 2008 Alibi, an Okanagan blend of 80 percent Sauvignon Blanc with 20 percent Semillon; half the Semillon had seen some oak. It was a tight, acidic, Canadian Sauvignon but there were riches under the surface - herbal nuances, a gloss of ripe fruit hovering over the glass, plenty of citrus on the palate and a faint suggestion of spicy vanilla from the oak. Some chefs chose to challenge the wine's acidity with a dish that had its own strong acidity; others flattered the wine with a more mellow flavour and fattier textures, coaxing the Alibi's shy fruitiness and oaky spice into the open air.
Culinary Referee Andrew Morrison kept close tabs on the chefs and all of them came in just under budget (one chef spent $399.65). As the crowd gathered at the Republic, it was clear that the game was on. Two hours later, after the dust had settled, we had a leader in Mathieu Cloutier of Kitchen Galerie in Montreal but the other chefs were close on his heels and no one was lagging far behind. Many of the dishes were exceptionally skillful and delicious but not quite as good a match for the difficult wine.
Cloutier and his sous chef prepared a very pretty dish, a layered presentation of poached Dungeness crab, the juicy flesh tossed with mayonnaise, chives, yellow carrot and enhanced by a celeriac remoulade, held between two very crisp wontons for textural interest. One storey below, the judges found a julienne of braised veal tongue, its suave texture contrasted with a coarser moment of chorizo, its smoky edge just a whisper in the general splendour. On the plate, a basil and olive oil emulsion offered additional richness, with russet drops of the oil from the chorizo beading on the surface of the sauce. The topmost garnish reached out to the wine - a tiny jumble of confited lemon and orange zest, yellow beet and paper-thin dimes of pickled red carrot. On its own, the dish was spectacular but it also embraced the wine, the richer elements luring out flavours, though the basil emulsion and the pickled carrot came dangerously close to slapping the Sauvignon around.
Matthew Carmichael of Restaurant E18hteen in Ottawa took a different approach. He spent much of his allowance on gorgeous, creamy, meaty kushi oysters which he began to shuck as the competition began. Playing to the citrus face of the wine, he dressed the oysters plainly with a dot of the juice and flesh of yellow grapefruit and a trace of watercress. His second component was two small postage stamps of lightly seared tuna dressed with a loose salsa of raw corn kernels and cucumber brunoise in coconut milk spiked with cane sugar, rock salt and julienned kaffir lime leaf, topped with a couple of fingerling potato crisps. The tuna was a great match for the wine. But was the grapefruit on the oyster too bitter and pungent for the wine's more delicate citric character? The judges were divided over that one.
Rob Feenie of Cactus Club Café in Vancouver detected nascent sweetness and creaminess in the wine and determined to bring those qualities out. He made a tartare of raw scallops, chopping up the shellfish and tossing them with lemon zest and juice, a hint of jalapeño, celery and olive oil. This he smothered with a lukewarm moussey sauce of caramelized onion and some grated pecorino cheese. Dotted around the plate were orange-coloured steelhead caviar, espalette pepper and a sharp lemon dressing. Two tiny perfect toasts provided scrunch. It was a rich dish, well seasoned and the salty elements on the plate proved a nice balance to the wine's acidity.
David Lee of Nota Bene in Toronto presented his dainty dish in a small bowl. He paired a gorgeous sea scallop, lightly torched but still rare at heart, with a generous quantity of poached Dungeness crab. Acidity came from grapefruit, the flesh pulled apart into its tiny, juice-packed cells. A salad of crunchy fennel with coriander and dill added vegetal flavours that worked beautifully with the wine while miniature croutons gave unexpected crunch. The seafood bathed in a cold consommé made of Granville Island sake flavoured by the grapefruit and herbs.
Nathin Bye of Lazia in Edmonton was down at Granville Island Market before anyone else and managed to buy wild red snapper, which he cooked perfectly with a clover honey-infused mustard glaze. The small piece of fish was set atop a slice of fig and anise bread pudding and was topped with an autalfo mango and cippolini onion jam and prosciutto crisp. A dramatic green comma on the plate was a sweetly pungent coulis of basil and garlic. A second sauce used the snapper trimmings, halibut bones, Coronation grapes and half the bottle of mystery white wine. It was a wonderful dish though some judges felt its bouquet of flavours proved too much for such a subtle wine.
Ivan Kyutukchiev from Bianca's in St. John's decided to work with wild salmon, grilling a miniature fillet for each guest and setting it over young leeks softened in olive oil and roasted with garlic. He added a confit of shiitake mushrooms in olive oil, garlic and basil, and some big, juicy chunks of grilled zucchini. On top of the fish lay a garnish of fresh pear, pickled daikon and olive oil, and beneath it was a warm cucumber broth, its green cucumber aroma lifting right out of the bowl. The wine match earned much praise from the judges.
Jan Hrabec of Crazyweed Kitchen in Canmore chose a very different path, brining pork tenderloin, stuffing it with a mixture of goat cheese and orange zest and wrapping it in double-smoked bacon. She built a thick sweet sauce out of dates and orange and posed the meat on a bed of vanilla-scented celeriac purée. Did it work with the wine? Surprisingly well - indeed it was the only dish that seemed to seek out the hint of oak in the wine and encourage it to take a bow.
While the judges hugged their opinions and their marks to themselves, the guests at the event cast their own votes for a "people's choice" winner. By a single vote over Rob Feenie, the popular champion was Mathieu Cloutier.
The Black Box Competition
Many thanks to the staff of the Sheraton Wall Centre, especially manager Daniel Tennant and Executive chef Javiar Alarco (himself a former GMP competitor) for welcoming us to the Grand Ballroom kitchen in the hotel for the Black Box competition. We had three working stations for the chefs, with identical equipment, and a general pantry close by. There was room for the enthusiastic crowd and for the judges table, tucked away beside the dish pit. Each chef was instructed to create two dishes, using all six mystery ingredients from the black box in one or the other dish, making eight plates for the each, for the judges.
As is customary with the CCC, the local judges chose the mystery ingredients. Sid Cross and Andrew Morrison set out to flummox the chefs with their choice of farm-raised arctic char fillets, quail, dragon fruit, fresh fennel, arborio rice and as an exotic, a quantity of a nicely hoppy local IPA beer called Hoppelganger. The chefs were brought down to the kitchen one at a time, each accompanied by a single sous chef. The chef had ten minutes to ponder the ingredients and devise his or her dishes, then 50 minutes to cook. Points would be deducted if an ingredient was not used or if the chef went over time.
Nathin Bye was the first competitor, but he had barely opened his knife kit when he gashed his hand badly. Undeterred, but now wearing a latex glove, he prepared a roulade of arctic char, stuffing the delicate, coral-coloured fillet with beautifully seasoned mousse made from the char. This he served with a salad of crunchy julienned fennel and diced dragon fruit with subtly sweet vinaigrette. Sharing the plate was a seafood risotto made with fish stock and fennel fronds and a hint of lemon.
Chef Bye's second dish was bulgogi-style quail, marinated in soy, ginger, garlic and demerara sugar from the common pantry. The mahogany-coloured skin was soft but delicious, the flesh tender and moist and strongly flavoured with the marinade. Chef Bye used the beer to make a sauce based also on veal stock and Asian flavours and raided the pantry to make boulangère potatoes, stewed in stock with soft onion and fennel.
Matthew Carmichael was the second chef, taking the station beside Chef Bye. He opted to debone the quail, then threading each filleted bird on a stick of fresh thyme. He lacquered the skin with a mixture of soy, ginger, garlic and the beer reduced to a sticky glaze together with the quail bones then roasted the birds until they were perfectly cooked, their skin crisp. Beneath the quail, he made a risotto using wilted spinach and scattered crunchy fried garlic over the mixture.
Every chef, it turned out, chose to use his or her arborio to make a risotto and it was fascinating to compare the different textures and flavours of each. Interestingly, it became clear that many of the judges had their own opinions about what constituted a perfect risotto texture - some preferring slightly softer rice, others looking for the moment of resistence inside each garin of arborio.
Chef Carmichael's second dish involved pan-frying the char, skin side down, and not turning the fillet, so that the skin was delightfully crisp and the flesh gradated from cooked-through opacity closest to the skin to a blushing pink rareness on the surface. He diced the dragon fruit - and for once the black dots of the seeds against the grey flesh of the fruit really did look like dice - and built a refreshing salad of raw shaved fennel with a ginger-scented vinaigrette. His sauce was a subtle lemon gastrique montéed with butter.
Jan Hrabec was our third competitor. She poached her char in a lemon-ginger broth giving the fish a gorgeously moist texture and changing the colour of the flesh to a creamy pink. She made a salad of crunchy fennel slaw and soft-diced dragonfruitdressed with olive oil, lemon juice and lemon zest. Green spinach leaves lay below the fish and a chiffonade of basil was the garnish.
For her second dish, Chef Hrabec enriched her risotto with soft onions sweetly caramelized in beer. She chose to present each judge with a whole quail, first poaching the birds in stock flavoured with the beer, brown sugar, soy and cinnamon, then frying them in a wok. Juicy and tender, the quail's own flavour rang true.
David Lee was our fourth contender. He chose to present the char raw as a very coarsely chopped tartare seasoned with coriander and surrounded by crunchy sliced fennel with the dragon fruit added for visual effect and its own vague sweetness. He used his vinaigrette of olive oil and white wine vinegar as a marinade for the tartare, timing it perfectly so that the rosey surface of the fish had just started to cloud, taking the first step on a long journey that might have ended as a ceviche.
Chef Lee's risotto was the firmest of the morning's, a perfect texture for me, creamy but with each grain of rice having its own distinct identity. Subtle onion and cream enhanced the risotto, which served as a bed for the portioned and roasted quail. Some judges found the meat a tad too rare; others of us loved it for the same reason. Chef Lee's sauce was a buttery beer emulsion that allowed the hoppy bitterness of the ale to make its contribution.
Rob Feenie was up next. While his sous chef rapidly deboned the quail, he made a reduction of beer and chicken stock, using a little sugar to quell the beer's bitterness and butter to enrich it. This ended up as the sauce for the quail which he set atop a delectable risotto made with reduced cream, shallots, thyme and garlic, the rice just a tiny bit softer than Chef Lee's.
Chef Feenie pan-seared his char, cooking it through but leaving it perfectly moist and enhanced with butter, thyme and lemon juice. He used the root and the fronds of the fennel in his salad, piling them on top of a slice of dragon fruit with a tangy sauce involving vinegar, lemon, olive oil, soy, ginger and beef stock.
Ivan Kyutukchiev was our sixth competitor. He portioned his char into identical pieces and pan-seared the fish, timing it perfectly until each fillet was cooked through, the juices nicely seized. He made his risotto with fish fumet that allowed the flavour of the fish to shine and sauced the plate with a dragon fruit coulis and a delicate lemon beurre blanc. His second dish featured whole quail marinated in soy and pale ale and simply roasted, the flesh wonderfully tender and moist. He served the birds with lightly sautéed spinach and accidentally repeated his two sauces on this dish too. Fortunately, they worked equally well with the quail.
The last competitor was Mathieu Cloutier. While some of the chefs had been visions of intense concentration, he and his sous chef were ostentatiously relaxed, chatting and joking with the crowd, Cloutier whistling as he stirred the risotto. He began by enhancing the pantry veal stock using carrot, tomato and other vegetables, thyme, rosemary, garlic, butter and plenty of the beer. In this he braised the quail legs, using the reduction again as a sauce for the perfectly pan-seared breasts. He served the quail with a risotto flavoured with basil and lemon zest.
For his second dish, he pan-seared the char fillets, cooking them through but leaving them beautifully moist, the skin crisp. Beneath the fish he set a salad of fennel and dragon fruit dressed with zippy, lemony, peppery vinaigrette freshened with a brunoise of tomato and a hint of mint. A chiffonade of spinach finished the dish.
The judges retired to a deliberation room, hoping that no chef had opted to prepare quail and risotto for the grand finale that evening.
The Grand Finale
The third element of the Championships is a Grand Finale party that looks very like the first half of a Gold Medal Plates regional event. The chefs were each at their own station in a great ballroom where they served their signature dish to the hundreds of guests. The mood was merry, the excitement intense and the line-ups long, though not for the judges. We sat at a table while gallant food runners brought us each dish and the wine the chef had chosen to accompany it. We had worked out an order in which the dishes would show to best advantage, starting with the lightest.
The first dish came from Mathieu Cloutier, a reprise of his gold medal-winning dish from the Montreal GMP gala. It starred a tiny, delicate rack of rabbit; each wee bone frenched and cleaned, the tender meat wonderfully moist and flavourful from being slowly confited in duck fat. Beside this was a quenelle of super-rich foie gras parfait and some miniature pink cubes of lightly pickled beet. What looked at first glance like a Brussels sprout turned out to be rabbit rillettes and foie gras wrapped with soft spinach leaves. A dramatic stripe of red beet caramel painted the plate while a single tooney-sized crisp of fried bread added scrunch to the dish.
The accompanying wine was the Huff Estates 2007 South Bay Chardonnay from Prince Edward County in Ontario, its rich, oaky personality a great compliment to the dish.
Michael Carmichael's dish was the second to be tasted. The first element was a large mussel shell filled with a piece of rich, creamy Qualicum Bay scallop, some sea urchin and salmon roe all bathing in a foamy coconut milk. It was a fabulously marine mouthful, the many sweet sea flavours splashing about on the tongue. The second element was a small slab of black cod lacquered with honey, lemon and ginger juice. The fillet parted into glossy petals at the touch of a fork. Beside it was a comma of carrot and coconut purée. The Closson Chase South Clos 2007 Chardonnay (a most delectable wine) picked up the scallop and coconut flavours beautifully.
Nathin Bye's dish was next. He had prepared a written description of his intentions at the start of the competition and the complex relationships on the plate were exactly as he had described them. Three elements... The first was a slice of sablefish and fruits de mer roulade using king crab and lobster morsels in a matrix of scallop mousse. The little disc lay in a cream Thai green curry with a dot of mango and rice wine jelly and a quarter-teaspoon of a sweet redcurrant and pepper compote. It was a most invigorating mouthful. The second part was a demitasse of corn and butternut squash mulligatawny, spiked with garam masala spices, the rich broth topped with a creamy cardamom foam. Two shortdough pastry fingers lay across the cup, sandwiched together around a dab of apple and currant jam. Slow-braised Alberta bison shortrib was glazed with "French-Asian fusion" blend of veal/bison demiglace with cream and a different garam masala spice blend. A dab of cauliflower and celeriac purée anchored the meat which wore a toupée of microgreens. Chef Bye's choice of wine was the excellent 2008 JoieFarm Rose from JoieFram Wines in B.C.'s Okanagan valley. David Lee also chose to reprise the dish he used to win the Toronto GMP event, though he added a number of different elements to the plate. Describing the dish to the judges, he brought over some wild ginger stems he had pickled in vinegar two years earlier and which he used to add flavour to a sour apple compote. A dab of this compote appeared on the long strip of very crispy chicken skin, served cold, that grounded his dish. On top of it was a two-inch piece of chicken breast cartilage, slow-cooked in a pressure cooker over 24 hours with ginger and coriander. Its texture was considerably softened but it still had the curious, alien soft-crunchiness of cartilage. Beside this, Chef Lee offered a couple of bites of confited chicken with creamy cauliflower purée and a silky ribbon of pancetta brought from his restaurant in Toronto, garnished with some colourful miniature flower petals and some marjoram leaves. It was a fascinating dish, beautifully paired with the off-dry 2007 June's Vineyard Riesling from 13th Street Winery in Niagara, the wine's honeyed, petrolly bouquet reaching out to the apple and ginger flavours in the dish.
Rob Feenie's dish was next up. He offered a trio of elements. The first was a rectangular crouton of spiced brioche topped with a little honeycomb apple butter and finished with a piped mousse of foie gras scented with maple and vanilla salt. An extraordinarily fragile shard of caramel lay on the top. The second element was a single raviolo filled with butternut squash and mascarpone and strewn with black truffle. The perfectly tender pasta was sauced with a black truffle beurre blanc. The third component was Canadian prime beef short rib slow-braised for 36 hours and sauced with a seriously reduced Peking duck jus. Vancouver Island chanterelles shared the plate and the general richness was leavened by some pickled celery leaves. Chef Feenie's chosen wine was Road 13's "Fifth Element" 2006, a fabulous Bordeaux blend from the Okanagan that thrilled the judges.
Ivan Kyutukchiev's dish starred pork belly brined for 24 hours and smoked over applewood. Fat and lean kept their distinct integrities and the subtle flavour was enhanced by a soft white bean purée. A spoonful of red pepper marmalade was marvellously supple, sleek and tasty, the natural sweetness of the peppers bringing out similar qualities in the pork. Alonside the meat Chef Kyutukchiev placed a red bell-pepper scented marshmallow that slowly melted, releasing its sweet fragrance into the sauce of smoked pork juices. The accompanying wine was Hillebrand Estates Trius red 2006, a traditional Bordeaux blend from Niagara.
Jan Hrabec's dish was the last one the judges tasted. She presented a sphere of Thai-spiced minced chicken on a sweet, richly aromatic sauce of lime, cilantro and coconut with a good kick of chili heat. A hollow hen's egg shell held a rich red coconut curry flan to be eaten with a tiny spoon, the mouthfilling flavours delighting the judges. Sesame crusted sticky rice held the egg shell in place and was quickly eaten together with the last element on the plate, a hot-and-sour chicken salad, the tangy meat sweetened by toasted coconut flakes. Row 13 2008 Riesling from the Okanagan was the chosen wine.
While the live auction began, the judges retired to their deliberation room to collate all the numbers from the three competitions. The final marks for the second, third and fourth-placed competitors were incredibly close - all within a single percentage point. David Lee came second, Matthew Carmichael third and Rob Feenie a heartbreakingly close-run fourth. The winner, by a margin of three percentage points was Mathieu Cloutier from Kitchen Galerie in Montreal. He had aced the Wine Pairing Challenge, had barely maintained a narrowing lead during the black box and won the Grand Finale with a clean decision. The judges returned to the party and the winners were announced. Chef Cloutier's name was greeted with a great roar of approval from the crowd who had adored his rabbit rack as much as the judges did. A rousing rendition of Oh Canada followed as the victorious chefs waved from the podium in a truly Olympian moment.
WEST IS BEST AT THE 2007 CANADIAN CULINARY CHAMPIONSHIPS
Pictures from the Canadian Culinary Championships
February 11, 2008
Toronto, ON: Following three intensely competitive evenings, it was Chef Melissa Craig of Bearfoot Bistro in Whistler, who emerged as Canada's Best Chef as part of the Canadian Culinary Championships held in Toronto February 7, 8 and 9. Toronto's Anthony Walsh of Canoe was awarded the silver medal and Roland Ménard of Manior Hovey, representing the Montréal region, took home bronze.
The competition began Thursday evening with a Black Box Challenge held in the instructional kitchens of George Brown College. The seven competing chefs had one hour to prepare two dishes using six mystery ingredients, which included two Georgian Bay whitefish, Top Meadow Farms flank steak, a celery root, a bag of Ontario peanuts, a honeycomb oozing honey and a handful of green plantains.
Friday evening was the Mystery Wine Pairing, whereby chefs prepared a dish they felt perfectly suited the mystery bottle of wine they had received the evening before, a delicious Closson Chase Chardonnay by winemaker Deborah Paskus. They were also given $400 to shop for ingredients to feed the 150+ guests in attendance. Invited guests were able to taste the chefs' creations and cast their own ballot. Emerging as the people's choice winners for this single event were: Gold - Anthony Walsh, Toronto, Silver - Michael Moffatt, Ottawa, Bronze - Judy Wu, Edmonton.
There were no obvious frontrunners heading into the Grande Finale event Saturday, held at Toronto's Arcadian Court. But it was Melissa Craig's King crab dish that captured gold. She presented a small cone of bamboo leaf with a tender flesh from the claw inside, garnished with tobiko and some soy-sauce pop rocks. There was a delicately flavoured crab croquette, spherical and golden-crusted, sitting on a little pool of mango-basil purée. Lastly, a demitasse of king crab soup - white, full-bodied with coconut milk and with a gentle lemongrass and chili hit. Melissa paired the dish with a bracingly acidic Tantalus Vineyards Riesling 2006 which the judges deemed to be the best wine match of the evening.
An underdog in the truest sense, Melissa Craig was a last minute contender, asked to step in as the silver medallist representing Vancouver when the city's gold medal chef, Pino Posteraro could not make the national finals.
The judges - all leading Canadian food and wine critics, headed by James Chatto - were impressed with each of the competing chefs' dishes that best exemplified creativity, brilliance and individuality during each of the competitions. Chatto, author and restaurant critic for Toronto Life Magazine, said that "there was much more parity between the contestants this year" at the final competition. "There was no clear winner from the beginning. All seven chefs were within six percentage points of each other, which meant that anybody could win it which was quite exciting."
Stephen Leckie, CEO and Founder of Gold Medal Plates, said "Gold Medal Plates was delighted to stage this year's Canadian Culinary Championships in Toronto. The three evening competition was highly entertaining for guests, competitive and truly showed the substantial culinary talent and quality of wine that Canada has to offer."
The weekend was graced with numerous celebrities such as Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo, Sonja Smits, Justin Trudeau and triple Olympic medalists - Marnie McBean and Curt Harnett.
Gold Medal Plates would like to thank each of the chefs for participating in the Canadian Culinary Championships which celebrates Canadian excellence in cuisine, wine and athletics.
The seven competing chefs:
Melissa Craig of Bearfoot Bistro in Whistler (Vancouver)
Paul Rogalski of Rouge (Calgary)
Judy Wu of Wild Tangerine (Edmonton)
Anthony Walsh of Canoe (Toronto)
Michael Moffatt of Beckta Dining and Wine (Ottawa-Gatineau)
Roland Ménard of Manoir Hovey (Montréal)
Martin Ruiz Salvador of Fleur de Sel (Halifax)
About Gold Medal Plates Since its inception, Gold Medal Plates has donated more than $2.4 million to support Canadian Olympic and Paralympic athletes and has elevated the profile of Canadian cuisine and wine.