Last Monday saw Gold Medal Plates, the Ottawa qualifying event for the Canadian Culinary Championship. Jenn and Don attended last year and provided a comprehensive review of the event and interviewed participating chefs, along with fellow Ottawa food bloggers Rachelle of Rachelle Eats Food and Shari Goodman of Whisk: A Food Blog.
This year, I attended only as a guest of a friend and I must say that it was quite the event. At $350 a ticket, this is also a fundraiser for Canada’s Olympic Athletes. (While it is for a good cause, it is a ticket out of reach for many of us foodies). Events in 2011 are being staged in nine cities culminating in each city’s winner competing in the Canadian Culinary Championships.
Wearing another of my LBD vintage dresses, I only tucked my small camera into my bag so please forgive the quality of the photos.
Ninety minutes is a small window in which to taste ten dishes, not to mention the wine pairings! I did my best but, with camera in one hand, juggling plates and glassware was a challenge…not to mention doing it in four inch heels and a tight skirt!
Knowing I might not make it to all the stations, I conferred with Don beforehand and, with Lil’foodiePrints being a budding chef, I thought I would concentrate on female chefs. There were three: Chef Caroline Ishii of ZenKitchen, Chef Lili Sullivan of East and Main, and Chef Patricia Larkin of Black Cat Bistro. In the end, though, I managed, with some clever planning and quick moves, to taste 9 of the 10 dishes.
[Left: East and Main’s Truffle speckled ravioli served with 2007 Huff Estates South Bay Merlot-Cabernet; Right: ZenKitchen’s Gyoza with Japanese Curry]
[Left: Courtyard Restaurant’s 48 hour braised beef chuck served with 2010 Angel’s Gate Gewurtztraminer; Right: Restaurant E18hteen’s Lobster Taco]
[Atelier’s Qualicum Beach Scallop with Potato and Truffle]
While I was able to nibble on Castlegarth Restaurant’s Juniper and Wild Apple Cider Vinegar Venison Short rib, I didn’t get to try the entire dish. From what was told, all the ingredients, with the exception of the venison, were sourced by Chef Matthew Brearley himself, from the foraged acorns for the cornbread to the wild ginger and hawthorn. The rib was moist, succulent, melt-in-your mouth, fall off the bone delicious. I am sure the rest of the dish must have been equally good. Castlegarth is known for using local seasonal ingredients, and this dish was in keeping with that philosophy.
Each dish was paired with a Canadian wine. The best pairing was, in my opinion, the 2010 Painted Rock Chardonnay from British Columbia with Chef Matthew Carmichael’s lobster taco. Unlike a California Chardonnay, this wine was not overly buttery and oaky. It was light, refreshing with the softness you associate with Chardonnay, the perfect match for the rich lobster and the tang of the chow chow.
The most unusual pairing was the 2010 Angel’s Gate Gewurtraminer from Niagara with Chef Michael Hay’s braised beef chuck. The slight sweetness of the wine worked well with the Phaenaeng curry and proved that red meat does not mean red wine.
While we guests walked from station to station, picking up our dishes, nibbling on the offerings, leaving our dirty dishes on tall tables before moving on, an army of NAC staff followed behind. I saw not one dirty plate left on a table, not one half-empty glass waiting to be cleared away. Chef Blackie’s crew were incredible; I mentioned it to him on the night but it bears repeating: They did a remarkable job.
The organization involved in this event by the competing restaurants and the host NAC is impressive. I can barely host a dinner party for four; the thought of organizing a ten course evening for 500 boggles my mind! Add to this the pressure of competition, high profile attendees and a ninety minute time-span and I could not even imagine where to begin!
When the 90 minutes of service were up, speeches were given and items auctioned off. The ten Chefs and their crews packed up their supplies and the National Arts Centre staff cleaned up. In less than 45 minutes, the entire area was clean; you would never have known that 5000 dishes and glasses of wine had been consumed! I took the time to chat with some of the Chefs who has competed and their crew about the work involved in this competition and what a win would mean to them.
Chef Marc Lépine who, as you know, would go on to win Gold, is not like most Chefs I know. He is more reserved, less extroverted. He told me that he had tried to tie elements more closely together in his dish this year. (If you have ever enjoyed his cuisine before, you know that his style is somewhat abstract, his dishes more deconstructed and a series of elements making the whole). In addition to being tired, he seemed nervous about the results: would the judges like his Qualicum Beach Scallop with potato and truffle?
Although we had not yet received the results, I told Chef Lepine that it had been my favourite dish. Served in a bowl, it was the easiest to eat standing. The scallop was nestled at the bottom in a rich yet surprisingly light lemon fennel sauce. And hidden beneath a sheet of dehydrated celery root. The entire dish was finished with a spritz of bacon fat and how can you go wrong with that?
In the end, Chef Lépine won Gold, Chef Ishii of ZenKitchen was awarded Silver and Chef Chef Part of Les Fougères won bronze. Chef Lépine will be competing in the Canadian Culinary Championships in early 2012.
The “gold” in Gold Medal Plates refers to the Olympics, but I feel it applies to the efforts of the crews. Although only one Chef gets to hoist the gold plate, I think all the participants and the host deserve a gold, if only in applause.