Gold Medal Plates 2012 – Canadian Culinary Championships Recap

Follow Me Foodie to Gold Medal Plates 2012!

A recap of the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna and Day 1: the Mystery Wine Pairing Competition

2012 Gold Medal Plates Winners are:

Gold Medal Winner: Marc Lepine from Atelier – Ottawa, Ontario

Silver Medal Winner: Rob Feenie from Cactus Club Restaurants – Vancouver, British Columbia

Bronze Medal Winner: Jean-Philippe St-Denis from Kitchen Galerie Poisson – Montreal, Quebec

Other competitors include:

Mike Barsky from Bacalao – St. John’s, Newfoundland
Jonathan Gushue from Langdon Hall Country House Hotel & Spa – Toronto, Ontario
Michael Daquisto from WOW Hospitality – Winnipeg, Manitoba
Anthony McCarthy from The Saskatoon Club – Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Michael Dekker from Rouge Restaurant – Calgary, Alberta
Jan Trittenback from Packrat Louie – Edmonton, Alberta

Congratulations to all the chefs who competed in the 2012 Gold Medal Plates Canadian Culinary Championships!

It was an intense 2 days. For me and the chefs, but more so for them. The chefs were sweating in the kitchen, I was sweating for them, hearts were beatin’, but none were eatin’, dishes reigned supreme while others got creamed.

Nine chefs from across Canada gathered in Kelowna to compete in the 2012 Gold Medal Plates. After 3 culinary competitions in 2 days, 1 winner took home the title of “Top Chef in Canada”… and I thought that was Dale McKay from Food Network’s Top Chef Canada? Or Alex Chen the Canadian representative for Bocuse d’Or 2013? Well after last weekend we can add Marc Lepine to the creme de la creme of Canadian chefs. There are several culinary competitions in Canada to determine the country’s “best chef” or “top chef” and I was honoured to be invited to attend another one!

The Gold Medal Plates is one of the many Canadian Culinary Championships to showcase Canadian Chefs. The judges invited top chefs in each major Canadian city to compete for the spot to represent their city at the Gold Medal Plates Grand Finale in Kelowna.

The competition was created in 2003 to raise funds for Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes while celebrating Canadian excellence in food, wine, sports, and entertainment. Well if eating was a sport, I definitely had my indulgence in all of the above last weekend.

The ticketed event was open to all and in case you missed it, I’ve documented the details and will report in 3 posts featuring Day 1: Mystery Wine Pairing, Competition I, Day 2 (afternoon): The Black Box, Competition II, and Day 2 (evening): The Grand Final: Competition III. So without further further ado, Follow Me Foodie to Day 1!

Day 1: Mystery Wine Pairing, Competition I

Day 2 (afternoon): The Black Box – Competition II

Day 3 (evening): The Grand Finale – Competition III

The first challenge was to prepare 300 hors d’oeuvres that would best complement a bottle of mystery wine that could be from anywhere in Canada. All chefs were given the same bottle of wine with no label, and the budget was $500 which is $1.67/person. Chefs had about a day and a half to brainstorm a recipe, buy the ingredients and prepare the dish for later that evening for guests to enjoy. Since all competitors were visitors in Kelowna, sourcing ingredients and bargaining skills were also unintentionally tested, but not calculated in final scores.

The mystery bottle of wine was easily assumed as a Riesling with bold flavours, bright crisp citrus notes and a nice sweetness. It had a velvety feel which one chef thought could be a sign of a Chenin Blanc, but for the most part everyone based their dishes to match a delicious Riesling.

During the event guests were invited to sample plates paired with the mystery wine and then vote for the best wine pairing which would win the “People’s Choice Award”. Unfortunately they ran out of the mystery wine quite early in the evening and had to resort to serving another bottle of white, so the winner was more likely based on favourite dish rather than “the best wine pairing”.

Ottawa’s Chef Marc Lepine and his team after winning “People’s Choice Award” for best wine pairing.

I sampled each dish twice at different times throughout the night and it varied at each station serving hot food. I’m sure the judges plates were different and consistent, but with so many factors playing into the People’s Choice Award I decided to hand in an empty ballot. However from the dishes I did try with the right wine, my favourite mystery wine pairing was Montreal’s JP’s Seared Halibut and Bacon Sausage tightly followed by Ottawa’s Marc Lepine’s Lagoustine for being best dish more so than best wine pairing. However Lepine’s Lagoustine did officially take home the “People’s Choice Award” for best wine pairing.

To be selected as a competitor speaks volumes of the chef’s talent, his team and restaurant. Of course I respect each chef and what they created, so the following are just my personal thoughts and experiences with the food I tried.

The official judging panel included: James Chatto, Mary Bailey, Robert Beauchemin, Perry Bentley, Sasha Chapman, Sid Cross, Anne DesBrisay, Jeff Gill, John Gilchrist, CJ Katz, Andrew Morrison, and Karl Wells. The judges deliberated separately and points were tallied for a grand prize Gold Medal Plates winner instead of announcing a winner per competition and cateogry. The judging criteria was based on presentation, texture, taste, wine compatibility, and wow factor.

Introducing the Chefs and their Mystery Wine Pairing Plates

From St. John’s, Newfoundland…

Mike Barsky is the Executive Chef for Bacalao restaurant in St. John’s, Newfoundland. “Bacalao” is the Mediterranean name for salt cod and the restaurant is inspired by this ingredient and centred around Newfoundland and Labrador cuisine. I’ve never been to Newfoundland so I’m unfamiliar with the cuisine there, but I was hoping to see some sort of salt cod featured in one of his dishes. It’s not exactly a gourmet ingredient, but it would be nice to see in a gourmet context. To my surprise, both his competing Gold Meal Plates dishes featured no seafood.

Cider Glazed Pork Jowl

  • With green lentils in a sour cabbage roll with lentils, spiced carrot puree, local granny smith apple puree, pork scruncheons, sprouts and braising liquid.
  • Pork scrunchions is the Newfoundland term describing crispy pork fat also known as “cracklings”, but in this case it was just the fat and not the rind.
  • All the ingredients used were really affordable, but making it taste $10 was the challenge.
  • His regular menu at Bacalao features a cabbage roll made with salt beef, turnip, potato and carrot rolled in a tender cabbage leaf, on a dollop of pea pudding, with a pot-liquor shooter and homemade mustard pickles and this could have been a version of that.
  • This dish is actually quite typical of Newfoundland, but usually instead of pork cheek it would be salt cod.
  • Salt cod is very popular in the Mediterranean and easily found and appreciated on the East Coast, but not so much in the West Coast. Being in Kelowna I assume it was hard to find.
  • It’s considered a “peasant meal” and was quite country style for me.
  • Pork, apples and lentils are a classic pairing, so there was nothing really unusual.
  • Pork cheek is an inexpensive fatty cut that is similar to pork belly, and the ratio of fat to meat was almost 70/30 for most pieces.
  • The hard part is cooking the cheek so that the fat is tender because it takes at least a few hours and must be slowly cooked. Sous vide would be ideal and there was enough time to do that, but I think he just braised it.
  • The sweetness and acidity of the cider helped break down the muscles and fibres in the fat layer, but I still wanted it creamier and less chewy and resistant.
  • The tangy lentil cabbage roll was a nice contrast to the rich pork, but I wish the pork cheek was executed better with melting fat and a crispy skin.

From Montreal, Quebec…

If there was any chef at the competition that knew how to market himself it was definitely Chef Jean-Philippe St-Denis also known as “JP”.  JP is the chef and part owner at Kitchen Galerie Poisson in Montreal, Quebec. Making his on stage debut at the Gold Medal Plates in a pair of slacks, runners, a flannel shirt and a trucker hat with the word “MEAT” written across the front, he was easily the least forgettable. With his nonchalant attitude and drink always in hand, he was probably the most unassuming chefs… or assuming chefs. He acted like a line cook, but worked his food like a master, he was definitely one to watch out for and one of my favourites from start to finish.

Pan Seared Halibut with Bacon Sausage

  • Sauerkraut cabbage, beurre blanc sauce, spinach salad and crispy pretzels.
  • This was my favourite wine pairing from half the dishes I tried with the mystery wine before they ran out.
  • Presentation not so much (being a sample plate), but in terms of flavour it was all there.
  • It was the only plate with meat and seafood. I started here and ended here.
  • Both proteins were fighting for the spotlight though so I’m not sure which was supposed to be the main highlight.
  • Serving halibut with a budget of $1.67/person was impressive enough, and then not overcooking it and serving it dry was a challenge on its own.
  • It didn’t bother me that halibut wasn’t in season because it was still prepared well.
  • I would have loved it with a crispy pretzel and bacon sausage crumb crust too since it had no skin.
  • It was a rich and hearty dish and I would have ordered this as a main.
  • The wine cut the richness with its acidity, but also brought a desired sweetness in the bacon sausage and sauce.
  • The beurre blanc was probably one of the best beurre blanc sauces I’ve had to date and it must have been reduced with some of the mystery wine.
  • It was a savoury, sweet and tangy dish with crispy salty pretzels for texture, and I pretty much licked the plate.

From Ottawa, Ontario…

Just say it. “Awww”. Yes, it was heard all across the room and judging purely on appearance, these were probably the youngest sous chefs. Led by Chef Marc Lepine the owner and Executive Chef Atelier in Ottawa he can now add “Gold Medal Plate Canadian Champion 2012” to his resume.

I was pretty excited to see Lepine competing because he’s worked for Grant Achatz at world renowned restaurant Alinea in Chicago (my post on Alinea here), which is pretty much the Per Say of New York, but with very different styles. Lepine’s avant-garde restaurant features 4 chefs that are responsible for 3 dishes each to create a 12 course tasting menu for a restaurant that seats only 20. Nothing stays on the menu for more than 2 months. To quote an insider “Lepine’s secret weapon was his sous-chef Jason Sawision”… don’t let the baby face fool you, these “kids” could give a more experienced chef a run for his money.

Langoustine and Avocado Roulette (People’s Choice Award Winner)

  • Curry mayo, puffed wild rice with fennel and coriander seasoning, Granny Smith apple compressed with chile syrup, fennel sponge cake, compressed celery, parsnip chips, langoustine oil, orange zest tarragon and citrus ash.
  • If it was Spot Prawns or Dungeness Crab instead of Langoustine, this could have been from Vancouver.
  • This was my favourite dish of the night, but not my favourite wine pairing although it was still good.
  • There were a lot of flavours going on, but it wasn’t confusing and all quite subtle, but not bland.
  • The dish was almost refreshing with the rather light flavoured ingredients generally used for aromatics.
  • The fennel sponge cake I expected to be dehydrated and it didn’t really play too much of a purpose since there was nothing to really absorb.
  • The curry mayo added a richness and the citrus ash carried a nice bitter flavour that is usually under appreciated, but very welcomed in this case. It gave the dish a smoky nuttiness.
  • The puffed wild rice added nutty flavour as well as great texture to the buttery and smooth roulette.
  • Although my Vancouver palate would be used to seeing some Japanese ingredient incorporated in this dish, there was none.
  • The langoustine oil was excellent and also showed no wastage since it requires the langoustine shells to make. I would have loved this oil drizzled over the sponge cake.
  • The Granny Smith apple was a complement to the apple flavour in the Riesling, and the pairing was quite acidic and I just prefer a bit more sweetness or richness on the plate.
  • The Riesling was almost more crisp and bold than the dish which was quite delicate, but it was still generally very good.
  • For a $1.67/person appetizer? Hat’s off. The labour was more than the cost of ingredients and it delivered to competition standards.

From Toronto, Ontario…

Chef Jonathan Gushue is from Langdon Hall Country House Hotel & Spa in Toronto which has been awarded the coveted Five Diamond Award from AAA/CAA. The restaurant features regional dishes and classical cuisine. Having heard of his name before and easily known as one of the best chefs in the East, expectations from him were high for everyone. At 32 he was selected by the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts to take over Truffles Restaurant to be one of their youngest 5 diamonds restaurant chefs in North America. He’s also worked at The Four Seasons Vancouver and The Wedgewood Hotel, Relais and Chateaux Executive Sous Chef also in Vancouver.

Squid Risotto

  • Finished with parsnip and apple puree, burnt onion crumble and celery.
  • Unfortunately this one wasn’t really for me and I do love all the ingredients in it.
  • The little pearls of squid were crunchy and the risotto didn’t come together very well so the texture was a bit soupy.
  • I see how the apple and cream were supposed to play into the Riesling pairing, but the execution for the risotto fell short overall.
  • It would have been great to see the squid ink being used in the risotto, but it was likely “ready to use” squid.

From Winnipeg, Manitoba…

Chef Michael Daquisto from WOW Hospitality in Winnipeg is a restaurant based on creating one-of-a-kind experiences. I might be one of the few, but I’m actually infatuated with the culinary cuisine in Winnipeg. I know it may sound crazy, but I’m telling you that province is full of talent and I’m hearing more about its culinary scene. Maybe it has good marketing, but I’ve tried the dishes of chefs from there at food events in Vancouver and their dishes were exciting.

Pâté de Campagne Studded with Roasted Hazelnuts and Spices

  • Nutmeg on caraway rye, bruleed brie and grilled Asian pear with homemade mustard cooked down with beer malt vinegar and honey.
  • It was a very rustic dish, but the pate was quite good and a large portion.
  • The benefit was that the dish was served almost entirely cold besides the bruleed brie, so in terms of consistency it was great, but too bad there are no points for that.
  • The pate was quite chunky with a nice mix of liver and pork shoulder and the roasted hazelnuts were unexpected, but appreciated.
  • The pate was actually sous vide so the meat was tender, moist and well infused with warm spices.
  • There was a nice sweet and salty balance, and the brie and cracker wasn’t anything exciting, but still good.
  • I think it would have been great to see the pate more stylized with alternating layers or the fruit jelly lining the top and bottom.

From Saskatoon, Saskatchewan…

Chef Anthony McCarthy is from The Saskatoon Club in Saskatchewan which is originally a gentleman’s club. Having cooked in the Caribbean on private luxury yachts, owning his own restaurant in Manitoba for three years and cooking in London, he has finally settled in Saskatchewan. Besides having good perogies and pickled fruits and vegetables, I’m very foreign to the food culture there.

Confit Ivory Spring Salmon Belly

  • Swiss chard, green apple salsa verde, taro root chile chip and tobiko caviar.
  • The salmon was incredibly rich, moist, buttery and creamy being salmon belly (confit too), but I do wish the skin was crisp for texture.
  • The taro root chip was supposed to give texture, but it would work better if it had been a tartar and it seemed kind of random in this case.
  • Removing the skin and frying that as the “chip” would be interesting, and the meat would stay moist even cooking it without the skin since it’s belly.
  • The meat was so oily already that the skin just melted right into it and the texture was a bit slimy.
  • I love fish skin too and the sliminess doesn’t bother me, but I could see most people removing it in this case.
  • I loved the choice of protein, but I’m just not sure how everything else worked with it.
  • The tangy swiss chard was to pull back from the rich salmon, but I would have preferred a pea puree or leeks.
  • I just didn’t really see where this dish was going, but there was a bit more care in the presentation compared to others.

From Calgary, Alberta…

Everything he made said “Calgary” to me. Chef Michael Dekker is from Rouge Restaurant which is one of the timeless fine dining and iconic restaurants and heritage homes in Calgary. It kind of sits alone, but everyone knows about it. It reminds me of the La Belle Auberge of Vancouver, but in a much more centralized downtown location in Calgary. The restaurant is based on homegrown produce, onsite gardens and supporting local ingredients.

Marscapone and Foie Gras Angliotte

  • With kale, bacon, golden raisin and corn saute.
  • Using foie gras with a budget of $1.67/person worked in terms of “shock factor”, but I couldn’t really taste it at all which was something I feared happening.
  • It was a bold move and it got everyone’s attention quickly.
  • This was pretty much comfort food, but it was a bit heavy handed with the salt.
  • I loved the sweet and savoury corn, raisin and bacon sautee and I wanted to put this on top of Montreal Chef JP’s bacon sausage and halibut dish with beurre blanc sauce.
  • The saute was delicious, but the marscapone and foie gras stuffing was really lost in the angliotte and it all just kind of melted especially with the soft thin dough of the pasta.

From Edmonton, Alberta…

Chef Jan Trittenback is from Packrat Louie in Edmonton which is a pretty pricey restaurant despite the look of the menu and pizza cateogry. The food is soul food mixed with West Coast flavours and also Italian cuisine. It’s kind of all across the board, but it remains innovative, although I’ve never been so I’m not sure how the food actually is. Chef Trittenback was probably the youngest chef competing.

BC Ling Cod

  • With picadilly compressed salad and apple puree and pancetta crisp.
  • I found this quite literal and it just didn’t stand out as much as everything else.
  • Again there was the use of apples to match with the Riesling, but overall I didn’t really remember the dish.

From Vancouver, British Columbia…

Last, but not least is Vancouver’s own celebrity chef and Canada’s first Iron Chef America Champion Rob Feenie from Cactus Club Restaurants. He was no doubt the biggest name, or at least most recognized name there, so expectations were also high for him. Bringing home a Silver medal at the Gold Medal Plates this year was probably as exciting as it was disappointing. That being said, I still think the Gold Medal was well deserved for Ottawa.

Butternut Squash Gnocchi

  • With Parmesan foam, pumpkin seed and bacon crumble, roasted chick peas, and apple jus.
  • I could have eaten that pumpkin seed and bacon crumble for breakfast. It was basically savoury granola and it was amazing. It actually inspired me to remake it at home, but I used pistachios instead of pumpkin seeds and it was amazing.
  • The butternut squash reminded me of his Butternut Squash Ravioli at Cactus Club, but it was slightly inconsistent and at times chewy.
  • The dish was very different than his ravioli, but that Butternut Squash Ravioli at Cactus Club is almost synonymous with the Feenie name, so it’s impossible not to make the association.
  • There was a nice sweet and savoury aspect going on and the bacon was nicely caramelized along with the sauce, but the dish came across a bit basic.
  • I liked the textures and the flavours, but I think I just expected more on a competition level.

The mystery wine was revealed at the end of the night and it was the beautiful Château Des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2007. This is actually an award winning wine from Ontario and it was very bold with obvious apple flavours and that’s why so many dishes featured apples. I could taste a bit of sweetness from peaches, but it was on the citrus side and the best part was that it was only $17.50.

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