Follow Me Foodie to Gold Medal Plates 2012!
A recap of the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna and Day 2: The Black Box 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 2! Allez cuisine!
Day 1: Mystery Wine Pairing, Competition I
Day 2 (afternoon): The Black Box – Competition II
Day 3 (evening): The Grand Finale – Competition III
The second challenge for Canada’s top chefs was The Black Box portion of the competition. Well in this case it was a white box, but let’s not be racist. Anyways there were 6 ingredients in the black box and every single one had to be used to make 2 dishes. It was an Iron Chef like competition and chefs had only 10 minutes to figure out the ingredients and write their recipes. The final product would be compared back to their original idea to see if any compromises were made due to time limit. The chef and their sous chef had 1 hour to create and plate 2 dishes for the panel of judges to try in front of a live audience.
The secret ingredients were selected by 6 judges from various Canadian provinces and some of the ingredients could be ones the chefs have never tried or even seen before.
The Black Box Ingredients were:
1) Mariposa Farm Goose Breast (not shown above): This proved to be the hardest to master from all of the chefs. It was easily mistaken for duck so the ones that treated it as duck had them undercooked. It’s harder to cook than duck and with the time allotted it was a tough protein to highlight well. The judge from Ontario was responsible for selecting the meat and each chef was given 350g of goose breast.
2) Steelhead Trout: It was easily mistaken as salmon or even Arctic Char. Needless to say, many of the trout dishes beat out the goose ones. The type of trout was raised on organic feed in a mountain fed lake, and unlike salmon it is difficult to overcook. The judge from Saskatchewan was responsible for selecting the seafood and each chef was given 4lbs of fish.
3) Wild Rice: This was a challenging starch because wild rice takes a long time to cook and the chefs only had an hour, so in many cases it was undercooked. The chefs that chose to use it either as a crust or another way were ahead of the game. It’s a gluten free starch that the judge from Manitoba selected.
4) Rassembleu Blue Cheese: Do not forget this name. It took me forever to find it and it’s one of the most amazing blue cheeses and best I’ve had. It is from Les Fromagiers de la Table Ronde cheesemakers in Quebec and it’s made from organic cow’s milk. It only has about 28% milk fat and the flavours are of mushroom and caramel. The judge from Quebec chose this stellar dairy product.
5) Parsley Root: This was a tricky one because it looks just like parsnips and it confused a lot of the chefs until they started smelling it and working with it; even then, many still thought it was parsnips. The judge from Calgary was responsible for selecting the vegetable.
6) Cloudberries or “Baked Apples”: This was probably the most foreign ingredient because it’s a Newfoundland ingredient. I haven’t seen it before and I think only 3/9 chefs knew what it was. It was the most expensive ingredient too. It tasted like sour unripened raspberry sauce/compote, but it was the colour of gooseberries. The judge who chose this was responsible for selecting the fruit and obviously he was from Newfoundland.
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 points were tallied for a grand prize Gold Medal Plates winner instead of announcing a winner per competition and cateogry, so there was no “Black Box Winner”.
The 2 dishes were intended for only the judges to try, so the judges were the only ones that really knew how all the chefs played out in the whole competition. I was lucky enough to know one of the judges, who I also consider a mentor, so I was incredibly fortunate to have Mr. Sid Cross share with me. I know! I really lucked out!
**I’m not going to comment on the food too much because the dishes were meant for official judges.
The Black Box Competition 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 (not for this Black Box competition though). 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.
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.
Chef JP always did something quirky like adding the pretzels to his halibut on day 1 and then adding the onion rings to this goose dish. It was “low brow food” delivered in a high brow context and it ended up being almost his signature.
From Ottawa, Ontario…
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, this “kid” could give a more experienced chef a run for his money.
In terms of presentation everything Chef Lepine did was always artistic and well presented. I recalled the puffed wild rice from his Langoustine dish the night before (see here), and he reused the technique again which was smart since it takes longer to cook. The goose was also sliced nice and thin so it wasn’t as chewy as some others.
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.
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.
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.
Chef Anthony McCarthy probably had the most “outside of the box” dishes. The goose benefited from cooking in the soup so it ended up being one of the few that weren’t undercooked.
From Calgary, Alberta…
Everything he made said “Calgary” to me (except for his Steelhead Trout). 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.
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.
From Vancouver, British Columbia…
Last (he actually didn’t go last, but I’m going East to West), 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.
The presentation was I think one of the better ones and the use of colour, texture and ingredients were well showcased. Along with Ottawa’s Chef Lepine, he also had the puffed wild rice so the rice was never at risk from being undercooked.