Gold Medal Plates 2012 – Day 2: The Grande Finale Competition & Winners!

Follow Me Foodie to Gold Medal Plates 2012!

A recap of the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna and Day 2: The Grand Finale 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 (evening) – The Grande Finale!

Day 1: Mystery Wine Pairing, Competition I

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

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

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

Chef Marc Lepine’s Mystery Wine Pairing Gold Medal Plate, Competition I – see Langoustine & Avocado Roulette
Chef Marc Lepine’s Black Box Gold Medal Plate
, Competition II – see here

Chef Marc Lepine’s Final Gold Medal Plate, Competition III: Quadra Island Scallop with Potato, Truffle, Chanterelle, Chorizo, and Lemon

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

Chef Rob Feenie’s Mystery Wine Pairing Gold Medal Plate, Competition I – see Butternut Squash Gnocchi
Chef Rob Feenie’s Black Box Gold Medal Plate, Competition II – see here

Chef Rob Feenie’s Final Gold Medal Plate, Competition III: Fraser Valley Rabbit Duo: Rabbit bacon presse, foie gras boudin, brown butter carrot puree, black truffle jus

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

Chef JP’s Mystery Wine Pairing Gold Medal Plate, Competition I – see Pan Seared Halibut with Bacon Sausage
Chef JP’s Black Box Gold Medal Plate, Competition II – see here

Chef JP’s Final Gold Medal Plate, Competition III: Vitello Tonnato – Thinly sliced tuna, slivers of veal tongue, radish sprouts, miniature cubes of tomatoes, fried bread and jellied balsamic vinegar.

The grand finale and final competition took place at the Delta Grand Okanagan Conference Centre in Kelowna on the evening of Day 2. Unlike The Black Box Competition that happened earlier on the day, the chefs entered this challenge knowing what they would be featuring as their final Gold Medal Plate. It was a stand up reception and guests were invited to sample the final plates at each station paired with a previously selected Canadian winery of chef’s choice.

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 points were tallied for a grand prize Gold Medal Plates winner instead of announcing a winner per competition and cateogry.

The Grande Final Gold Medal Finale 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.

Tasting of Newfoundland Goat

  • Seared loin, panko-crusted rillettes, pickled tongue, mousse aux cervaux, crumbled goat cheese sable, saffron goat milk pudding, turnip Parieienne, brussels sprout petals, partridgeberry & pinot noir demi, mustard seedlings.
  • Wine pairing: Pelee Island Winery, Ontario
  • This was a very “happening” dish in the culinary world as goat becomes more and more popular.
  • It was a nice sampling plate featuring a creative use of goat and I actually really liked the vibrant colours and presentation.
  • The partridgeberry also known as the ligonberry is similar to a cranberry and it’s an ingredient symbolic to Newfoundland.
  • The fruit was a nice contrast to the heavier game meat and the there were enough pickled components to counter the richer flavours.
  • The loin was a bit chewy, but everything else was delicious and the croquette was my favourite followed by the pickled tongue.
  • The croquette was crispy on the outside and tender and juicy on the inside with shredded goat meat. It sat on a goat brain mousse, but none of it was gamey and the brain came unnoticed.
  • The pickled tongue was tender and sliced thin with a nice acidity and there was a sweet jus for balance. In Latin cuisine it would have some salsa verde, but the pickling replaced that.
  • There were a lot of flavours and condiments going on, but everything worked in every combination.
  • He actually could have made a cod version of this dish because he offers crispy cod tongues and salted cod fritters on his menu at Bacalao.
  • I really appreciated that everyone on the plate came from Newfoundland except for the brussel sprouts which was an issue to bring, but otherwise I really valued the dedication.

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.

Vitello Tonnato

  • Thinly sliced tuna, slivers of veal tongue, radish sprouts, miniature cubes of tomatoes, fried bread and jellied balsamic vinegar.
  • Brewery pairing: McAuslan Brewery, Quebec
  • He was the only chef to team up with a brewery, and it was totally in his character and style to do it.
  • This was a very modern take on a Vitello Tonnato (if it can be even called that), and it was basically a reverse of a traditional Italian dish featuring sliced veal tongue and creamy tuna sauce.
  • It came across as a chilled tuna sashimi salad and it was an unexpected final plate.
  • I was actually surprised that it was from Chef JP because I had gotten use to his richer dishes and heavier style, which is very Montreal and also very me.
  • His food seemed more rough around the edges and this was actually quite refined and almost dainty. It was almost a curve ball, but I didn’t receive it as well.
  • The presentation wasn’t as creative although it had nice colour.
  • The tuna was still a bit frozen so I couldn’t taste the natural buttery fish oils and I’m also a bit spoiled from the quality of tuna we have in Vancouver.
  • There was a punch of jellied balsamic which seemed infused with rosemary and then a dressing that tasted like creme fraiche. There was a good amount of black pepper, but it didn’t really go beyond what was stated.
  • Overall I preferred his dishes from competition I and II, but he was still my top 3 favourite chefs in the competition after trying everything.

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.

Quadra Island Scallop (Gold Medal Plate Winner)

  • With potato, truffle, chanterelle, chorizo and lemon
  • Wine pairing: hidden Bench Vineyards and Winery
  • This was my favourite dish of the night and it actually came across as a competition dish.
  • It had style, elegance, sophistication and a balance of art and science while still appealing to the eyes, palate and nose with the touch of truffle aroma lifting off the meat and seafood.
  • It was based on a well received scallop dish he had on his regular menu once before, but the chorizo was an addition.
  • There were a lot of components to the dish, but it wasn’t overwhelming and I could still taste every aspect of what was described.
  • It also left me with that “je ne sais quoi” (thanks to the amazing Tonka bean) and it kept me interested without being gimmicky.
  • The scallop was pan seared on both sides, and had it been in a different context, I’m sure it would have been even better.
  • The chorizo croquettes were sous-chef Jason Sawision’s idea and they were crispy, soft and moist on the inside with a little bit of heat.
  • I’m a huge fan of veloute and bechamel sauces and textures so the truffle mousse was right up my ally.
  • I think there was also some parsnip and celeriac puree in the potato aspect. It tasted like a pommes puree, but with more layers in flavour.
  • The creamy and fluffy white sauces were velvety smooth and melted in my mouth with interactions of crispy salty bacon and a fresh lemon zest.
  • The glass shard was dehydrated celery root, but it tasted sweet and I wouldn’t have guessed that was what it was.
  • His Grant Achatz’s avant garde style also reminds me very much of one of my favourite chef’s in Vancouver Chef Hamid Salimian, so it’s no doubt that I will visit this restaurant if I’m ever in Ottawa.

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.

Paris Dust Kale

  • Digby Scallop Parfait, Langdon Honey & Black Walnut Gastrique, Cured Duck
  • Wine pairing: The Organized Crime Winery, Ontario
  • He offers a couple Digby Scallop Ceviches on his regular menu, and although this sounded delicious, it kind of got lost in translation for me.
  • I found the honey really dominant and it took the natural sweetness away from the scallops.
  • I also couldn’t taste the walnut gastrique or cured duck to offset the sweetness, but the kale was beautiful and presentation fragile.

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.

“Manitoba’s Freshwater Trio”

  • Province of 100, 000 lakes; featuring Pickerel, Pike and Whitefish
  • Wine pairing: Gray Monk Estate Winery, BC
  • I think I was expecting meat and game from Manitoba so the seafood feature caught me off guard.
  • Personally I prefer meat in cabbage rolls, and I found these mashed fish cabbage rolls a bit one dimensional in texture and flavour.
  • It came across as smoky infused soft tofu and they were quite mild, but better with sauces and the pickled fennel salad.
  • The fish rolls kind of seemed more like a single hors d’oeuvre than a feature on a plate.
  • The crispy fish tails were my favourite part and they were light and crispy like fish and chips with a thin batter. They were simple for a competition, but I still liked them outside of the context.
  • Behind the fish tails was a wild rice crusted fish cheek which is my favourite part of any fish. It was good, but slightly random.
  • Even as is, I found one of each thing to be enough on the plate, and although it was all fish, it felt like 3 very separate dishes and each one quite simple.

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.

Brome Lake Duck Breast

  • Vegetarian pave, pancetta, berry puree, black truffle foie gras
  • Wine pairing: Nichol Vineyard, BC
  • It’s a duck from Quebec and one of the best, but I’m actually not as enthusiastic as most about Brome Lake Duck because they’re a bit leaner.
  • I was hoping there would be something Saskatchewan about this dish, but it’s like the competition was focused on highlighting ingredients from your province.
  • The foie gras was almost pure butter and I would have loved it as a spread with brioche, but it was hard and greasy to have alone and I didn’t really know what to eat it with.
  • The duck was sliced quite thin which caused it to dry out a bit. It was tender if I had it hot, but a bit chewy as it cooled down, so it was a challenge to master in this “food station” context.
  • It was served with a sweet berry sauce and the vegetarian pave had a sweet orange fruit sauce with a parmesan cheese crisp.
  • The crispy candied bacon and crackling crumble was probably my favourite part and it sat on a yam and potato fondant that was quite enjoyable as a unit.

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.

Blackened Catfish

  • Cheddar Biscuit, Grits, Citrus Beurre Blanc
  • Wine pairing: Stratus Vineyards, CharlesBaker, Ontario
  • This was very Calgary to me, like many of his other dishes, and although they were generally all very good, I would rather enjoy this at a restaurant than a competition.
  • There’s actually a Blackened Catfish, Biscuit and Grits, and Citrus Beurre Blanc featured as a main on the regular menu at Rouge restaurant so this was just that.
  • I’m assuming it was the “never fails” entree and it was delicious, but again I would rather order it and enjoy it at the restaurant.
  • The catfish was spicy with a nice seared crust and the grits were creamy and cheesy and almost like polenta.
  • The catfish was balancing on a flaky and very layered and buttery cheese biscuit and the whole thing was comfort food at its best.
  • It’s a very rich, heavy and indulgent dish, and it’s not necessarily something you couldn’t find somewhere else, but I still enjoyed it.
  • I would love to see this at restaurants in Vancouver and the whole Southwestern theme is a “trend” I hope that will pick up sooner than later.

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.

Albert Beef Chuck Flat

  • Stuffed with Venison Tenderloin, goatcheese stuffed Cannoli
  • Wine pairing: Peller Estates Winery, BC
  • There was also a blackberry gastrique and a pickled pearl butternut squash with grated horseradish and a watercress salad tossed with lemon truffle vinaigrette.
  • This was another “would be great at a restaurant, but maybe not so impressive at a competition” dishes.
  • It was quite literal, although very well made and neatly presented. I really did enjoy this one.
  • There was nothing wrong with it, but it just felt slightly more ordinary compared to everything else.
  • I’m familiar with beef chuck and flat iron steak, but beef chuck flat it s a bit new for me. Nonetheless it was incredibly well marbleized and showcased itself as an excellent cut.
  • The venison was sous vide, shredded and stuffed in the beef which was also sous vide.
  • The whole thing was incredibly moist and tender with lots of flavour. The venison was super juicy actually.
  • There was a good sweet and savoury balance, but I wouldn’t have minded something pickled because the pearl butternut squash was very mild and almost more of a garnish.
  • The goatcheese cannoli was very rich, creamy and enjoyable, although perhaps too dessert-like next to the savoury meat for some people.
  • It almost reminded me of a blue cheese and steak, but a more interesting and creative interpretation of it.

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.

Fraser Valley Rabbit Duo

  • Rabbit bacon presse, foie gras boudin, brown butter carrot puree, black truffle jus
  • Wine pairing: Haywire Winery, BC
  • This was easily my second favourite dish of the night and it presented well as a competition dish.
  • I loved all the ingredients and it was just uniquely executed, properly presented and well balanced.
  • The foie gras boudin is basically a very soft type of sausage and usual there’s rice in it, but this one was smooth in texture.
  • This boudin was very light and buttery and ultra soft with a foie gras flavour I could taste.
  • The rabbit and bacon press was well seasoned, tender and juicy and likely sous vide to maintain so much moisture and flavour. It was almost like a terrine.
  • There was a nice sweetness from the brown butter carrot puree which had some warm spices and it added to the creamy texture of the proteins.
  • The brown butter sauce was poured over top of the rabbit and it tasted like a meaty caramel sauce which I loved. I’ve come to learn that this “caramel and bacon” is quite signature for Chef Feenie.
  • There was no fruit aspect, but the caramel sauce carrot puree was the sweetness.
  • All the textures were very soft, buttery and melting in my mouth, so if anything I just wanted some crispy or crunchy texture to break things up.
  • The shavings of truffle just topped it off and it was no doubt memorable and well deserved for a medal.

Chocolate Cake

  • By Executive Chef Stuart Klassen at The Delta Grand Okanagan Hotel
  • Can you believe it? It was the only dessert I had in two days. I had some chocolate here and there, some scones, muffins and granola, but those don’t really count… well not on my dessert scale.
  • It was a rich chocolatey mousse with alternate layers of a denser cake and it wasn’t too sweet either.
  • There was a nice almond butter crunch on top for texture, but more texture within the slice would have been nice.
  • I think it was a cardamom and ginger vanilla bean custard on top with a mandarin coulis and strawberry pearls, but I’m not sure.
  • There was something a bit spicy and I wasn’t sure where it was coming from, but I would get random hits of it here and there.
  • The caramel sauce tasted like melted Weather’s Original and overall the dessert was quite enjoyable, although more layers or butter crunch and cardamom and ginger vanilla bean custard would be even better.

The winners were announced at the end of the night and I was pleased with the outcome. Chef Marc Lepine was an early front runner winning the People’s Choice Award for best wine pairing at the Mystery Wine Pairing – Competition I. He was also my favourite from the start, but it’s also due to the fact that his style is most catered for my tastes. The Gold Medal Plates only gave me a small sample of what each chef could do, but if it’s any indication of what they do at their actual restaurants, then I can’t wait to go and visit some.

And this was the chef’s corner after the competition ended. This was only one of the three tables, but the table decor was consistent. The Gold Medal Plates was a test of a chef’s skill and talent, and I was honoured to be able to witness and try all their creations. Again, congratulations to all the chefs and their teams who competed in the 2012 Gold Medal Plates Canadian Culinary Championships.

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