IN the grand hall of the Hilton Lac Leamy, ten chefs rallied together to feed the five hundred guests of the Gold Medal Plates, a fundraising gala in support of Canadian Olympic and Paralympic athletes held in six cities across the country. Ottawa kicked off the campaign.
The chefs rallied together but they also squared off. This was a culinary competition, and while they fed the delighted crowd, they also fed a panel of five judges, led by James Chatto. Competing were Yannick Anton (Signatures) Ben Baird (Urban Pear) Derek Benitz (Benitz Bistro) Michael Blackie (Perspectives) Matthew Carmichael (Restaurant Eighteen) Patrick Garland (Absinthe) Stev George (Olivea in Kingston) Arup Jana (Allium) Charles Part (Les Fougeres) and Steve Wall (Whalesbone Oyster House).
At the close of the evening, newcomer to GMP Stev George of Olivea took the Bronze with a simple, earthy dish of locally raised pork – all the bits…. the juicy loin, a kale-wrapped shoulder, a nugget of soft fatty belly and a square of crackling, served with braised carrots and shallots, and with a sauce of Niagara peaches, sweet but not overly so, boosted with the Prince Edward County wine he chose to match his dish (Sandbanks Estate 2007 Riesling.) A fabulous fall plate.
The silver medal went to Matthew Carmichael of Restaurant Eighteen (and now also of Social) for his pretty plate of roast ostrich and poached lobster, both impeccable, and with a with a rich puree of Jerusalem artichoke. Colour came with cherries pickled ume plum style, and in the sprinkling of tiny white enoki mushrooms. Carmichael paired this wine with a Closson Chase 2007 Pinot Noir.
The chef who will go on to represent Ottawa-Gatineau in the Canadian Culinary Championships (Banff Springs Hotel, February 19-21, 2009) is Charles Part of Restaurant Les Fougeres in Chelsea. His gold medal dish was called “The Mouth of the St. Lawrence” and on the plate, a delicate raviolo filled with a fantastically tasty brandade of salt cod that made a pillow for a single Grand Banks scallop, seared, anointed ever so somewhat with white truffle oil, and served with Lennox Island mussels and British-style potted Matane shrimp, the whole moistened with a gentle, but full flavoured mussel fumet. This he paired with a Huff Estate 2007 Off-Dry Riesling which reached the sweet notes of this dish and cut the rich ones.
There were other distinguished plates of which I’ll just mention two. Yannick Anton’s slow roasted beef short rib “mijote” – the luxurious meat is then “pressed” overnight – was a wondrously rich cube of tender meat, and I loved the piquant emulsion of horseradish that clung to the side and tumbled over the plate. And Steve Wall’s dish of East Coast bay scallops and West Coast fried oysters was a simple delight, a lovely play of textures and so very fresh tasting, the flavour marred ever so slightly by an excess of surface salt.