The twelfth annual Canadian culinary road trip known as Gold Medal Plates rolled into Ottawa last night. Our city was the ninth of 11 cities to hold the competition — only Toronto remains in the national campaign.
More than six hundred guests, chefs, sommeliers, brewmasters, winemakers, athletes, musicians, and volunteers packed the Shaw Centre to eat, drink and make merry. Our athletes were honoured, trips were auctioned off, musicians entertained us, and funds were raised to support Canada’s Olympic hopefuls. But the stars of Gold Medal Plates 2017 were the 10 chefs, feeding the crowd and presenting their plates to a panel of judges tasked with the gut-pleasing/wrenching decision of defining three winners. The winner would go on to represent Ottawa at the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna, BC, in February.
The competing chefs, some of them veterans from past years, but most of them brand new to the event, rose to the occasion with dishes of striking beauty, creativity, and finesse. The chefs chose to work with everything from eel to seal, elk to uni. Dishes were paired with craft beer, Canadian wines, Quebec cider, and Ontario sake. One chef even gave us a Manhattan, crafted with Ontario rye whisky infused with elk-marrow, fermented blueberries, and spruce. Indeed, Gold Medal Plates is no longer an event that teams up Canadian chefs with Canadian wines alone. Increasingly, beers and spirits are stepping up to play their hand in the matching game.
Taking the bronze medal was chef Steve Harris of Two Six Ate with a dish that focused over (and over and over) again, on sea urchin: in a yummy little sausage with pork belly, in a delicate mousse encased in a smoky dashi broth gelée, and briny and sweet in its scooped-out naked form. Naturally pickled kohlrabi, a whey-fermented ground cherry molasses, and squid ink tapioca pearls cupped in a squid ink chip finished the plate. Harris’ wine pairing was the 2016 Embrace Riesling from Casa Dea Winery in Prince Edward County.
The silver medal went to Les Fougeres chef Yannick LaSalle. Though his principal protein was wild Arctic char from Nunavut (cooked sous vide) it was the fantastic Butternut squash purée on the pretty plate that was most memorable element. Sourced from Roots & Shoots Farm, Yannick roasted the squash and combined it with beurre noisette, dry sherry, and his family’s own maple syrup. The sweetness was tamed beautifully with bitter red endive, with Venosta cranberries, and with a vinaigrette of cranberry juice, maple syrup, squash oil and ginger. For crunch, fried wild rice, crushed sesame seeds with coarse salt, and little squash crackers. The 2015 unfiltered Chardonnay from Norman Hardie Winery was a terrific match.
Enormously grateful to my fellow judges: House of Commons executive chef and chair of the Canadian Culinary Federation, Judson Simpson; Thyme & Again creative catering owner and industry trailblazer, Sheila Whyte; chef/owner of Atelier and two-time Canadian Culinary champion Marc Lepine; culinary historian, founder and publisher of Taste &Travel Magazine, Dr. Janet Boileau; last year’s gold medallist, chef Joe Thottungal of Coconut Lagoon; and national culinary advisor for GMP, James Chatto.