Seven chefs from seven cities descended on Vancouver for the Canadian Culinary Championships last night, and Matt Carmichael representing Ottawa-Gatineau took the bronze! Gold medal went to Chef Mathieu Cloutier from Kitchen Galerie in Montreal. Chef David Lee from Nota Bene Restaurant won the silver.
Three competitions, two grueling days, eight judges, a rapt audience, money raised for Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes, and only one bloody finger (young Chef Nathin Bye from Edmonton, who bears a remarkable resemblance to Linguine in Ratatouille, sliced his pointer within the first minutes of his allotted hour).
Here were the competitors: From St John’s, Ivan Kyutukchiev from Bianca’s Restaurant; from Montreal, Mathieu Cloutier from Kitchen Galerie; from Ottawa, Matthew Carmichael from Restaurant E18hteen; from Toronto, David Lee from Nota Bene; from Emonton, Nathin Bye from Lazia, from Calgary, Jan Hrabec from Crazyweed Kitchen (Canmore) and from Vancouver, the hometown chef Rob Feenie of the Cactus Club.
Each chef had won gold in his/her respective city at the Gold Medal Plates competitions held across the country these past two months, and had come together in Vancouver for the great cookoff. My fellow judges were: James Chatto, Gold Medal Plates National Culinary Advisor, and Head Judge; Karl Wells ( St John’s), Sasha Chapman (Toronto), Robert Beauchemin (Montreal), Clayton Folkers (Edmonton), John Gilchrist (Calgary), Sid Cross (Vancouver) and finally, Andrew Morrison (judge and referee, from Vancouver)
It all began on Thursday night with the presentation of a mystery wine and an envelope of cash. Each chef was given $400 with which to purchase ingredients from the Granville Island Market to create 250 small plates for the assembled crowd at the Republic night club on Friday night. The catch? (other than the roughly $1.60 per person budget…) To create a dish that would best match the wine.
The mystery wine? Turned out to be Black Hills 2008 ‘Alibi’, a Sauvignon Blanc (80%) and Semillon (20%, with some oak aging) blend from the Okanagan.
Carmichael’s dish: to match a wine he described to the judges as ‘crisp, clean, refreshing’, he presented a pretty dish of two elements. He paired luscious Kuchi oysters with a thin wedge of pink grapefruit and a drizzle of its juice. Beside the oyster, just-seared slices of BC Albacore tuna, dressed with a refreshing salad of radish, corn, cucumber, with snips of lime leaf, a drib of coconut milk. On top, a crisp of fingerling potato.
That was the first competition.
Next came the Black Box. Each chef was given six mystery ingredients with which to create two dishes for eight judges (16 plates in total) in precisely one hour. Chefs were brought into the kitchen one by one, each had a sous chef, and the box was opened. They were given 10 minutes to declare their intentions, and then a further 50 minutes to complete the plates.
IN the box: Arctic char, Whole quail, Dragon fruit, Arborio rice, Fennel and India Pale Ale from R&B Brewery in Vancouver. Easy, eh? (We ate a lot of risotto.)
Carmichael’s dish was a favourite at this event. He boned the quail and lacquered it with the ale and with soy; he made a risotto with veal stock, and threaded it fresh thyme, lemon zest, crispy bits of fried garlic; and with the char, he gave the skin a glorious crackle, leaving the flesh deliciously wobbly, and paired it with a fennel slaw, scattering the plate with little cubes of dragon fruit, their black seeds against white flesh like the dots of dice. It was a delicious dish.
The chefs then turned around and that very evening dazzled the crowd of about 400 with their Anything Goes dish. Carmichael gave us a colour packed plate of seafood. Presented in a mussel shell, he mounted BC sea urchin, Qualicum Bay scallops and salmon roe with a coconut foam. The marine flavours and the gentle pop of roe in the mouth were delightful. Next to the shell, lacquered BC sablefish topped with a spicy lotus chip and beneath, a carrot and coconut puree. The Closson Chase South Clos 2007 was a luscious match.
The gold medallist, Mathieu Cloutier prepared rabbit for his finale. A wee little rack, the bones cleanly frenched, the meat moist and rich from its slow cook in duck fat. Next to the rack, a quenelle of foie gras parfait and a spinach wrapped golf ball of rabbit rillette. Scattered alongside, tiny pink cubes of lightly pickled beet. This he paired with Huff Estates 2007 South Bay Chardonnay from Prince Edward County.
When the marks from the three competitions were tallied, it was a central Canada sweep – Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa chefs on the podium.
Congratulations to them, and to all the chefs who competed.
Photos to follow shortly!