Congratulations to Chef Marc Lepine of Atelier Restaurant! He will be representing Ottawa-Gatineau in the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna BC next February. Lepine took the top prize at last night’s Gold Medal Plates in the National Arts Centre, a party in support of Canadian Olympic and Paralympic athletes, and a cooking competition that brings together ten of a region’s top chefs, matched with a Canadian winery. Each chef produces a small plate of food, paired with a wine, for the 450 assembled guests (sold out crowd) and for a table of judges. I had the pleasure of being at that table, along with James Chatto, national culinary advisor for Gold Medal Plates, Judson Simpson, executive Chef at the House of Commons and National President of the Canadian Culinary Federation, Chef Mike Moffatt (of Beckta and Play, and last year’s winner of GMP) Margaret Dickenson and Pam Collacott, both award winning cookbook authors, recipe developers, and seasoned television personalities.
Chef Marc Lepine called his winning Gold Medal Plates 2011 dish “Qualicum Beach Scallop with potato and truffle”. It sounded pretty no-nonsense, but was actually filled with delightful flights of fancy. What impressed the judges this year (Marc has competed twice before) was the creativity at play, but also the discipline. It seemed a competition plate less designed to be tricksy, and more to please. The scallop was bang on perfect, nestled on an airy potato-truffle puree, with bacon and dehydrated fennel, a crunchy little chorizo meatball, and a delicate sauce perfumed with lemon thyme and shallots. These elements were partly concealed beneath a taut sheet of compressed celery infused with Sambucca and lemon verbena, which rested on the lip of the bowl, and on it, a pile of bacon powder, a dollop of pike caviar and sprigs of lovage. Lepine paired his dish with Hidden Bench 2009 Estate Chardonnay from Beamsville Bench in Niagara.
Taking the silver for a second year – ever the bridesmaid – Chef Caroline Ishii of ZenKitchen, a marvellous vegan restaurant on Somerset. Ishii described her dish as “Japanese comfort food but with a modern twist” and she dedicated it to her mother, Suyeko. (“Not sure if my mother would have approved,” she told the judges. “You know how mothers are….!” ) I do know the judges approved. Many elements on the plate, but each spoke of autumn, made sense, and contributed to the whole, cohesive, flavourful meatless package. The highlights: a gyoza dumpling, stuffed with shiitake and oyster mushrooms and Zen’s house kimchee; a bit of roasted squash with a miso glaze, a roasted eggplant “lollipop” brushed with a slty-sweet yuzu-Asian pear dengaku sauce , a grilled rice ball blended with lovely, yeasty sake lees (what’s left behind from the sake making process) and filled with a pesto of Japanese pickled plum and shiso. A sweet smear of Japanese curry sauce balanced with a few dots of persimmon hot sauce, and the plate was finished with a lotus crisp and a bright pink sheet of pickled watermelon radish. Ishii’s wine was the Chenin Blanc 2009 from Cave Spring.
Our bronze medal went to Charles Part of Restaurant Les Fougeres in Chelsea. His dish focused on lamb from Berg en Dal Farm, just north of the restaurant – using the loin, fashioning a yummy sausage, and braising the meat from the shank, neck, ribs and leg and wrapping the package in bright green spinach. Lying beneath, a rich lamb jus, and with the meat, braised fennel and fennel seed, fresh tarragon, home preserved lemon and Folies Bergeres ewes milk feta. It was a polished dish of earthy flavours, brightened with the briny cheese and tang of the lemon. You’d think the dish would suggest a red wine, but Part chose the 2009 Chardonnay from Norman Hardie as a foil to the rich flavours of the lamb, while picking up on the citrus and fennel notes of its friends.
Many other dishes worthy of kudos:
Patricia Larkin from Black Cat Bistro with her pretty still life of scallop with a corn puree, accented with pancetta, green apples, pickled ramps, and seedy mustard, and a sweet littleturnip at the centre of it all.
Matthew Carmichael of Restaurant E18hteen and his team from Sidedoor, with his delicious corn taco wrapped around lobster meat and BC uni, and with avocado, pickled jalapeno, chow chow and Thai basil.
The Fraser Cafe chefs Simon and Ross, for their beef brisket topped with grated horseradish and served with a hot and sour tamarind sauce, a sweet potato dumpling and a delicious radish salad with mint and coriander, sesame and peanut.
Michael Hay of The Courtyard Restaurant with his surf and turf dish of sous vide braised beef with beech mushrooms, and a lobster terrine with galangal, lemongrass and ginger, blackened with squid ink.
Steve Wall of Luxe Bistro paired a duck and bacon “pressé” – cooked sous vide for 36 hours – some luscious foie gras and an earthy puree of chestnut with rhubarb.
Lili Sullivan from Prince Edward County, a restaurant called East and Main, chose to showcase duck. She apple smoked the breast, made a confit of the leg, served it with sauteed chanterelles, a beet and saffron gastrique, and with a soft ravioli filled with truffled cauliflower and topped with chervil picked at 5am, just before making the trek to Ottawa.
Matthew Brearly had some travel time as well, coming from his restaurant Castlegarth in White Lake. Brearley started with venison – a juniper and apple cider braised short rib – and then surrounded the dark meaty bone with things venison might eat – Acron Corn bread, yarrow, carrot, chickweed, roasted Jerusalem artichoke chip.
Congratulations to all competing chefs, and to Marc Lepine, we wish you great success in Kelowna.