Last November at the 2011 Ottawa Gold Medal Plates event, chef Marc Lepine of Atelier Restaurant won the culinary competition, and he won it pretty decisively. A few months later he met chefs from St John’s to Vancouver – champions each in his city’s GMP event – at the 2012 Canadian Culinary Championship in Kelowna and again, Lepine’s performance (after a taxing three day competition) saw him emerge top of the toques. Indeed, Lepine’s win was the most decisive in the five-year history of the national culinary championship.
Earlier this week, a few media members, along with the Ottawa Gold Medal Plates judges, national culinary advisor James Chatto, and Gold Medal Plates supporters gathered at Atelier to hand over officially, the big shiny cup to Marc Lepine. And then Lepine and his team – including sommelier Steve Robinson – fed us in grand style. Fourteen courses paired with wines.
I’ve returned with fourteen pages of notes. So let me just tell you a bit about a few favourites, starting with the dish called “Give
Peas a Chance” (which we were prepared to do). In a tall white bowl a still life display of sweet young peas, dehydrated pea meringue ( some left in chewy chunks, some ground into a fine power) green grapes, golden cubes of apple cider jelly, and green apple “snow.” Climbing up the edge of the bowl, a paintstroke of creme fraiche, to which clung wispy tendrils of pea shoots. Over this lot was poured a chilled pea soup of startling intensity.
About three intriguing courses later, a piglet loin, cooked sous-vide, with corn two ways (torched niblets on the cob; a sweet corn sauce) and on the same plate red onion, chanterelle mushrooms (both pickled), plus braised endive, chioggia beets, sorel leaves and arugula, a rusted streak of habanero sauce, a puree of roasted Butternut squash, a brown puddle of reduced piglet jus, a naughty bit of crispy pork rind. And, paired with a glass of Hidden Bench Bistro Rose, it all worked brilliantly.
And let me just tell you briefly about course eight… or maybe it was nine… which featured, among a myriad of other things, bison and boudin noir and salt cured Concorde grapes, and arrived sous cloche, clouded with applewood smoke. When lids were removed the room morphed into a campground.
The food at Atelier commands attention. It is as much a guest at the table as the guests at the table, a forceful player in the evening’s conversation. Just as you wouldn’t choose to catch up with an old friend at an art gallery, you don’t dine at Atelier with an agenda that ventures much beyond dining at Atelier.
And dining at Atelier involves a little effort for you must find the place. Look for a smart, but otherwise undistinguished slate-grey brick on Rochester with no signage whatsoever. Inside you find a small, fairly stark room. We sat beside the framed paintings by a Lepine five year old. There are 22 seats. They are wide and comfortable. And that is a fine thing, for you will be in them all evening. Sit back and enjoy the ride.
The fun and games begin again next month with the 2012 regional Gold Medal Plates competitions in ten cities across Canada. The Ottawa event happens on November 5th. (Watch this space for more information on that!) The winners of each of these will return to Kelowna in February to crown another chef.
But for now, the cup resides at 540 Rochester Street. Best to use your GPS.