At the Delta Grand Okanagan last night, ten chefs gave us their Anything-Goes, Thrill-us-to-the-Marrow Grande Finale Dish, and when it was all over, on the CCC podium stood Toronto chef Marc St. Jacques, Ottawa chef Jamie Stunt, and Regina’s Milton Rebello. Gold and silver medals for Ontario, and a bronze for Saskatchewan.
Stunt went into this third of a three part competition in second place – after a strong showing in the Black Box and the Mystery Wine Pairing competitions – and held steady with a dish you might call his ABC-Yak.
Harry McWaters, wine judge and Honourary Chair of the Canadian Culinary Championships, declared the pale, aromatic “La Belle Terre” from the family-run Ashton Brewing Company near Carleton Place (brewed especially for Stunt’s dish) “the best beer of the evening”. It also happened to be the only beer of the evening, but no matter. It wound its way meaningfully into every element of Stunt’s dish – from the flawlessly cooked bit of bright red yak striploin (raised on Tiraislin Farms near Lanark), to the chopped egg and caviar cradled in a mussel shell, through the pickled elements, the sweet pioppino mushrooms and quince relish, through the luscious barley miso mayo, the herbs and welcome crunchies of barley and rice.
Other than the principal protein used, this was not the dish we were given at the regional Gold Medal Plates last November, the one that secured Stunt’s spot at this nation-wide competition, its ultimate goal to raise funds for Canada’s high performance athletes. That dish had a prawn salad component, and less wintry mushrooms and so forth. This yak was equally well received and, as one judge commented: “this is just a carefully thought through, great-fun dish.” And didn’t it marry remarkably well with the beer!
The Toronto chef Marc St Jacques from Auberge du Pommier – our gold medallist – had two dishes over the course of the competition that really knocked our socks off. The first was part of the Black Box competition. He took those Anjou pears and fashioned a mille-feuilles (his words) with them, a sort of raw gallette, cut in wedges and drizzled with olive oil and lemon, hit with ginger, the Black Box Northern Divine caviar and some celery leaf.
His finale dish was a terrine of foie gras, its bottom layer a black sesame “financier” and above the foie gras mousse, a layer of shimmering gelée infused with white soy, mirin and Meyer lemon. The lemon theme was furthered with dobs of an intense lemon curd, the chlorophyll on the plate was a square of shiso, and the crunch provided by scrunchies of black sesame tempura. St. Jacques paired his dish with Peller Estates Iced Cuvée.
Milton Rebello of the Hotel Saskatchewan – our bronze medallist – had a final dish vibrant with colour, a study of pistachio crusted lamb and beet dusted goat cheese, Indian inspired, anchored with a green pea and mint purée. Note the lentil tuile maple leaf that holds the fritter! This he paired with the See Ya Later 2010 Pinot Noir.
So here’s the whole truth: Jamie Stunt was my dark horse. He was a last choice for competitor in the 2012 Gold Medal Plates. And when he won, I was not alone in my amazement.
My sense is that Stunt was more stunned than anyone. That he came to this intense national level, faced the stiff competition from more experienced chefs running much bigger places, and managed to secure second place is nothing short of remarkable. I salute him, his sous chef Simon Bell, and cook Michael Bednarz. Once they’ve had time for a good night’s sleep and some reflection, they should return to the little OZ Kafé on Elgin Street feeling terribly proud.
One thing is beyond doubt. With this year’s strong finish and last year’s champion in Marc Lepine, Ottawa is garnering enormous respect on the national stage as a culinary powerhouse blessed with gifted chefs.