Damn. Did we make it too easy? Every chef in this year’s black box competition seemed to sail through it. No marks were deducted for ingredients not used, nor were time penalties awarded. In fact, some chefs had a full ten minutes to plate, time enough to make certain every dish was wiped and polished and properly fussed over. It was all so meticulously well done. So something went wrong… Or else they’re all bloody brilliant.
This year – in response to last year’s slate of (mostly) tediously timid plates – we decided to switch things up. Each chef was given a Black Box of ten ingredients, of which he or she had to chose six. Ten minutes to declare which six ingredients and what fate awaited them. They could of course, draw from a very well-stocked pantry. And then the remaining fifty minutes were for executing one dish, plated fourteen times for thirteen judges and one for the camera. Clear as mud?
In past CCC years, each chef had to make two dishes for thirteen judges and two more for the camera, using every ingredient in the black box. It was a crazy manic race against the clock, and it was beginning to feel more like a plating contest than a cooking contest. So this year GMP decided to shake it up a bit. Try something new. The idea was to give the chefs greater scope for creativity. More time to focus on one splendid dish and greater options for choosing which ingredients for that dish.
Still, we did end up with a surfeit of seared duck breast with yam purée.
What was in the all Canadian 2015 black box? Yams, fresh ricotta cheese, a bag of lavender, turnips, Golden quinoa, BC hazelnuts, seabuckthorn berries, Okanagan apples, a whole Muscovy duck and two lobster.
From a judge’s perspective, tasting and evaluating eleven dishes rather than twenty-two was a most welcome change. It meant there’s now a bit of space left for tonight’s Grand Finale, where all chefs are reprising their gold medal dish from their regional Gold Medal Plates competition.
Which means quail from Patrick Garland with the Tawse 2013 Quarry Road Gewürztraminer. Yum.
Garland was chef number eight to lift the lid on the Black Box. He worked with Absinthe sous chef Mark Currier and chose to work with the duck breast, turnip, ricotta cheese, apples, hazelnuts and those brilliant orange seabuckthorn berries with which he fashioned a gorgeous gastrique. He made a purée with the turnip and ricotta — into which he folded the chopped, toasted hazelnuts and some snipped chives. His duck breast was seared, served very rare, and scented warmly with star anise, fennel and cinnamon. Next to the duck, a perky, colourful slaw with beets, carrots, turnip and apples. The final element on the plate was a very successful hazelnut brittle, lightly sweet and scented with rosemary.
The final leg of the competition is tonight. Stay tuned.