Overheard comments last night: “The Black what? Where is this place? And who’s Ian Carswell??”
Indeed. Well, let me tell you who he is: the chef from a wee restaurant in Carleton Place who just won the gold medal at Canada’s Great Kitchen Party, earning him a berth at the Canadian Culinary Championships in Ottawa at the bitter end of January.
My friend Katrina alerted me to the good grub coming out of this kitchen. She’s an Ottawa Valley girl, forever (and usually fruitlessly) on the hunt for decent places to eat in her part of the province. “Come check out The Black Tartan Kitchen on Bridge Street” she beckoned. “It’s a great little place.” And so I made the 40-minute drive to Carleton Place with as open a mind as I could muster. I left delighted with my meal, impressed with the obvious chops of the young man who’d cooked it.
Chef Carswell’s competition dish stayed true to the Scottish roots of his 30-seat restaurant. He called it “Lamb with Neeps & Tatties,” elevating a humble stew (meat, turnips, potatoes) into something considerably more refined.
Carswell sourced the lamb from Milkhouse Farm, near Smiths Falls, and paired the dish with the equally local KIN Vineyards’ 2018 Pinot Noir. His goal was to waste nothing of the animal. To this end, he cooked the loin sous vide and crusted it with toasted buckwheat. He made a ‘Scott-ish’ paté using the offal, trimmings, mushrooms and traditional haggis spices, shaped into a log and covered with a gelée of carrot juice and neep (rutabaga, here). This was placed on a rustic terrine made with the hind bits. We found the ‘tatties’ in a golden fried pierogi (his dad’s recipe) the potatoes mixed with sheep’s milk cheese from the same Milkhouse Farm, and with a rich pulled stew of the lamb shoulder, neck and foreshank. The crunch came in a lacey tuile derived from roasted belly and lamb stock, and the pale yellow swoops and dobs on the plate were a piped purée of rutabaga, carrot and caramelized onion. Tableside, Carswell spooned a richly reduced lamb stock over the dish, careful not to disturb a Chantilly of aerated Tomme cheese dusted with a confetti of rasped cheese. It was a dish in which every element was very well executed and the combined elements made excellent sense.
Our silver medal was awarded to Sidedoor chef Ben Landreville. He covered a Vietnamese-style ‘happy pancake’ (its batter made with rice flour, mung beans and turmeric, the cake dressed with a sour, sweet and spicy fish sauce) with many happy-making elements. These included BC spot prawns scented with garlic and chilies; pork sausage mixed with wood ear mushrooms and poached in banana leaf; and dobs of a fabulous sauce of the chef’s own dried shrimp, with toasted galangal, jaggery and finger chiles. On the pancake we also found brined bean sprouts, preserved vegetables and a scattering of herbs and petals, each adding a particular and pleasing flavours to the whole happy package. Chef Landreville paired the pancake with the 2017 Hungry Point Unoaked Chardonnay from Rosehall Run in Prince Edward County, which handled the complex sour/sweet/heat/floral elements surprisingly well.
Bronze went to Daniela Manrique of The Soca Kitchen, a second time on the podium for this talented chef. Her dish clearly illustrated her deep knowledge of the dried chillies she uses in her Soca cuisine, particularly as they (puya, guajillo and negro) apply to stunning slices of beef tenderloin. The supple, smokey meat was paired with a hazelnut-pepper romesco sauce, a bruléed paté of uni, port and pear, and a crunchy salad of shaved artichokes dressed in a black garlic and white soy vinaigrette. Two sorrel leaves crowned the dish and three black rings of spicy squid ink anchored it. It was a subtle, elegant dish that lingered in layers of flavour and worked very well with Thirty Bench’s 2017 Small Lot Pinot Noir. It was also a dish that won the ‘People’s Choice’ award!
It was a great night at Le Cordon Bleu’s lovely mansion, and the slate of dishes was as elevated and interesting as I can remember. Kudos to our CCC 2020 chef Ian Carswell, our silver and bronze medallists and to all competing chefs, including Beckta’s Shane Brown, Orto Trattoria’s Razmon Poisson, Stofa Restaurant’s Jason Sawision, Bar Lupulus chef Justin Champagne, and Billy Khoo from fauna.
Huge thanks to my fellow judges: Sheila Whyte, award winning owner of Thyme & Again; Marc Lepine, chef-owner of Atelier, and two-time Canadian Culinary Champion; Dr Janet Boileau, publisher and culinary historian; Cory Haskins, chef/ professor at Algonquin College; national CCC judge James Chatto; and Chef Yannick LaSalle of Les Fougères, gold medallist, 2018, and reigning Canadian Culinary Champion.
(All photos with thanks to Kristin Loritz.)