Gold Medal Plates head judge James Chatto reports:
What a perfect venue we found for this year’s Montreal Gold Medal Plates – the sharply modern Science Centre in the Old Port with its splendid view of the old city! Van Houtte has one of its cafés in the building so the team did not have far to come to set up its coffee kiosk in our VIP area, alongside two of our other sponsors, Victoria Gin and Iceberg vodka, both offering fine cocktails to start the evening. Scores of athletes mingled with the crowd and the evening ended with great music from Alain Doyle, Sam Roberts and fiddler Jonathan Moorman. By then, celebrations were well under way at the stations of three of our competing chefs.
The root cause of all this joy was the panel of judges led by Senior Judge Robert Beauchemin, restaurant critic, food writer, author and professor of anthropology, very ably seconded by chef, educator, author and fine-dining critic of the Montreal Gazette, Lesley Chesterman, writer and restaurant critic Gildas Meneu, author, educator and broadcaster Mme. Rollande DesBois and chef, restaurateur and Canadian Culinary Champion Emeritus Mathieu Cloutier. Mathieu had volunteered to take the place of the man we had expected to share the judging – last Year’s gold medallist, Jean-Philippe Saint-Denis – for poor J-P was stircken with a throat so sore he was unable to swallow and was excused his judiciary duties. Those duties, though delightful, were not without a degree of ardour for the chefs presented us with a succession of highly original dishes. In the end, however, we reached a happy consensus.
The bronze medal was awarded to a Kentishman, Chef Marc Cohen of Lawrence. His dish is simply described though it was fascinating to taste. He began by baking a superb and entirely classical apple tart tatin, the pastry perfect, the caramelized apple almost as soft as jelly. On top of this he laid a thick slab of pig’s cheek that had been salted, rinsed and then confited sous-vide with a little cider vinaigrette. It was an unequivocably rich notion, the slice of almost pure fat on top of the sweet dessert, but it played wonderful games on the tongue, as sweetness and saltiness and occasional tangy moments flickered across the palate. Chef Cohen chose a fine match – the refreshing, robustly flavoured Trois Pistoles ale from Unibroue.
Our silver medal went to Chef Antonio Park of Restaurant Park who created a dish he called Iqaluk O-Nigiri. Imagine a giant piece of nigiri sushi piled high with extra toppings. At the base was a combination of several different rices – brown rice, both husked and unhusked, mountain rice and quinoa – delicately and sweetly vinegared. On top of that was a generous slice of arctic char that had been very briefly poached so that its texture was as soft as silk, dressed with a little maple syrup sauce. Then came a white purèe of tofu and cauliflower and a scattering of black Spanish caviar. Crunchy shreds of daikon kimchi and filaments of crispy nori were the crowning glory but there were more curiosities on the plate – capers that had been fermented for two years and a few drops of a remarkable soya sauce flavoured with blue crab. Chef Park explained that he creates this sauce by literally drowning a live crab in soya sauce and then fermenting the result. Indeed, it did have a uniquely benthic flavour. This was a dish of many subtle sweet and salty nuances. The wine Chef Park chose cast a benign smile over all of them without really engaging them, the well-balanced, limpid 2010 Pinot Gris from Blue Mountain in the Okanagan.
There was considerable emotion in the room as our gold-medal winner was announced. Chef Darren Bergeron, now running his own food emporium called Fou D’ici, has competed many times in Gold Medal Plates, winning several medals but none of them gold. His dish was unassailable. On one side of the bowl was a thick slice of veal tenderloin, its edges slightly coloured from a few seconds in the pan but basically still red and raw. On the other was a white cylinder that we first thought must be a scallop but which turned out to be a cunningly disguised roll of white albacore tuna. A little sheet of house-made tofu lay under the veal and the two proteins were decorated by a hank of glistening golden filaments – threads of calamari jerky in a sweet-and-sour glaze. The sprouts and seedlings various pulses added some earthy flavours and Chef Bergeron finished the dish by appearing at our table with two brimming cafetieres and pouring a little broth into each bowl – a delicately sweet radish broth spiked with kimchee juice. A final detail was the dab of fiery English mustard high on the rim of the bowl – there if needed for the veal. Another complex dish but the wine match was very successful – the light-bodied, gently fruity 2011 Gamay from Malivoire in Niagara, Ontario.
Gold Medal Plates is a national culinary competition & celebration of the finest cuisine in 10 Canadian cities. Chefs are invited to participate and the Gold Medal winner in each city is flown to Kelowna to compete in the Canadian Culinary Championships ( February 8/9, 2013). Gold Medal Plates captures much of the spirit and camaraderie of the Olympic Games with dozens of sports and music stars participating, from Adam Van Koeverden Canadian Olympic gold medallists Jamie Sale, Kyle Shewfelt and Cassie Campbell (usually between 20 and 30 Olympic medallists attend) to Jim Cuddy, Alan Doyle, Jim Robertson, Colin James, Anne Lindsay and Sara Slean to name only a handful.
Proceeds go to the Canadian Olympic Team’s efforts to Own the Podium