It was the best evening any of us could remember in the Nation’s Capital, a sold-out crowd of 400 filling the National Arts Centre, delighting in the company of a medal-crusted host of Olympians. Musicians were clustered onto the stage – Ed Robertson, Barney Bentall, Sam Roberts, Anne Lindsay and Alain Doyle all giving their all. Adam van Koeverden shared bilingual emceeing duties with Sylvie Bigras while the judges thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, presented with a series of fascinating dishes.
Our stellar judiciary in Ottawa consists of Senior Judge, author, editor and restaurant critic, Anne DesBrisay, author, television star and truly the culinary ambassador for Canada, Margaret Dickenson, Culinary Olympian, international gastronomic judge and executive chef of the House of Commons, Judson Simpson, food stylist, teacher, author and columnist, Pam Collacott. Culinary guru and president of Thyme & Again Creative Catering, Sheila Whyte and last year’s gold medallist from Ottawa-Gatineau who went on win it all in Kelowna, the Canadian Culinary Champion and Food Day Canada chef, Marc Lepine of Atelier.
This year, the line-up of chefs included several established stars and also many of the city’s coming generation; in the end, all three of those who reached the podium were new to Gold Medal Plates. Our bronze medal was awarded to Chef Jonathan Korecki of Sidedoor Contemporary Kitchen and Bar who took great pride that everything in his dish was sourced within 60 kilometres of his restaurant. In pride of place was wild turkey, farmed over the provincial border in Quebec. Chef made a brined ballotine of the breast, the sliced meat moist and pink with a surprisingly delicate flavour. He confited the leg meat and hid it inside a kabocha squash dumpling, propping it up against a fluffy mound of “doughnut bread pudding.” Brussels sprout leaves, perfectly cooked, were the accompanying vegetable but the big flavour on the plate came from “YOW curry,” named for Ottawa airport, which was less of a curry than a fairly smooth-textured chutney made with local ingredients such as spruce tips, apple and cranberry. Chef’s chosen beverage coped with this pungently tangy condiment very well – it was a hoppy IPA called 2012 Blonde Ale from local brewery Kichesippi Beer Company.
Chef Jason Duffy of Arc Lounge Dining won the silver medal. He presented an impeccably timed morsel of B.C. ling cod pan-fried in brown butter – a succulent and juicy piece of fish. Beneath it we found a mushroom cake – a breaded patty of farmed and foraged mushrooms from local purveyor Le Copain – and a slender mushroom crisp for textural variation. There was a dab of green tomato chutney – the tomatoes picked in chef’s own family garden. Working as much more than a base were slices of a lightly smoked “porchetta” of cured and roasted pork belly. Dots of basil juice thickened with apple added colour to the plate and a scattering of “earth” turned out to be a mixture of dehydrated and powdered pickled cherries and fennel pollen, very tasty and tangy. A lot of flavours on the plate but Chef Duffy’s wine match was masterful – the 2010 County Pinot Noir from Norman Hardie Vineyards and Winery in Prince Edward County. Somehow the wine reached out and formed a separate but utterly convincing relationship with each component on the plate.
Our gold medal went to Chef Jamie Stunt of OZ Kafe who achieved a number of GMP “firsts” last night. His principal protein, for example, was yak, raised at Tiraislin Farms near Lanark – the first time a chef has offered yak at a Gold Medal Plates event, though Chef Stunt puts it on his menu from time to time. For us, he rubbed the tenderloin with his own steak spice mixture and pan-seared the meat perfectly, leaving its crimson, almost ostrich-like character intact. A loose remoulade full of chunks of fresh prawn was a very successful sauce for the meat and beneath it was a thick slice of tomatillo, breaded and fried that contributed lovely, juicy moisture to the dish. Elsewhere on the plate we found a paper-thin slice of beauty heart radish, little mounds of pickled shallots and kohlrabi dressed in a smoked boar vinaigrette, hints of cilantro and Thai basil and a final dusting of dehydrated steak spice. Aiming for another first, Chef Stunt collaborated with Ashton Brewing Company and created a unique beer to match his dish – a beautifully balanced brew flavoured with Lemongrass and kaffir lime. Some of the spent grains from the brewing process went into the breading on the tomatillo slice, further strengthening the bond between dish and drink. It was a clever, original and flawlessly executed plate.
Proceeds go to the Canadian Olympic Team’s efforts to Own the Podium