Head food guru/judge James Chatto reported from Saskatoon:
Winter has already set in Canada’s heartland and the beautiful park around the broad and dignified South Saskatchewan river was shrouded with fresh snow. This did not deter our sold-out crowd of 500 eager guests who made their way to Prairieland – or the dozens of athletes who flew in to take part, led by emcee Adam van Koeverden, bronzed from a recent trip to Mexico. Jim Cuddy and Ed Robertson provided the music – and a deal of entertaining badinage besides – and as the judges emerged from their lair, all deliberations done, we discovered a gratifyingly energetic auction in progress.
The core of our judiciary had also judged in Regina – Senior Judge, author and broadcaster, CJ Katz, author, journalist and broadcaster, Amy Jo Ehman, writer, chef and poet, dee Hobsbawn-Smith, restaurateur and gastronomic guru, Janis Hutton, and last year’s Gold Medal winner, Chef Anthony McCarthy of the Saskatoon Club – who was clearly itching to compete again.
Nine chefs cooked for us, all but one of them working with meat and red wine and, as has been the case in every city so far, it was immediately apparent that culinary standards had once again risen. The marks between second, third and fourth place were really close – barely two percent separating the three chefs, but a clear winner emerged ahead of this tight and talented pack.
Chef Moe Mathieu of White Birch Catering won the bronze medal. He built his dish around excellent, moist duck confit, using some to fill a rolled crepe, the pancake streaked with savoury cocoa. The confit also centred a loose cassoulet together with tender, red-wine-braised beef, flecks of double-smoked bacon and three kinds of bean, including one heritage variety called Trail of Tears that chef had grown himself. A tuile arch spanned much of the dish, the delicate biscuit scented with lemon and stained with mustard. There was a mound of intensely flavourful carrot and cumin purée while a stripe of a tart, purple sour-cherry-cider reduction added dramtic colour to the plate. The finishing touches were a refreshing tomato concassé tumbled over the beans and decorative sprinkles of two kinds of powder, one made by crushing a parsley crouton, the other one liquorice dust. Chef Mathieu told us that he had begun by picking the wine he wanted to pour and built the dish around the fennel, cherry and spicy flavours he found in his choice, the robust and delicious 2009 Sangiovese from Sandhill Estate in B.C.
Chef Trevor Robertson of the Radisson Hotel won the silver medal with a particularly good-looking dish. At its heart was a thick slice of pan-seared foie gras and a small fillet of Chilean sea bass, its skin crisped, turned into a powder and then used as a crust on the fish. Backing up such luxe proteins was a soft risotto, also enriched with foie gras, and a tasty green pea purée that worked particularly well with the sea bass. A pretty little salad of frisée, beet shoots, baby nasturtium leaves and edible flowers brought in all kinds of subtle chlorophyl flavours while a truffled beurre blanc added a decadently earthy note. Bee pollen, a yummy lentil cracker and some beads of beetroot “caviar” finished the plate. Chef served the only white wine of the evening with his plate, the bright, tangy 2010 Chenin Blanc from Inniskillin’s Discovery Series, a fine example of Okanagan terroir.
And the gold medal? Chef Darren Craddock of the Riverside Country Club was the victor, working with delectable prairies lamb. He cooked the loin sous vide with a hint of garlic and set a little drum of it on the plate. He braised the shoulder and used the forked meat in a croquette with truffles, chanterelles and mashed potatoes – served piping hot and nicely crisp on the surface, thanks to a crust of hemp seed, and sesame breadcrumbs. Moist and rich within, it was a show-stealer. Frisée dressed with cold-pressed camolina oil offered a bittersweet, leafy moment while a broad swathe of celeriac soubise contributed another autumnal flavour. Dots of fennel oil and a dusting of fennel pollen were delectable afterthoughts, as was a minted green pea foam that worked predictably well with the lamb. A classic lamb jus reduction sauced the meat and the final garnish was a lateral slice of tomato, roasted to a crisp and so delicate it melted on the tongue, spiked with a crumble of pungent goat cheddar. Chef Craddock’s wine was the 2009 Bordello from B.C.’s Dirty Laundry winery, a lusty Cabernet-Merlot blend: its tannins seemed a tad too young and strong at first but then the lamb and the fennel tamed them and brought the wine into perfect focus, just as Chef intended.
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