by Andrew Morrison | The first ever Victoria Gold Medal Plates went down last Thursday night, pitting some of our brightest chef talents against one another. The competition has, in past years, been held in Vancouver, and decides which BC chef will represent the province at the annual Canadian Culinary Championships, which take place in Kelowna this February.
The duelling chefs this year were Darren Brown of the Fairmont Pacific Rim, Marc-André Choquette of Coal Harbour’s Tableau Bar Bistro, Kunal Ghose of Victoria’s Red Fish Blue Fish, Daniel Hudson of Hudson’s On First in Duncan, Jeff Keenliside of Victoria’s Marina Restaurant, Makoto Ono of Gastown’s Pidgin, Terry Pichor Sonora Resort on Sonora Island, Garrett Schack of Victoria’s Vista 18, Brian Skinner of The Acorn on Main Street, and Chris Whittaker of Robson’s Forage.
As a judge, I saw first hand how close the scoring was. Typically, only the top three chefs have their marks revealed, but I can tell you that there was only something like 7 percentage points separating 1st place from 7th place. So it was a very close run thing at the very top.
As always, there were some delicious oddities and outliers. Pidgin’s Ono, for example, chose to serve a sake and gin cocktail instead of a wine pairing with his otherwise perfect Onsen egg, smoked salmon roe and risotto (one of the best plates of the night). While not the least bit objectionable in and of itself, the sipper’s admittedly low intensity alcohol “burn” proved more of a barrier than a bridge. I saw the point and the purpose, but the little seafaring flavour bursts of roe begged instead for a juicy, coddling Riesling. Similarly, Vista 18′s Schack decided to double down on the different, serving a dessert – sweet potato beignet with chocolate and brown butter ice cream – next to a Scotch Ale. It was good eating, but there wasn’t much room for winning nuance in the sweetness, however multi-dimensional it might have been.
I suppose, then, that plating/pouring away from the savoury and the grape in cooking/pairing competitions is inevitably fraught with risk. It’s seldom rewarded in this particular arena, that is unless the results are revelatory in their perfection. That being said, I don’t want to put future competitors off from trying new things. It’s always great to see chefs swinging for the fences at the Gold Medal Plates!
I’ll have some final comments at the end as well as some photographs, but here’s the prime skinny from my boss at the event, James Chatto, whose palate and writing skills far exceed my own…
It’s always exciting to bring the Gold Medal Plates phenomenon to a new city. Last night we were, for the first time, in Victoria, British Columbia, where chefs from the city challenged their colleagues from elsewhere on the island, from Vancouver and from Sonora Island to see who would win the gold medal and progress to Kelowna in February. It was an extraordinary evening with a sold-out crowd of 500 completely involved in proceedings, with emcee Adam Kreek in fine form and more dancing to the music than I’ve ever seen at any GMP event. It seemed like half the room was up and rocking to a veritable orchestra of musicians – Jim Cuddy, Barney Bentall, Dustin Bentall and Kendal Carson, John Mann and Geoffrey Kelly from Spirit of the West, and trumpeter Daniel Lapp.
The competing chefs (representing Vancouver, Victoria and several Gulf Islands) also performed brilliantly, crossing the line like some kind of gastronomic peleton, all marks tightly bunched within a mere 12 percentage points. Fortunately, I had a brilliant team of judges to help me sort them out, led by co-Senior Judge, educator and international wine and food guru Sid Cross and co-Senior judge, author and editor, Andrew Morrison, alongside writer, blogger, editor and culinary judge, Shelora Sheldan, hotelier, international food and wine judge and Slow Food ambassador, Dr. Sinclair Philip, former chef, sommelier and innkeeper, now writer and editor, Gary Hynes, and last year’s gold medallist from our Vancouver competition, Chef Mark Filatow of Waterfront Restaurant and Wine Bar in Kelowna.
Taking the bronze medal was Terry Pichor of Sonora Resort on Sonora Island. Ambitiously, he included a foie-gras-filled raviolo on his plate, pulling off the textural challenge in a masterful way for the pasta was tender and the foie almost liquid. Under the raviolo was a cushion of duck leg confit surrounded by a rich butternut squash purée but the dish’s main focus were two slices of duck breast that chef had brined poached in duck fat with star anise, the pink meat ending up with the sleek and juicy texture of ham. A number of garnishes added nuance. Black garlic granola had a very fine texture, sprinkled onto the ravioli with a spoonful of the duck’s natural jus bolstered by a brunoise of pine mushroom. Candied squash seeds and a sprinkling of vividly purple young beet seedlings completed the plate. Chef Pichor chose Foxtrot Vineyard’s 2010 Pinot Noir from the Naramata Bench, a wine that picked up the mushrooms and brought a refreshing acidity to the dish.
Our silver medal was won by Darren Brown, executive chef of the Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel in Vancouver. He worked with local Camp River Farms pork belly, deliberately grown to be leaner than most pork belly, confiting it in Kahlua and carving a thin slice that had a lovely crust and a flavour like first-class bacon. The meat lay on a pool of poi made not with the traditional starchy taro but with much lighter lotus root, coconut and heart of palm. Limning the poi was a second sauce, a sweet pineapple and maple-mustard glaze thickened by a syrup made from Chef’s chosen wine. Sprinkled on top were some tangy mustard seeds, slices of crunchy betel nut, a cross of puffed white pork cracklings and a scattering of dehydrated pineapple flecks that worked particularly well with the wine. A final flourish of welcome green came from a floret of baby bok choy. And the wine? An old friend – JoieFarm Winery’s delicious 2012 Noble Blend, an Alsatian-style melange of Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Auxerrois and Schoenberger.
Who won gold? Chef Brian Skinner of The Acorn in Vancouver, who achieved the exceedingly rare feat of winning at GMP with a vegetarian dish. His dish was a casual assembly of pale drums, some of them cut from smoked king oyster mushrooms, others turning out to be confited potatoes. Thumbelina carrots had been roasted to soft caramelization while others had been turned into “carrot meringue” like shards of paper-thin wafer. Minute braised shallots no bigger than chickpeas were a sweet component while acidity came from dots of intensely flavoured sherry fluid gel. A combination of mushrooms were used to make the fragrant mushroom jus and the coup de grace was a scattering of wild-foraged watercress. The dish was relatively simple but most effective, with every ingredient coming from within 100 miles of his restaurant, and the wine pairing worked on many levels. Clos du Soleil’s 2012 Chegwin & Baessler Pinot Blanc is delightfully aromatic with a hint of sweetness that worked with the carrot and shallot components and a sly acidity boosted by the sherry gel, all in a fine balance.
All in all, Victoria provided a very welcoming and energized West Coast adventure and Chef Skinner will be just as welcome in Kelowna in February.
Skinner’s win came as a pleasant surprise. That’s not because I thought anyone did a more masterful job, but rather because his dish didn’t contain any meat. It was, without a doubt, pretty damn perfect, as was its alliance with the well chosen Pinot Blanc, and even though the selfish glutton in me thought his efforts could have been hugely improved by a flashed paillard of veal or a mere nugget of pork tenderloin, I scored him high across the board (as did, evidently, the rest of the judges on the panel). He absolutely deserved gold.
As to what the vegetarian chef will do when he’s supplied with a meat/fish at the Canadian Culinary Championships’ gruelling (no other word for it) Black Box competition this winter is beyond me. Many years ago at the same competition we had a nut-allergic competitor who discovered peanuts in his black box. He had to have his sous chef sub in for him, which was hardly ideal. Needless to say, I’m sure Skinner will figure it out when the lid comes off, and it will be exciting to watch happens next.
by Andrew Morrison | The Canadian Culinary Championships take place this weekend up in Kelowna. 10 of Canada’s top chefs will go head to head in three gruelling competitions. Each chef has already had to beat out a dozen of their local peers in Gold Medal Plates competitions from Vancouver to St. Johns.
Representing BC this year is chef Mark Filatow from Kelowna’s Waterfront Wine Bar. Filatow won the opportunity after besting many of BC’s top chefs, such as David Gunawan (Wildebeest), Angus An (Maenam), Quang Dang (West). He faces stiff competition from distant toques like Toronto’s Marc St. Jacques (Auberge du Pommier) and Montreal’s Daren Bergeron (Fou D’Ici), but he’ll have something they don’t have: a very enthusiastic hometown crowd.
I’ve long had the honour of being one of the two Senior Judges from BC (the other being my good friend Sid Cross). It’s also my responsibility to referee the competitions, which is always a different sort of thrill. Needless to say, I’m really excited. I’m actually typing this from the airport, en route a few days early in order to get re-acquainted with my fellow judges. If you want to follow along from the inside, you can keep track of things via @scoutmagazine on Twitter and Instagram. The hashtag for the weekend is #CCC2013.
by Andrew Morrison | I think the restaurant that I’m most excited about on our Anticipated Openings list is PiDGiN. It’s the upcoming Gastown effort from past Canadian Culinary Champion Makoto Ono. You might remember us breaking the news of its coming last summer:
Ono was the first to win gold at the Canadian Culinary Championships back in 2007. He’s been on the ascendancy ever since, opening the eponymous “Makoto” in Beijing and the celebrated “Liberty Private Works” in Hong Kong. He returned from China [in 2011] to guest chef at his father’s famed restaurant, Edohei, in Winnipeg. The revered sushi establishment closed in late February (Sadao retired), which freed Makato up for this project. There was some speculation that Makoto would head to Toronto, but lucky for us, he decided to return to Vancouver instead, where he went to culinary school and where his girlfriend works as a pastry chef.
I suspect that Pidgin, as the new restaurant is called, will be something of a summation of Ono’s career to date. The concept will see a hybrid of Japanese and French cuisine with a thread of Korean weaving throughout. The name alludes to the expression of that combination, and to Pigeon Park, which is right across the street.
The menu will offer share plates, from small to very large, priced from $10 to $25 per. The wine and cocktail program will be buttressed by a healthy supply of sake, baekseju and even soju, all designed to wrap neatly around the food conept. They keenly aware that Gastown is very much a cocktail-forward neighbourhood, and I suspect they’ll be putting a little skin in the game.
The project has been evolving since March, and plans for the redeveloped addresses of 350 Carrall (combining for some 1808 sqft) have already been submitted to the City. What they envision is a stylish 66 seater with a 10 seat bar. They’re also considering doing a chef’s table (which I wholeheartedly encourage them to do).
Ono is an incredibly gifted chef. He could have gone to Montreal or Toronto or decided to stay in China or Winnipeg, so it’s our good fortune that he picked a spot off Hastings instead. I say “good fortune” because I trust PiDGiN to be an above average dining experience. It won’t be traditional fine dining, but I do expect it to be one of the better restaurants in the city when it launches.
My hope is that it will be like a Japanese/Korean Bao Bei of sorts, the kind of place where cuisines are interpreted idiosyncratically but with respect by an experienced and imaginative chef whose confidence and competence sing loud and clear across on the plate. I definitely see that in every one of Ono’s plates presented in the photo gallery below (all the food shots are by TT Lui). This hope is also buoyed by Ono’s choice of designer: Craig Stanghetta, the same fellow (interview) responsible for the looks at Meat & Bread, Revolver, Clough Club, and Pizzeria Farina (he also had a hand in the stunning aesthetics at Bao Bei, so it’s not like I’m pulling my hope out of my ear…).
Beyond sharing a thought or two, the point of this post was fourfold: to let readers know that PiDGiN is on track to open in early February, to reveal some shots of the construction progress (hats off to the Tetherstone crew), to give some indication of Ono’s game by teasing some of the plates he has planned for opening day (without knowing what they are), and to make all of those individuals who are interested aware that opportunity knocks. To wit:
PiDGiN is looking for a Bartender and Lead Host/Hostess to join our opening team. The ideal Bartender will have an intimate knowledge of all classics and be ready to join a top notch team behind the wood. The ideal Host/Hostess will have previous restaurant experience and knowledge of OpenTable. Both candidates will have a passion for food and beverage, be self-motivated with a pro-active attitude, and share our commitment to offer our guests exceptional service. Please reply with your resume and availability details to resumes [at] pidginyvr.com.
Seeing how Gastown is ground zero in Western Canada’s cocktail culture, the bartending opportunities here are pretty huge. Though I’m keen to work my way through Ono’s menu (so I can at least discover what I’m looking at in Lui’s photos), I’m also looking forward to seeing who ends up on the wood. Less than a month to go…
Andrew Morrison lives and works in Vancouver as editor-in-chief of Scout and National Referee & Judge at the Gold Medal Plates and Canadian Culinary Championships. He also contributes regularly to a wide range of publications, radio programs, and television shows on local food, culture and travel; collects inexpensive things; and enjoys rare birds, skateboards, cocktails, shoes, good pastas, many songs, and the smell of camp fires.
The GOODS from Orofino Strawbale Winery
Vancouver, BC | Orofino’s 2009 Syrah won the Gold Medal at last weekend’s Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna. Winning chefs from 9 different regions across the country battled head to head to see who would win the gold, silver and bronze medals for top chef in the country. At the same time a trio of esteemed wine judges evaluated over 29 wines involved in the CCC events and judged Orofino’s Syrah to be top wine of the weekend.
“It is quite an honour for our winery in the Similkameen to be chosen as the gold medalist at this event as it was judged by some of the best palates in the country.” Says John and Virginia Weber, owners and winemakers. “We’d like to congratulate Murray and Maggie Fonteyne of Cawston’s Scout Vineyards for their terrific work in growing these grapes for us. This was their first crop of Syrah so we are very excited about syrah and its potential here in the Similkameen. These types of accolades bode well for future vintages!”
This is Orofino’s second win at the Gold Medal Plates, as their 2009 Riesling won top wine of the night in the Saskatchewan regional competition held last October. Details after the jump… Read more
The GOODS from Okanagan Crush Pad
Kelowna, BC | BC’s own Chef Rob Feenie, food concept architect for Cactus Restaurants Ltd., won silver at the national Gold Medal Plates competition. Chef Feenie selected Haywire Winery’s Pinot Noir to pair with his dish at the Canadian Culinary Championship’s grand finale. Feenie captured a national silver medal when he and his team created a Fraser Valley rabbit duo – a rabbit bacon presse, with foie gras boudin, brown butter carrot puree and black truffle jus, accompanied by Haywire’s Pinot Noir at the Canadian Culinary Championships grand finale event for the Gold Medal Plates national competition. As the only competing chef from BC and paired with a BC winery, Chef Feenie took home the silver medal in front of the home crowd on Saturday night. The team from Haywire is especially proud: Chef Feenie also chose Haywire’s Pinot Gris for his dish at the Vancouver Gold Medal Plates competition last fall, where he captured the gold medal.
After nine competitions across the country, the winning chef from each of the nine cities met at the national competition. The winner of the gold and the Canadian Culinary Champion was chef Marc Lepine of Atelier Restaurant in Ottawa.
Winery owner Christine Coletta was “so proud to see Rob Feenie win the silver.” She notes, “it was great to see culinary talent from across Canada in the Okanagan, and to have our Okanagan wine be part of the silver medal win at home was priceless.” Read more
by Andrew Morrison | I’m leaving early for Kelowna and the Canadian Culinary Championships (#CCC) this afternoon. It is Canada’s biggest cooking competition. It includes three bouts between the country’s best chefs over two gruelling days. We’ll of course be publishing during this time (and plenty), but I wanted to invite readers to follow along with the #CCC action on Scout’s social media accounts – Twitter, Instagram, Facebook – which I’ll be feeding quite a bit with photos and updates. For the past five years, wine guru Sid Cross and I have shared the honour of being the Senior Judges representing BC at the annual competition. I’ve also enjoyed being the National Referee (I don’t get a whip or a whistle, but they did give me a gold toothpick once, for real).
All told, we get to see and taste some pretty outstanding plates of superness, not to mention have quite a good time. If you’re really into food porn and fetishize the hell out of competitions, be sure to keep abreast so that you might salivate profusely over all the deliciousness that comes our way in relatively real time.
Here are the competitors. Remember that each of the following defeated 10 other regional heavyweights to get this far…
Winnipeg | Michael Dacquisto – WOW Hospitality
Montreal | Jean-Philippe St-Denis – Kitchen Galerie Poisson
Calgary | Michael Dekker – Rouge
Edmonton | Jan Trittenbach – Packrat Louie
Vancouver | Rob Feenie – Cactus Club
Saskatoon | Anthony McCarthy – Saskatoon Club
Toronto | Jonathan Gushue – Langdon Hall Country House Hotel & Spa
Ottawa | Marc Lepine – Atelier
St. John’s | Mike Barsky – Bacalao
GOLD: Martin Juneau of Newtown in Montreal
SILVER: Jeremy Charles of Raymonds in St. John’s
BRONZE: Robert Clark of C Restaurant in Vancouver
GOLD Mathieu Cloutier – Kitchen Gallerie, Montréal
SILVER David Lee – Nota Bene
BRONZE Matthew Carmichael – Restaurant 18
GOLD Hayato Okamitsu – Catch Restaurant, Calgary
SILVER Frank Pabst – Blue Water Café
BRONZE Deff Haupt – Le Renoir
GOLD Melissa Craig – The Bearfoot Bistro, Whistler
SILVER Anthony Walsh – Canoe
BRONZE Roland Ménard – Manior Hovey
GOLD Makoto Ono – Gluttons Bistro, Winnipeg
SILVER Michael Blackie – Perspectives Restaurant
BRONZE Mark McEwan – Bymark
The #CCC actually starts each autumn, as each major city across the nation puts their top toques through a local meat grinder called Gold Medal Plates. Net proceeds are given to the Canadian Olympic Foundation, which supports athletes and high performance programs such as Own the Podium. To date, over $5 million has been raised.
In Vancouver, beating out Ensemble’s Dale Mackay (again) and Bao Bei’s Joel Watanabe this year was the grand maestro, Rob Feenie of the Cactus Club. This is Feenie’s second time to the national dance, and I reckon he’s mighty keen to take home the elusive gold. For an explainer as to how the whole shebang works, here’s a video diary I shot from a few years back at the competition in Banff, when Vancouver was being represented by Frank Pabst of Yaletown’s Blue Water Cafe. As you can see, winning ain’t easy, and Montreal’s been on a roll…
The GOODS from YEW restaurant + bar
Vancouver, BC | The culinary team at YEW restaurant + bar and Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver are very excited to compete in Gold Medal Plates this Friday evening, November 4. Led by Executive Chef Ned Bell, a previous event competitor, this represents Four Seasons’ first time in the culinary challenge. Truly a battle of Vancouver’s very best, Bell will be competing against ten very accomplished chefs from British Columbia. YEW restaurant + bar and Four Seasons Vancouver are paired up with BC wine phenomenon, Black Hills Estate Winery. Bell and his team, which includes executive sous chef Craig Dryhurst and sommelier Emily Walker, have been working hard to wow guests, judges and Olympians. ”We have upped our game,” says Bell. ”We can’t wait to showcase YEW’s new seafood concept and the talent and innovation on our team with a sophisticated twist on ‘surf and turf.’” Of course the specifics must remain confidential until Friday evening. Good luck team! Read more
The GOODS from “C” Restaurant
Vancouver, BC | C proprietor Harry Kambolis has launched a new four course tasting menu following Robert Clark’s podium-finish at the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna. The dishes born of the infamous Black Box and Mystery Wine competitions make up the first three courses. (In the first competition, the chefs had to cook with the unknown ingredients within; in the second, they had to build a dish that matched La Stella Fortissimo, 2008). The pièce de résistance is the citrus glazed Fraser Valley quail breast, leg ballotine, French toast, crisp quail egg and consommé. Read more
by Andrew Morrison | This past weekend, the final three legs of the Gold Medal Plates series of national cooking competitions took place in Kelowna. Together, they are known as the Canadian Culinary Championships. Each of the eight competing chefs had won their right to be there on account of their victories against peers in their respective cities from Vancouver to St. John’s late in 2010. They were…
Rob Clark from “C” Restaurant in Vancouver
Duncan Ly from Hotel Arts in Calgary
Andrew Fung from Blackhawk Golf Club in Edmonton
Dan Walker from Weczeria in Saskatoon
Frank Dodd from Hillebrand Winery in Toronto
Michael Moffatt from Beckta in Ottawa
Martin Juneau from Newtown in Montreal
Jeremy Charles from Raymond’s St. John’s
I flew up early on Wednesday to join my colleagues on the judging panel at Sparkling Hills Resort, a stunner of a spa retreat resplendent with millions of Swarovski crystals embedded in everything from chair backs, waterfalls, doors, light fixtures, fireplaces and just about every other facet of the resort that wasn’t edible, drinkable or made of fabric (though I did hear mention of a curtain or two). Because it’s beyond Winfield, over the hills and seemingly in the middle of nowhere, it was a fabulously bizarre and wonderfully exceptional experience anchored by some surprisingly top drawer food (courtesy of their chef, Ross Derrick), a full service spa (including a three minute, -110 degree treatment that I said no thanks to), incredible views, and tempur-pedic beds in our rooms next to infinity tubs (that I said yes please to). It was such a remarkable place that it was rather sad to have to call it quits after just 24 hours, but duty called. We headed back down to Kelowna on Thursday afternoon, and from here I’ll let my photos and my friend James Chatto tell the tale… Read more
It’s been a grueling weekend up here in Kelowna at the Canadian Culinary Championships (and boy is my palate tired). Here are your winners: with the Bronze medal, it’s Vancouver’s own Robert Clark of “C” Restaurant; winning the Silver is Jeremy Charles of Raymond’s in St. John’s; and taking home the Gold is Martin Juneau of Montreal’s Newtown. I’ll post over 100 photos later and provide some details as to how it all went down soon, but in the meantime it’s time to board a plane for the ride home. Congratulations to all the chef competitors and a big thank you to the people of Kelowna for hosting us and putting on a wonderful show.
Day Three of the Canadian Culinary Championships is now underway up here in Kelowna. The judging and refereeing part of it starts for me this afternoon when the chefs return from shopping for ingredients with which they will pair a mystery wine that was given to them without a label last night. The shot above is of all the competitors – this year’s top toques from Vancouver to St. Johns – assembled at Quail’s Gate Winery (note the wine boxes each one is holding). To see who they are and browse many more photos taken from the inside, I’m keeping a running tab of things on our Facebook page here.
by Andrew Morrison | The Vancouver Gold Medal Plates went down at the Sheraton Wall Center last night. The chefs vying for gold and the opportunity to compete at February’s Canadian Culinary Championships were as follows: Neil Taylor (Cibo Trattoria), Quang Dang (Diva at the Met), Darren Brown (Coast), Nico Schuermans (Chambar), Cam Smith and Dana Ewart (Joy Road), Nicholas Nutting (The Pointe at the Wickaninnish Inn), Roger Sleiman (Quails’ Gate Winery), Stuart Klassen (Delta Grand) and Robert Clark (C Restaurant). The wineries in pairing action were all local: LaStella, Black Hills, Sandhill, Aces, Tantalus, Painted Rock, 8th Generation, Quails’ Gate, Laughing Stock, and Foxtrot.
It was the fastest GMP I’d ever judged. At our table (joined by last year’s winner, Rob Feenie, and sequestered away from the 700+ crowd), we plowed through the 10 dishes in just under two hours. We saw very little in the way of drama, but there was some negligence. One dish arrived stone cold, another was fumbled in delivery, and one of the wine pairings arrived corked (swiftly replaced). Temperature aside, there certainly weren’t any duds in the lot; the level of cooking being absolutely top drawer.
We structured the order with the gentlest flavours and lighter whites starting us off and the bolder reds (both meats and wines) shutting us down. Scoring was done for presentation (20 points), texture (20 points), taste (30 points), wine compatibility (10 points), originality (10 points), and wow factor (10 points), adding up to a possible 100 points. The lowest score that I gave was 62, while my highest was 83. The judges scores for each chef/dish are added up at the end in a private room, and the math determines who wins.
November – it’s kind of a crap month. It’s the time of year when the intermittent downpours and cold begin to force us to accept the winter to come. Our only holiday is a sad and sobering one (Remembrance Day), and airline tickets out go up in price to keep us in a localized stupor. But there’s a lot that Vancouver has to offer in November. In fact, it’s crazy packed with pick-me-ups. Here are our picks for the top 10 to look forward to: Read more