The stage was set: The winning chefs from Gold Medal Plates competitions in nine cities across the country met in Kelowna last weekend for a gruelling competition pitting the best against the best. Culinary judge Anne DesBrisay was there as part of the judge’s panel and provides this insider’s view — and some great pix — of local chef Marc Lepine‘s awesome win at the Canadian Culinary Championships.
This was entirely Marc Lepine’s race. From his opening moves at the Mystery Wine Pairing event on Friday night, through the Black Box Competition on Saturday morning, to the Grand Finale Gala, he powered to the top of the podium by virtue of being the judges’ unanimous first choice. A first for the Canadian Culinary Championships, that one chef wins so commandingly. But no doubt about it, this weekend belonged to Lepine. Ottawa should be very proud of him. He was a champiom of creative, precision executed, beautifully balanced and well assembled dishes that looked lovely, and had serious smack. Taking the silver medal, Vancouver chef Rob Feenie of the Cactus Club. The bronze went to the affable, fun loving Jean-Philippe St-Denis of Kitchen Galerie Poisson in Montreal.
Report from the Wine Pairing Competition (Friday Night):
Ottawa chef Marc Lepine has just won the “People’s Choice” award at the wine pairing competition, the first of three components in the Canadian Culinary Competition! How the judges rated him on this leg of the race won’t be revealed until after the Black Box Competition on Saturday morning.
Marc Lepine guessed correctly: the mystery wine, the label-less bottle presented to the nine chefs was in fact an Ontario Riesling. These chefs were tasked with plumbing the depths of the wine (about which they knew for certain only its colour) and, with a budget of $500, concocting a dish that would make that wine stand up and do a pirouette. Or at least meet it halfway. And then producing 350 of those dishes to feed the hungry crowd, plus 11 more to present to the judges. Do the math: that’s $1.39 a plate. Consider that at your next dinner party…
Chef Lepine apparently considered a buck thirty nine and thought: Yes, langoustine!! His dish was anchored with a roulade of the rich seafood, wrapped in carpaccio petals of avocado, anchored on a curried mayonnaise. Other elements on the strikingly pretty plate: puffs of wild rice seasoned with coriander seed and fennel; carved ‘pebbles’ from Okanagan apples marinated in a chili syrup; a bit of grated orange peel; burnt citrus zest, some compresed celery, a crazy piece of sponge cake, flavoured with fennel seed, and with the genius of Darth Vaderish technology, a cake that went from butter to batter in something like 40 seconds. Something about aerating it in a siphon and zaping it in a microwave. Having never made a cake other than with the terribly boring cream together, add dry to wet, fold, dump, bake sort of method, I was leery. But my gosh, it was cake! And it was a plate. Simply stunning. And didn’t The People know it. Marc walked away with a spectacular bottle of Scotch, signed by Olympians and fellow chefs.
At the end of the triumphant night the brown paper bags were removed and the wine revealed. Marc was quite right: it was in fact an Ontario Riesling — a Gold medallist at the 2011 Ontario Wine Awards, the Chateau des Charmes 2008 Old Vines Riesling.
Report from the Black Box Competition (Saturday):
Nine chefs descended on the kitchens of the Okanagan College early this morning, armed with a sous chef and their arsenal of knives. They were introduced to the audience, then lightened of their cell phones, and led to a waiting cell. One by one, in 10 minute intervals, each chef was called in to the kitchen and handed a black box.
Lids were removed and the six ingredients hauled out: from Newfoundland, bakeapples (also known as cloudberries); from Quebec, a hunk of La Rassembleu cheese; from Ontario, Mariposa Farm goose breast; from Manitoba, wild rice; from Saskatchewan, Lake Diefenbaker steelhead trout, and from Alberta, parsley root.
Each chef had 10 minutes to declare two dishes he planned to present to the judges, using all six ingredients, and availing himself of a well stocked larder. Ottawa chef Marc Lepine, from Atelier Restaurant, pulled the straw that had him facing that dreaded box of flummoxing ingredients second. He took the full 10 minutes to conceive the dishes, and then worked with steady, determined precision for a further 45 minutes, allowing himself the final five to plate. Thunderous applause greeted his final flourish (a parsley root chip on the quivering fish) and then dishes were whisked into the judges’ room.
Lepine’s fish was balanced on a herbed spaetzle. He made a fresh ricotta, a brown butter hollandaise, and took the cloudberries to a puree — a brilliant orange swipe on the plate.
His roasted to rare goose was sliced thinly on the bias and set on a rosemary-scented confit of potato. He made a little mayonnaise with the blue cheese, a simple, clean jus with the pan juices, and pickled some onions, the acid of which balanced the fat of the cheese. Marc was one of only two chefs that didn’t give us still-crunchy, boiled wild rice. He fried his rice for seconds until the dark black grains popped. They looked a bit like maggots, but they tasted damn good.
The judges were unanimously impressed.
It was unanimous. Every judge from every region across the country agreed: Marc Lepine was the undisputed winner of the competition as a whole, winning the mystery wine pairing event and the Black Box and placing a close second in the Grande Finale, at which he recreated the dish that secured him the gold in the regional Gold Medal Plates competition in Ottawa last fall.