By Anne DesBrisay
It’s tough to pretty up wild boar. And so you wouldn’t call Marysol Foucault’s winning dish the most beautiful of the evening. But it was, in the unanimous opinion of the judges at last night’s Gold Medal Plates at the National Arts Centre, the most thoughtfully constructed.
It was also brilliantly well executed — it had some charmingly whimsical elements and it tasted damn good. Plus, the Closson Chase The Brock Chardonnay Niagara River 2011 worked incredibly well with all the persistent and subtle flavours.
The star of the dish was a tidy square of pressed rabbit loin and cured wild boar which Foucault had cooked sous vide and set on a roasted chestnut purée flavoured with espelette pepper and lemon zest. Next to the pig and bunny was a beignet of sorts — Marysol described it as a profiterole — made with parsnip flour and stuffed with a wildly rich brown butter rabbit liver mousse. A brunoise of pickled radish and a golden beet gastrique cut the fat nicely. A tangle of lichen she had fried with Sortilege (Quebec whisky with maple syrup) and mini celery leaves completed the plate.
“Where did you get the lichen?” asked one of the judges as the dish was being presented to our table. “In an enchanted forest,” Marysol replied. And then she giggled. “I built this dish around the wine I so love, and memories of my childhood.” (Presumably in enchanted forests with rabbits and wild boar…)
When Foucault was invited to compete, she owned a restaurant called Odile on Boulevard Montclair in Gatineau. A proper, sit-down place open for dinners and licensed. It was her second place. Her first was Chez Edgar, named in honour of her father, a tiny shop with daytime hours and with a few high top tables that seat eleven lucky people. Edgar sells terrific soups and sandwiches, classic French comfort dishes, homemade pastries and cakes. It puts on a wickedly good weekend brunch. And then Odile shut down late last summer. So Foucault’s invitation to compete at Gold Medal Plates was reissued with the little Edgar as her principal residence.
On the podium with Foucault were the silver medallist, Jonathan Korecki of Sidedoor Restaurant (who placed third at last year’s event) and Katie Brown Ardington of Beckta Dining and Wine, who was a first timer.
Korecki described his plate as a play on laksa (the spicy coconut curry noodle soup from Singapore and Malaysia). And indeed it was. Beneath a perfect scallop (scattered with an ” XO crumble” — a mash of the seafood used in the dish, doused in fish sauce and dehydrated) was a spicy laksa cream sauce, a luscious “bearnaise” with rings of red chili and coconut milk. The centre element was a cranberry cured spot prawn, and the third fish was arctic char, its skin beautifully crisp. For the noodles, Korecki has fashioned ramen with roasted parsnips — no idea how — and the dish was finished with pretty little sea-buckthorn berries, pops of welcome acid. His wine match was Niagara’s Megalomaniac Wine, Sparkling Pinot Noir 2012.
Brown Ardington’s lobster chorizo stole our hearts. She asked us to eat it last, and so we obeyed, tucking first into the ahi tuna sashimi crusted with pork bone ash and plopped on a grilled leek and porcini vinaigrette, flavoured with lemon balm. And then moving on to the meaty Eryngi mushroom stems she had braised in pork broth and roofed with a thatch of pork rind and crispy leek, before finally tucking into the cumin-scented sausage anchored with a ‘red eye’ mayo, and cuddled up to it, a little potato and lobster chip and a pickled shimeji mushroom. Dobs of golden caviar (whitefish caviar harvested in Northern Manitoba) finished the pretty plate. Katie chose a sparkler to pair with her dish, Cave Spring Cellars’ NV Brut Dolomite, 2009 VQA.
It was a brilliant night, and all competing chefs are to be congratulated for the unprecedented creativity on these 2013 plates. But last night belonged to Marysol Foucault, all five feet of her. And she moves on to compete in Kelowna in February, at the Canadian Culinary Championship.