By Anne DesBrisay
It may not sound like high praise, but when you are judging your nineteenth Black Box competition plate featuring cherries as one of the mandatory components, to have the praise of the entire table of judges (“this was hand’s down the finest use of those cherries”) is indeed noteworthy.
We were at the Canadian Culinary Championship 2014, held for the fourth year now in Kelowna, B.C. Eleven chefs were duking it out for the medals. Gatineau chef Marysol Foucault (of Chez Edgar) took those cherries — one of the six mystery ingredients in the black box — and fashioned a gorgeous gastrique. It was quite peppery, perfumed with mint and shot through with ginger. Every judge lapped it up. Her proficiency with Champignons Le Coprin products was clearly evident too. Christophe Marineau and Marie-Elise Trottier shipped the exotic fungi — the gorgeous Lion’s Mane mushroom, which look like cheerleader’s white pom poms — to Kelowna from their farm in Farrelton, Quebec, to be tucked into the Black Box as the Ottawa-Gatineau contribution. Some chefs had worked with these mushrooms. Others had not. Marysol seemed utterly at home with them.
In addition to those cherries, which were sourced from Saskatchewan’s Over The Hill Orchards, there were Black Box ingredients from the Okanagan (organic parsnips and Sterling Springs whole chickens), Nova Scotia (honey butter), Fort Langley, B.C. (West Creek Farms whole trout), and our own Le Coprin mushrooms.
The Black Box is the crack of dawn challenge number two. Chefs have ten minutes to study the ingredients and declare the two dishes they plan to create for the national panel of judges, and a further fifty minutes to make and plate.
Points are deducted if an ingredient is missed (one chef cooked the mushrooms but forgot to plate them — a heartbreaker) and if they go over time. Eleven chefs, times two dishes, makes twenty two plates in one hour with ingredients they’ve just met. Remarkable. I’m in awe of them all. And still full. And I don’t much care to eat another parsnip for the rest of the winter.
The final event, on the Saturday night, is the gala for 650 people. Chefs tend to turn to the dish that won them gold in their home province. So we were treated to Team Marysol’s cured wild boar and rabbit pressé with chestnut purée, a brown butter rabbit liver mousse, beet gastrique, pickled turnip, dehydrated parsnip, and lichen fried with Sortilege.
Though she finished off the podium, Foucault and her team of cooks (Anna March, Michael Lasalle) have damn good reason to be proud of their performance.
Taking gold this year was Chef Lorenzo Loseto of George Restaurant in Toronto. His final dish, served at the Saturday night gala, centred upon ahi tuna, wrapped in ribbons of potato and flash fried to crisp the spud and leave the fish ruby. There were shavings of roasted carrot and a brunoise of pear, tiny balls of carrot butter transformed into mini marshmallow-like fluff, and a final dust of pistachio and fennel pollen. This he paired with the 2010 Kew Vineyards Old Vine Riesling from Niagara.
Silver was awarded to Calgary Chef Duncan Ly of Yellow Door Bistro. He gave us a terrine of braised pork neck studded with side stripe prawns and with a thin belt of remarkably tender pig’s ear. A salad of apple and mint refreshed the mouth, a delicate sheet of rice crisp and some wee flower petals completed the plate. His match was the Ice Cuvée Rosé, a sparkling wine from Peller Estates.
The bronze went to Montreal. Sherbrooke, actually, to Chef Danny St-Pierre, of Auguste Restaurant. His final plate featured beef tongue, sliced carpaccio style and pressed into a square. On top was a sunny quail egg which, pierced, formed the gentle sauce. Rings of radish, rounds of purple beet, bone marrow infused croutons and pretty dobs of a cranberry confit elevated the meat. With this dish he served a 2011 Cabernet Severnyi by Quebec’s Carone Winery.
You could count on one hand the number of ingredients sourced from outside Canada on these competition plates. Sure, there were lemons. But nearly without exception we were treated to Canadian foods and wines from coast to coast to coast. Chef Martin Ruiz Salvador from Fleur de Sel Restaurant in little Lunenburg NS brought 35 gallons of frozen Atlantic sea water with him to Kelowna, in order poach his South Shore Lobster for the 650 guests. Incredible!
And so the medals have been awarded and the chefs have returned to their respective restaurant kitchens. Perhaps they share some of the same feelings as our Olympic athletes in Sochi: exhausted (all), some elated, others dejected … but with, I trust, a few friendships tucked into their knife kits and a greater sense of what’s cooking across this great big country. These chefs are contributing in remarkable ways to the vast Canadian table and we are awfully proud of all of them.