By Anne DesBrisay
“SO YAK IS BACK!” thundered Ed Robertson of the Barenaked Ladies, as he retook the Gold Medal Plates stage for the grande finale musical extravaganza.
It was a crowded podium at the National Arts Centre. Surrounding Robertson were his fellow musicians, Anne Lindsay, Barney Bentall, Sam Roberts, and Alan Doyle; a treasure trove of Canadian Olympians, including our recent gold medallist Rosie MacLennan; and the bronze, silver, and gold medal winning Ottawa chefs from Sidedoor, Arc, and OZ.
The yak yell was in reference to Jamie Stunt of OZ Kafé who had just won the GMP culinary competition with a stunning plate that featured a Tiraislin Farms Tibetan yak. Yes, indeed: yak. Which may rhyme with ‘back’, but few in the crowd knew it was ever out. Or in. Let alone local and edible.
“I had to beg Rosemary (Kralik, owner of the 722 acre farm in the Lanark Highlands),” Stunt told our judges table. “She’s crazy about her yak, and finds it hard to let them go…”
But she let one go, anyway, and we are grateful. Stunt spiced and seared up the lean loin, plating it deep red. He paired his competition dish with a pale, aromatic beer created by Quinn Hodgins of Ashton Brewing Company, who infused the brew with lemongrass and Kaffir lime.
And Stunt used the spent grains to crust a juicy tomatillo. Between the well-seasoned yak and the crunchy fruit was a layer of firm prawns in a rémoulade and surrounding the construct, a pretty pumpkin-coloured smoked boar vinaigrette, some sprigs of cilantro and Thai basil, pickled kohlrabi and shallots, and a Beauty Heart radish. It went incredibly well with the beer.
It wasn’t, to my mind, the most striking looking plate of the evening, but there was unanimous consent around the judges’ table that the various elements all worked very well as an exceptionally tasty team, and were a bang-on match with the beer.
This was Stunt’s first invitation to compete at Gold Medal Plates — a Canadian gala and culinary competition in support of Canada’s Olympic athletes — and he was, in this judge’s opinion, the wild card. He pulled out all the stops, though, and created a showstopper with this dish. He will now go on to the national level in February, competing with other gold medallists in nine other cities, from Vancouver to St John’s, at the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna.
Joining our judging panel this year was chef Marc Lepine of Atelier Restaurant, last year’s winner of the Ottawa Gold Medal Plates, and this year’s Canadian Culinary Champion.
And joining Jamie Stunt on the podium were the second and third place winners.
With a dish that featured BC ling cod, Chef Jason Duffy of Arc Lounge.Dining took the silver medal. Duffy’s dish was a beautiful construct, the eye drawn to the three precision dots of basil and green apple and a little pile of pickled cherry and fennel pollen ‘dust’. He had the firm and juicy fish resting on a creamy, almost cheesy mushroom cake perked with green tomatoes from his garden fashioned into a chutney, and supported with two slices of cured, smoked, rolled, and roasted porchetta. The wine match (which won best in show from the wine judges, led by GMP Wine Advisor David Lawrason) was the Norman Hardie County Pinot Noir 2010.
Sidedoor chef Jonathan Korecki featured a ballotine of wild turkey breast, the meat pink and moist, the skin crackling. There was a kabocha squash and apple dumpling on the plate, with some of the confit of the dark meat, and a curry he called “YOW” which incorporated Hall Farm apples, pickled spruce tips, maple syrup, and Upper Canada cranberries. Lovely flavours, lovely heat. This he paired with Kichesippi Natural Blonde IPA.
There were other wonderful plates to salute. Domus Café’s John Taylor gave us a “Lobster Brunch” in honour of his mother. There was Juniper chef Norm Aitken’s ‘Pastrami Chipwich’ with honey glazed short rib in a vibrant carrot purée. Michael Blackie of the National Arts Centre presented a tempuraed PEI Quahog in its thick shell, with braised lamb shoulder and pickled chanterelles; while Chris Deraiche (The Wellington Gastropub) gave us a gorgeous porky consommé, into which he had plunged a piece of steamed halibut, some chardonnay braised celery, and a yummy crab agnolotti. Michael Hay was first invited to compete with The Courtyard Restaurant, but earlier this year moved to the more Mediterranean Back Lane Café. Hay roasted up a lamb loin and, with the meat from the neck, fashioned a falafel glued down with a luscious artichoke hummus and plated with an eggplant caponata, beets with sumac, and braised fennel.
But what a stunt for Stunt! A first-time competitor from an eccentric little place on Elgin Street, a basement restaurant beloved by off duty chefs and its Centretown neighbourhood, but OZ Kafé barely known by others. Such fun! So congratulations to him, to Duffy, and Korecki, and to all the chefs who competed and fed us so well.
And a very special thank you to my hard-eating fellow judges: James Chatto, Toronto writer, author, and head judge of GMP; House of Commons Executive Chef and international culinary judge Judson Simpson; Canadian cookbook author, columnist, and television host Margaret Dickenson; food writer, teacher, stylist, and TV personality Pam Collacott; Sheila Whyte, long time owner of Thyme and Again Creative Catering and Take Home Food Shop; and Atelier chef and Canadian Culinary Champion, Marc Lepine.