OTTAWA Magazine restaurant critic Anne DesBrisay was the Senior Judge at Monday night’s Gold Medal Plates competition. She shares her thoughts on the event and what made the winning entries so special.
The 10th Ottawa-Gatineau Gold Medal Plates event is now behind us — and what a night it was!
Held Monday night at the Shaw Centre, complete with Rio-themed feathers, flowers, glitter, dancing, and music, the food presented by the 10 competing chefs “looked like Canada,” I must say, and ran the gamut from the fairly straightforward to the wildly complex. From MeNa chef James Bratsberg’s delicate presentation of a Kombu cured scallop plate paired with squash and grapefruit, or L’Orée du Bois chef Jean-Claude Chartrand’s knee-wobblingly good braised veal cheek with foie gras crust, to El Camino chef Jordan Holley’s seven ways with chicken (including chicharron of skin, broth of foot, confit of heart, mousse of liver, and … a cured egg yolk).
I think it was the finest year to date, the plates encountered utterly delicious, focused, imaginative, and playful, each partnered with a Canadian wine or craft beer, (or whiskey, or gin — a first!).
After 90 minutes of intensely focused eating and drinking and puzzling, and much ooh-ing and aah-ing, the judges’ marking cards (with categories for taste, texture, presentation, technical elements, booze compatibility and that elusive gut-feel called the “wow” factor) were tabulated and I’m delighted to announce our podium placers:
Bronze went to first time competitor Joe Thottungal, from the well-established Ottawa east restaurant Coconut Lagoon, his dish paired with a young Ottawa east brewery, Dominion City’s Two Flags IPA.
Thottungal prepared Lamb Pollichathu, the seared meat infused with herbs and spices and cooked in a fresh banana leaf with a brooding tomato masala. Sliced and served with its sauce, the fragrant lamb shared the plate with a soft quenelle of yucca and coconut glazed with a complex mango chutney, a tiny dice of green bean thoran, a scarlet splotch of beet and yogurt kichadi and a final flourish of crunch — a Kerala pappadum in the shape of a maple leaf.
The Two Flags India Pale Ale from the Dominion City Brewing Company, found “a stone’s throw from my restaurant” was a no-brainer match for the spicy, citrus, lingering aromas in this Kerala-meets-Canada dish.
Our silver medallist was nipping the heels of our gold. Chef Jon Svazas of the one-year-old Fauna restaurant on Bank Street — also a first time competitor — chose to work with emu. He bathed the lean, delicate carpaccio petals in a white soy and miso emulsion. On top of the round, three shavings of lightly pickled matsutake mushrooms, a dollop of Acadian Sturgeon caviar, baby blood sorrel leaves and a confetti of cured and dried egg yolk, grated over the whole. I couldn’t see the walnuts in the dish, but relished the flavour they lent the plate and the welcome crunch. A fermented plum gelée was the five vibrant dots of pink and the same matsutake mushrooms (aka pine mushrooms) had been fashioned into a spidery cracker. It was a fabulous plate and I licked it clean.
From Norman Hardie Winery, the 2013 Chardonnay Unfiltered earned my top marks for food match.
And here we go again, Ottawa! It was déjà vu on the top tier of the podium. Marc Lepine of atelier restaurant was on it four years ago. And he was grinning up there again holding the golden plate. His dish was a stunner. A splendidly cooked hunk of steelhead trout, smoked, glazed with miso, molasses and Newfoundland Screech, and dusted with the licorice notes of fennel pollen. The fish was set on a ‘porridge’ of barley and corn scattered with crunchy coriander seeds and smoked cinnamon cap mushrooms. The bowl arrived with a ring of wow — a circle of toasted tuile studded with fennel seed, and tableside, a corn cob-miso broth brewed with corn husks and bonito flakes, was poured into waiting bowls. Oh yes, there was a wee bacony element with a bit of cured pork belly. Another great Ontario chardonnay to match — the rich and elegant “Le Grand Clos” 2012 from Le Clos Jordanne.
And so Marc Lepine will move on to compete against 10 other regional champions in February in Kelowna at the Canadian Culinary Championships. He wowed us all in 2012, winning the event handily. His competition looks pretty stiff this year … but let’s see if he can do it again!!
Huge congratulations to all competing chefs and their fantastic teams, and enormous thanks to my fellow judges — James Chatto, Margaret Dickenson, chef Judson Simpson, Pam Collacott, and chef Patrick Garland, our 2014 GMP winner.