(Above: This year’s Gold Medal Plates Ottawa winner, Marc Lepine. Illustration, cropped, by Li Hewitt. In full, below)
One night; winner takes all. For guests at the prestigious Gold Medal Plates culinary competition on November 9, it was a cocktail party with top-tier bites. For the 10 competing chefs, it was a high-stakes evening of frenzied prepping and plating. This year’s return-victor, Atelier’s Marc Lepine, earned bragging rights and a trip to Kelowna, British Columbia, in February for an even more intense two-day showdown against the winners from across the country.
Lots of status and loads of fun, but who keeps the home fires burning while Marc Lepine and his team are away?
In 2012, Matt Carmichael (who won top honours in 2009) spearheaded the first chefs’ takeover. He herded 23 of the “losing” competitors, as well as an assortment of fellow industry buddies, enlisting them to run the kitchens at Atelier for three days while Marc Lepine chased glory in Kelowna.
“Chefs love to get together for a good cause,” Carmichael explains. “And everyone wanted to try cooking in Marc’s weird kitchen!” An epic love-in became a tradition — a testament to the respect Ottawa’s chefs feel for one another and an anticipated event for diners, who flock to the occupied restaurant each year to see what happens when five or six cooks take over one kitchen each night.
We asked a selection of this year’s competing chefs to tell us which of their rivals’ restaurants they’d love to take over and what dishes they’d serve:
Marc Lepine, Atelier
THE TAKEOVER: L’Orée du Bois
I’d like to build a tree fort behind the restaurant where guests could come have dessert at the end of their meal. I love the property. It’s an almost magical place, which is why I’d want people to get out of the restaurant and see it. Plus, tree forts are so much fun!
THE DISH: It would be an Atelier version of the chef’s hazelnut crème brûlée — maybe a thin, transparent isomalt sphere with toasted hazelnut skins and black salt trapped inside, sitting over a small mountain of nitro-ground frozen vanilla custard powder.
Trisha Donaldson, Ace Mercado
THE TAKEOVER: L’Orée du Bois
My mother and her sisters grew up in Kingsmere. I have very lovely and specific memories of Old Chelsea, and it would be a pleasure to get out there again. Something about the fresh air and nature stimulates the appetite.
THE DISHES: Creating something humble, nurturing, and delicious would be my focus. I would probably start with an amuse-bouche of chicken pâté, pickled red onion, and bitter orange. Maybe some house-made bread and brown butter. Then a slowly developed French onion soup, followed by a lightly wood-smoked and roasted beef rib roast with bordelaise sauce, sautéed shallots, garlic and white pepper mashed potatoes, and baked turnip. For dessert, an apple tarte tatin with cannelle ice cream.
Jean-Claude Chartrand, L’Orée du Bois
THE TAKEOVER: Play Food & Wine
I have been spying on them for a while. If you go to their website and wait for the fourth picture to appear, you will see me, dressed in a chef jacket, sitting at the bar with my lovely daughter Lolita and a quotation from OTTAWA magazine. What a lovely and memorable evening!
THE DISHES: I would prepare many wine-based dishes. After all, isn’t wine the main theme of this restaurant? My list might include jellies with Sauternes, port, or Jurançon or classic dishes such as oeufs en meurette (poached eggs), daubes (stews), lapin aux pruneaux et au Banyuls (rabbit with prunes and Banyuls), coq au vin jaune, or moules au xérès (mussels cooked with sherry).
John Morris, Le Café at the National Arts Centre
THE TAKEOVER: El Camino
THE DISH: Lobster tempura taco with fennel kimchi. I’m a big fan of Matt [Carmichael] and Jordan [Holley]’s fish taco and wondered this summer about whether lobster might be quite tasty as well.
James Bratsberg, MēNa
THE TAKEOVER: Restaurant e18hteen
It would be great to hang out in my old home for a bit and catch up with some friends.
THE DISH: I’d probably end up doing some sort of raw dish. I was working at the raw bar at e18hteen when I met Bryan [Livingston, owner and manager of Me-Na]. I wouldn’t plan out the dish ahead of time, though. More likely I would come up with it the day of — and then change it 10 times. Knowing Johnny [Korecki, chef] and Kirk [Morrison, chef de cuisine], they would have come up with tons of fun goodies and projects over the summer, so I’d be able to steal from them.
Joe Thottungal, Coconut Lagoon
THE TAKEOVER: Ace Mercado
It would be a good opportunity to learn more about another ethnic cuisine in the city.
THE DISHES: I would come up with some unique tacos, incorporating Indian spices and recipes. I like the idea of using very different taco fillings, making them very flavourful.
This article was originally printed in the Winter 2015 issue of OTTAWA magazine, now on newsstands