Gold Medal Plates (Calgary)
This is the continuing commentary of James Chatto, Head Judge of Gold Medal Plates, a culinary competition that criss crosses the nation and culminates in Kelowna, B.C. as the Canadian Culinary Championships. Because is supports the Canadian Olympic Committee and Own the Podium, dozens of our Olympic and Para-Olympic athletes attend on a regular basis.
October 26 ~ Calgary was amazing! What a great party we had last night with incredible energy in the room, a sold-out crowd who were clearly having a thoroughly good time and a regiment of Olympic athletes who filled the stage. Jim Cuddy and Barney Bentall rocked the house, accompanied by the very talented singer-guitarist Matt Masters and none other than Theo Fleury, who sang one of his own compositions to great applause. Watching the auction from the wings, it seemed to me that we must have raised a tidy sum for Own the Podium and our elite athletes – the whole purpose of all our fun and games.
Meanwhile, sacrificing themselves to an evening of fabulous food and brilliant booze was our amazing panel of judges led by Senior Judge, author, broadcaster and educator John Gilchrist, accompanied by catering guru and owner of Red Tree, Susan Hopkins, renowned chef, now chef instructor and Food Network star, Michael Allemeier, food writer and editor and publisher of City Palate, Kathy Richardier, and last year’s Gold Medal Plates champion, Chef Michael Dekker. Sitting in splendour on a raised dais in the centre of the room as the dishes and wines were brought to us, we all agreed that this was Calgary’s strongest showing ever.
Winning the bronze medal was a former gold and silver medallist, Duncan Ly (at right) of Raw Bar, Hotel Arts. “Things always happen to me on Gold Medal Plates week,” he confided. “Last year my son was born on the night itself; this year, I slipped and fell and knocked myself unconscious!” And indeed, he had a nasty gash on his eyebrow. But it didn’t stop him from performing like a star. His dish was a tour de force of classical technique – a “petite saddle” of lamb which he created by rolling the short loin around some braised lamb shank then wrapping the roll in the lamb’s tender fat cap. He cooked this sous vide then finished it in the pan so the meat was rare but spectacularly tender while the surface was as delectably crisp as the skin of a roast chicken. So much work! It was delicate and subtle, nicely paired with a tangy pearl-onion-and-raisin preserve and a little drum of apple-and-parsnip parfait topped with two postage stamps of goat cheese and a bundle of julienned apple sticks that set the whole dish off beautifully. A sauce of parsnip, apple and parsley mirrored the flavours of the parfait. Chef Ly’s presentation was impeccable and the wine pairing a nifty one – the rich, fruity 2009 Syrah from Sandhill in British Columbia.
Our silver medal went to another chef who regularly reaches the podium in Calgary – Cam Dobranski of Brasserie Kensington. This dish was “totally Cam” according to John Gilchrist – a simple open sandwich that really wasn’t simple at all. Sitting on a slice of baguette was a heap of sliced duck pastrami, very tender and ducky with just a hint of spicing. Alongside it on the bread lay a disc of silky foie gras torchon, its richness enhanced by a judicious suggestion of truffle oil. A chanterelle emulsion picked up the truffle and the duck flavours while a drizzle of excellent Turkish olive oil had its own fruity and soft-spoken comment to make. Topping the sandwich off, Chef Dobranski added a teaspoonful of his own stunningly good orange-peach-lemon marmalade which sent other flavour combinations ricocheting around the palate. His wine was a new discovery for me – a 2011 white blend from Black Hills Estate in B.C. called Cellar Hand White.
And so to gold. A couple of years ago, Jan Hrabec, owner-chef of Crazyweed, in Canmore, won gold at the Calgary GMP, ably assisted by her daughter and sous chef, Eden. Last night, Eden Hrabec herself competed for Crazyweed, where she is now chef – and won the gold medal. Her dish was substantial, risky, subtle, clever and delighted all the judges. She chose sweetbreads as her protein and prepared them immaculately, serving a big lobe that was piping hot, perfectly timed and finished in a brown butter sauce spiked with garam masala spices. (Shown at left). Beside it was an almost-bubble-and-squeak of smashed baby potatoes and wilted spinach lit up by coriander seed. A sauce of puréed apricots with more delicate masala spices had just enough spicy heat to slip from the sweet to the savoury side of the spectrum and a brunoise of preserved lemon had a sudden pickle-like intensity that brought everything to life. The final touch was a “papadom” that was actually made from crispy chicken skin flecked with black pepper. Chef Hrabec chose an accompanying wine that is a particular favourite of mine – the Alsatian-style 2011 Noble Blend White from Joie Farms in B.C., its weight just what the dish needed.
Gold Medal Plates is a national culinary competition & celebration of the finest cuisine in 10 Canadian cities. Chefs are invited to participate and the Gold Medal winner in each city is flown to Kelowna to compete in the Canadian Culinary Championships ( February 8/9, 2013). Gold Medal Plates captures much of the spirit and camaraderie of the Olympic Games with dozens of sports and music stars participating, from Adam Van Koeverden Canadian Olympic gold medallists Jamie Sale, Kyle Shewfelt and Cassie Campbell (usually between 20 and 30 Olympic medallists attend) to Jim Cuddy, Alan Doyle, Jim Robertson, Colin James, Anne Lindsay and Sara Slean to name only a handful.
Proceeds go to the Canadian Olympic Team’s efforts to Own the Podium