Canadian Culinary Chamipionships
Mystery Wine: Chefs are given a mystery bottle of wine and must create a dish with local ingredients that best complements the mysterious vintage, in a set amount of time and with a set budget. For the guests, it is fascinating to taste each of the unique dishes with the same mystery wine.
The Black Box: One of the most exciting parts to the competition! Chefs are given only ten minutes, and a black box containing a small array of diverse foods from across Canada and must produce and plate a spectacular dish for the national judges. All in one very short hour! Guests get an Iron Chef type competition experience…and are right in the kitchen where all the action is!
The Grand Finale: On the final night of competition, anything goes. Chefs create their best dish for guests to sample, paired with a great wine from their regional winery partner.
Canadian Culinary Champion
Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar
Pairing: Sea Star 2016 Ortega, Pender Island, BC
L’Atelier Joël Robuchon
Pairing: Painted Rock 2013 Syrah, Okanagan Valley, BC
Pairing: Benjamin Bridge NV Brut Rosé, Gaspereau Valley, NS
Best of Show Results
Tantalus Vineyard 2015 Reisling
Flat Rock Cellars 2016 Nadja’s Vineyard Reisling
Nichol Vineyard 2014 Old Vine Syrah
Four Winds Nectarous
Dieu Du Ciel Péché Mortel
Show Your Support
by James Chatto
To balmy Kelowna for the 12th running of the National Finals, the weekend-long competition between the winning chefs from the eleven regional contests.
For the last couple of years, Laura Kittmer and the Britsh Columbia Wine Institute have been kind enough to host the judges to a spectacular feast on the Wednesday evening when we all arrive. This year, they did so again, bringing us to the splendid Red Fox Club restaurant at Indigenous World Winery, the first winery on the planet entirely owned by indigenous people – namely, an eminently hospitable couple, Robert and Bernice Louie. Chef Andrea Callan cooked a stellar banquet for us, highlighting aboriginal cuisine, including superb sea urchin brûlée, quail egg hidden in a ball of ground pemmican, impeccable squab, and – the highlight – elk tenderloin with an amazing sauce made entirely from lichen that had so much deep flavour and umami it might have been a Mexican mole laced with Marmite. And we were delighted by the wines, all presented by the winemakers – marvellous treats from Little Farm, Le Vieux Pin, Sandhill Wines, Vista D’oro Farm and Winery and Indigenous World Winery itself who kicked the evening off with a first-class dry sparkling rosé made from its Pinot Noir.
The evening was a fine opportunity for the judges to calibrate their palates, and also to pick up the threads of conversations from previous years. Let me tell you who was there. Alas, our Senior Judge from St. John’s, Chef Roary Macpherson, wasn’t. Stricken with an ear infection the day before he was due to fly out to Kelowna, he was forced to remain in Newfoundland on doctor’s orders. So our Senior Judge for Halifax, journalist, writer and restaurant critic, Bill Spurr, had farthest to come. From Montreal, restaurant critic, writer, lecturer and anthropologist, Robert Beauchemin. From Ottawa, author and broadcaster, senior editor of Taste & Travel Magazine and former restaurant critic of the Ottawa Citizen, Anne DesBrisay. From Toronto, writer and editor, intrepid explorer of the industrial food complex, Sasha Chapman. From Winnipeg, chef, pastry chef and restaurateur, Barbara O’Hara. From Regina, author, food writer, documentary food photographer and broadcaster, CJ Katz. From Saskatoon, writer, journalist and all-round food guru, Noelle Chorney. From Edmonton, wine, food and travel writer, certified sommelier and wine instructor, the founder of Edmonton’s Slow Food convivium, Mary Bailey. From Calgary, teacher, broadcaster, author and restaurant columnist for the Calgary Herald, John Gilchrist. From Kelowna, chef instructor here at Okanagan College and master pastry chef, Perry Bentley. From Vancouver, world-renowned wine and food judge and the wine and food voice for Western Living magazine, Sid Cross. And also from Vancouver, author, teacher, restaurant critic, and the editor-in-chief of Scout Magazine, Andrew Morrison.
We are the judges – and there will be Olympic athletes, winemakers, brewers, distillers, and the immortal rock band 54-40 on hand as well to add energy to the party. But the real stars are the chefs, together with their sous chefs and their posse of students from Okanagan College’s culinary program, who will duke it out in three gruelling competitions. Here are the assembled champions.
REPRESENTING BRITISH COLUMBIA – Alex Chen–Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar
REPRESENTING CALGARY- Blake Flann – BLAKE, Canmore
REPRESENTING EDMONTON- Shane Chartrand – SAGE
REPRESENTING REGINA – David Vinova – Wild Sage Kitchen & Bar
REPRESENTING SASKATOON – James McFarland – University of Saskatchewan
REPRESENTING WINNIPEG – Mike Robins – Sous Sol
REPRESENTING TORONTO – Lorenzo Loseto – George Restaurant
REPRESENTING OTTAWA – Briana Kim – Café My House
REPRESENTING MONTREAL – Éric Gonzalez – L’Atelier Joël Robuchon
REPRESENTING ST. JOHN’S – Nick Jewczyk – The Fifth Ticket
REPRESENTING NOVA SCOTIA – Barry Mooney – Gio
Yes, it’s a powerful group and includes one returning National Finals Champion – Lorenzo Loseto, who won it all four years ago, and another chef, Alex Chen, who won bronze two years ago and has unfinished business here in the mountains.
The Mystery Wine Challenge
We found out on Thursday night that the Mystery Wine was white. Twenty-four hours later we learned its identity – the 2016 Pinot Gris from Fort Berens, a winery in the steep, narrow, warm Lillooet Valley in British Columbia. Off-dry, weighty and aromatic, with rich notes of peach, orange, almond and apricot and a useful underlying acidity, it had everyone guessing (except one of the Judges, Andrew Morrison, who identified it precisely, having drunk it only last week at a barbecue). Most of the rest of us were thinking about Viognier or Riesling – as were most of the chefs, it turned out. Bravo to David Lawrason for finding a real mystery that inspired a fascinatingly broad range of responses from the chefs.
The judges adjudicate this part of the competition blind, sitting in a room where the dishes are brought to them one at a time, not knowing which chef prepared them. The chefs had told me what went into their dishes, but I kept their secrets safe until everything had been tasted…
Chef Mooney (Hal) decided to confit pork cheek, leaving the layers of fat and flesh meltingly tender and emphasizing the natural sweetness of the meat, which played beautifully with the residual sugar in the wine. Indeed, there were a number of other variations of sweetness in the dish – diced Ambrosia apples dressed with honey-pickled mustard seeds, for example (predictably yummy with the pork), and also roasted and diced chiogga beets. There was sharpness too, from pickled leeks and threads of shallot marinated with tarragon and olive oil. Brassicas brought in another section of the gastronomical orchestra – deep-fried Brussels sprout leaves adding a note of aromatic bitterness, mollified by a base of smooth white cabbage purée spiked with the mystery wine itself.
Chef Gonzalez (Mon) took a completely different approach. His exquisitely plated dish starred a slab of arctic char, slow-roasted at 46o until the juices were barely seized in the quivering coral-coloured flesh. Propped against it was a wafer of the fish’s delicate, crispy skin that simply melted on the tongue. Carrots featured three ways – as dots of a silky purée, marinated in brown sugar, cider vinegar and water, and as slim-cut raw dimes. Citrus, too, brought flavour, colour and sharp sweetness in several guises – as dots of clementine paste, and as dice and a brunoise of clementine and blood orange (so much subtler than orange and lemon). On top of the fish was a spoonful of mascarpone spiked with a hint of ginger. A sprinkling of bright green nori dust and fronds of tarragon and cilantro completed the dish.
Chef Chartrand (Edm) also chose a rich fish to match the wine’s sturdy body, torching a fillet of lean, raw Pacific salmon and setting it on a sheet of compressed shrimp flavoured with parsley and garlic, its texture as firm as poached scallop. A purée of salted beet decorated the plate and also appeared as a sauce-like condiment, while a pinch of finely grated Parmesan, sprinkled like snow, boosted the salt component, flattering the fish. It was the fruit and vegetable elements on the plate that really reached deeply into the wine – dice of bittersweet, lighty roasted grapefruit, a bean-sized ball of canteloupe dressed with lemon and olive oil, and cross-cut slivers of celery.
Chef McFarland (Sas) was next. One of the great treats that chefs and judges enjoy at the CCC is the chance for each of us to create our own tea blend – an opportunity offered by a brilliant company called Tea For A Cause (teaforacause.ca), the brainchild of Pierre and Amber Piché. Chef McFarland was handed a pouch of his own Spiced Sangria Infusion (involving black tea, tulsi, orange peel, raspberry, peach, chili and bergamot oil) on Thursday evening and he asked the judges whether he might use it as an ingredient in his Mystery Wine dish. We said yes, so use it he did, to poach chicken breasts which he then turned into a finely textured terrine dotted with apricot and tiny morsels of chicken leg that had been confited in duck fat. Two slices of this delectable creation were presented on crisp buttery crostini and were topped with morsels of the crisped chicken skin. A line of tangy red onion marmalade crossed the plate, flanked by thin discs of rainbow carrots that had been lightly pickled in Champagne vinegar (risky, but the wine held its ground). A loose white mousse of pear and Viognier flattered the wine more obviously, as did two cubes of peach-coconut gelee. Dots of green sauce had the herbal, garlicky tang of a Green Goddess dressing and the dish was finished with a scattering of microgreens.
Chef Chen (BC) made a very different kind of terrine, compressing a number of thick layers into a colourful mosaic. Here was albacore tuna, cured in citrus; there scallop and there sidestripe shrimp. A black stratum proved to be jerusalem artichokes cooked sous-vide and mixed with scallop mousse and squid ink. Altogether, the variety of different textures and sea flavours was most impressive. Doll-sized but intensely flavourful garnishes were nicely harmonized. A crispy white bubble of egg white and potato starch sat on top of the terrine, like a visitor from another planet. A bigger, denser sphere was made of apple and mustard gelee (the apotheosis of mustard). Tiny wands of apple offered a sound bridge into the wine, as did a rich fennel crème fraîche. And what was that red, triangular thing far away on the edge of the plate? A tissue-thin slice of watermelon radish pinched into the shape of a cardinal’s hat. The dish was unified by pouring on an ethereal, pink dashi broth flavoured with sunchoke, shrimp shells and bonito, and finished with radish garnishes and a frond of chervil.
Chef Flann (Cal) took a more robust and more playful approach, imitating a split marrowbone by carving a “bone” out of zucchini then charring and roasting it briefly (its texture was juicy but still quite firm). The “marrow” inside it was a warm, very smooth purée of mushroom, onion, garlic and an oil-based commercial product called Vegan Butter. Bright yellow turmeric gastrique was dramatically offset by a big shard of a firm black cracker made with charcoal and fenugreek. Miniature cylinders of lemon-compressed asparagus and a couple of sunflower shoots brought vegetal flavours to the plate while crushed toasted almonds and enoki mushrooms echoed the earthy flavour of the “marrow.”
Chef Jewczyk (St.J) chose pork belly as his protein, giving it a quick cure with sugar and salt then slow-roasting it to a state of unctuousness, moistened with a smoked pork and cider jus. Vivid dots of carrot purée spiked with sea urchin almost stole the show, ranged around a salad of Pink Lady apple, micro sprouts, crunchy celery and toasted oats – the variety of textures altogether delightful. Fennel seed and juicy raisined grapes punctuated the idea.
Chef Loseto (Tor) also decided a salad was the solution, with ingredients all commingled so that every forkful of flavours, while subtly different, approached the wine with the courage and enthusiasm of a group. A mixture of succulent snow crab and king crab (all that Kelowna’s superb seafood shop, Codfathers, could supply) was the stand-out protein, speckled with soft quinoa and sidekicked by tiny florets of roasted cauliflower, their flavour boosted with cumin, leek, paprika, garlic and bacon fat. Fresh orange marinated in olive oil and salt called out to the Pinot Gris, and there were many other insruments in Chef Loseto’s band, including mint leaves, baby kale, toasted almonds, raisins spiked with cinnamon and chili, brûléed avocado, caramelized shallots with bacon, and sticks of crunchy carrot. It sounds cacophonous, but Lorenzo knows from orchestration. Beneath it all lay a resonant pool of tarragon crème fraîche subtly flavoured with parsnip and apricot.
Chef Vinoya (Reg) likes to name his dishes. He called this creation “Anarchy” and consciously set out to defy conventional ideas about matching food to a white of this style. The base of the dish was a mound of pungent soil made from garlic and cacao. Above it were two long rectangular logs of mashed and roasted purple yam – visually most dramatic and tasting something like spiced banana. We found a mousse of cauliflower and cashew “cheese” and a mound of crushed roasted pumpkin seeds. Thin slices of raw cauliflower were dramatically white beside perfect little nasturtium leaves and sprays of yellow dill blossom. In all, the flavours were distinct and self-contained, exotic but harmonious – and the visual appeal was off the chart.
Chef Kim (Ott) produced something equally sculptural and equally beautiful in its way, with a disc of mushroom and pumpkin seed panna cotta as its foundation. Onto this she piled a purée of smoked rutabaga and tarragon, parsnip chips for crunch and sweetness, and charred rings of leek bringing an exciting, bitter flavour to the party. She had used mustard seeds and some of her bottle of mystery wine to poach pears, which she turned into tiny balls. Then she scattered the plate with a crunchy edible soil of toasted rye bread, cashew, fennel, cinnamon and nutmeg. Twisting and turning up from the peak of this mound was a pale puffed rice noodle, like the ghost of a baby snake.
Chef Robins (Win) was the last chef to send in his dish – another stunningly beautiful creation. He took East Coast halibut cheeks and West Coast mussels and brined them in a mixture of caramelized tomato and grapefruit juice, spiced up with Juniper. Then he dried the seafood and cold-smoked it lightly in a haze of applewood. He made dainty Parisian gnocchi and poached them in a court bouillon to set beside the cheeks and two or three squares of crunchy pickled jicama to give textural variety. There were two sauces on the plate, the first a rich bisque made from shrimp and lobster shells infused with dried chanterelles. The second was a charred scallion oil which provided the hint of bitterness so many of our chefs felt was needed to penetrate this wine’s defences. Dots of a stiff cashew and celery root cream added further richness while saltiness got a boost from trout roe marinated in simple syrup, mirin and fish sauce. Balanced over the top, like a fisherman’s net, was a crisply latticed potato-olive-oil cracker.
Outside in the ballroom, the crowd of 400 had made its decision, awarding the people’s choice to Chef Mike Robins from Winnipeg. And yes, it was a super dish. We judges gagged our opinions as we handed in our individual scores and waited for the numbers to be crunched. And when the miso dust had settled it was clear that one chef – Alex Chen of BC – had urged himself forward from the pack. Éric Gonzalez of Montreal was a pace behind him. And following him, clustered so close we could barely discern daylight in the huddle, were the other nine chefs. No one had faltered; certainly no one had crashed and burned (as has happened in other years). Was it the most impressive Mystery Wine showing of the last dozen years? All things considered, it was certainly in my top one or two.
Ah, but what would the Black Box bring?
The Black Box
Saturday morning – up with the lark to meet the chefs and sous chefs in the hotel lobby at 7:25. Most of the judges had left earlier to power-walk the 40-minute hike to Okanagan College. We stage our Black Box competition in the kitchen of the College’s Culinary Arts department where there’s enough space for three chefs at a time to cook and for the eager crowd to stand and watch them work. Students provide excellent breakfast/brunch in the cafeteria dining room and some of Kelowna’s finest culinary artisans bring their wares to delight our guests. Judge Andrew Morrison provides a most entertaining commentary and the whole morning is broadcast live on the net.
The rules are strict. Each chef must make one dish using all seven ingredients hidden inside the black box and plate it for all the judges. If they go even a single second over the allotted hour, they are heavily penalized. This year the black box contained the following: a whole skinned rabbit from Fraser Valley Rabbitry, British Columbia, with its liver in a separate bag (chefs could use both components, or either); a bag of frozen Zweigelt Icewine Grapes from Summerhill Pyramid Winery, British Columbia; some Cripps Pink Apples from BC Tree Fruits, British Columbia; Kohlrabi from Wise Earth Farms, British Columbia; Balkan Style Feta from Coteau Hills Creamery, Saskatchewan; a bag of Milled Flaxseed from Prairie Flax Products, Manitoba; and 18 beautiful Beausoleil Oysters from New Brunswick. Forty percent of the marks are awarded for creativity and I always try to collate ingredients that can be used in a wide variety of ways. There is also a generous communal pantry upon which the chefs can draw. This year, I was delighted with the imaginative solutions the chefs discovered and most impressed by the beauty of all the presentations.
Chef Nick Jewczyk (St. J) was the first competitor. He pan-seared the rabbit saddle until it was cooked through but still juicy and tender and set a small piece on top of a salad of very thinly sliced radish and kohlrabi. The icewine grapes became a sweet, intensely flavourful sauce that he dotted sparingly onto the plate. He crusted the rabbit liver with flax seed and fried it to a nice crispness then topped it with a raw oyster, dressing the Beausoleil with an apple, kohlrabi and jalapeño mignonette. A little crumbled feta finished that side of the dish.
Chef Briana Kim (Ott) came next with a dramatically contrasted red and green presentation. She stuffed the rabbit loin with its chopped liver and feta then rolled it in panko crumbs to make a popper which she pan-fried. The crust was crispy, the meat inside rare, the flavour excellent. Chef chose to add parsley to the oysters and turn them into a bright green cream, one of three sauces for the popper. The other two were a crimson sweet-sour sauce that used the apple and the icewine grapes, and a savoury kohlrabi jam. She toasted the flax seed, tossed it with salted oats and made a sort of granola to garnish the plate, finishing it with some fronds of watercress.
Chef James McFarland (Sas) also made splendid use of colour on his plate with a bold, bright yellow stripe of deliciously tangy purée made with apple, feta and carrot. A dot of beet purée was vividly pink, while another sauce turned out to be a sabayon that Chef made with the icewine grapes, shallots and egg yolks – a great way to tame the sweetness of the grapes. He made a mousse with the rabbit liver and used it to stuff the loin which he coated with flax and pan-fried. The oyster was also fried, delectably crusted in cornmeal. Chef julienned the kohlrabi and lightly pickled it – its crunch added another lively texture to the dish.
Chef Blake Flann (Cal) started by combining the rabbit liver and some of the grapes into a gorgeous paté which he spread across the centre of the plate. He stuffed the rabbit loin with chopped apple and crumbled feta, rolled it in flax seed and fried it to a perfect tenderness, setting it on some chopped bacon in the middle of the paté. The oyster, marinated in lime and mint with chopped kohlrabi, was placed on top. More of the icewine grapes became a syrupy reduction spooned beside the paté, with dots of a herbed oil and a mint leaf as garnish.
Chef Barry Mooney (Hal) was one of several chefs who misidentified the milled flax seed as ground walnuts – quite understandable when you taste it. (The mistake incurs no penalty.) It was one of the ingredients he used with feta and chopped apple to stuff the rabbit loin which he then wrapped in pancetta from the pantry, seared and roasted to perfection. He crusted the oyster in cornmeal and pan-fried it for a moment then set it atop the slice of rabbit loin. He used the oyster liquor to season a beurre blanc made with white wine and the icewine grapes. Buttery little snippets of sautéed mushroom contributed richness while tissue-thin slices of apple and kohlrabi and a little watercress freshened up everything.
Chef Éric Gonzalez (Mon) seemed to have all the time in the world as he wrapped the rabbit loin around a little bacon and put it in the oven to slow roast. He used the rabbit bones to make a delectable jus and turned the liver into a stiff, creamy mousse. The oyster was deep-fried in cornmeal and perched on top of a mound of julienned apple, crumbled feta and icewine grapes. A remoulade of chopped kohlrabi, apple and chive was another creamy salad component (the judges could have eaten it all day long) and Chef completed the dish with a crispy rasher of bacon and a little dusting of roasted flax seed on the rabbit loin.
Chef Shane Chartrand (Edm) presented a jewel box of colour, flavour and texture. He made a fine-textured, boldly seasoned sausage out of the rabbit meat and glazed it with reduced chicken stock. He served the oyster raw, dressed with mignonette flavoured with the icewine grapes. He rolled pieces of feta in the flax seed, fried them, then rolled them in flax again for another treat then set out thin discs of lightly pickled kohlrabi. Three condiments were very well judged – a tangy apple jam, a delicious carrot purée and a drum of delicately confited leek.
Chef Mike Robins (Win) made a beer batter for deep-frying his oyster – a lovely idea – and also battered and fried chunks of feta cheese. The rabbit liver became a smooth, glossy mousse and the flax seed ended up as a crumble, mixed up with bacon and fermented black garlic. Chef made a pickle out of the apple, kohlrabi and icewine grapes, using beets and mirin vinegar and sauced the dish with a delicate, cadmium yellow aïoli.
Chef Lorenzo Loseto (Tor) produced a substantial dish of rabbit liver and fricaseed rabbit saddle rolled up in soft crepes like canneloni. Each judge got two of them, smothered with a jumble of roasted vegetables – kohlrabi, leek, carrot and potato – with a nicely judged variety of textures and flavours. A salad of mixed herbs and crumbled feta in a miso dressing crowned this little mountain. Chef made a green purée of the apple and oysters and turned the flax seed into a crumble with the help of some panko crumbs. A debonair purple stripe across the plate proved to be a piquant mustard sauce made by reducing the icewine grapes in red wine, brandy, garlic and mustard.
Chef Alex Chen (BC) took his hour to create a very dainty offering. He began by making a mousse of the rabbit leg meat and used it as the filling in a roulade of the rabbit loin and belly fat. This he steamed then wrapped in rosti potato before finishing it in the pan. He breaded the oyster with flax seed and panko and pan-fried it; the kohlrabi, apple and feta became a fresh, multi-textural slaw moistened with a red wine vinaigrette. The icewine grapes gave sweetness to a sweet-and-sour gastrique nudged by brown butter and flavoured with star anise, thyme, rosemary and garlic. He spooned two little pools of this onto empty parts of the plate.
Chef David Vinoya (Reg) was our final competitor and he took a unique approach to the morning’s challenge. He began by sculpting a dozen eggs into perfect hollow receptacles then used a knife to craft a dozen eggcups from the cardboard egg box. Chawan mushi was the first dish he ever mastered, long ago in his childhood, and that is what he made for us – a lightweight steamed egg custard that hid tiny amounts of each of the seven ingredients, all mixed up together. He laid sprigs of rosemary and thyme around his cardboard eggcup in a breathtakingly pretty way – and that was that!
It was a most successful Black Box with no chef incurring penalties for lateness or missed ingredients. Chefs Chen, Kim, Mooney, Gonzalez and Chartrand all scored within a very narrow margin of percentage points and as we looked forward to the Grand Finale that evening it was clear that Chef Chen was still in first place and Chef Gonzalez in second. Either one of them was catchable if they should happen to stumble. As for the bronze medal – it was there for anyone’s taking.
The Grand Finale
Oh what a party! Elite Athletes. 54-40 giving a whole rock concert. Canadian craft beers. Superb wines… And yes, there would be something to eat – the signature dishes of each of our 11 champion chefs. Whichever one of them took gold tonight would receive a spectacular prize – a trip to a cocoa estate in Africa or South America courtesy of Cacao Barry, the great French chocolate company.
The judges returned to their sequestered space to await the arrival of the dishes. Unlike at the Mystery Wine Challenge, however, we knew who cooked what, for each chef came in with his or her dish and gave us the details, answering our most penetrating questions with calm applomb.
We began with Chef Mike Robins of Sous Sol in Winnipeg. Like all our competitors this year, reprised the dish that had won him the gold medal in his home town. At its heart was a perfectly seared Nova Scotia scallop – so simple, so delicious, so hard to time for 600 people. The rest of the elements on his plate were anything but simple. Headlining in terms of umami-saturated flavour was a superb sauce – a beurre blanc made from a dashi broth and enriched with miso, Chef’s homemade Dijon-style mustard, lemon, wine and the liquor from the raw scallops. Button-sized slices of zucchini, pickled in apple cider and cider vinegar flavoured with turmeric and mustard, stood upon dots of puréed carrot. A half teaspoonful of pickled mustard seed was carefully judged – not too tangy – while fresh dill fronds and a cool herb oil made with sorrel, dill and chives brought a little chlorophyl to the party. Potato also featured, but in a most unexpected way. They had been put through a Chinese turning slicer, emerging like string, which Chef dyed black with cuttlefish ink, wrapped around a canoli tube and then deep fried into crispy spirals. The wine match was inspired – the bright, complex 2015 Tantalus Riesling from the hilltop that overlooks Kelowna.
Chef Alex Chen from Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar in Vancouver was the next to appear. He chose to create his dish inside an empty tin of Northern Divine caviar which he set on a bed of seaweed at the centre of the competition plate. Inside the tin was a treasure trove of wild B.C. shellfish meticulously set in a rich custardy chowder which was then topped with a translucent layer of golden gelee. “It’s all about umami and fun,” explained Chef Chen. That gelee was made from a stock of geoduck and sturgeon bones, the natural colagen causing it to set. Chef chose five kinds of shellfish – Dungeness crab, horse clam, side stripe shrimp, geoduck clam and sea urchin – and topped three of them with a little Northern Divine sturgeon caviar. He finished the dish with an ethereal coral cracker dyed black and flavoured with squid ink and a small green sponge of brioche that used clam juice and bull kelp. So labour intensive! But so delicious! Chef’s wine choice was excellent and provided a cleansing acidity to all the rich, umami pleasures of the food – the light, tangy, suavely aromatic 2016 Ortega from Sea Star on Pender Island.
Come on in Chef Lorenzo Loseto of George in Toronto. The principal element of his dish was a rectangular runway of toothsome, tender lentils, about a quarter of an inch high, spread with a sort of tartare made of lightly poached lobster chopped into a lemongrass mayo. The flavours of lobster and of lentil were notably vivid and bright and they went together delightfully well, enriched by a golden sprinkling of egg yolk that had been smoked, cured, dehydrated and finely grated over the dish. Lying across this soft, layered almost-terrine was an ethereally crisp anise wafer; beside it was a gathering of colourful vegetables. Heirloom carrots were presented in diverse ways – an orange one roasted in a little parsley oil until it was soft and sweet; a yellow one treated the same way but cut into slightly firmer dice; a red one sliced into a ribbon and rolled around a bundle of juicy chives (less than an inch long it was almost too cute to eat). There were crunchy rings of fennel and a scattering of fennel sprouts to echo the anise in the wafer, while a square of fresh fuji apple echoed dots of bright green, intensely flavourful apple jelly. A rich black garlic purée served as a sauce. It was the sort of composition Chef Loseto often creates at George – symphonic but never confused, with its own intricate harmonies working themselves out like a fugue of flavour on the tongue. Again, we were treated to an exceptional match with Chef’s choice of wine, the 2015 Chardonnay called ‘The Fifty’ from Leaning Post Wines in Niagara. Barrel-fermented but aged in steel, it offered rich texture but clean, unoaked aromatics, working equally well with the lobster and lemongrass and the earthy sweetness of the carrots.
Chef David Vinoya of Wild Sage Kitchen & Bar in Regina came in next. He called his sensationally beautiful dish The Nest and it turned out to be a most imaginative play on a theme of chicken. He began by creating an abstract circular pattern of emerald green watercress fluid gel that had a fleetingly sweet, herbal flavour. Powdered black olive added interesting saltiness to a mound of beetroot soil that was edged by two tiny areas of very rich, chilled chicken liver mousse. Into each of these Chef stuck a fragile little fin of chicken tuile, made by roasting and puréeing chicken, adding flour and isomalt and then dehydrating it into a crisp. Wee leaves of red-veined sorrel and star-like edible yellow flowers prettified the creation but the main event was a pale sphere, like an egg, rising mysteriously from the soil. And egg it was… Chef had cured eggs in the manner of the Philippines by soaking them in mud and salt for 30 days; then he turned the yolks into a firm, super-smooth ice cream. You might expect a touch of umami in the flavour of eggs treated this way but the final taste was of rich, custardy yolk and an almost caramel-like sweetness. Chef finished the dish by holding a catkin over the plate and tapping it so that the pollen fell like fine dust onto the egg. “It’s quite flavourless,” he explained, “but packed with nutrients and minerals, so this dish is good for you as well as delicious.” The chosen wine worked really well with the subtle, pervasive sweetness of the dish – a bubbly for which I have a particularly soft spot, and which has taken other chefs to gold in the past – Benjamin Bridge’s exotic, Muscat-scented Nova 7 sparkling wine from Nova Scotia.
Chef Briana Kim of Café My House in Ottawa was our fifth competitor, boldly presenting the vegan dish that triumphed for her in Ottawa. Its main event was a cremini mushroom panade that was given a meaty texture by a complicated process that involves baking, dehydrating and sous-viding the ‘shrooms. The panade is then marinated in miso butter and lightly seared. Chef Kim topped it with some whole smoked mushrooms, leaves of charred cabbage the size of large postage stamps, petals of pearl onion, and sweet, crunchy balls of Asian pear. Portobello mousse added richness and the flavours were all brought together by a piping hot broth scented with Kombu and charred onion that Chef poured into the bowl. Micro greens added bright colour and resting across the bowl was a long crisp made from rice studded with fennel, black sesame and coriander. Her choice of beverage was the delightful, fruity, forthright Izumi of the North Junmai Genshu sake from the Ontario Spring Water Sake Company in Toronto – a wonderful match.
Chef Shane Chartrand of Sage in Edmonton was our next champion. His dish was a visual stunner that he entitled “The Effects of Red.” He began the plating by putting three pools of wildflower honey and huckleberry sauce onto the plate; then he turned the plate on its edge so the droplets of sauce became red streaks a few inches long. Then came larger dots of a rich and tasty almond-and-parsnip purée, and a scarlet ball of red-wine-poached pear. Against these rooty, fruity background flavours he set his two proteins – a slice of a dense but juicy terrine of pheasant breast enriched with pork neck fat, and beside it a wee drum of foie gras torchon, sprayed with a mixture of beet juice and cognac to perpetuate the “red” theme. The finishing touch was a shard of red coral as crisp as melba toast, made by frying a watery batter on a very hot surface. Chef’s wine match did not let the side down – indeed, he explained that he had started conceiving of his dish with the wine already chosen: the 2015 Tantalus Pinot Noir.
Chef Barry Mooney of Gio in Halifax now entered the room. His dish also looked spectacular – a slim slice of ham hock terrine, draped elegantly from the rim of the bowl down into its centre, crowned with all sorts of treasures. Chef finished the dish at the judges’ table, pouring on a warm, golden smoked pork consommé with a marvellously meaty fragrance. It had the happy effect of loosening the texture of the terrine and releasing its flavours. Meanwhile we were busy exploring the other elements of the dish. Chef might have merely chopped up a scallop to include as a garnish; instead he puréed it with lemon zest and parsley then poached it sous vide. Then he chopped it up and included morsels of it on the terrine runway. Beside it were tiny bricks of foie gras mousse, a brunoise of lightly pickled carrot, miniature sheets of haskap jelly, dots of carrot purée and a garnish of fennel fronds. The final flourish was a crunchy lacework tuile of squid-ink batter adding crunch and salty umami to the delicious creation. Chef’s chosen wine was a clever accompaniment – bright, minerally but not too aggressive, the sparklingly sophisticated NV Brut Rosé from Benjamin Bridge in Nova Scotia’s Gaspereau Valley.
Chef Éric Gonzalez of L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Montreal was our eighth competitor. He traced two comets of haskap berry and blackberry coulis around the edge of the plate to paint a perfect purple circle in the centre of the plate, each one chasing a small mound of squash purée and a dot of black truffle paste. Closer to the centre, like two tiny yellow satellites, were sculptures formed of two dime-sized circles of marinated butternut squash joined to each other by dots of chestnut purée and topped with a minute, bright blue flower petal. The twin suns around which these elements spun were two drum-shaped slices of protein, half of it made of quivering foie gras, the other half superlatively tender Alberta bison loin. Chef had joined the two meats together with protein, rolled them into a cylinder like a torchon, and cooked them sous vide, a technique he understands as well as anyone on the planet. Coarsely ground pepper and a freckling of gold leaf added further riches. The wine that accompanied this little masterpiece was the 2013 Syrah from Painted Rock in B.C. – a powerful, intense beautywith a nose of ripe black cherries and anise. Chef had tuned his berry coulis to precisely the same frequency.
Enter Chef Nick Jewczyk from The Fifth Ticket in St. John’s accompanied by our gallant food runners. Everything on the plates they carried was delicious and harmonious. At stage left Chef had placed a slice of beef cheek, moist, tender, first seared then confited in beef fat. It tasted spectacularly meaty, sharing a little of its black garlic demi-glace with the nicely chewy wheat berries that lay beneath. The second protein was two slices of smoked beef tongue, silky and delectable, and the third was bluefin tuna – not as a piece of fish but as dabs of a tonnato sauce. Veal tonnato happens to be one of my favourite dishes; I now know that smoked tongue with tonnato sauce is every bit as scrumptious. That tongue was placed on a heap of tangy, lightly fermented “sauerkraut” made from Brussels sprouts and was topped with onion foam and half a teaspoonful of grainy mustard. Dots of yellow squash purée added further colour and the coup de grace was a translucent crisp of potato glass that tasted precisely of fried potato. Chef’s chosen bevvy was a very refreshing and welcome brown ale called Alli’s Big Brown Ale from the Split Rock Brewing Co. in Twillingate, Newfoundland – a natural match for the braised beef cheek.
Our penultimate plate came from Chef Blake Flann of BLAKE in Canmore. Alone this evening, it acknowledged the coming winter Olympiad in South Korea with a gojuchang-lacquered briquette of pork belly. The surface was crisply crusted with the sweet heat of the glaze, the flesh and fat inside succulent, melting and packed with flavour. The belly sat on a sheet of “prawn paper” – firm prawn mousseline flavoured with garlic butter and thinly sliced – that also supported chunks of tart pickled raw prawn. More acid kicked in from yuzu juice pearls and there was crunch from crisp, nori-dusted ramen noodles to add to the fun. As a sauce that worked equally well with the prawn and the pork, chef gave us egg yolk, slightly cooked but still runny. Then he mounded peanut powder crumble beside the belly and dropped two or three microgreens on top. The wine match was right out of left field, a dry, refreshing 2016 Pinot Meunier called ‘Bo-Teek’ from Vineland Estates in Niagara. Its fresh acidity and minerality stood up to the gojuchang delectably well.
Chef James McFarland of the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon gave us the final dish of the competition. His delectable protein was a tenderloin of bison, wet-cured in espresso coffee and smoked salt, air-dried, marinated in a spiced smokey espresso paste, cooked sous vide and finally flashed in a brown butter sear. A long process but the meat was marvellously tender and flavourful. On top of it was more bison – the flank, marinated in fish sauce and soy then shredded, crisped and infused with birch syrup vinaigrette. It had a powerful woodsy, ashy flavour that contrasted beautifully with the moist tenderloin. The accompaniments were more like condiments than sides – dots of french onion essence enriched with comté cheese and fish sauce; tangy petals of pickled pearl onion; a smoked corn purée and a dusting of smoked corn powder. Black currant appeared as a tart gastrique and an ethereal coral tuile. It all looked splendid and tasted delicious, especially when one piled several elements onto the fork. The wine Chef chose was superb and so was its relationship to the dish, bringing coffee and black currant notes into play – the 2013 Grand Vin from Osoyoos LaRose in the Okanagan.
And so the eating was over. It only remained to enter each judge’s scores into the master program. Our two front runners had not stumbled. Chef Barry Mooney won bronze by a hair’s breadth. Chef Éric Gonzalez took the silver medal. And Chef Alex Chen, to the thunderous delight of the BC crowd, won the gold. He had taken first place in each of the three competitions, working with extraordinary intensity and his victory was very well-deserved.
Congratulations to all 11 chefs, to their sous chefs and teams, to the hard-working judges and to the brilliant team that makes the entire weekend pass as smoothly as Alex Chen’s chowder.
A Fabulous Exposition of Canadian Wine
By David Lawrason
It was a great weekend for Canadian wine – a fabulous exposition of the stylistic range and skyrocketing quality. With 30 wineries aboard, guests experienced everything from fragrant Pender Island Ortega, to riveting Nova Scotia sparkling, to compact un-oaked chardonnay from Niagara, to tender pinots from Kamloops and powerful reds from the south Okanagan. Over five different events in four days, guests and judges experienced well over 100 wines.
The Wine of the Year
It was riesling that shone through in the most important event of the weekend – the naming of the Gold Medal Plates Wine of the Year. The bristling, energetic and intense hometown Tantalus 2015 Riesling from East Kelowna that carried the day. The prize? – a week long stay at a private villa at Borgo San Felice in Tuscany.
The first runner-up was the Flat Rock 2016 Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling from Niagara, and the second runner-up was Nichol Vineyard 2014 Old Vines Syrah from the Okanagan’s Naramata Bench.
We had a great line-up of wines from three provinces, including five rieslings, a grape that does remarkably well from coast to coast. It’s great to see chefs across the country choosing to pair this variety.
Our judges (see below) gathered in the wine tasting room at Oak and Cru restaurant in the Delta Grand Hotel to taste through eleven wines, each of them having won Best of Show honours in a city last fall. It was the strongest line-up quality-wise that we have experienced at the CCC.
The Wine of the Year finalists included, in tasting order:
L’Acadie 2015 Prestige Brut, Nova Scotia
Harper’s Trail 2015 Riesling, Thompson Valley
Norman Hardie 2015 Riesling, Ontario
Cave Spring 2015 CSV Riesling, Beamsville Bench
Flat Rock 2016 Nadja’s Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench
Tantalus 2015 Riesling, Okanagan Valley
Sea Star Estate 2016 Ortega, Pender Island
Tantalus 2015 Pinot Noir, Okanagan Valley
Nichol Vineyard 2014 Syrah Old Vines, Naramata
Mission Hill 2012 Compendium, Okanagan Valley
Osoyoos Larose 2014 Le Grand Vin, Okanagan Valley
The Mystery Wine
On the Friday night at the Mystery Wine Pairing Event, each chef created a dish paired to a single wine that I choose from somewhere across Canada. They received an unmarked bottle at the Thursday reception and had 24 hours to plan, shop for and prepare their dish.
Selection of this wine is always difficult. It must inspire and challenge the chefs; it must please 400 guests, and it needs to be different every year.
This summer, thanks to the British Columbia Wine Institute, I joined other writers on a trip through BC’s new more northerly wine regions – the upper Fraser Valley in Lilloet, the Thompson River Valley near Kamloops, and The Shuswap. It was a fascinating trip, an eye-opener, and I tasted some great wines, and met some people who are so excited by the potential of these “emerging regions”.
On that trip I tasted a very fine pinot gris from Fort Berens Winery in Lilloet – estate grown on the benches above the upper Fraser River. It had lovely fruit and freshness – very much a northern wine. And according to all reports it worked very well as our Mystery Wine.
Many thanks to owner Fort Berens owner Rolf de Bruin for his very generous donation, and for making the journey to join us for the festivities in Kelowna.
Each year almost 100 wineries, breweries and distillers from across Canada donate to the eleven events. And this year they went up scale with wines having an average $25 retail value. All of which creates the country’s largest consumer showcase of Canadian wine.
Our national sponsors, who donated wines to multiple cities across Canada in the 2017 campaign, included Arterra Wines Canada. It’s great to have Canada’s largest wine company back in Canadian hands, with iconic VQA brands like Innikskillin Okanagan, Jackson-Triggs, Black Sage and See Ya Later Ranch. Special thanks to Jody Levesque, and team at Arterra for teeing up such a great selection.
Mission Hill Family Estate was also a national sponsor – pouring a wide selection of Reserve and Legacy series wines all year. At the CCC they poured rarietes like the 2013 Organic Merlot, as well the Platinum Chardonnay from CedarCreek. Their 2012 Compendium poured in Ottawa was in the running for Wine of the Year honours (above). And Perpetua Chardonnay made a guest appearance at the Thursday night reception. Special thanks to Morna Cassidy of Mark Anthony Wines for all your help.
Each year we approach a regional sponsor to pour at the National Finals, and this year we received enthusiastic support from the wineries of the Kamloops Wine Trail, who brought out their best. Harper’s Trail, under the guidance of supremely talented winemaker Michael Bartier, poured brilliant riesling, cabernet franc and pinot noir. The surprising Privato Vineyard, a small pinot and chardonnay specialist in the North Thomspon Valley, featured three delicious pinots – including their National Wine Awards gold medalist 2014 Tesoro. And Monte Creek, the new showpiece winery on the Trans Canada east of Kamloops, poured excellent riesling, pinot noir and a cabernet-merlot blend.
And then there were several local sponsors, both at the Wednesday night “Last Supper” at White Spirit Lodge at Big White, as well wineries that donated to the Thursday night reception.
The Chase was on board to pour their very elegant “aromatic whites” and lighter reds at the Big White dinner that showcased the very elegant Asian-inspired platings of the 2016 CCC Champion Jinhee Lee of Calgary. I was not able to attend this year but all reports suggested that winemaker Adrian Baker’s wines hit a perfect chord with her cuisine.
Tantalus Vineyards was one the most generous wineries this year and in year’s past. They are paired with two chefs on Saturday night during the Grand Finale. And they poured at the Thursday night reception in Kelowna as well. Many thanks to winemaker David Paterson and Stephanie Mosley.
Ann Sperling was also on hand at the Laurel Packinghouse on Thursday, pouring Sperling Vineyards pinot noir and she also contributed her excellent 2011 Reserve Brut to the VIP Olympian tables on Saturday. For those who may not be aware, Ann is one of Canada’s leading winemakers, working on the family property in Kelowna, and also making organically produced wines at Southbrook Winery in Niagara.
And Harry McWatters joined in again this year at the Thursday reception pouring a selection from his newly built Time Winery in Penticton. Harry is also the Honorary Chair of the National Finals.
From Ottawa, on her first visit to the National Finals, I was delighted to work with wine writer, educator and National Wine Awards judge since 2005, Janet Dorozynski. In her position at Global Affairs Janet has become Canada’s top wine diplomat, doing more than anyone else to promote Canadian wine abroad through embassy events, state dinners and international trade fairs.
I was delighted to welcome back Rhys Pender, one of a handful of Canadians to have earned his Master of Wine honours; a veteran judge at the National Wine Awards of Canada, and co-founder of Little Farm Winery in the beautiful Similkameen Valley.
This year we were joined once again by Vancouver’s Sid Cross – palate extraordinaire – who is doubled as a culinary judge – and the Okanagan’s very own Harry McWatters, who is the Honorary Chairman of the National Finals.
For a full report on the chef performances please check out James Chatto’s culinary report here.
Thank you to the partners and supporters who provide vital support to the project!
National Finals Video
1120 Lynden Road
West Kelowna, BC V1Z 3L7