To Saskatoon yesterday for another triumphant Gold Medal Plates affair. Winter has already set in the heartland and the beautiful park around the broad and dignified South Saskatchewan river was shrouded with fresh snow. This did not deter our sold-out crowd of 500 eager guests who made their way to Prairieland – or the dozens of athletes who flew in to take part, led by emcee Adam van Koeverden, bronzed from a recent trip to
Mexico. Jim Cuddy and Ed Robertson provided the music – and a deal of entertaining badinage besides – and as the judges emerged from their lair, all deliberations done, we discovered a gratifyingly energetic auction in progress.
The core of our judiciary had also judged in Regina – Senior Judge, author and broadcaster, CJ Katz, author, journalist and broadcaster, Amy Jo Ehman, writer, chef and poet, dee Hobsbawn-Smith, restaurateur and gastronomic guru, Janis Hutton, and last year’s Gold Medal winner, Chef Anthony McCarthy of the Saskatoon Club – who was clearly itching to compete again.
Nine chefs cooked for us, all but one of them working with meat and red wine and, as has been the case in every city so far, it was immediately apparent that culinary standards had once again risen. The marks between second, third and fourth place were really close – barely two percent separating the
three chefs, but a clear winner emerged ahead of this tight and talented pack.
Chef Trevor Robertson of the Radisson Hotel won the silver medal with a particularly good-looking dish. At its heart was a thick slice of pan-seared foie gras and a small fillet of Chilean sea bass, its skin crisped, turned into a powder and then used as a crust on the fish. Backing up such luxe proteins was a soft risotto, also enriched with foie gras, and a tasty green pea purée that worked particularly well with the sea bass. A pretty little salad of frisée, beet shoots, baby nasturtium leaves and edible flowers brought in all kinds of subtle chlorophyl flavours while a truffled beurre blanc added a decadently earthy note. Bee pollen, a yummy lentil cracker and some beads of beetroot “caviar” finished the plate. Chef served the only white wine of the evening with his plate, the bright, tangy 2010 Chenin Blanc from Inniskillin’s Discovery Series, a fine example of Okanagan terroir.
And the gold medal? Chef Darren Craddock of the Riverside Country Club was the victor, working with delectable prairies lamb. He cooked the loin sous vide with a hint of garlic and set a little drum of it on the plate. He braised the shoulder and used the forked meat in a croquette with truffles, chanterelles and mashed potatoes – served piping hot and nicely crisp on the surface, thanks to a crust of hemp seed, and sesame breadcrumbs. Moist and rich within, it was a show-stealer. Frisée dressed with cold-pressed camolina oil offered a bittersweet, leafy moment while a broad swathe of celeriac soubise contributed another autumnal flavour. Dots of fennel oil and a dusting of fennel pollen were delectable afterthoughts, as was a minted green pea foam that worked predictably well with the lamb. A classic lamb jus reduction sauced the meat and the final garnish was a lateral slice of tomato, roasted to a crisp and so delicate it melted on the tongue, spiked with a crumble of pungent goat cheddar. Chef Craddock’s wine was the 2009 Bordello from B.C.’s Dirty Laundry winery, a lusty Cabernet-Merlot blend: its tannins seemed a tad too young and strong at first but then the lamb and the fennel tamed them and brought the wine into perfect focus, just as Chef intended.
Chef Craddock will be coming to Kelowna in February to compete in the Canadian Culinary Championship. Meanwhile, the Gold Medal Plates team has a busy week ahead with events in Ottawa, Montreal and St. John’s.