We always fly into St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, knowing we can expect a mighty good party (followed by a fabulous after party (or two)) and we were not disappointed. The hospitality was open-armed and it was a pleasure to give a little of it back through our event, which seemed to delight the sold-out crowd of 400. Seamus O’Regan was our affable and witty emcee, ably assisted by Marnie McBean. Musically, we had one of the best, most rocking, awesome sets of the campaign with Barney Bentall, Anne Lindsay, Ed Robertson and Alan Doyle (you should see him in front of his home crowd – much dancing in the aisles). Jim Cuddy was away, playing a gig in Barcelona (that city may have been recently humbled by Glasgow on the football field but they deserve some fine Canadian music), but sent a phone message, allowing the good-natured but fierce banter between himself and Ed Robertson to continue even in absentia. Ed goes on our auctioned trip to Provence, Jim goes to Tuscany, and the rivalry is intense.
So was the chefly competition last night. Joining me on our adjudicatory panel was Senior Judge, television, radio and print journalist, Karl Wells, together with chef and educator Bob Arneil, restaurateur, food consultant and stylist Kitty Drake, columnist and all-round food guru Cynthia Stone, chef Todd Perrin from The Chef’s Inn and (coming next spring) Mallard Cottage restaurant, last year’s St John’s gold medal winner, Chef Mike Barsky, and a visiting guest judge, the Senior Judge of both our Saskatoon and Regina events, author and broadcaster CJ Katz who was in town promoting her new book and was invited to join the table. For once, in St. John’s, there was no clear runaway winner, with only a few percentage points separating our top four contenders.
Chef Roary Macpherson’s dish won the bronze medal
The bronze medal went to Chef Roary MacPherson of Oppidan. He called his dish “Cheek on Tongue” – and why not, since that was exactly what we found on the plate – a small, succulent and tender slab of beef cheek set upon a slim slice of braised tongue, both bathed in a rich brown gravy. On top of the meats lay a breaded and deep fried egg yolk and chef urged us to cut into it so that its yolk might seep down over the beef cheek. Across the plate stood a cuboid panna cotta nicely nippy with Five Brothers blue cheese and chef had hollowed out the top of it and filled it with tiny, sweet pink pearls that tasted of Ribena blackcurrants. A stripe of honeyed carrot purée fairly sang with flavour. For his wine match, Chef MacPherson chose a big, mature 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend from Blasted Church Vineyards in British Columbia.
Chef Mark McCrowe’s dish won the silver. Thanks to CJ Katz for the image
Our silver medal was awarded to Chef Mark McCrowe of Aqua Kitchen/Bar (and now also of The Club, his brand new spot for steak, oysters and beer). He too named his dish, hitting upon the title “Newfoundland duck at the pub.” There were three components, starting with half a sturdy Scotch egg made of finely ground duck sausage packed around a cooked quail egg, its yolk (deliciously) not quite set. Beside the Scotch egg were some ribbons of pungently pickled carrot, onion and beet and a broad stripe of roasted beet ketchup. The second component was a “shepherd’s pie” of juicy duck confit topped with a layer of parsnip-and-potato purée and crowned with a thick slice of very tender and flavourful duck breast that had been smoked with Tetley tea leaves. The final element was a suave take on the old Newfoundland tradition of a Jiggs dinner – normally a one-pot boil of salted meat and root vegetables with a pease pudding cooking in a bag inside the pot. Chef McCrowe turned the idea on its head by combining salt duck and vegetables into a dainty terrine and turning the pease pudding into an ethereal mousse with the infusion of a little foie gras to further ennoble its texture. It was a most original plate and a fine match to the fresh, fruity 2011 Gamay from Malivoire in Niagara.
Chef Shaun Hussey of Chinched Bistro won the gold
And so to our gold medallist, Chef Shaun Hussey of Chinched Bistro. Two major proteins shared the limelight on his plate, one a medallion of cod that parted into moist petals as I cut through the shoelace-thick ribbons of fried potato that encircled the fish. Beneath it was a hank of soft “braising greens,” a local term for beet tops or other tops that are slowly braised. The second element was a sort of timbale of ham hock, the hock slowly cooked until the fat melted and the flesh fell apart and the skin turned almost to jelly. Then chef chopped everything up, pressed it and cut out cylindrical portions. On top of this delicious mountain was a teaspoonful of a tangy and sweet smoked apple relish. Serving as sauce for both components, a cider-brown-butter vinaigrette was most successful. Chef Hussey’s wine was an equally smart choice, the lightly oaked 2010 Sketches Chardonnay from Tawse, in Niagara. All ever so scrumptious and our congratulations to all the chefs. It’s Shaun Hussey who will join his fellow gold medallists from across the country in Kelowna next February together with the victor from our last and final event of the campaign, next week in Vancouver. And now, here is the St. John’s GMP Wine Report, recording the Best in Show judgements of Tom Beckett (wine educator, wine taster, and wine writer with over 30 years experience professionally pairing wines with food), Steve Delaney (President of the St. John’s Chapter of the Opimium Society and regular wine columnist for The Telegram), and Karl Wells, who stepped in at the last minute to replace GMP’s National Wine Advisor, David Lawrason. Karl has been producer of the wine cellar segments for the Rogers TV program, One Chef One Critic, for five seasons. He also writes about restaurants, food and wine for The Telegram. And it was Karl Wells who penned this report…