Go west, young man! That was the gist of my upbringing in the old country. How appropriate, then, to finish the 2012 Gold Medal Plates campaign in Vancouver. It was a fine affair, with Adam van Kouverden, our emcee, coaxing touching tales and much hilarity from a host of athletes, the direct beneficiaries of the room’s largesse through the Canadian Olympic Foundation’s Own the Podium program. The music was equally inspiring, thanks to Jim Cuddy, Dustin Bentall and two (count ‘em) dazzling violins (one each) in the hands of Anne Lindsay and Kendel Carson. What will become of us all now there are no more Gold medal Plates to look forward to until the cut and thrust of the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna next February 8 and 9?Ten chefs competed last night to join us there, four of them from out of town, and the gastronomical standards were remarkably high – one highly original and delectable dish after another, paired with some splendid wines. But before we get to the nitty-gritty, I’d like to thank the eminent team of judges who worked with me to determine the medallists. We have two Senior Judges in Vancouver, both alike in dignity: the international wine and food judge, Sid Cross, and the esteemed restaurant critic, editor, author and educator Andrew Morrison. With them, we sat down alongside a mighty parliament including author, chef, entertaining expert and Raincoast cracker queen, Lesley Stowe, all-star gastronome and proprietress of Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks, Barbara-Jo Macintosh, chef, restaurateur and culinary icon John Bishop, and last year’s gold-medal-winning chef, Rob Feenie. A potent posse indeed. In the end we all agreed on the four best dishes, then the three best, and finally the winner, though the marks separating those chefs who reached the podium were separated by mere percentage points.
Our bronze medal was awarded to the first dish of the evening, created by chef Angus An of Maenam. He offered a Vancouver version of a classic southern Thai dom gati but using salmon instead of the traditional dried and salted flakes of kingfish. And what salmon – so delicately smoked with coconut so that the fish was as soft as a silk pillow! The plump fillet lay hip-deep in a broth of coconut milk spiked hot and sour with fresh tamarind leaf, tamarind paste, fresh herbs and hanks of julienned green mango. Chef An had taken the fish’s skin and deep fried it to a crisp, enhancing the effect with powdered lemongrass that echoed the tang of the broth. On top of that he spooned salmon roe and green kaffir lime pearls and he found a brilliant wine match, pairing perfectly with the acidity of the dish – a tangy, intense, slightly off dry 2011 Riesling from Cedar Creek.
Our silver medal went to Quang Dang of West Restaurant and Bar who chose to work with duck. First he made a finely chopped confit of the tasty leg meat which he rolled into a drum and seared in a pan to give it a crispy surface beneath a subtle Pinot Noir glaze. He cured and smoked the breast and sliced it as thin as silk, setting little curls of the meat around the plate. There are apricot trees at the Foxtrot winery and Chef Dang picked the fruits in their season, using them last night – a half apricot preserved and then scorched to add a fascinating bitterness to the sweetness, little crisps of apricot as crunchy decoration. The third component was a smooth, savoury purée of Agassiz chestnuts, bridging meat and fruit, and there was a wee mound of breadcrumbs fried in the duck fat in the traditional English accompaniment to a game bird. Scrumptious! And also beautifully matched to the splendid 2009 Pinot Noir from Foxtrot.
And then there was the gold medal… The winner was Mark Filatow of Waterfront Restaurant & Wine Bar in Kelowna (I can only imagine the local support he can expect next year at the Championships!). Reading the description of his dish, the judges were excited to see he was cooking lion – a first for Gold Medal Plates – but it turned out to be a typo for loin – part of the tender little lambs from Bar ‘M’ Ranch that provided the protein on the plate. The loin was simply but perfectly prepared, grilled over charcoal but still pink and juicy. Close by on the plate was a thick chunk of merguez sausage made from the lamb’s shoulder and the neck meat cooked sous vide in chef’s chosen wine. The third component was a dainty lozenge of lamb belly braised with a subtle touch of Moroccan spices. We had a piece of roasted baby heirloom carrot and a tiny “doughnut” of deep-fried mashed potato the size of Cleopatra’s pearl – and no sauce to mask the elements. None was needed, the meats being so moist and intricately spiced. Chef Filatow’s wine was another remarkably accurate match – the 2010 Syrah from Orofino’s Scout vineyard in B.C.’s Similkameen Valley.So there you have it – the tenth chef has been chosen for the Championships next year. It’s going to be a battle royal in the Okanagan and I can’t wait to see what our competitors come up with!