Saturday, December 18, 2010

Comfort Food

For the most part I consider slow cooked meaty dishes to be the ultimate comfort food. But my mom's seafood casserole could very well make the top of the list. It's decadently rich and creamy and filled with giant chunks of yummy shrimp, lobster, crab, scallops and cod. It's heaven-in-a-bowl for any seafood lover.

I haven't been feeling much in the Christmas spirit this year. But a trip to New Brunswick and this dish specifically, reminded me that we are here. I may actually make some Christmas cards this weekend!

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Whalesbone Oyster House

I am in love. The Whalesbone just updated their menu and it is filled with delectable treats. The other night my friend Lara and I managed to make it through a few of the new plates, opting for apps so we could try as many dishes as possible – each one very easily shared. A bottle of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir escorted us the whole way and the chefs selection of oysters set the evening, and what was soon to be one of my best food experiences ever, off to a great start.

It seemed the world around us vanished as we engulfed in conversation, coming back to reality only when our dishes were served. First, Bigeye tuna, flesh tender and surrounded by decadently arranged halved caper berries, celery, fleuron, fennel pollen, black olive, vanilla and a sinful dusting of bitter chocolate flecks.

Next, a picturesque dish of ruby red raspberries, wild salmon crudo, bonito (I admire Charlotte's devotion to the mackerel family as I too am a huge fan), seaweed, black herring caviar, crème fraîche, almonds, lemon and sinful truffle oil. We reveled in every morsel, each one differing from the last as we opted for a more savory bite one minute, and then loaded up with the sweet berries and crème on the next.

Whoever says you need vegetables with your meal is out to lunch. Our third dish, bone marrow and foie gras served on a wooden board, is rustic in nature. Being tasked with digging out the marrow made the dish that much more special. I can still remember watching my grandfather patiently sort through the, what seemed like, millions of bones in his fresh-caught fish. Although way more tedious in comparison, I still feel that last bit of fat found in the bone equally rewarding. And if you don't get your fill of richness from that, the tantalizing piece of foie gras perched on perfectly crisp toast will have you feeling very satisfied. Surrounded by this melt-in-your-mouth pocket of richness was a graceful tumble of parsley, salt, dijon, white fish caviar, Balkan yogurt and sweet honey.

Finally, a lovely cheese plate served as a segue into our final dish – a yummy seasonal Christmas cake. And the last few sips of wine sadly brought the evening to an end. Bellies full and oh-so-satisfied.

Service, as always, was exceptional and every detail made for a memorable evening. Impatiently waiting for my next visit.

Whalesbone Oyster House
430 Bank Street
Ottawa, Ontario

Whalesbone Oyster House on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Steak Frites

I've been soooo craving meat recently. I think I must unintentionally deprive myself of must-needed nutrients now and then because my brain eventually kicks in and starts yelling at me, reminding me of what I'm missing. And when it does, I must listen. Luckily we had a dinner planned with two other meat lovers, Marysol and Simon. So we went all out.

Can we serve beef as the app AND the main? I think I may have pushed a bit for this one, and I'm glad I did because my husband did a marvelous job. As usual.

We started off with a carpaccio salad. Bright red fleshy slivers of fresh, raw beef. We actually called the butcher at the Glebe Meat Market ahead of time to request it. What they do is take a beautiful piece of meat and then freeze it a bit so it's easier to slice. My husband served it as a tower, layering arugula between the slices and topping it all off with shavings of parm and dollops of spicy dijon, lemon mayo dressing. I was in heaven.

Our main was equally delicious. A perfectly seared tenderloin topped with a delectable herb butter sauce – minced shallots, garlic, parsley and chives. Sautéed mushrooms were actually made to accompany the meat but were sadly forgotten in the pan until the last few bites. But it's never too late for mushrooms – and they were quickly devoured. And the frites, so carefully prepared. My husband followed the recipe on how to cook the best fries in his Cooks Illustrated magazine. I swear this magazine is like a mechanic's instructions manual, but for chefs. The secret to these golden beauties? Cornstarch and double frying.

Along with all this mouthwatering food came a lot of really good wine too. We actually started off the evening with a cheese plate served with Hinterland's sparkling White Cap – one of my favourite drinks to start the evening with and unfortunately only available in Prince Edward County. With the app, we enjoyed Sandhill One, a 2007 Cab Sauv blend from the Okanagan Valley – amazing wine. This also brought us into our main, until we finished it off and reached for Lockwood Vineyard's 2007 Cab Sauvignon, not a match to the first but a great pairing for the dish. And finally, I served my overcooked chocolate molten cakes (they were kind of lacking on the lava side) with a ruby port, Fonseca Bin 27 Reserve.

Amazing food, company and wine = happiness all over.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Braised Lamb and Polenta

If a meal like this doesn't turn a cold day into something positive, I don't know what would. Fall and Winter are what make meals like this possible. And living in what can be a very cold city has them happening a lot! I love walking into the house to the smell of lamb simmering away in a concoction of goodness. This one even went overnight – leaving me to dream of the final results during my unconsciousness.

I knew exactly which wine I wanted to pair with this meal. A couple of hours before dinner I pulled out my bottle of 2006 St Hallett Blackwell Shiraz. This wine was meant to be drunk with this meat. A heavenly pairing to say the least.

My husband filled the slow cooker with some port, red wine, beef bouillon, garlic and thyme before setting the lamb in for a long nap. He chose a cheaper cut since he knew he'd be cooking the hell out of it. The final result was a fall-off-the-bone, tender and full of flavour piece of meat that made your heart sing. A few tomatoes were thrown in a couple hours before serving to help cut the richness of the dish. And a spoonful of smooth polenta served as a cushion to the meat, as well as a sponge to soak up more of the delicious juices.

I'm so thankful my husband likes to cook. I seriously don't know what I'd do without him.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Do You Love Chicken?

Photo courtesy of the Chicken Farmers of Canada.

I know chicken often finds it's way on our plates. Luckily new tasty ways to cook and prepare it make it exciting each time. My husband is great at doing that, from chicken skewers, to chicken and pork burgers, chicken Marsala, goat cheese stuffed chicken, smoked beer-up-the-butt chicken, and the list goes on.

Another fun spot to get ideas and recipes is the Chicken Farmers of Canada Web site. With tons of mouthwatering recipes, easy tips and tricks – like buying local and how to brine a chicken, videos, and even personal interviews with local farmers, the site is pretty much your one-stop-shop for anything chicken. And right now they just launched a new site that's much more user-friendly and with even more info. Check it out!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Few of my Favourite Things

The things that keep me going in life are the simplest, most pleasurable things many people would just overlook. And it's so important to remember these little things, they're what keep us going every day. If you're just waiting for the next big thing, you're not living life to the fullest.

This past month has brought on many simple pleasures. Here are some of my favourite.

Marysol's (chez Edgar) warming sweet potato and coconut milk soup. So comforting.

Relaxing tea from Cha Yi teahouse, also available at Edgar.

And decadent buttermilk pie made by Lynne (the twisted chef) is all you need to put a smile on anyone's face!
Have you ever seen a happier Marysol!? (thanks for the photo Lynne!)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Wakefield Mill

Sometimes you just need to get away.

Work has been insane. This time of year is always crazy and the closer we get to Christmas, the less time my husband and I have for ourselves. I'm not saying that in a bad way, our time isn't just filled with working hours, it also includes many get-togethers with all kinds of socialization, which of course includes food. But it's during times like these that fitting in some alone time isn't just a luxury, it's necessary. When you're strapped for time, getting away can be a challenge. But having a place like this so close to home for a quick night away is perfect. I actually felt like we had taken a mini holiday.

Seriously, so beautiful.

And of course, what's an outing like this without a marvelous food experience to go with it!? Young chef Romain Riva has done a fantastic job creating a menu that turns the Wakefield Mill into a culinary destination. Dishes like red deer tartar and duck confit on wild boar sausage will have you salivating from the minute you start reading the menu. And we came prepared, stomachs hungry.

They also offer a discovery menu, which is a multi-course meal created by the chef. You don't know what you're going to get until it arrives in front of you. I absolutely adore this way of eating. We of course, went for that, and opted for the wine pairing to go with it. I don't think I've ever done a chef's tasting without doing the wine too, it completes the meal.

I'm not quite sure what I was expecting, but I definitely did not think the food would be so elaborate. I can't imagine the chef doing such crazy dishes like this every night (they don't offer it on Saturdays). But I guess, if it's not too busy, why not go all out and have fun with it – this of course, is my assumption only, coming from a woman who thinks making grilled cheese sandwiches is a pain in the ass.

We started off with a trio of Malpeque oysters, each one individually dressed. Harissa crème fraîche with green tea mousse and sake blanketed the first one. Next to that, a poached quail egg made for a unique taste experience. And on the third, a thick slice of flavourful Mamirolle gratinée on it's surface. Our pairing was a refreshing glass of Castillo de Clos Mont Blanc Cava Brut. What a way to start the evening!

Next, a yummy slice of in-house smoked trout and fresh parsley salad dotted with smoked sea salt was paired with a glass tube – the lower level filled with sinful butter fish soup and the top plugged with a Matcha tea cone of coconut ice cream. This was probably one of my favourite dishes of the night. The saltiness of the cone with the creamy ice cream was a match made in heaven. The soup was like dipping shellfish in melted butter but without having to actually do it. An Alsatian Pinot Gris, Pfaffenheim 2008, was divine with the fish and butteriness of the dish.

Our third course was paired with a duo of wines. Carmen, a 2009 Chardonnay from Casablanca to go with the seafood portion of the dish, and Nero di Troia, Casaltrinità 2007 from Puglia for the meat. The plating of this dish alone was somewhat overwhelming. A thick, large marble base was used to showcase the many things going on. I started off on the lighter side, tempura coated escargots and sea scallops with Espelettes chilis that were a little lacklustre in flavour. And then worked my way over to the bison tartare paired with some much needed cheese crackers. Along the way, swipes and dollops of beet and yogurt dressing, matcha tea crème fraîche, pumpkin coulis, watercress pesto, saffron oil and soya caviar. The pumkin coulis tasted slightly odd and bitter but we enjoyed the soya caviar that was a nice complement to the red, raw meat.

Our fourth course was a recipe for extravagance. Luckily some salty beet chips cut through the intensely rich foie gras duo that made the plate. First the foie gras torchon, decorated with neige (or popcorn for you realists out there). Slivers of beet chips sank into this melt-in-your-mouth, velvety smooth disc. At the other end of the plate, deep fried foie gras (yes, deep fried), tomato concasse and cardamom saffron chili. We barely managed to eat half. Neige, La Face Cachée de Pomme Ice Cider was perfect for cutting through the fattiness of this dish.

Tataki of kangaroo. Not something I was expecting to eat that night. I love trying new things and I especially love trying a new meat. I must admit however, it took a few minutes for me to chase away the cute, bouncy image I had in my head before digging in. I had to laugh when I later read this on Wikipedia:

There has been recent discussion from the kangaroo meat industry about attempting to introduce a specific culinary name for kangaroo meat, similar to the reference to pig meat as ham and pork, and calling deer meat venison. The aim is to have diners thinking of the meat rather than the animal and avoiding adverse reactions to the eating of a “cute” animal or “eating Skippy”.

The flavour was powerful and distinct. I love game and really enjoy strong meats. It was also very tender and cooked beautifully. The tumble of satéed oyster mushrooms with rosemary and honey gastrique alongside was magnificent. A daikon radish and cilantro blend added some much needed freshness to the plate. And the sweet potato chips were a savoury treat. I was also very excited about the Chianti Brumaia 2006 Riserva that went along with it.

At this point I had lost count as to how many dishes we had actually gone through. We were slowly eating our way into a coma. Melted manchego, pear and date chutney on crisp, golden baguette appeared before us. Next to that, the most intriguing item, a mousse-like concoction of sorbet, rosé and tomato foam. La Cuvée Glacée des Laurentides, Vignoble de la Rivière du Chêne, 2008 – a sweet dessert wine that was just perfect. I thought this was our final dish but I was quickly proven wrong.

Our final dish, a maple parfait ice cream served with almond cake, fresh fruit and goat cheese crème. A simply blissful way end to what I call one of the most intense food marathons I've ever been on. I must admit, the portions were very generous. And I normally don't have much of an off button, so very little was left behind. They served this heavenly dessert with another deliciously sweet wine from Rivière du Chêne called L'Adélard.

I've always felt that service is just as important as the meal itself. If you're not enjoying yourself, even the food can loose it's appeal. The opposite is also true. Which is what happened in this case. Our server, Sarah, gave us exceptional service. She made the entire evening one to remember. That and our window seat overlooking the falls and the warm and comforting atmosphere of softly lit tables, creating an oasis of calm. The only mistake my husband and I made was not taking a short walk before heading back up to our room.

60 Mill Road
Wakefield, Quebec

Le Moulin - Wakefield Mill Inn & Spa on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Grouper en Papillote

I think this may officially be the best way to cook fish. Steaming it in this little pocket keeps the juices together and offers a delectable end result. It also seems to fuse all the wonderful flavours into the fish.

My husband started off by thinly slicing some potato and tossing it with oregano, salt, pepper and olive oil. He then grabbed a piece of parchment paper and placed the slivered potato pieces in the center. Grouper servingwas placed neatly on top and sprinkled with salt and pepper, garlic shavings, oregano, black olives, parsley and slices of lemon. Finally, he wrapped it up, sealing all edges and placed it in the oven at 400 for 20 minutes.

When you pull it out of the oven, place the pocket on a plate and open it up enough to let the steam escape but don't remove it completely from the parchment paper. Serve a nice earthy wilted swiss chard alongside, or your favourite green. For sipping, a Pinotage is lovely with grouper.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pork Tenderloin with Chimichurri Sauce and Roasted Carrots

If you want to eat light but feel satisfied, these types of meals rock. The more care that goes into each serving of food makes all the difference.

Take the pork tenderloin for example. Good on it's own when barbecued to the perfect doneness. But mouthwatering and way more exciting with the addition of the chimichurri sauce – parsley, garlic, olive oil, red wine vinegar, chili flakes, cumin, salt and pepper all pureed together for a delicious topping. There's an official recipe here. My husband also slid in some slivers of goat cheese between the meat slices.

Now, on to the carrots. Oh boring carrots. Not these ones! They were the best I've ever had, with a sweetness that made you wonder whether or not this should be a dessert. My husband followed step by step how to cook carrots to perfection. Cooks Illustrated is a fantastic magazine for that, teaching you new techniques on making good things great.

What you’ll need
1 1/2 lb carrots peeled, halved crosswise and cut lengthwise if necessary
2 tbs melted, unsalted butter
Salt and ground black pepper

In order to evenly cook carrots, you need to cut them so they are similar in size. For smaller ones, less than 1/2 inch in diameter, halve them crosswise and leave sections whole. For a larger carrot, up to 1 inch in diameter, halve crosswise, then halve wider section lengthwise to create a total of 3 pieces.

Toss the carrots with the butter and salt & pepper and then lay them on a parchment lined baking sheet. Before sticking them in the oven, cover them tightly with foil, secured onto the baking sheet and then stick them in the oven on the centre rack at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and continue cooking, stirring them twice, until the carrots are browned and tender, about 30-35 minutes. Dash a bit more salt and pepper on them before serving.

Best carrots ever.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ottawa’s Gold Medal Plates Event

To a foodie, it's the event of a lifetime. Your favourite chefs, all in one room, preparing award-winning dishes and pairing them with the perfect wine. All you have to do, is eat. And drink. And be merry.

Going back to my childhood, I would compare it to being a kid and having free rein in a candy store. Sounds great I know. But imagine that feeling and then being told that you can only bring one treat home with you – that would be the situation the judges were in. Which thankfully, I was not.

I was so excited to be there that I wanted to savour every moment. I took some time to scan the first room and decided to start at the far end and slowly work my way down. I went to the first station where familiar faces were hard at work – chef Charlotte Langley and the Whalesbone crew. A row of hot chicks pumping out sticky, sweet, burnt honey smoked mackerel placed ever-so-neatly on a cushion of foie gras mousse, a rye base, and sprinkled with hazelnuts and lovage. I spent a lot of time with my dish. Enjoying every bite. What a way to start the evening. The pairing for this lovely morsel of goodness was a 2008 Vineland Estates Winery Chenin Blanc.

Then, between casual conversation with passers-by, I made my way over to chef Steve Mitton and the Murray Street table. Greeted with giant smiles and a plate full of pig, I excitedly grabbed a glass of 2008 Pinot Noir straight from Norman Hardie's hands. The wine went beautifully with the Mariposa Boreal piglet which was featured from head to tail. Crisp edges, even sausage in the center.

I was taking my time, working my way from station to station. The Fraser brothers offered a delectable plate of BC Spot Prawns and Lingcod with fenugreek curry and cucumber salad. So fresh and tasty. I loved the curry, making this light dish fit the time of year perfectly. Hillebrand Artist series Gewurtztraminer 2008 came with it.

Les Fougères and chef Charles Part had my tastebuds going crazy with their spiced ghee-smoked wild pickerel served on sweet potato stirred with lime marmalade and PEI Mehti mussels. A 2009 Harvest wine from Sandbanks Winery was served alongside. YUM!

All was good, so good, until an announcement was made that only 10 minutes were left. WHAT!? I hadn't even made it to the second room! This being my first time I didn't think to try and move on in a more accelerated fashion. I spent my time chatting, sipping wine. The pressure was on and I had just settled down with Michael Moffatt's plate of rabbit terrine with pickled watermelon and horseradish cracker herb linguine, grilled squid and bone marrow marinated duck breast with garlic scape kimchi, when they announced this absurdity. I tried to shovel in the heavenly trio of goodies on my plate as fast as I could so I could make my way into the second room. 5 minutes left the next announcement said. Sweat droplets starting to form on my forehead, I left behind a beautiful piece of meaty duck. Shame. I did manage to sink down the last sip of 2008 Fielding Estates Pinot Gris.

From there I went straight to René Rodriguez and the Navarra team. I had to, after all, this was the restaurant that made me start my blog. He served "The Ocean Within" – octopus confit with butternut purée, toasted hazelnuts, dulse sand, green chilies and coriander-mussel emulsion with a Casa-Dea Winery 2009 Chardonnay from Prince Edward County. I tried so hard to enjoy my plate. But rushing through delicious food like this is a crime and not an easy task. And that's where my biggest disappointment of the evening was – not making it to Marc Lepine's station.

Myself and food bloggers Don and Jenn from foodieprints and Shari from Whisk: a food blog have been promoting the event by setting up interviews with participating chefs. Marc Lepine was the first one we spoke to, and the first interview I've ever done. My heart sank into my stomach when I realized that they would get docked points if they served food after the time was up. I was SOL. And sad.

Others I missed were chef Ben Baird from The Urban Pear, chef Caroline Ishii from ZenKitchen and Michael Potters from Harvest. Even Don graciously offered to share one of his plates earlier-on as he knew time was ticking. Thank you Don. Somewhere deep in my mind, I actually thought I had enough time. Live and learn I guess. And boy, did I ever.

We made our way to our tables where a carrot cake whoopie pie was awaiting our arrival. Shortly after, Marc Dorion, a Sledge Hockey Olympian joined us. A wonderful and friendly gentleman who was also here for the first time.

The best thing about the Gold Medal Plates event are the funds that are raised for the Canadian Olympic Foundation which supports athletes and high performance programs such as Own the Podium. Over $4.1 million has been raised to date.

The evening went on with a live auction and live entertainment by Jim Cuddy and Holly Cole. As the final auctions took place in what felt like forever, my heart began to pound in anticipation of the announcement of the winning chefs and their teams.

Gold: chef Michael Moffatt of Beckta Dining and Wine

Sliver: chef Caroline Ishii of ZenKitchen

Bronze: chefs Ross and Simon Fraser of Fraser Café

After the announcement, it was almost as though my bubble had burst. Not because these amazing people weren't deserving, they totally were. It could have been someone else up there and I would have felt the same. It's that I felt that many of the others also deserved to be up there. And seeing some of them not win was hard to take. Even more so for those who's establishments I visit on a regular basis. Their food is part of my regular routine. Part of my diet. As happy as I was for the winners, I felt equal feelings of sadness for the ones left standing behind the spotlight.

Overall this is a fantastic event. I compare the experience to a Sonoma tasting I did recently at the Westin. Yes, you get the luxury of trying a lot of different wines. But it's nothing like being at the vineyard and tasting it there. Quickly tasting food, standing at a wobbly stand surrounded by dirty plates does not compare to sitting comfortably at a table, surrounded by friends, a bottle of the perfect wine pairing and staff who make you feel like a million bucks. If anything, this event has made me more aware of how lucky I am to be able to enjoy these fine restaurants on a regular basis.

And I'm looking forward to my Friday nights at the Whalesbone slurping oysters and sipping a Riesling, my Saturday evenings at Murray Street eating in-house prepared charcuterie and local cheeses, Sunday morning breakfasts at Fraser, or my special occasion outings at Atelier.

I'm happy we have the restaurants we have here. Congrats to all the wonderful chefs! You are truly exceptional at what you do. And thanks so much to James Chatto for such a great experience.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Perfect Dinner Party

I love having dinner parties. I love conversing with my favourite people while doing my favourite thing – eating and drinking.

Carolyn, a woman I met through my friend Gina, has been following my blog and eying all the wonderful things I get to eat. So when she came to town this past weekend, it was a must to have her try a meal from the man she's read so much about.

Upon their arrival (and the rest of the crew – Donnie, Greg, Teresa), we had a cheese plate set out with mostly all Fifth Town cheeses that we picked up in a recent trip to Picton to wipe away any immediate hunger pangs. We also had some yummy rhubarb preserve that my mother made and that went oh-so-beautifully with the cheeses, and a homemade rillettes from Aubrey's. YUM. We sipped on a glorious Prosecco with this first course.

Forcing ourselves to stop eating and save room for dinner was pure torture. Until the smell of garlic started seeping out of the oven. But before making it to the main course, my husband served a velvety honey roasted parsnip purée topped with a garnish of crisp, fried sage. I was in heaven. What an amazing soup. I don't remember the last time I fell in love with a soup this much (probably the last one my husband made). But wow, this one was just divine. Gina's Sauvignon Blanc went perfectly with the soup.

For the main, my husband served spatchcocked hens cooked to a skillful golden brown and crisp around the edges. The secret he says, is to poke little holes in the skin and then add a dusting of cornstarch before roasting. The meat inside was so tender and juicy – an expected result after the hours spent in the fridge marinating in garlic, brandy, olive oil, salt and thyme. And if all these beautiful flavours weren't enough, a mild redcurrant glaze finished the job, leaving each cornish hen ready to wow us. And did they ever!

Sides for this delectable dish – whipped polenta and fresh, al dente green beens tossed with garlic infused olive oil and chunks of roasted garlic. I served a Prince Edward County Chardonnay with this meal, as well as a wonderful Pinot Noir that Donnie brought.

For dessert, tawny port and a luscious, silky, vanilla crème brûlée made with fresh vanilla beans. This dessert is slowly becoming one of my husband's specialties. The last one we had was maple pumpkin. I love sitting back, closing my eyes and just letting the sweet cream and vanilla flavours fill every inch of my mouth before it melts away. Desserts like this never last long enough.

We also had a second dessert (you can never have too many desserts!) Teresa brought moist chocolate cupcakes with a smooth almost mousse-like icing on top. Desserts like these make you want to smile. There's an element of being a kid again but also the fact that it's really cake – and instead of getting the crappy piece without the big icing garnish, you get the whole icing garnish to yourself. What more could one ask for? A macaron you say?! She brought those too!

Thanks so much to everyone for coming over and making our dinner night so special!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Gold Medal Plates Cometh

The following guest post continues a series of Gold Medal Plates Event posts that we've been featuring leading up to the event in Ottawa. Which is now, oh my gosh!! only 2 days away! It's from the wonderful people at foodiePrints.

According to American drama critic and editor George Jean Nathan, "Opening night is the night before the play is ready to open."

This coming Tuesday (November 16, 2010), the production will be the Gold Medal Plates competition and fundraiser. The venue, Ottawa's National Arts Centre (NAC). Though, the culinary competition that aims to celebrate food and wine and feature the best chefs and wines in Canada, will not be held in a performance hall.

Gold Medal Plates was founded in 2003 and has since raised more than $4.1 million for the Canadian Olympic Foundation to support Canadian Olympic and Paralympic athletes.

Officially opened June 2, 1969, the 1.158 million square feet hexagonal complex that is the NAC will host Ottawa's Gold Medal Plates in four of its five event spaces.

Main Foyer

Le Salon

Fountain Room

Panorama Room

Said Jennifer Covert, Marketing Officer at the NAC and one of the voices behind the @canadasnac twitter account, "I asked where Gold Medal Plates would be held. 'Everywhere!' [was the answer I received]."

The event will likely spill into the mezzanine as well.

The NAC was created by Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson as the principal centennial project of the federal government. It was designed by Fred Lebensold (ARCOP Design), one of North America's foremost theatre designers. It first raised its curtains in 1969.

This Tuesday, competing teams, lead by local chefs, will prepare dishes for approximately 500 event-goers and a panel of judges. The event also pairs the teams with Canadian Olympic and Paralympic athletes. The chefs will compete for medals, gold, silver, and bronze. Gold medalists will compete nationally at the Canadian Culinary Championships.

The chefs,
The judges,
The host, Sylvie Bigras

Entertainment will be provided by singer-songwriter Jim Cuddy and jazz singer Holly Cole.

Already, Gold Medal Plates competitions have been held in Calgary, Toronto, Saskatchewan, Edmonton, and Montreal.

Buzz is starting to build in Ottawa as chefs tweet about preparing for the event. Chef Marc Lepine (@marclepine) even posted photos of his team's competition plate and how it is prepared. Ottawa Citizen published its Food Editor Ron Eade's Fired up to Compete, November 11, 2010.

Famed Canadian food and wine writer and judge James Chatto asked three Ottawa food blogs to help promote Gold Medal Plates, foodiePrints (us), Rachelle Eats Food, and Whisk: A Food Blog. We posted the last of our "Meet a Gold Medal Plates Chef" profiles this past Friday.

To read about the competing chefs and their restaurants, click on the following links:
To all the chefs and chef teams, good luck!

Facebook Page: Gold Medal Plates Ottawa

To purchase tickets for Gold Medal Plates, contact Sue Holloway (contact information below) or click here.

Gold Medal Plates Ottawa
Tuesday, November 16, 2010 6:00 pm
National Arts Centre
53 Elgin Street

Sue Holloway
818 Nesbitt Place
(613)274-3107 phone
(613)274-0851 fax

Friday, November 12, 2010

Guest Post: Meet a Gold Medal Plates Chef: Chef Charles Part of Les Fougères

The following post continues a series of "Meet a Gold Medal Plates Competing Chef" interviews you will see on the Fridays leading up to the Gold Medal Plates Event in Ottawa. It's from one of Ottawa's most amazing food bloggers – Shari of Whisk: a food blog.

For this installment of "Meet a Gold Medal Plates Competing Chef", we get to know Chef Charles Part from Les Fougères (783 route 105, Chelsea, QC).

Les Fougères, tucked into the tree-lined hills of Chelsea, used to be a rural gas station but was lovingly converted to a restaurant with old-world charm. Its creaky stairs and old-fashioned straight-back chairs with tied floral chair pads give it a casual air, but the white tablecloths and cloth napkins turn the easygoing ambience into something a little more special.

Chef Part comes from England where there was a lot of pressure to get into the family business, but he had a passion for food and wanted to get away from England altogether. It would seem he made the right career choice. He won Gold Medal Plates in Ottawa in 2008, was a judge in 2009, and has won several Wine Spectator awards through the years.

Chef Part works with his wife, Jennifer Warren-Part, and together they are dedicated to serving the best regional food they can. And they do expertly.

Chef Charles Part, Les Fougères

What's your philosophy when it comes to food and your restaurant?

I think the philosophy of our food is to try to keep as much flavour, good presentation and as much honest flavours as we can that people are comfortable with. And therefore, we try to source it locally if it's available at that time of year. Being where we are, it's difficult all year round to get what you want.

What inspires you? How do you come up with ideas for the dishes you create?

Inspiration comes from visiting places, different cultures and seeing what's in the market locally as well.

What's your favorite dish from your menu and why?

We change our menu every quarter. We have a table d'hôte that changes regularly too. This menu changed mid-September. One of the dishes I like is the one we won the Gold Metal Plates for in 2008, "The Mouth of the Saint Lawrence" that's salt cod ravioli. Of course we always have our confit of duck, which is one of our signature items.

What's the ingredient you can't live without? (other than basics)

Garlic. I can't live without garlic. And duck.

Is there anything you won't eat?

Tapioca pudding I'm not big on. And artichokes.

Do you have a guilty food pleasure?

Anything sweet. Milk chocolate. And pork fat, duck fat, anything fat. Anything that's bad for you.

What was your most memorable meal and why?

One of the most memorable was in Italy. It was in Sicily in a small fishing village. There was this amazing chef who kept bringing out wonderful things. Nothing specific. Just the atmosphere and the taste sensations. He served a carpaccio of shrimp that you could see through. And citrus oils. He did something with tomatoes too. It was all pretty tasty.

Italy has the best food. I did an apprenticeship in Paris and a lot of the classical food we start out with is from France. I think they take their food too seriously, though.

What would your last meal be?

I love truffles. When we were in Italy, I had potato soup with a lot of truffles in it. It had this pastry topping on it. So when it came out, and I broke the top of the pastry, this truffle ether came out. That was good.

If you could travel to just one place in the world for food, where would you go and why?

I'd be really interested in going to Japan because I've never been that far East before. A lot of the sushi and Japanese restaurants in North America are probably nothing compared to the wonderful things you'd experience there.

Describe your perfect Sunday.

Having a good brunch and watching a football [soccer] game on TV. Undisturbed.

For those who are newly attending the Gold Medal Plates event, how would you describe it? What can one expect?

There's a certain amount of stress to make sure all the plates are done on time. It all depends on how competitive you are, how stressed out you'll be. We're all committed to doing the best we can. And ultimately, we raise money for the athletes.

You're allowed into the NAC kitchen ahead of time, if you want to. We have to be prepared to make 500 plates, but we haven't been told the final number yet. The plate we prepare is like a small appetizer that you try and get as many textures on the plate as you can. It's only three or four bites so everything has to be quizzically interesting. It's a neat challenge.

For the general public, there's ten booths. You circulate and go around picking up the different plates. Every booth has a winery attached to it. Part of the judging is the matching of the wine with the dish.

For the judging, they're usually in a separate room and they bring in one plate and they taste the wine with the food and make their notes. I was a judge last year, which was interesting.

How would you prepare for a competition like Gold Medal Plates?

Emotionally, spiritually, mentally? Well, you wait for divine intervention and hope a thunderbolt will come down and say "YES"! I'm still fine-tuning my dish.

We've done it every year that it's been around. It seems to be taken more seriously now. And there are some excellent chefs in the city who don't even bother with it. They don't like that sort of scene.

But for us, it gets the staff interested in doing something different. We're allowed to take up to seven people so it gets them out.

[After we finished this set of questions that we've been asking all the chefs who have been invited to Gold Medal Plates, Chef Part showed me around his store and the property and talked a bit more about his restaurant.]

For the cookbook, A Year at Les Fougères, we had a photographer who was local. In the store, we were doing cooking classes, so we'd written a lot of the recipes already for the cooking classes so a certain amount of the work had already been done.

We're doing a big expansion in the back. Our kitchen in the store got so small because we got so busy in there. We're building a professional kitchen so we can actually start to produce and distribute food across Quebec to natural food markets.

There will be a production kitchen as well as a cooling room where all the packaging goes on. There will be a walk-in freezer. We'll have a private room for functions upstairs, which will have a nice view of the garden where we have edible flowers, herbs and vegetables. It will be a place where people can come and have wine tastings or private functions. When it's quiet in the restaurant, then we're busy there.

"You can't stand still. You've only got one life." – Chef Charles Part

Clockwise from top left:
“The Mouth of the St. Lawrence” ($18.50)
Pressed Terrine of Québec Foie Gras ($19.00)
Confit of Quebec Duck ($32.00)
Lightly Pan Seared Wild Baffin Island Arctic Char ($34.00)
Maple Syrup Pie ($10.00)

After talking with the chef, I sat down to enjoy a meal. And it was one of my most memorable.

“The Mouth of the St. Lawrence”, which is the dish that won Chef Part the Gold Medal Plate in 2008, filled my mouth with soft pasta wrapped around a brandade, which is a tasty marriage of puréed salt-cured cod, olive oil, potato, and garlic among other ingredients. Alongside sat shrimp, mussels and scallops drizzled with mussel fumet. Here's how James Chatto described it in 2008:

The gold medal went to Charles Part of Restaurant Les Fougères in the Gatineau River Valley. Part called his creation “The Mouth of the St. Lawrence” a region that inspired the dish. At its heart was a fragile raviolo filled with a rich brandade of Clark’s Harbour salt cod. A fresh Grand Banks scallop perched on top of it, its sweetness earthed by a hint of white truffle oil. Matane shrimps, potted in the British way in butter, mace and nutmeg, retained their delicate texture. Lennox Island mussels were plump and soft, their flavour enhanced by an intense fumet reduced from their own mussel liquor. It was a subtle collation of marine tastes and soft textures beautifully matched with another Prince Edward County wine, Huff Estate 2007 Off-Dry Riesling – giving the County a sweep of the wine awards! – James Chatto

Next was foie gras terrine, which is on my list of what I would eat for my last meal. And Chef Part's pairing of Cabernet Franc ice syrup and toasted hazelnuts take this already richly fulfilling dish up a notch, pleasing my tastebuds with textures of crunch and velvet and tastes of sweetness and earthiness.

For my main, I ordered the Confit of Quebec duck. I found out later that this was the dish he presented at the National competition of Gold Medal Plates for 2008 in Banff, Alberta. Here is how James Chatto described it:

Chef Charles Part presented a dish he described as the dish he would choose for his last meal – 'it means that much to me…' Its principal was a generous helping of confited Quebec moulard duck, rich, tender and moist with a skin that was crisp where it needed to be and fatty elsewhere. The flavour was wonderful, the sweetness enhanced by threads of orange zest. It sat on a thick disc of cooked pear with a spoonful of soft, tangy chevre cheese at its hollowed heart. Beneath that was an Agria potato rösti. The dish was finished with some forthright spinach and a delicious sauce of New Brunswick partridgeberries zapped with vinegar to become a classy ketchup. This dish was honest-to-goodness bistro taken to the bistro extreme. Some judges loved its democratic lack of fuss; others found it too plain. Chef Part paired it with a Prince Edward County wine, Huff Estates Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2005, made with Niagara grapes. – James Chatto

The Arctic char was fresh and flaky with nuances of Asian flavors from the bonito dashi broth, sesame and soba noodles.

For dessert, the maple syrup pie was nutty and not overly sweet. It was perfect with Chantilly cream and a strong cup of coffee.

Generously, Chef Part and his wife have included recipes for their award-winning dishes in their cookbook, which you can order from their website or purchase in their store.

Good luck, Chef Part! It was a pleasure to meet you.

Facebook Page: Gold Medal Plates Ottawa

To purchase tickets for Gold Medal Plates, contact Sue Holloway (contact information below) or click here.


Les Fougères
783 route 105
Chelsea, QC
(819) 827-8942

Gold Medal Plates Ottawa
Tuesday, November 16, 2010 6:00 pm
National Arts Centre
53 Elgin Street

Sue Holloway
818 Nesbitt Place
(613) 274-3107 phone
(613) 274-0851 fax
Email Sue Holloway

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