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.


Jojo said...

Excellent - thanks for the great re-cap - nothing like being there. Perhaps next year :-) Nice job on the reporting. Cheers!

Anonymous said...

well done Rachelle! I loved being able to chat with you at the event ... and I can only imagine how (1) difficult it is to eat all those delicious plates in 90 minutes and (2) how heartbreaking it is NOT to eat all those delicious plates ... boo to time limits and docking points. :0(
i think we should do this again next year :0)