The stars of Ottawa’s restaurant industry shone brightly on November 19 at a prestigious culinary competition held at Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa Culinary Arts Institute. The talents of the eight invited chefs from some of our region’s most exceptional restaurants were on display as they vied to impress the judges and advance to the national finals. Chef Ian Carswell of Black Tartan Kitchen in Carleton Place was crowned the champion.
Canada’s Great Kitchen Party, formerly known as Gold Medal Plates, was originally founded to raise funds for Canadian Olympic and Paralympic athletes but it has since expanded its mandate and now supports three great causes: MusiCounts (music education for children and youth); B2ten (amateur sports) and Community Food Centres Canada. In the competition’s 13 year history it has raised over $15 million.
The eight competing chefs included six first timers: Shane Brown of Beckta Dining and Wine Bar, Ian Carswell of Black Tartan Kitchen, Justin Champagne of Bar Lupulus, Billy Khoo from fauna food + bar, Ben Landreville of Sidedoor and Razmon Poisson from Orto Trattoria. The two veterans were Daniela Manrique of The Soca Kitchen (2018 silver medallist) and Jason Sawision from Stofa Restaurant (2018 bronze medallist).
Throughout the interactive evening guests roamed the stately and historic Sandy Hill mansion that is home to the first Le Cordon Bleu location established in North America. The various salons and opulent dining room served as the perfect backdrops for the elevated fare on offer for judges and guests to sample. The esteemed panel who shared the challenging task of selecting the top three were: Marc Lepine of Atelier and Thru restaurants, two-time national culinary champion, Sheila Whyte of Thyme & Again, Anne Desbrisay, food journalist, Janet Boileau, culinary historian, Cory Haskins, head of the Algonquin College Culinary Program, Yannick Lasalle of Les Fougeres restaurant, last year’s regional and national champion, and James Chatto, national head judge and culinary advisor to Canada’s Great Kitchen Party.
The dishes presented to the sold-out crowd were as gorgeous as they were inventive. Much secrecy surrounds each chef’s recipe development and preparation in the months leading up to the event. The number of ingredients that are creatively incorporated into each dish make the judging a difficult task.
Listing the components of the winning dishes and their wine pairings doesn’t give you a good sense of how sublime they tasted, but the roar of approval as the medallists were announced suggested that the audience of 150 food lovers concurred with the judges. Gold medallist Ian Carswell served up a complex, well-executed dish that included Milkhouse Farm & Dairy lamb with “Neeps and Tatties" - buckwheat crusted lamb loin, roasted neep accents, braised lamb pierogi, "Scott-ish" paté. He kept his wine pairing hyper-local, choosing the robust and impressive Kin 2018 Pinot Noir from Carp, Ontario.
Silver medallist Ben Landreville of Sidedoor provided a dish that was a real flavour party. His Banh Khoai "Vietnamese happy pancake" included spot prawns, pork sausage and fungus, nuac mam cham, preserved vegetables and fresh herbs. Ben selected a Rosehall Run 2017 Hungry Point Unoaked Chardonnay, from Prince Edward County, Ontario for his wine pairing.
Daniela Manrique stepped away from her maternity leave to participate in the competition, and was rewarded for her efforts with not only the bronze medal but also the People’s Choice award. She and her team from Soca Kitchen served up a tender slice of beef tenderloin accented with dhiles secos (puya, guajillo and negro), rubbed and smoked lomito, hazelnut romesco, shaved raw artichoke, fermented black garlic and white soy vinaigrette, and a uni, port and pear pâté brûlée. The flavours paired beautifully with a Thirty Bench 2017 Small Lot Pinot Noir, from Beamsville, Ontario.
Ian Carswell will now go head-to-head against representatives from 11 other cities or regions of Canada at the national championships, in a format that sees three intense competitions held January 31 and February 1, 2020. For the first time, the grand finale weekend will take place at Shaw Centre in Ottawa, after 9 years in Kelowna, BC. Tickets and sponsorship opportunities are still available for the national championships. Given that the National Capital Region is home to the current reigning champion (Yannick LaSalle of Les Fougères), many will be eager to see Ian follow him to the top of the podium. Stay tuned!