In a three-day long Winterlude event, Ottawa played host to the Canadian Culinary Championships. The final competition, held on Feb 1st at Shaw Centre, wrapped up with 12 of Canada’s top chefs completing the third event in a series of challenges.
While there were not too many nerves evident among the chefs on Thursday evening at the welcome reception held at Ottawa City Hall, that’s likely because they had yet to start cooking. Their first big test came when they were each handed an unlabelled bottle of wine with which to pair their tasting plates on Friday evening, having a budget of $500 for 400 portions – that’s just $1.25 per serving!
Held at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum – a venue which wowed those from out of town – the Mystery Wine Pairing event was lively and festive. Chef Ian Carswell of Black Tartan Kitchen, the Ottawa-Gatineau representative, created a flavourful dish featuring wild boar rillettes with toasted brioche, a fennel/kohlrabi/apple slaw, a cauliflower/fennel/cep puree, beets lightly pickled in the mystery wine with a gastrique made from the same wine, beets and cherry. While he did not win the coveted People’s Choice award on Friday night – that honour went to JP Dublado of River Cree Resort and Casino near Edmonton – it was a terrifically tasty and attractive dish nonetheless.
Saturday morning started early as competitors headed to Algonquin College for the Black Box competition. It’s a nerve-wracking event that tests chefs’ creativity, organizational skills, culinary prowess and time management, with just one hour to asses a box of seven very Canadian mystery ingredients, devise a dish and create 15 perfect plates for the judges. For this year’s event, the black boxes contained Wapiti (elk), phytoplankton powder, flaked naked oats, pickled fiddleheads, black kale, parsley roots and Haskap berries.
Each chef put their unique spin on the ingredients, working with one eye on the clock the whole time. Chef Ian Carswell’s plate was reflective of the fine cuisine on offer at his restaurant, with the elk served schnitzel-style accompanied by a warm salad, vegetable puree and Haskap gastrique.
Saturday night’s grand finale at Shaw Centre saw the twelve competitors reprising the dishes which had earned them a trip to nationals. The over six hundred guests enjoyed sampling the various plates with their carefully-chosen beverage pairings, as well as treats created by Shaw Centre, under the direction of Executive Chef Patrick Turcot, including a chocolate dessert and new BY55 Noir chocolate bar plus a cheese plate. Fifteen Olympic athletes were in attendance, along with rockers Bill Henderson of Chilliwack and Barney Bentall, whose performances delighted the sold-out crowd.
As for the awards, Edmonton’s JP Dublado went two for two, winning the People’s Choice Award for the second night. The final scores are an aggregate of the three events; Emily Butcher of Winnipeg’s deer + almond secured the bronze medal with her sablefish and turnip cake with whitefish roe and turnip broth. Marc-André Jetté of Montreal’s Hoogan et Beaufort earned silver with a dish of blanc de gris mushroom, burnt pickled onion, matsutaké gel, smoked bread and Louis d'Or cheese. Our gold medallist and new national culinary champion is Roger Ma of Boulevard Kitchen and Oyster Bar in Vancouver, whose ‘BC Coastal Terroir’ dish featured honey mussel gratinee, foraged bull kelp, uni custard, yukon potato and scallion terrine plus manila clam emulsion.
While our local competitor from Black Tartan Kitchen may have been disappointed not to reach the podium, you wouldn’t have known it from the smile on his face throughout the entire three days of competition. He declared it a great weekend and said he was extremely proud of his team’s efforts.