The Tomato

Canadian Culinary Championships 2016

Canada’s best are crowned in Kelowna

by Mary Bailey

Gold medalist Marc Lépine (Ottawa) is flanked by Calgary’s Matthew Batey (left, silver) and Vancouver’s Alex Chen (right, bronze)

Gold medalist Marc Lépine (Ottawa) is flanked by Calgary’s Matthew Batey (left, silver) and Vancouver’s Alex Chen (right, bronze)

Click to zoom

Click to zoom

Top chefs from across the country gathered in Kelowna to compete for the title of Canadian Culinary Champion. It’s a tough competition and each competitor needs to be in top form over three events—the Mystery Wine Challenge Friday night, the Black Box early Saturday morning and the Grande Finale. Last year the Westin Edmonton’s executive chef Ryan O’Flynn garnered gold. This year Edmonton was not so fortunate. “It was a great competition,” says Jan Trittenbach of Solstice Seasonal Cuisine, Edmonton’s contender. “I learned a lot and would do it again.”

New this year was the opportunity to award the Gold Medal Plates wine of the year. David Lawrason, Sid Cross, James Chatto and myself tasted the 10 Best of Show winners from across the country and chose the 2014 Le Vieux Pin Ava, a rich and fragrant blend of Viognier, Rousanne and Marsanne as the winner.

– Mary Bailey, CCC Judge

GOLD
Marc Lépine
Atelier, Ottawa

Marc Lépine may be one of the most interesting and fearless chefs in the rapidly evolving Canadian restaurant scene. Not just for his outstanding techniques behind the stove, and the bold and whimsical spirit of each dish that comes out of Atelier, but also because the young chef from Ottawa is unpredictable and completely unconventional. In a good sense.

For in this kitchen, nothing is as it seems. Flowers turn out to be dough, flour metamorphoses into crackling circles, tomato juice gets dehydrated, pistachio turns into paper, a tuna vertebra converts into a support for caviar while a sliced tree trunk becomes a plate. Matters, textures, colours, ingredients of the forest or the sea, inspired no doubt by the wild nature of Canada, are crafted with virtuosity and become an excuse to astonish on the plate and on the palate. Lépine is a culinary acrobat whose intentions may be to reinvent the way we think about cuisine, food and chemistry.

At the grande finale he managed to boost the intensity of miso into a glaze for cured belly pork and smoked steelhead trout, resting on a sort of barley risotto, speckled with dill and nameko mushrooms perfumed with a corn cob and roasted corn husks broth.

Overlapped by a circle of fine dough (a recent trademark we think), acting like a dome infused with coriander seeds. It was nothing short of stunning.

– Robert Beauchemin, CCC Judge

SILVER
Matthew Batey
The Nash & Off Cut Bar, Calgary

Matthew Batey, executive chef at Calgary’s The Nash & Off Cut Bar, won silver with strong showings in all three events, including serving a beautiful alder-smoked sablefish paired with Road 13’s sparkling Chenin Blanc. Nailing silver in his first visit to the competition is a major accomplishment, especially considering the stellar talents of the competing chefs.

After the medal ceremony, a Kelownan offered congratulations and commiserations. “We miss Matt in Kelowna,” he said. (Batey was executive chef at Mission Hill Family Estate Winery for a few years before shifting to Calgary to work with Michael Noble.) “Not only is he a great guy and a terrific chef,” the Kelownan said, “He’s the best basketball ref we’ve ever had around here.” Known for his fairness, focus and exacting manner on the court, Batey remains well-respected in the Okanagan basketball community. They are traits that have earned him respect and accolades in Canada’s culinary community as well.

– John Gilchrist, CCC Judge

BRONZE
Alex Chen
Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar Sutton Place Hotel Vancouver

Alex Chen had a Top 10 finish at the 2013 Bocuse d’Or. He also is a respected mentor; his sous-chef Roger Ma was 2015 Vancouver Aquarium OceanWise Chowder Chowdown Champion. Therefore no one was surprised when Alex was declared the regional British Columbia winner. His sustainable head-to-tail pork terrine using various parts including tongue, ear, jowl, and tenderloin with truffle, foie gras and glazed chestnuts was a tasty and beautiful work of food art.

In Kelowna Alex bounced back strongly in the Grand Finale with a tour-de-force dish—black truffle-scented ballotine of juicy chicken topped with very crispy skin, delicate celeriac fondant, foie gras mousse stuffed celery, all napped with a heavenly fragrant umani consomme. So focused on seasonal ingredients is Alex that he did not want to repeat his autumn GMP-winning dish, instead bravely presenting a brand new one. Well done. Team leadership and enlightened culinary skills were shown to advantage by the talented chef Alex Chen and his whole brigade throughout the CCC. Congratulations!
– Sid Cross, CCC Judge

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