Gold Medal Plates 2012

Winning chefs Shane Chartrand, Murrieta’s West Coast Grill, silver; Nathin Bye, Wildflower Grill, gold; Paul Shufelt, Century Group, bronze.

Where to start with Nathin Bye’s imaginative dish? A pavé, dreamy layers of golden beet, potato and fontina cheese topped with a perfectly sunny-side up quail egg wearing a sweet and silky egg floss hat, alongside a crazy-rich savoury panna cotta with deep flavours of whiskey, smoke, maple and the surprise of a sweet and smoky barbecue pork paté inside; a clever little irresistible pop tart made with dried mushrooms and stuffed with chanterelles lending an earthy note, perfectly complemented by a crisp bacon rasher, alongside a spoonful of cold, yes cold, oats and a wedge of ‘toast and jam’. (Still with me?) It was a bravura performance, beautifully imagined, impeccably realized and skillfully executed. In lesser hands it could have gone sideways. The kicker? Every single element of the dish fit the wine like a glove, even the bircher muesli, cold rolled oats with apple, blackberry and grapefruit jelly, quite the gastronomic sleight of hand.

Chef Bye is directly responsible for Wildflower, yet he also creates dishes for Lazia and East Old Town Chinese, where the addictive egg floss can be found. He has honed his palate and his team to work within several styles of cuisine, opening the door to the kind of imaginative cooking demonstrated at Gold Medal Plates 2012.

Murrieta’s exec chef Shane Chartrand’s silver medal dish was a study in black and white — sablefish wrapped in a vegetable ash with a sliver of melt-in-your-mouth cod tongue. The dish found a very good match in the 2011 Lake Breeze Pinot Blanc. The spare Japanese aesthetic and art deco imagery of the dish was beautiful. Chef Chartrand served the perfectly cooked fish with a spray bottle of verjus (essentially, unfermented wine juice) providing a gentle tart/sweet contrast to the flavours on the plate. And, the verjus spray was fun to play with.

Bronze medal winner Paul Shufelt’s more classic presentation was a delicious, perfectly cooked Brome Lake duck breast with a creamy mushroom and duck confit-stuffed arancini (rice ball), which paired well with the robust 2010 Cedar Creek Old Vines Foch. We were quite taken with the affable chef’s chat about why he chose Brome Lake duck. It simply reminds him of home. He grew up nearby, reminding us that local is not always about physical geography. Sometimes it’s about what’s in
our hearts.

There was something to recommend in every dish in the competition: Ryan Hotchkiss (Jack’s Grill’s) took Alberta whitefish to the max; Ganesh Subra (L2 Grill) explored native muskox; Jeremy McKinnon (The Westin) paid homage to classic lamb; Sean O’Connor (Red Ox Inn) looked to KFC for inspiration; David Omar (Zinc) worked with meaty beef heart and delicate sole; and Deependra Singh (Guru) interpreted Indian street food.

Chef Paul Campbell’s (Café de Ville) dish was a witty take on cocktails and canapes — perhaps we’ll see more beer/cider/cocktail pairings in the future. But please, not everyone. Is pickling the new pork belly? For several years GMP competitors couldn’t get enough pork belly. This was the year of the pickle. Sometimes it worked, adding a piquant hit of acidity; most of the time, the pickled item was just there, sitting on the plate like a gherkin by a sandwich.

The wine of the night was the 2010 Tantalus Chardonnay, richly fragrant, full-bodied, with masses of fruit and mineral complexity. The subtle oak impression contributed to the overall balance of the wine, creating a delicious complement to chef Bye’s dish.

Gold Medal Plates was conceived as not just a chef’s competition, though its role in moving Canadian gastronomy forward is becoming more evident every year. The evening’s combination of chefs, star athletes and Canadian musical talent raises serious dough for the Olympic program as well.

There was brisk bidding for auction items and trips, contributing to the over $6 million raised for the Canadian Olympic Foundation’s Own the Podium program so far.

Chef Bye will join the winners of Gold Medal Plates competitions in Vancouver, Calgary, Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and St. Johns at the Canadian Culinary Championships (CCC) in Kelowna, February 8-9. It’s a terrific weekend, for information and tickets visit