For the second year in row now I’ve been privileged to attend the prestigious Gold Medal Plates evening in support some of my favourite Calgary chefs and Canadian Olympians. The net proceeds from the event are given to the Canadian Olympic Foundation to support high performance programs such as Own the Podium. The foundation makes it possible for Canadian athletes to live their Olympic dreams, supporting them while they train and prepare for Olympic competition.The evening is a great mix of entertainment, elevated cuisine, and charity; with the funds raised through both a silent auction and regular auction. Some of the auction items include trips such as ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’; where the winning bidder is wined and dined along with Canadian Olympians and celebrities like Jim Cuddy (Blue Rodeo), Barney Bentall, Anne Lindsay, Devin Cuddy, and Sam Polley. New this year was an Iceland trip with Ed Robertson (Barenaked Ladies)…imagine hanging out in Iceland with Ed and Catriona LeMay Doan (Olympic double gold and bronze medallist in long track speed skating). It would be so surreal! There always are quite a few athletes in attendance and it’s a great opportunity to meet them and find out exactly where they get their inspiration and drive from. Training for the Olympics is often quite a lonely journey and I think it’s comforting for them to know that their fellow Canadians appreciate all their hard work and dedication.
For me though, it’s mostly about the food. I’m going to be honest here and say that my favourite part of GMP is supporting my favourite chefs and seeing them achieve greatness. Often, a parallel can be drawn between the training a chef goes through and the life of an athlete, because it takes just as much hard work and dedication to be the very best. Add talent to the mix and greatness, through Gold Medal Plates, can be achieved. Calgary is but one stop in the Gold Medal Plates country-wide circuit, with the fundraising competition taking place in 12 Canadian cities: Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, St. John’s, and Halifax. The winners from each city travel to the final competition in Kelowna (February 3-4, 2016) where the Canadian Gold Medal Plate Champion is crowned. We haven’t had a GMP podium finisher from Calgary yet, so here’s hoping 2016 is our year!
I like to arrive early to get photos of them in ‘action’ while they finish the final preparations for the 600-700 plates that they will assemble in just under two hours. Believe me, it’s no small feat and there seems to always be a last minute adjustments or crises. The photos I took last year were mostly action shots, but this year I was able to get most of the teams to stand still for a group shot. Many faces show exhaustion mixed with anticipation and hope…a reflection that I’ve also seen on our Canadian athlete’s faces during Olympic competition. Above all, what I see is desire to win gold.
Calgary’s podium chefs and their dishes for 2016 were:
3 – Chef Michel Nop – Redwater Rustic Grille (Vintage Group)
Chef Michel is a young, bright guy with a talent for plating and annoying people for fun. I’m not sure why he left Paris for Calgary, but I am glad he did. His dish was a combination of intriguing flavours; both new and classic. The combination of the rich Foie Gras & Unagi Pressé with Granny Smith Apple Gel, buttery brioche purée, and sweet pistachio praline was a huge success with the judges. This gorgeous plate earned him a bronze medal in the competition. 2 – Chef John Michael MacNeil – The Belvedere
All great chefs grow and evolve through experiences and Chef John Michael MacNeil is no exception. His love for Spanish cuisine led to several trips to this exciting country where he became even more inspired. A brief stage with Chef Antonio Park of Park Resto in Montreal (a chef known for creating absolutely gorgeous dishes with influences from all over the globe) also broadened Chef John’s scope of influence. Now back in Calgary, he’s in charge of The Belvedere, a plush fine dining restaurant in the heart of Calgary. His dish, Sous vide bison cheek, la Ratte potato, apple wood smoked chanterelles, brined carrots, and parsley purée earned him the Silver medal at the Calgary event. I thought it was an amazing example of how a dish with fairly simple ‘meat and potatoes’ ingredients could be elevated into the highest cuisine using culinary technique.
1 – Chef Jinhee Lee – Vintage Chophouse (Vintage Group)
Chef Jinhee Lee has made a lasting culinary impression on our city. Her artfully skilled plating matches the subtle, yet harmonized flavours of her dishes that she has served at various Calgary restaurants, including Raw Bar (located in Hotel Arts) and most recently at Vintage Chophouse. Her dish ‘Cha ca la Vong’, a turmeric fish mosaic, was inspired by her travels in Asia and a particular restaurant that she loved in Hanoi. Her beautiful dish was full of contrasts in texture and flavour and it was most definitely a gold medal dish.
The other Calgary chefs selected to compete were:
Chef James Waters – KLEIN / HARRIS Restaurant
The dishes were judged by several prominent Calgary chefs and previous Gold Medal Plate Calgary winners; Senior Chef Judge Michael Allemier (Instructor at SAIT), Chef Matthew Batey (GMP Calgary, 2015), Chef Ryan O’Flynn (Canadian Culinary Champion, 2015), Chef Dave Bohati (GMP Calgary 2014), alongside Kathy Richardier (Publisher and Editor Calgary’s City Palate Magazine), national GMP head judge James Chatto. Each dish was judged out of 100 points, based on visual presentation (20%), texture (10%), technical achievement (10%), taste (40%), wine compatibility (10%), and wow factor (10%).