Owning the culinary podium

Winning chefs dazzle with revolutionary dishes at Gold Medal Plates St. John’s

Published on November 21, 2015

Apart from being entertained by leading lights of Canadian music, Sam Roberts and Jim Cuddy, and by the repartee of Olympic Gold Medalists (figure skating) Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, this year’s Gold Medal Plates St. John’s guests dined on at least half a dozen remarkably well-executed dishes.

One creation, that of this year’s Gold Medal Plates St. John’s Gold Medal Champion, chef Roger Andrews (owner of Relish), clearly signalled a turning of the page in the evolution of this talented chef — more proof that the revolution in St. John’s cuisine has firmly taken root.

Forty-year-old Andrews has accomplished a first in the history of the local Gold Medal Plates competition. This marks his second big win at this event. In 2013 he won gold for a dish featuring breast of squab stuffed with pistachio and black chanterelles. Andrews’ 2015 plate displayed evidence of intellectual curiosity and creativity, advanced technical skill and a sophisticated palate.  

The only thing that could possibly have made Andrews’ dish better, for me, would be having it while (literally) sitting at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean on a calm, sunlit day. That’s because his dish contained pristine, concentrated flavours of the ocean. Being enveloped by sea air and the emotive sound of breaking waves while enjoying Andrews’ dish would be the ultimate sensory experience.

Eggy conceit

He called his 2015 eggy conceit “a take on classic caviar service.” The star caviar was from Cornel Ceapa’s Acadian Sturgeon and Caviar Inc. of Carter’s Point, N.B. A spoonful of sturgeon eggs (black caviar) was served with lemon curd (eggs on eggs) and shallot toast. Alongside, a smooth, rectangular slice of sea urchin Bavarian was decorated with flakes of dehydrated cured scallop eggs, or bottarga (as they say in Italy).  

Still more egg, in the form of peppercorn meringue decorated the top of the urchin Bavarian, as well as buckwheat crumble and pickled red onion. Three dots of sour cream and lemon curd added more pastel colour to the plate. Each was accented in its centre by a smaller, intensely green dot of parsley sauce.   

Andrews’ plate featured an abundance of deliciously harmonized flavours, even when served with Tidal Bay, a lemon-scented wine by Benjamin Bridge Winery of Nova Scotia. Varying textures impressed as well, especially that of the perfect sea urchin Bavarian.

From athletics to culinary

A native of Grand Falls-Windsor and Lewisporte, Andrews gradually moved from an interest in athletics to culinary. This after he took a Foods 101 course in high school. Summer jobs in food businesses followed and eventually he entered and graduated from the Culinary Institute of Canada in Prince Edward Island.  

Andrews’ career has since involved stints at the well-known Shaw’s Hotel of P.E.I., Tom Moore’s Tavern in Bermuda, Sage Restaurant, Cayman Islands, and NaGeira’s Restaurant in St. John’s following the departure of chef Jonathan Gushue and others. Along the way he developed a passion for teaching people how to cook and also a desire to own and manage his own business. That panned out a few years ago with his decision to start a Relish Gourmet Hamburgers restaurant in downtown St. John’s.

He’s decided he would like one final crack at getting on the podium at the Canadian Culinary Championships. He’s keeping his game plan for British Columbia close to his vest, but I can tell you I have never seen a chef more determined to win at the national event. I asked him what he felt was the reason his cooking broke through the barrier, from excellent to truly exceptional.

“I would say my work with Culinary Team Canada from 2006 to 2012 helped. I was able to see food being done on the world stage and, for one thing, it changed how I think about plating. I could always get the flavours right, but my Team Canada experience changed the way I put food on a plate,” he said.

Silver medal

Chef Roary MacPherson of Oppidan won silver. His dish was a tasting of Newfoundland lamb. The visually striking dish featured lamb croquette, very tender lamb breast and braised lamb shank on a painted stripe of haskap berry jus (made from cultivated haskap berries from Campbellton, in central Newfoundland).

Also employed for additional flavour were eggplant purée, sunchoke purée and pickled rutabaga. A texture boost came from a sprinkle of granola consisting of puffed millet, rice, quinoa, oats, crushed kale and a pinch of garam masala. The granola was topped with a little habanero jelly made from habaneros grown in Little Rapids near Corner Brook.

MacPherson’s wine choice, Kraze Legz Merlot from B.C., made a formidable pairing with the lamb, in all its forms, from croquette to braise.

Bronze medal

Chef Adam Grevatt of Blue on Water made an extraordinary debut at Gold Medal Plates St. John’s. His bronze plate celebrated the classic marriage of succulent pork jowl and apple. The pork jowl was wrapped in a delicate citrus brioche. Beautiful Honeycrisp apple from Nova Scotia was presented in three ways: chip, slaw and Selkie caramel.

The caramel was made by taking drippings from the pork, reducing them and adding Selkie wine from Jost Winery in Nova Scotia (also the paired wine) and a little sugar. Dots of rhubarb and ginger, an orb of Selkie and rhubarb and Selkie apple foam finished the plate.

All participating Gold Medal Plates St. John’s chefs deserve a huge thank you, as do all volunteers involved in this event. A significant portion of the money raised at the local gala will be donated to the Canadian Olympic Foundation and its Own the Podium program. Hundreds of our athletes are in training now to compete at the upcoming Olympics in Rio. Of course, we’ll also be keeping an eye on our new contender for the Canadian Culinary Championships being held in February in British Columbia. Good luck, Roger Andrews.

Karl Wells is an accredited personal chef, author of  “Cooking with One Chef One Critic” and recipient of awards from the national body of the Canadian Culinary Federation and the Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador. Contact him through his website, www.karlwells.com. Follow him on Twitter: @karl_wells