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Finale attracts foodies from all over


Kelowna, B.C. is a town in hibernation for most of the winter, except during the first week of February. That’s when a company of foodies arrive at the Delta Grand Okanagan Resort for the annual Canadian Culinary Championships, the finale of the regional Gold Medal Plates competition.  

Chefs from 11 Canadian cities test their skills to the limit in the Okanagan community. One will make Canadian culinary history.

Read more of Karl's columns

Atlantic Canada was represented this year by St. John’s chef Mark McCrowe of Aqua and Renée Lavallée of The Canteen in Halifax.  McCrowe’s team included Aqua sous chefs Tara Nicholls and Jason Hajek. Competitors were also assisted by students from Kelowna’s Okanagan College.

Judges from Vancouver to St. John’s spent hours assessing 33 competition plates in order to find a Canadian champion. Organizers organized. Kelowna foodies, media and guests took everything in, beginning with the mystery wine pairing.

Mystery wine

Each year, wine expert David Lawrason delights in selecting a Canadian wine for the opening contest — a wine he feels will pose the greatest challenge when it comes to finding just the right food match. This year, it turned out to be an unusual B.C. wine, Stoneboat Vineyards Pinotage, 2012.

Competitors made dishes containing everything from farmed B.C. sturgeon to short ribs to pair with the Pinotage. The night was made more taxing by limiting the budget to $600 per chef — an amount that had to feed 500 guests. Ultimately, the public chose McCrowe’s short ribs as the best wine pairing of the night.

The penultimate black box challenge, famously regarded as the most difficult test, was next on the agenda. Each locked box contained 10 ingredients. Chefs were required to use at least six of them. Thirteen black box judges meant each chef had to produce 13 plates of the same dish. Creativity and consistency were important factors.   

Black box ingredients

This year’s black box ingredients included Saskatchewan sea buckthorn berries, live Nova Scotia lobster and Muscovy duck.

While some chefs chose to work with the Nova Scotia lobster, most opted for the duck. A few chefs chose both duck and lobster, such as Ryan O’Flynn of the Westin Edmonton. His was a beautifully designed plate starring butter poached lobster and sliced duck breast.

Chef Renée Lavallée of Halifax was honour bound to choose live lobster from her home province. She created an uncomplicated yet elegant lunch-style lobster salad. Mark McCrowe of Aqua offered judges something a little different. In his allotted 50 minutes he and sous chef Tara Nicholls worked with unified efficiency to create 13 plates of smoked Muscovy duck, smoked in a makeshift smoker of kitchen pans.

The Canadian Culinary Championships ended with a gala fundraiser for Own the Podium, a program of the Canadian Olympic Foundation. It also served as the final heat of the national chefs’ competition. Here, all 11 chefs chose to present the dish with which they had won gold in their home city. McCrowe literally raced to prepare his station before guests descended looking for a taste of his final dish. It was moose from the Newfoundland forest, served with jus and root vegetables.

Winners

Before the handsome Canadian Culinary Championships Cup could be held high in victory by the 2015 champion, bronze and silver medallists had to be announced. Achieving bronze status was the well-known Chef de Cuisine of Hawksworth Restaurant in Vancouver. Kristian Eligh devised a sophisticated version of bread bowl seafood chowder.

Montreal’s affable Antonio Park of Restaurant Park presented an attractive deconstructed version of the Korean favourite, bibimbap. It, along with Park’s other competition plates, earned him the national silver medal.

Edmonton’s final dish was a clever marriage of sturgeon fillet and foie gras. It was the last in a line of brilliant plates from O’Flynn of the Westin Edmonton, the overall winner and newest champion of the Canadian Culinary Championships.

Throughout the competition, O’Flynn had maintained an air of detachment. But as he stood on the champion’s podium, he displayed the raw passion of one triumphant in battle. He clutched the champion’s cup, kissed it and howled the mighty howl of victory.

O’Flynn, the Westin, Edmonton and Alberta carried the day, and now ride high until next February when another Canadian Culinary Championships winner is proclaimed.

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.

Chefs from 11 Canadian cities test their skills to the limit in the Okanagan community. One will make Canadian culinary history.

Read more of Karl's columns

Atlantic Canada was represented this year by St. John’s chef Mark McCrowe of Aqua and Renée Lavallée of The Canteen in Halifax.  McCrowe’s team included Aqua sous chefs Tara Nicholls and Jason Hajek. Competitors were also assisted by students from Kelowna’s Okanagan College.

Judges from Vancouver to St. John’s spent hours assessing 33 competition plates in order to find a Canadian champion. Organizers organized. Kelowna foodies, media and guests took everything in, beginning with the mystery wine pairing.

Mystery wine

Each year, wine expert David Lawrason delights in selecting a Canadian wine for the opening contest — a wine he feels will pose the greatest challenge when it comes to finding just the right food match. This year, it turned out to be an unusual B.C. wine, Stoneboat Vineyards Pinotage, 2012.

Competitors made dishes containing everything from farmed B.C. sturgeon to short ribs to pair with the Pinotage. The night was made more taxing by limiting the budget to $600 per chef — an amount that had to feed 500 guests. Ultimately, the public chose McCrowe’s short ribs as the best wine pairing of the night.

The penultimate black box challenge, famously regarded as the most difficult test, was next on the agenda. Each locked box contained 10 ingredients. Chefs were required to use at least six of them. Thirteen black box judges meant each chef had to produce 13 plates of the same dish. Creativity and consistency were important factors.   

Black box ingredients

This year’s black box ingredients included Saskatchewan sea buckthorn berries, live Nova Scotia lobster and Muscovy duck.

While some chefs chose to work with the Nova Scotia lobster, most opted for the duck. A few chefs chose both duck and lobster, such as Ryan O’Flynn of the Westin Edmonton. His was a beautifully designed plate starring butter poached lobster and sliced duck breast.

Chef Renée Lavallée of Halifax was honour bound to choose live lobster from her home province. She created an uncomplicated yet elegant lunch-style lobster salad. Mark McCrowe of Aqua offered judges something a little different. In his allotted 50 minutes he and sous chef Tara Nicholls worked with unified efficiency to create 13 plates of smoked Muscovy duck, smoked in a makeshift smoker of kitchen pans.

The Canadian Culinary Championships ended with a gala fundraiser for Own the Podium, a program of the Canadian Olympic Foundation. It also served as the final heat of the national chefs’ competition. Here, all 11 chefs chose to present the dish with which they had won gold in their home city. McCrowe literally raced to prepare his station before guests descended looking for a taste of his final dish. It was moose from the Newfoundland forest, served with jus and root vegetables.

Winners

Before the handsome Canadian Culinary Championships Cup could be held high in victory by the 2015 champion, bronze and silver medallists had to be announced. Achieving bronze status was the well-known Chef de Cuisine of Hawksworth Restaurant in Vancouver. Kristian Eligh devised a sophisticated version of bread bowl seafood chowder.

Montreal’s affable Antonio Park of Restaurant Park presented an attractive deconstructed version of the Korean favourite, bibimbap. It, along with Park’s other competition plates, earned him the national silver medal.

Edmonton’s final dish was a clever marriage of sturgeon fillet and foie gras. It was the last in a line of brilliant plates from O’Flynn of the Westin Edmonton, the overall winner and newest champion of the Canadian Culinary Championships.

Throughout the competition, O’Flynn had maintained an air of detachment. But as he stood on the champion’s podium, he displayed the raw passion of one triumphant in battle. He clutched the champion’s cup, kissed it and howled the mighty howl of victory.

O’Flynn, the Westin, Edmonton and Alberta carried the day, and now ride high until next February when another Canadian Culinary Championships winner is proclaimed.

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.

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