Gold Medal Plates 2017 puts three newcomers on the podiumPublished on November 10, 2017

  • Yannick LaSalle, Briana Kim, Steve Harris
    Photo by: Paula Roy

  • Chef Steve Harris
    Photo by: Paula Roy

  • Chef Yannick LaSalle's silver medal dish of wild Arctic Char
    Photo by: Paula Roy

  • Chef Briana Kim's gold medal winning vegan dish
    Photo by: Paula Roy

  • Chef Briana Kim of Cafe My House
    Photo by: Paula Roy

  • Chef Steve Harris's bronze winning dish of sea urchin pate and sea urchin hot dog
    Photo by: Paula Roy

Gold Medal Plates, a sold out fundraiser held at Shaw Centre in Ottawa on November 9 for Canadian Olympic athletes, served as an impressive showcase of culinary talent, coupled with appealing musical offerings. Whether it was the first blast of wintery weather, or the anticipation of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games, there seemed to be a heightened level of excitement at the annual event. Having medal winners from past Olympics on hand simply added to the evening’s cachet.

One of eleven such events taking place across the country, Gold Medal Plates culminates in the Canadian Culinary Championships, held in Kelowna, BC each February. Ottawa’s edition was an exceptionally well-organized evening and it was exciting to see the effort and inventiveness that the chefs brought to their dishes. While each one was reflective of the chefs’ unique style, it felt as though they stretched the boundaries of their restaurants’ menus to create unique, memorable dishes that offered multiple pops of flavour and texture. With five first-time competitors at the event, it was anyone’s guess whom the judges would choose as the top three participants. In the end, it was three newcomers who ascended to the podium.

The gold medalist was Briana Kim of Hintonburg’s Café My House, whose complex, flavourful vegan dish included ginger-marinated mushroom ‘steak’ combined with smoked mushroom, mushroom mousse,  charred cabbage, pearl onion and pickled pear, flavoured with citrus honey, shishito pepper kombu and charred onion broth, with a delicate and delicious fennel rice cracker perched on top. The dish was paired with a smooth Izumi of the North Junmai Genshu sake from Toronto’s Ontario Spring Water Sake Company.

Yannick LaSalle of Chelsea, Quebec’s Les Fougères took silver with his delicious preparation of gently-poached wild Arctic char, served with a silky-smooth butternut squash puree, cranberries, ginger and his family’s own maple syrup. The beverage pairing was a Norman Hardie Winery 2015 Unfiltered Chardonnay whose citrus notes and mild salinity complemented the dish very well.

This year’s bronze medalist presented one of the night’s most unique plates. Steve Harris of Preston Street’s two six {ate} served up sea urchin pâté with smoked urchin aspic, coupled with a playful and delicious urchin hot dog, pickled kohlrabi, whey-fermented ground cherry molasses and a squid ink chip. The dish was paired with a nicely effervescent Casa Dea 2016 Embrace sparkling Riesling.

The other rookie participants included Jeff Bradfield of the newly-opened Bar Lupulus in Wellington West, who served smoked sturgeon with Acadian caviar, pickles, sturgeon bark, red currant compressed apple, beet jam and chrysanthemum greens, paired with Dominion City Brewing’s Brett Farmhouse ale. From Centretown’s Fairouz, Walid El-Tawel presented a daring protein choice of Newfoundland seal, boldly flavoured with Ras el Hanout, paired with Rosehall Run Vineyards 2016 Ceremony Blanc de Blanc.

As for the competition’s veterans, their dishes were similarly striking in their uniqueness. Kyle Mortimer-Proulx of Aylmer’s La Maison Conroy prepared an elk osso bucco with fermented blueberry demiglace, accompanied by fermented sweet corn, salsify, a blueberry, spruce and malted barley gremolata and a haskap and juniper-cured elk bresaola. His dish was paired with a Lot#40 rye-based Manhattan cocktail. Jamie Stunt of Gatineau’s Soif bar à vin, who previously won silver at the 2103 Canadian Culinary Championships, presented a scallop with fried shiitake pickle, smoked eel, lemon thyme vinaigrette and black garlic; it was paired with Clos Saragnat Cidery, Foule Bulles Cidre Fermier. Kevin Benes of Hintonburg’s Carben Food + Drink served beef tongue plated with thin ribbons of carrot, corn, black garlic and nasturtium, paired with Rosewood Estates 2014 Origin Riesling. Mark Doiron of Centretown’s town restaurant prepared a green chili pozole verde with a small hominy cake, shrimp, sea urchin and poblano salsa; this was paired with Nickel Brook Brewing Co’s Nectarine Uber Berliner Style Weisse. Last but certainly not least was Jordan Holley, from Sparks Street’s Riviera, with his matsutake chawanmushi with crab, sea urchin, caviar, shaved matsutake and pine nut, paired with Rosewood Estate’s 2016 unfiltered Pinot Noir.

Knowing the ever-rising calibre of our local food scene, and particularly of the chefs selected to participate in Gold Medal Plates this year, it’s safe to say that the Ottawa winner stands a good chance of excelling at the national championships in Kelowna next February. The odds are in Briana Kim’s favour, given that Ottawa chefs have won Gold and Silver medals the past two years. The other winners are, of course, our Canadian Olympians past present and future, for whom Gold Medal Plates has raised over 12 million dollars to date.

Paula Roy

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