The tallies are in from the Canadian Culinary Championships on Saturday night and - ta da - top honours went to Mathieu Cloutier from Kitchen Galerie in Montréal.
Now please don't cry, West Coasters. While Vancouver's own Rob Feenie was the hometown favourite, he placed fourth. But organizers assure us all the top place chefs were within a few percentage points of each other. And how could they not be?
Each of the participating chefs had to have won solid gold during the Gold Medal Plates competitions held in his or her respective city this fall. The Gold Medal Plates, by the way, capture a nice synergy where the best in the kitchen help the best in the sports arena. Almost $3 million has been raised through these popular chi-chi events for Canada's Olympic and Paralympic athletes.
This past weekend was the grand finale cook-off for all the Gold Platers from across Canada. (Vancouver's Gold Plate event, won by Feenie, was back in October at the Westin Bayshore.)
No, I wasn't lucky enough to be there, but by all accounts it was a grand affair, throughout all three stages.
The whole thing started on Thursday with a catchy concept. Each of the competitors was given $400 cash to buy whatever they needed from Granville Island market to make wee plates of culinary delights for 250 guests and the nine judges on Friday night. Now that's a pretty slim per-plate budget.
Not only did the delights have to amuse the palates of all and sundry, they also had to be well-matched to a mystery wine the chefs were given the same time as their shopping money. (It was Black Hills 2008 Alibi, a sauvignon blanc/semillon blend from the Okanagan.)
The "people's choice" in this part of the contest was our French-Canadian compadre, Monsieur Cloutier.
Next came the "black box" challenge and talk about pressure-cooker pressure. The chefs had to build two dishes for the judges with previously unseen, unknown ingredients that were revealed only an hour before the dishes had to be served.
Oh, and they were also given only 10 minutes to "declare their intentions," so they couldn't fudge and change their minds halfway through the process.
Now, stand back for a minute and ask yourself how you might do in a public arena pulling together, in a masterful way for a set of master judges, arctic char, whole quail, dragon fruit, Arborio rice, fennel and Hoppelganger India pale ale from R&B Brewing in Vancouver. Any sweat on your brow yet?
On Saturday the grand finale was held - dinner for 400 guests that the chefs had only the afternoon to prepare for, assisted by four helpers. It was dubbed "anything goes."