It was an Olympic race for gold.
Only instead of bobsleds, skis and skates, china and knives were the equipment of choice as Canada’s top chefs battled it out over the dinner table while Olympians looked on at the Gold Medal Plates Canadian Culinary Competition at the Hilton Whistler Resort last weekend.
“There is a real satisfaction in doing this for the Olympic athletes,” said Robert Clark of Vancouver’s C Restaurant while he plated a braised beef short rib stack with lobster jelly, foie gras mousse and walnut brioche.
“It’s going to cost a lot to have the Olympics here. Everyone needs to do his or her part. With the attention and visitors we are going to get, our (dining) industry is going to benefit, so it’s great to start giving back now.”
Michael Lyon of Banff’s Giorgio’s Trattoria agreed.
“I’ve got three kids who might grow up to be Olympic athletes,” Lyon said shaving white truffle into a steaming bowl of lobster bisque. “It’s great to be raising money for athletes. We rank right up there with them.”
The Gold Medal Plates dinners raise funds for Olympians and Paralympians by hosting a series of culinary competitions across Canada, with the finals hosted in Whistler. Since 2003, the event has raised more than $1.5 million for athletes.
Chefs competed in three events for an accumulated score: the Black Box, Blind Wine Pairing and final gala. All chefs were within three points of each other before the final round, so chefs had their game on at downhill-skiing speed.
The culinary competition was a sporting event unto itself. Sweat beaded below chef hats, support staff tag-teamed plates from start to finish, and dining spectators tasted while watching the adrenaline rush of talent fighting for a podium finish.
Usually rich game and weighty sauces are the top contenders at taste offs. More than half of the competitors’ plates included some combination of Kobe beef, foie gras, truffle and/or cream.
But like the best races, it was the underdog who took gold with a light ahi tuna trio. The trio included a play on Caesar salad with dried-smoked tuna strips scattered over a garlic-parmesan pannacotta as well as olive oil-poached tuna with saffron jelly, kalamata olive candy and spicy vegetable purée. The last delectable bite of the three was the tuna tar tar with red beets on top of a daikon disc.
A surprised and humble 28-year-old Makoto Ono of Winnipeg’s Gluttons restaurant stepped up to the top of the podium while silver medalist Michael Blackie of Ottawa’s Brookstreet and bronze medalist Mark McEwan of Toronto’s North 44 applauded. Instead of donning a gold medal, sledge hockey Olympic medalist Paul Rosen presented Ono with the Olympic jacket Rosen wore at the opening ceremonies for the Paralympic Games, as well as the Gold Medal Plates gold trophy.
“I just wanted to be here and be amongst the world’s best chefs and hopefully learn and pick up some tricks,” said Ono sitting down with his support team after the excitement.
The cartoonist never wanted to be a chef, to his parents chagrin. But one day, after helping his father behind the family sushi bar, Ono realized his creative dreams could just as easily be realized on a plate.
“It’s instant gratification: making food and having contact with people who enjoy it,” he said. “Sometimes artists never get feedback from their art.”
With more than 150 works of art dished out at each competitor’s station, feedback was as plentiful as the Canadian spirit shown.
“Makoto was at the top of my list; he really took a different approach to the presentation and it even tasted better than it looked, which was amazing,” said Olympian Ross Rebagliati. “Canada’s culture is diverse and so comes diverse foods as we’ve seen here tonight. It’s important to come together and celebrate our culture together.”