Come to Whistler

Come to Whistler

So, David Gaunt is now chef at Crush after leaving Eagles Nest golf club. I haven’t tasted his Crush menu yet but he’s talented and driven and I will certainly check it out before the world is very much older. I did go to Maro, on Liberty Street, the latest venture from the guys who own Brant House, Brassaii and West Lounge. David Adjey is executive chef of all the properties and I enjoyed what he has done at Maro—a bunch of bite-sized, globally inspired starters priced from $2 up, then main courses that take a principal ingredient like lamb or cod and present it two ways on the same plate, in an Asian and also a western treatment. A couple of dishes were marred by oversalting but there was lots to enjoy. If you go at lunchtime, you’ll find the place imitating a friendly local noodle house.

Gold Medal Plates thunders on. To Edmonton last Monday (first time in my life) where the snow was a foot deep and the temperature somewhere around minus 16 with the wind chill. Our event was great, however, in the spiffy Shaw Conference Centre overlooking the North Saskatchewan river. The gold medal went to Michael Brown of The Westin Hotel. He offered a relatively simple but beautifully balanced dish of smoked sockeye salmon tartar over a sesame-dressed seaweed salad. A shot glass of warm, creamy Alberta pumpkin soup provided a seasonal, regional touch; a sweet crisp of mature cheddar cheese cut in the shape of a maple leaf completed the plate. Soft, crunchy, warm, cool, sweet, salt in gentle counterpoint. Gray Monk Late Harvest Kerner 2004 was a fine wine match.

Three days later, at the Carlu, Toronto’s Gold Medal Plates event was truly spectacular with all nine chefs involved offering amazingly delicious things. There were supposed to be ten chefs competing but Lynn Crawford, executive chef of the Four Seasons, left suddenly for New York where she starts today as Exec of the Four Seasons in Manhattan. A brilliant opportunity for Lynn but I’m really going to miss her. It was too late to fill her competitive station at the Gold Medal Plates event but Patrick MacMurray of Starfish generously agreed to appear in a non-competitive role, bringing a new and perfect oyster from the Royal Malpeque company of Prince Edward Island—a gorgeous thing with a green teardrop shell, a hint of crispness to the texture and a flavour of the ocean, sweet cream and seaweed. He also brought some of the pesky little green crabs that are preying on oyster beds all along our Eastern seaboard. These he had cooked until they turned red and he suggested we eat them like crawfish, making a good old mess and then sucking the last of the gamey crustacean juice from the empty shell.

I could have lingered at MacMurray’s table for hours but there was work to be done. This was judgement day and the judicial team (Sasha Chapman, Lucy Waverman, Anita Stewart, Christine Cushing, Anthony Walsh) and I had our work cut out. Ranking one dish over another was extremely difficult, the standard was so high. Taking the bronze medal was Marc Thuet of Bistro Bakery Thuet with terrine of smuggled wild Scottish hare spread on a slice of his delicious bread and paired with a bowl of wild Scottish grouse consommé in which a raw quail’s egg yolk and a tiny bone marrow raviolo were bobbing. Mark McEwan of North 44 took the silver medal with a delectable duck confit crepe served with shaved truffle, spiced apple and foie gras foam. His dish was very popular with the 600 or so assembled guests and it’s true, it was flawless. But the Gold Medal winner was Keith Froggett of Scaramouche. He poached remarkably flavourful filet mignon in a delectable but suavely lightweight mushroom consommé with a wee brunoise of autumnal vegetables and wild mushrooms. Morsels of hazelnut added textural crunch, their sweet nutty flavour harmonizing perfectly with the mushrooms. On top, like a kind of heavenly butter, a slice of cool foie gras torchon turned a demure dish into a moment of startling decadence.

We have now done four Gold Medal Plates events—in Halifax, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Toronto. Vancouver, Ottawa and Calgary are still to come. I find that I’m getting used to the buzz of it all, the high of the event, the always inspiring presence of Olympic and Paralympic athletes, not to mention the food. It reminds me of the time, long ago, when I was an actor and the curious sense that the hours spent on the stage every evening were the bright and focused reality, the rest of the day dimly lit, sluggish and less than engaging.

I dare say there will be a downer when the last event is completed, though we will already be gearing up for the next stage of the championship in Whistler next February, where the gold medal-winning chefs from each city compete against each other in four gruelling competitions. It’s going to be quite the party, lasting from February 1st to 4th, 2007, with 100 or so guests joining in to help with the judging, with wine and Scotch tastings and plenty of time for skiing, snowboarding, spa stuff, hobnobbing with Canada’s greatest chefs, food writers and athletes (Steve Podborsky is hosting one of the soirées) and goodness knows what other entertainment. Dozens of cases of rare wine have already been sent up the mountain to be cellared in anticipation of our arrival. If anyone would like to join the party, they should let me know (post a message below) and I’ll see what I can do.

Proceeds from Gold Medal Plates will be evenly divided between the Canadian Olympic Foundation’s initiatives: Own the Podium 2010 and Road to Excellence supporting winter and summer athletes. Cheer on the gold medal-winning chef from your city! Have fun in a very good cause.