The Mother of All Parties

The Mother of All Parties

This blog post, dear reader, is essentially an invitation. An invitation to a three-day gastronomical extravaganza being held on February 7th, 8th and 9th right here in our own backyard. And since you have shown the impeccable taste and good sense to click on this blog, I am delighted to offer you a unique opportunity to take part in the culmination of this amazing weekend at a substantially discounted price.

Que pasa, you ask? Let me explain. On each of the three evenings there will be an extraordinary, no-holds-barred culinary competition between seven of the best chefs in Canada, champions all, from seven different cities. Interspersed between all the competitive events will be some terrific little escapades for food and wine lovers. And the whole thing ends on Saturday night with the mother of all food parties and the coronation of the 2007 Canadian Culinary Champion.

Yes, this is the latest evolution of the Canadian Culinary Championships. First held last February in Whistler, this is an event where the chefs who won gold at the Gold Medal Plates events across the country do battle in a series of gruelling competitions. We also bring together the senior food writer or restaurant critic from each city—a brains trust of such extraordinary power, experience and objectivity that it is a marvel of the modern age—who join me to form the adjudicatory panel that chooses the winner. This year it’s happening in Toronto—for the first and probably the last time for years to come. What I would like above all things, dear reader, is to share the fun with you. There are six elements to the weekend, each of which is described below. You can cherry-pick the events you like the sound of, or you can buy the entire package—which, of course, gives you a lovely discount of $60 to spend on anything you please.

Here’s how the weekend pans out:

What: The Welcome Reception and The Black Box (Competition I)When: Thursday February 7 at 6 p.m.Where: George Brown College (300 Adelaide St. E.)Amidst much fanfare and rejoicing the competing champions and their trusty sous-chefs from across the country are introduced during the VIP reception. They are (in no particular order): • Anthony Walsh of Canoe (Toronto) • Martin Ruiz Salvador of Fleur de Sel (Halifax) • Roland Ménard of Manoir Hovey (Montreal) • Melissa Craig of Barefoot Bistro in Whistler (Vancouver) • Paul Rogalski of Rouge (Calgary) • Judy Wu of Wild Tangerine (Edmonton) • Michael Moffatt of Beckta Dining and Wine (Ottawa-Gatineau) Once introduced, the chefs will be led away into the cone of silence then brought forth one by one to the competition kitchens where each will be handed the dreaded “Black Box” containing five secret ingredients. Iron Chef-style, they will have one hour to create two dishes for each of the judges, using all the ingredients from the box and anything they wish from the communal pantry. This is always the most exciting and intense part of the Championships, when stress levels and sometimes tempers run high.

What: Rare Wine Niagara Tour and Coach PartyWhen: February 8 at 10 a.m. Where: Various locations in the Niagara wine regionAn amazingly exclusive, behind-the-scenes wine tasting tour to Niagara led by the great David Lawrason who is not only my colleague at Toronto Life but also National Wine Advisor to Gold Medal Plates. Off you go with David (numbers are extremely limited—probably no more than 20 eager connoisseurs) for a unique tasting and a superb lunch in wine country. I need hardly add that David knows everyone in Niagara and will be pulling strings and calling in favours to open the finest bottles (and barrels) in the peninsula. This particular event is a total bargain at $250, including transportation, all wine tastings and a gourmet lunch. It takes all day but you will be back in time for the second leg of the competition (below).

What: Mystery Wine Pairing (Competition II)When: February 8 at 6 p.m.Where: The Century Room (580 King St. W.)On Thursday evening, each chef will have been given an unlabelled bottle of the 2007 CCC’s “mystery wine” with instructions to create a dish that would perfectly match the wine and a small sum of money with which to buy ingredients. Tonight, at the Mystery Wine-Pairing Competition, they take the stage to explain why they have cooked what they have cooked and to present their dishes for all the judges and guests to taste. There will be entertainment—the amazing Dr. Eugene Draw—and honorary judges such as Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo joining the party. The surprise guest is the winemaker who created the mystery wine and who will describe it at the Great Unveiling later in the evening. Guests will vote for their favourite dish and these results will be announced before the whole affair morphs into a glamorous, probably-quite-loud, rest-of-the-night party.

What: Dim Sum Lunch When: February 9 at 12 p.m.Where: Lai Wah Heen in the Metropolitan Hotel (108 Chestnut St.)What better way to celebrate Chinese New Year than with a spectacular dim sum lunch specially prepared for us by Lai Wah Heen’s dim sum master, Terrence Chan—in my opinion, the best dim sum chef in Canada. Chan will introduce each tiny perfect treasure and yours truly will offer a small overview of the past and present glories of dim sum.

What: The Ultimate Scotch TastingWhen: February 9 at 3 p.m. Where: Soho Met Hotel (318 Wellington St. W.)This is one for single malt aficionados. I have managed to get hold of some rare and dismayingly expensive single malt Scotch whiskies which we will taste together in a leisurely and civilized fashion while discussing the fine art of distillation and many other matters, some related to the subject in hand, some not so much.

What: The Grand FinaleWhen: February 9 at 6 p.m. Where: Arcadian Court (401 Bay St.)At last, here is the ultimate party. How to describe the delights that await? There will be wonderful wines, introduced by David Lawrason; star-studded entertainment; and a whole posse of celebrities with whom to mingle, including honorary ambassador Justin Trudeau. If you can only spare one evening, this is the party to choose. Each of the chefs will be preparing one dish at his or her food station for everyone to taste, paired with his or her chosen wine from any winery in Canada. After that, the judges’ marks for the whole weekend will be tabulated and the announcement made of the 2007 Canadian Culinary Champion. The official crowning will take place. Apart from the glory of being named the winner of Canada’s most significant national culinary competition, the champion of champions will go on to be Executive Chef for a day at the Olympic Village, cooking for the athletes during the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games in 2010. Cool prize, eh?

So there you have it. As I mentioned, tickets for each of these events can be purchased à la carte—or there are a number of different packages and permutations that can save you money, all of them neatly set out (along with added perks like free Champagne, a hobnobbing meet and greet with all the chefs and judges, an autographed book collection and much much more) at the CCC Web site.

I think it’s going to be the gastronomic weekend of the year. And one more thing: because you have read this far in the blog, dearest reader, I’d like to offer you a double-secret, Chatto’s Digest deal, just as I hinted back in paragraph one. The first 50 people to buy a ticket to the Grand Finale event (normally $295 plus tax) as a result of reading this blog will receive a $100 discount.

To qualify, simply cal
l the CCC office at (416) 646-2930. Leave a voice message, giving your name and phone number and quote my secret blog code of “Chatto1A”. You’ll be added to the list in the order in which your call was received and we’ll let you know if you were one of the first 50 lucky callers.

Gosh, what fun.