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- Whistler chef crowned Canada’s best at Ottawa gala
Whistler chef crowned Canada’s best at Ottawa gala
Canada’s top chefs land in Ottawa for the national culinary championship.
Year after year the team behind Canada’s Great Kitchen Party, uncovers new culinary talent tucked away in places both remote and known.
As in previous years the competition was divided into three sections: The People’s Choice Award on the first night. The Mystery Black Box Challenge, and the Judge’s Award on the second day and night respectively.
It was a grueling few days for these chefs and if it were me, I’d still be sleeping it off.
Then there’s the matter of the Canadian wine which may soon be as collectible as any of the best from the new world. I really did enjoy simply stunning stuff from new Niagara wineries such as King + Victoria and Kern & Co.
Le Grand Clos Chardonnay. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout
Then there was the distinct pleasure of seeing winemaker Thomas Bachelder’s Le Clos Jordanne Chardonnay on the table. He is one of North America’s foremost talents in the production of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and this 2021 Le Grands Clos was a shining example of how great Ontario wines can be.
Then it was on to a marathon of fine eating at the hands of the assembled chefs.
Ottawa chef Raghav Chaudhary. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout
Aiana chef Raghav Chaudhary, whose cuisine is well known to local gastronomes, represented us well with a first night dish of chopped beetroot with leek, rice, onion and sunflower seeds. Nicely presented and a combination that put him in the People’s Choice top three for me.
Chaudhary’s beetroot dish. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout
Garrett Thienes’ creation. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout
Thienes offered up a cherry wood smoked pork loin with an onion jam and gruyere potato pavé with sides of pickled shiitake, pumpkin seed crumble, Saskatoon berry relish and double-smoked bacon.
This was elevated comfort food and Thienes showed a talent for marrying flavours and textures for an interesting adventure. Another criteria I use in assessing a chef’s palate is how judicious are they when using a smoker? In this stand-out dish Thiene’s showed himself to be a master, with the smoke adding just the mildest accent to the supple pork.
I heard people around me groaning in pleasure as they ate and when I asked “Potato pavé?” with mouths full, all they could do was nod.
J.P. Dublado’s dish. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout
That first night however the People’s Choice Award went to J. P. Dublado for a dish that I couldn’t get enough of. In fact I went back for seconds before the bell rang announcing the end of the competition.
What an invigorating invention he offered with a soy and beet cured albacore tuna, puffed wild rice, ponzu gel, pickled shimeji mushrooms, tomato water and beet green oil. The experience is still rattling around my head as one of the most memorable tastes I’ve enjoyed in years.
On the final next night of competition he would go on to create another dish that I felt could have taken gold. It had all the colour and whimsy of a Miro painting and might have been called Miro’s Mirror.
It was composed of sablefish, Hokkaido scallop, scallop and sablefish mousse, creamed corn and a beet tartelette. All elements were prizes in and of themselves but came together in absolute harmony.
Dublado’s final dish. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout
In the end he placed third but for the judges and the public alike, he became a major name on the Canadian culinary landscape.
Cruickshank’s Gold medal dish. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout
It was Jasper Cruickshank of Whistler’s Wild Blue Restaurant and Bar however that took home the gold medal.
His artful creation of side stripe shrimp terrine, tartlet of Dungeness crab, essence of geoduck clam, wakame leek crisp and leek puree easily made my top three.
It was an exercise in delicacy and purity. The treasures of the Pacific Northwest altered but their essence preserved for the pleasure of the palate and eye.
2023 Champion Briana Kim and the 2024 chef competitors. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout.
For Ottawa’s foodie set, the annual arrival of Canada’s Great Kitchen Party is a joyously delayed Christmas gift. Ottawans are showing their appreciation of the arrival of these fine talents, by selling out the event each year.
This is all to the good because what pleasures food and wine bring, the generous work of organizers behind the scenes, is what counts to thousands more.
This endeavour supports both MusicCounts and Spirit North two seminal charities that respectively provide musical instruments for children who need them and sports equipment and play opportunities for indigenous youth. It also supports programs in cities throughout Canada for those living with food insecurity.
The final ceremonies wound down through interludes of music courtesy of Steven Page and cellist Kevin Fox. Both were in fine form but Page won hearts with many of the hits that made The Barenaked Ladies famous.
2024 winners, from left to right: Rupert Garcia (Silver medal, Calgary), Jasper Cruickshank (Gold medal, Whistler) J.P Dublado (Bronze medal, Red Deer).. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout
Last year's winner Briana Kim was on stage to pass the cup to Jasper Cruickshank and outside we were invited to capture the smiling faces of the winners.
There’s always a little melancholy at the end of a journey like this but it’s heartening to know that there are only eight more months to the next regional championship.
Perhaps I’ll see you there. Next year’s Canadian Culinary Championship is already scheduled to take place once again in Ottawa, Jan. 31 to Feb. 2, 2025.