Chefs Renée Girard, Kris Kurus or Graham Peltier will go on to represent Winnipeg at the forthcoming Canadian Culinary Championship in Ottawa, February 2-3, 2024.
After a six-stop dine-around event on Monday, September 25, a first in Winnipeg for Canada's Great Kitchen Party, these chefs had the three highest scores to podium. The winner will be announced on October 16 at a private fundraising event for Canada's Great Kitchen Party, which focuses on national and regional charities that provide fair access to healthy food, music education and sport opportunities.
After years of judging here in Winnipeg, it was my first time as senior judge (past senior judge chef Barbara O’Hara has moved to Vancouver) and I was joined by Christa Bruneau-Guenther of Feast Café Bistro (and Food Network’s Wall of Chefs), AV Kitching of the Winnipeg Free Press, two-time Winnipeg champion chef Jesse Friesen (executive chef of Academy Hospitality) and last year’s champion, chef Ed Lam of Yujiro, Gaijin Izakaya and Saburo Kitchen. The chefs' dishes were judged via a 100-point system we use every year, all based on the categories of texture, visual appeal, taste, technical ability, wine compatibility and wow factor, with taste taking up 40 per cent of the points.
Our evening started at The Forks Market, where chef Renée Girard of Made by Paste condiment and catering company used the new Passerby space to serve a rustic pasta dish that was like a warm embrace, all while celebrating the humble carrot. Her bowl of hand-rolled carrot capunti grabbed all the mildly spicy braised Vietnamese beef that it could, with the al dente pasta providing the texture along with a mix of braised and raw cubed carrots. The beef itself was spiced with Girard’s own 10-spice, along with anchovy sauce, brown sugar and ginger. Eating it The Forks Market, you couldn’t help but think what an outstanding après skate this dish would be. Chef paired it (with some assistance by Ellement Wine & Spirits GM Taylor Archibald) with a robust 2021 Nichol ‘The Village’ Syrah that melded with the dish. It’s a wine with which Girard is very familiar, having hosted Nichol’s Matt Sherlock at an event on her brother’s farm.
Next up was chef Graham Peltier of Sous Sol, a chef who immediately had our attention with the plating of his bison carpaccio on a pool of smoked Salt Spring mussel velouté. The plate was surrounded and dotted with a green herb oil with some colour – and some lively acidity – coming courtesy of small cubes of a reduced and fermented wild blueberry gelée. Texture came via the mussels themselves, along with toasted thin slices of sourdough focaccia, perfect for loading bison shavings, and drenched in chanterelle mushroom butter. The dish was paired with Rosewood Estates Riesling AF, a bright, wild fermented wine which proved a nice match with its citrus and pear notes.
From there, it was on to 529 Wellington where chef Östen Rice of WOW Hospitality, a past Winnipeg champion (2012) who will soon lead the kitchen at 529 Uptown, presented an ambitious dish that was both an ode to his cooking journey and a cheeky nod to his grandma who had a thing for beef and HP Sauce. The dish was called a “meat + potato retrospective” and had some nice elements like plums that were poached in umeboshi, shiso, sake and honey to make for little flavour explosions, and a crispy-on-the-outside and fluffy-in-the-centre pomme dauphine. The main sauce under a sphere of wagyu-wrapped foie gras mousse also had an undeniable intensity. The dish was paired with Tawse Winery, 2019 Sketches Riesling, a wine that is citrusy-yet-creamy, which worked well with some of the rich elements on the plate.
Manoomin at the new Wyndham Garden Winnipeg Airport was next, where executive chef Jennifer Ballantyne and her charming front of house staff presented a smoked elk loin paired with a Riesling, this one being the Chronos, 2020 from Okanagan. The rosy loin came sauced with a scorched sage-infused jus, along with addictive elements like a powder of charred onion ash and puffed wild rice crumble, which was all quite delightful on one fork. There was also a silky parsnip and squash purée, and half radishes and heirloom carrots that still had a just crisp enough centre via a gentle confit.
Our last two stops were in the Exchange District, first at deer + almond then Bahay Kubo.
At deer + almond chef Kris Kurus created a tribute to both Manitoba and his Ukrainian heritage with a local pork terrine wrapped in cabbage that he called, “a celebration of humble Manitoba.” The technique and flavour of the terrine, which was spiced like farmers’ sausage, was impressive, while the saucy elements – one a super reduced tomato broth that paid homage to cabbage rolls, and the other a luxurious celeriac purée – were so harmonious within the dish. Best of all were the two tiniest mushroom duxelles perogies that you’ve ever seen. They had this flaky dough that was like an empanada when you get buttery air bubbles that add that extra bit of texture. On top of the tomato broth, there was more acidity courtesy of smatterings of pickled chanterelles and carrots, while the wine – the 2018 Pearl Morissette Cab Franc – seemed made for this dish.
Bahay Kubo's chef Eejay Chua also had a pairing that totally rocked, but in a whole different style that was more about complementing flavours than harmony. His pork belly with qual egg and black garlic humba sauce was served with an ice-cold mango calamansi beer (the frosty tiki glass was a nice touch) that was created for the restaurant by One Great City Brewing Co. The pork belly itself was rendered and crisped expertly, and Chua’s viscous sauce – which was like adobo with even more umami – had us rubbing every inch of the plate to get it all with the pork. For added texture there were also fried bits of coconut and pickled onion, with the mango calamansi beer so fitting to wash down this very tasty play on bacon and eggs.
The Canadian Culinary Championship, which is regionally called Canada’s Great Kitchen Party, has been held annually for 17 years. Winnipeg’s best results in the competition were gold for chef Makoto Ono (formerly of Glutton’s) in the competition’s inaugural year, and bronze for chef Emily Butcher (then of deer + almond, and now of Nola) in 2020.
Stay tuned to the October 16 announcement of who will go on to represent Winnipeg in Ottawa.