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    Default food fight

    New culinary star rises
    Winnipeg wunderkid beats odds to humble celebrity competition

    Judy Schultz

    Wednesday, February 07, 2007

    WHISTLER, BC - It's such a very Canadian story.

    Makoto Ono, the unknown chef from Gluttons Bistro in Winnipeg, is the new Canadian Culinary Champion, winner of the Gold Medal Plates competition held this past weekend in Whistler, B.C.

    The story of the rise of the come-from-behind kid from Gluttons runneth over with Canadian, and Olympic, spirit.

    As chefs and judges arrived in Whistler last Thursday, the buzz was all about the famous guys. There was Toronto's Mark McEwan, chef from North 44, whose every syllable and gesture was being recorded by an in-your-face television crew, making an episode for McEwan's own Food TV show, the wildly popular Heat.

    There was Ottawa's Michael Blackie, freshly returned from Spain, immersed in the molecular gastronomy of El Bulli's Ferran Adria, recently named the world's top chef. Blackie, too, had a following of photographers and videographers dogging his heels. He'd brought his own sommelier.

    The early buzz had the pair of them as neck-and-neck leaders of the pack.

    However, from the first forkful the judges tasted, it was clear that there were no slouches in the field. Almost everything was delicious. Anything could happen.

    Opening round, the dreaded black box, contained the mystery ingredients: scallops, venison flank, fresh quince, bell peppers, a package of dulce (seaweed). All ingredients had to play a significant role in two dishes, to be planned, cooked and presented to assembled judges within the hour.

    Think of the barely controlled chaos of Iron Chef, in a much smaller kitchen.

    Think of five weirdly disparate ingredients, ("What the hell is this?" croaked one sous-chef, hefting a hard, green quince).

    Think of three teams of chef-plus-sous-chef working at once in a congested, unfamiliar and (it must be said) inconveniently equipped kitchen, dodging each other, bumping into photographers, scrambling for pans ("Nasty pans," barked Blackie at one point) keeping an eye on the clock, and vying for room at the six-burner stove.

    Rather than sprint across the kitchen and fight for space, Edmonton's Michael Brown opted to make do with a portable gas burner.

    Soon, all hell broke loose. Sweet peppers, forgotten on the stove, burned to a crisp. Sauces, too hot for too long, had to be restarted. Some of the venison was definitely over the hill. ("It's green," growled McEwan, sniffing it and discarding almost a third as inedible.)

    Makoto Ono quietly worked the second shift with his sous-chef, Chantalle Noschese, making fresh udon noodles with herbs for a broth of dashi, keeping his flavours concentrated but pure, gently cooking the venison and slicing it thin, so it would continue to cook when added to the broth, then flaming the scallops, serving them with quince chutney and red pepper foam.

    All of this while being watched by the cheering section of 50 foodies from Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and points east who had paid big dollars to attend.

    Four chefs left out an ingredient, two failed to stop when the clock ran out. Points were forfeited. Only the new kid, Makoto Ono, managed to stick to the rules.

    Second challenge: Following the first go-round, chefs were presented with a mystery wine. They had to go shopping, devise a dish to pair with it, and spend no more than $300, but be prepared to serve about 70 people. Some chefs bargained for extras, a truffle here, some foie gras there. Makoto Ono spent less than $100, and donated the rest back.

    Edmonton's Michael Brown had no problem identifying the wine, and chose to risk a vegetarian dish -- a beggars purse of crisp pastry stuffed with portabella mushrooms and brie, complemented by a compote of plums and wine.

    Blackie, of molecular cuisine fame, vac-packed black cod in a sugar/salt brine, "more sugar than salt", and cold-smoked it over cherry wood to complement the tobacco, chocolate and eucalyptus he detected in the wine.

    McEwan devised "an earthy dish ... for an earthy wine," using braised buffalo leg and 20 per cent caribou to make a flavour-laden shepherd's pie topped with heavenly, butter-loaded mashed potatoes, accompanied by a shot of gamebird consomme garnished with wild mushrooms and foie gras.

    Makoto Ono found the wine confusing, and said so.

    "So I kept (the food) deliberately simple," he said. And he finished his plate with a genius move -- tiny cubes of jelly made with agar agar and the mystery wine.

    Third and final challenge: the gala tasting. They were to create their finest dish, using any ingredients they wished, at a consumer tasting for 150.

    Michael Brown used dry ice for a smashing effect, garnished bison tenderloin with edible gold foil, and added a tiny container of popcorn "for fun."

    McEwan started with a crab bisque, made a Dungeness crab ravioli and finished with a torchon of foie gras.

    Blackie went with three separate elements: caviar, foie gras and a yolk of egg, perfectly cooked at exactly 64 C to produce a sort of "eggsphere ... like edible sunshine;" plus Charlevoix veal with cheddar foam; and pancetta-wrapped rabbit loin with salmonberry retention.

    Makoto Ono used tuna, three ways. Olive-oil poached. Tartare, with beets and ginger. And a panacotta with tea-smoked air-dried tuna.

    When the final results were tallied, judges had one clear winner, followed by a tight race for silver and bronze.

    The music cranked up, the bronze (Mark McEwan) and silver (Michael Blackie) medallists were on their respective podiums, and a roomfull of well-fed foodies held their collective breath.

    When chief judge James Chatto made his announcement -- "Makoto Ono, Canada's Gold Medal Plate culinary champion" -- the kid from Winnipeg, the guy who'd wanted to be an artist but became a chef instead, could hardly believe his ears. The room erupted in cheers, and possibly a few tears.

    Today, Ono is back in his 12-table bistro on Winnipeg's Corydon Avenue, cooking.

    Next stop, Beijing, 2008.

    "It's surreal," he told Bistro. "I can't believe it happened."

    GOLD MEDAL PLATES

    Last fall, in seven Canadian cities, a number of chefs entered the Gold Medal Plates competition.

    Billed as a celebration of excellence in cuisine, wine and sport, the GMP is also a fundraiser for Canadian Olympic athletes.

    The winners from each city came together in Whistler, BC, last weekend to go head-to-head in the final Canadian Culinary Championship.

    Through a series of three distinctly different culinary challenges -- the black box of mystery ingredients, a wine pairing competition and the final knock-your-socks-off dinner, each chef attempted to prove that he had that special combination of talent, creativity and sheer guts that it takes to be a champion in any field.

    COMPETING CHEFS

    - Ray Bear of Gio, in Halifax

    - Michael Blackie, Brookstreet, Ottawa

    - Michael Brown, of the Westin, Edmonton

    - Robert Clark, of C, Vancouver

    - Michael Lyon, Giorgio's Trattoria, Banff

    - Mark McEwan, of North 44 and Bymark (catering), Toronto

    - Makoto Ono, of Gluttons, in Winnipeg

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    I've never been to Gluttons, I shall have to go. Although, after this it seems unlikely I'd be able to get a reservation...

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    Damn, I thought this was about the school fights we get at school cafeterias.

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    Quote Originally Posted by wilfredlgf
    Damn, I thought this was about the school fights we get at school cafeterias.
    u like love hockey

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    An excellent read, very Canadian, very underdog, indeed.

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    Quote Originally Posted by wilfredlgf
    Damn, I thought this was about the school fights we get at school cafeterias.
    Same haha Love to be a chef

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