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This article was published 19/10/2015 (521 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Norm Pastorin saw right off the bat that getting to the top of the Gold Medal Plates’ podium was going to be an uphill climb.
"I was a little nervous at first when I saw what my colleagues were serving. I thought I didn’t do enough," said Pastorin, the chef at the Cornerstone Bar and Restaurant in Osborne Village. "But as the night progressed, I was getting a lot of feedback from everyone that they really liked it and made me feel a lot better."
The feedback was so good for his dish — confit salmon with a bacon-quinoa-salmon roe, pickled shallots, tamagoyaki (a type of Japanese omelette) and a soy-ginger-anise glaze, paired with Burrowing Owl Chardonnay from the Okanagan Valley — that Pastorin wound up winning the gold medal at the 10th annual fundraiser for the Canadian Olympic Foundation’s Own the Podium program.
The 2015 Winnipeg event lined up eight local chefs against each other and the clock — they had 90 minutes to serve their creations to 500 guests at the gala, among them a panel that included national judge James Chatto, an award-winning food writer and critic, joined by senior judge Barbara O’Hara (owner and chef at Dessert Sinsations Cafe); Jeff Gill (Red River College’s chef instructor and director of food services); Christine Hanlon (journalist, food writer and co-author of The Manitoba Book of Everything); Mike Green (Peg City food blogger and former MasterChef Canada competitor); and Luc Jean (Mon Amis Louis chef and last year’s Gold Medal Plates winner).
Pastorin won the silver medal last year, his first crack at the Gold Medal Plates. He felt the stress of greater expectations this time after doing so well in his first attempt.
"The second time around I felt a little bit more pressure to put out a good dish, whereas last year was my first time, so if I didn’t do well I wouldn’t have that pressure," he said. "That was something I put on myself, I guess."
He said the dish was made specifically for the competition.
"There is a version of the way the salmon is prepared currently on the menu (at Cornerstone), but the complete dish isn’t what I served that night," the Winnipeg-born chef said. "But we do dishes of that calibre as our weekend specials."
This year’s silver medal went to Jesse Friesen of 295 York, who served prepared cured bay scallops with smoked red pepper vinegar, cilantro, buttermilk oysters, chili oil and blue corn. The dish was paired with another Okanagan Valley wine, Steller’s Jay Brut.
Melissa Makarenko of Resto Gare in St. Boniface won the bronze medal with her offering of confit lamb spare rib and smoked loin with prairie millet grains, Manitoba Chaga mushroom-infused lamb reduction, spring spruce buds, wheat grass and pea emulsion. Makarenko served her dish with Winnipeg Blue Bomber Premium Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, which comes from Ontario’s Niagara region.
Dishes were judged on visual presentation (20 per cent), texture (20 per cent), taste (30 per cent), wine compatibility (10 per cent), originality (10 per cent) and "wow factor" (10 per cent).
The Cornerstone made headlines when it opened in May 2014, taking over the high-profile location at Osborne Street and River Avenue where Papa George’s Restaurant was for 35 years. Pastorin says business has gone well so far and the gold medal should add to the restaurant’s reputation.
"It’s hard to say, because nothing like this has happened before and we’re only approaching our second year in business," Pastorin said. "I’m hoping it will have a positive impact."
He will represent Winnipeg at the Canadian Culinary Championship on Feb. 5 and 6 in Kelowna, B.C. Pastorin is new to the competitive food scene, so the nationals will be a whole new experience, he said.
"Last year’s winner, Luc Jean, he offered to give me some guidance. I’ll probably reach out to past winners to get some helpful advice," he said.
Jean said his victory last year was definitely a proud moment, but says people shouldn’t confuse culinary competitions with the day-to-day operations of a restaurant.
"People are really into watching those things on TV because it’s high drama and exciting," he said prior to Friday’s event. "There’s more to being a chef than competing. At the end of the day, being a chef is getting butts in seats."