Mystery Wine Pairing at the Canadian Culinary Championships
One of my personal favorite events at the Canadian Culinary Championships is the mystery wine pairing. The premise is simple; the organizers choose a Canadian wine, remove the label and any other identifying marks and give it along with $500 cash to the competing culinary teams. Each team is then required to take the $500 and pair a dish with the mystery wine for 400 people. Exciting stuff.
On the opening day of the Championships Tantalus Vineyards hosted the opening ceremonies. The chefs had been touring the facilities they would be using throughout the competition and arrived after the venue had been filled, after entering the room to a hero’s welcome the fun began. First each of the judges was introduced and given an opportunity to explain their background and who they were to the crowd. Newfoundland’s own Karl Wells lent his voice to the oft overlooked plight of the small restaurant travelling to such a large event with some great words of encouragement.
After the judges had everything squared away it was time to announce the Chefs. Setting the tone for the week Chef Hussey of Chinched took the stage with a smile on his face and a beer in his hand. Before he was finished he had the whole room laughing, to say he did us proud would be an understatement.
After the judges and the chefs had their chance in the spotlight, everyone was assigned their culinary students and it was time for the wine. Each Chef was provided with a box containing the wine and funds and we were ushered on our way.
We decided to gather the troops and head back to our condo to try and make sense of the wine and decide which direction we would go (the team in mid discussion below). We quickly identified the wine as a Pinot Noir; we also assumed it was from the Okanagan although it turned out to be the Norman Hardie Pinot Noir from Prince Edward County in Ontario. Once we had decided on the wine we identified the key flavors we would like to incorporate into the dish; mushroom, earth and pork were what we decided to feature, we also remarked that the wine was lightly oaked and decided to incorporate a smoked component if possible.
If you’ve eaten at Chinched then you know one of our staple menu items is Charcuterie. Chef Hussey wanted to stay as close to his roots as possible and as the discussion continued the idea of a gourmet hotdog emerged. Keep in mind, serving 400 people on $500 leaves only $1.25 per plate so finding a balance of flavor and value was key; the hotdog covered both of these requirements in spectacular fashion.
Each component of the dish including the bread and condiments were made the day of the event, and it turned out to be a huge hit. The dish as served: The Beautiful Hotdog: pork sausage served on seared truffled potato bread with smoked mushroom ketchup, pickled mustard seed, dried apricot relish and finished with fresh baby greens (below).
We got some great feedback from the crowd and even heard positive things from Norman Hardie the winemaker himself. Unfortunately the rankings for each individual event were not released so we can’t be sure of how we did, but from the positive things we heard and from tasting the combination I think it’s safe to say we had a very strong showing!