The Night That Was: Martin Picard Popup Dinner

This year's opening dinner for the Ottawa Wine and Food Festival featured famed Montreal Chef and cookbook author Martin Picard from Au Pied du Cochon and The Sugar Shack. The dinner was for roughly 400 guests, held at an unlikely location in Little Italy that was kept secret until only a few days before the event. As lovely as the Sala San Marco on Preston Street is, the Italian banquet hall is quite a departure from The Sugar Shack. But in needing to expedite food to 400 people at once, this was a great venue to make it happen.

Hangin in the kitchen with Martin Picard and Norm Hardie

In planning for the event Martin insisted that his food be served only with Norman Hardie's wines. Norm's wines are such a perfect pairing with Martin's food as they both share an earthy/gamey/unfiltered/dirty/natural/raw essence. So Norm and I swung by the event to help out behind the scenes in the kitchen and chat about his County Pinot Noir and Niagara Chardonnay that were being featured. It turned out there wasn't much help required in the kitchen as Martin brought 10 of his cooks from Montreal who looked like nothing short of a well oiled machine. All the reports I heard from the dining room accounted for the impressiveness of their food and the timing of service. Nothing was cold and everything was cooked perfectly...its not easy to do smoked pig's heads for 400 people at once!

Pig heads fresh out of the wood-fired pizza oven

After the dinner the crew moved on to Oz Cafe to taste Jamie's Gold Medal Plates winning Yak and crush a few beers. All in all a great night with an excellent group from Montreal. A dinner definitely worth $125/per person dining family-style with wine included. If you haven't been yet, definitely visit Martin's restaurants next time you're in Montreal, but be sure to book in advance...they're as popular there as they were in Ottawa!

Martin also has a pretty great TV show on the Food Network called The Wild Chef featuring his journeys across Quebec exploring the cuisine and showing how he does what he does. 

Wine vs. Beer Throwdown

Back in early September Chef Michael Farber and I were at Brothers discussing Wittgenstein over a game of Backgammon when our mutual friend Dimitri van Kampen, the owner of Spearhead Brewing Co. arrived. He was overcome with a spell of liquid courage and threw down his gauntlet publicly challenging me to a duel--a wine vs beer pairing "throw-down". As a gentleman whose honour was offended, I demanded satisfaction and accepted the challenge. Chef Farber graciously offered his restaurant as a venue and to prepare for us a three course meal to facilitate the duel. I usually prefer to remain the strong silent type but Dimitri's agressive trash-talk began immediately in September. So with less than a week to go, the time has come to put out the fine china and set the record straight.

File photo: Dimitri van Kampen

Dimitri, pictured left rocking out with a much less interested man, thinks I'm intimidated by his challenge; but he shouldn't mistake my kindness for weakness. I admire his enthusiasm but he flatters himself. Having done wine dinners with Michelin-starred chefs and some of the world's top winemakers has more than prepared me for a duel with Dimitri. Spearhead burst onto the Ontario craft beer scene in 2011 with their popular Hawaiian-style Pale Ale known for its high alcohol, big hops, and pineapple fruit flavour. A year later they're back with a seasonal second beer temporarily in the arsenal--a Moroccan-style Pale Ale made with dates, figs and raisins which features more than a dash of cinnamon and sugar. Now Dimitri seems to be targeting the more delicate cuisine of the fine dining market with his high octane beers and is challenging me to make his case.

So the terms were set for Michael Farber to independently develop a seasonal three course menu for the duel. Dimitri would pair his two beers along with a 3rd wild card beer of his choosing, and I would pick any three wines for my pairings. Neither of us will have had the opportunity to taste the menu beforehand, we only have a list of ingredients to base our pairings. We will be presenting our choices between each course to provide some context to support our pairings. For his sake I hope there is pineapple on the menu. Godspeed.

The menu is set and the game is on for Wednesday, November 21st, 7:00pm at Farb's Kitchen & Wine Bar, 18 Beechwood Ave, Ottawa. Tickets are $60 plus taxes and gratuity, wine and beer pairings are included. It is a blind tasting menu, so we can't tell you whats in it, or what we're pairing. But you can rest assured that Farber's food will be tops and that I will be bringing some outstanding wines to do battle with Dimitri's beer. Note: It is not a vegetarian dinner and you will be expected to vote by secret ballot on your favourite pairings. So overall a great night of food, wine, beer and entertainment.

We're looking at only 1 seating of 40 people tops. So please reserve your seats immediately. You can call the restaurant directly at 613-744-6509.

The Night That Was: Gold Medal Plates Ottawa

For those who haven't been, Gold Medal Plates is a national fundraising event held in major cities across the country in support of our Olympic athletes. The premise is a food and wine pairing competition whereby the 8 invited Chefs partner with a Canadian winery to make one ultimate dish. It is judged by each city's top food and wine critics for a gold, silver and bronze medal and the winner from each city moves onto the national culinary competition.

This has come to be my favourite event of the year in the national capital region not only because it involves Ottawa's top restaurants and great local wineries, but because in a former life I used to live in Victoria and row for the National Team before getting into the wine industry. So this cause is dear to me because I know how underfunded many of our athletes can be making ends meet while competing at the highest levels.

Norman Hardie, Chef Jason Duffy, Andrew Rastapkevicius celebrating Silver

For the past 3 years I've partnered with a different restaurant in the competition as a representative of one of our Canadian wineries. This year Norman Hardie and I partnered with Chef Jason Duffy of ARC the Hotel. Jason's dish featured BC Ling Cod with mushroom cakes and slices of cured, smoked, rolled, and roasted porchetta. It was seasoned with pickled cherries and fennel pollen dust. Chef Duffy and I paired this with Norman Hardie's 2010 County Pinot Noir. The idea was to play on the smokey, salty, earthy notes of the Ling Cod, mushrooms and smoked porchetta with the similarly dirty, earthy notes in Norm's Unfiltered Prince Edward County Pinot Noir. The connecting cherry notes, fresh acidity and funky earthiness was a great combo that ended up taking the Silver medal!

Aside from the main pairing competition, the judges also have a competition for just the wines themselves, and Norm's Pinot Noir won the Gold Medal for best wine in show! This was also a small personal victory for me, as last year I partnered with Chef Matthew Carmichael at Sidedoor restaurant pairing his Lobster Tacos with Painted Rock's 2010 Chardonnay, and that wine took the Gold medal for best in show as well!

A big congratulations to Jonathan Korecki from Sidedoor for his Bronze medal ballotine of wild turkey breast and to Chef Jamie Stunt of Oz Cafe for taking the Gold with his Yak dish and now he will be representing Ottawa at the national event in Edmonton! Here are a few pictures from the Ottawa event:

Ottawa Wine & Food Show

Everybody who has been knows what a party the Ottawa Wine & Food Show can be. Almost too much of a party for some, but compared to many other food and wine shows, it is a significantly classier drunk-fest.  This is largely because 70% of attendees dress up: guys in suits, ladies in cocktail dresses and heels. Everybody puts in effort to look good and seem to be genuinely interested in learning about the wines, not just in getting loaded. So much that I'll probably do a Sartorialist feature on this blog next year for a Best-Dressed at the Wine & Food Show. Big ups for Ottawa.

Here is a hot tip for next year: Get tickets for the Fine Wine Tasting Alley. This is where we pour the best wines at the show...wines that are too expensive and in small quantities to pour en mass during the main show for everybody just looking for a glass of wine. These are some of the best wines from around the world. Tickets are $85 to get in and you're open game on sampling 75 top wines for 2 hours. We bring some amazing stuff: Cakebread Cellars Cab Sauv, Mitolo 'Serpico', Nicholas Feuillatte Brut Rose, Joseph Phelps Cab Sauv, etc.  Additionally, your purchase of the Tasting Alley ticket also gets you a free pass to the main show. A regular day pass is $21 plus the individual drink tickets. So if you're really into wine the best value is paying $85 for the VIP Tasting Alley ticket, tasting all those top wines for 2 hours, then getting in free to the main event, needing to only purchase the drink tickets on top. Here's a few pictures from our table at this year's Tasting Alley.

Cakebread Cab Sauv and some nice Louis Jadot 1er Cru Pinot Noirs are annual favorites, but this year we also threw in a Chardonnay from Joseph Phelps' new biodynamic property located in Freestone, Sonoma...aptly named Freestone Vineyards. They produce only outstanding Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and also operate a really cool 2nd label called Fog Dog -- which might be one of my favorite label designs ever.

Another amazing wine to note is the Mitolo 'Serpico' in the background below. You may know Mitolo Wines from their outrageously popular Mitolo Jester, a top Vintages Essential in the LCBO. Their flagship line of wines are some of the hottest wines coming out of Australia today. The 'Sperpico' is 100% Cab Sauv, but is dried on racks in their old potatos barns for 8 weeks, Amarone-style. This gives it that concentrated, rasiny, nose with super smooth texture that you'd expect from a subtle Amarone or great Ripasso, even though it is significantly less drying time than real Amarone, which can dry up to 4 months. This is clearly an unconventional practice a) with Cab Sauv and b) outside of Valpolicella...ergo using the namesake of Frank Serpico, the real life New York cop played by Al Pacino who went against the grain fighting crime, just like this Cab Sauv goes against the grain in winemaking. Interesting side note: the real Frank Serpico is still alive and sanctioned the use of his name on this wine...Mitolo sends him a case of it each vintage for the royalties. You can still find some Mitolo Serpico for a limited time in Vintages.

Painted Rock Comes to Ottawa

If you know me or have been following this blog you'll know that I really love BC wines. And one of the BC wineries we represent recently received some outstanding accolades at Wine Access Magazine's Canadian Wine Awards in Ottawa... On only its third vintage Painted Rock Winery has become one of the hottest boutique cult wineries in the country. With a maximum 5000 case production and following only their 2nd vintage they won two coveted Lieutenant General's Awards for BC wines and now on their 3rd vintage Wine Access has named them the #1 winery in BC and #3 overall in Canada. Incredible progress for a winery that has only been in existence since 2004 and producing wine since 2007! So last week as part of the Ottawa Wine & Food Show, Wine Access hosted an exclusive event where they revealed this year's major award winners and John Skinner the owner of Painted Rock flew in for the fun.

The format was a new one for me, they called it "Speed Dating meets Wine Tasting" which sounded cheesy at first, but turned out to be a great format. In small groups of 10, everybody gets 10 minutes with each of the 8 wineries, tasting their wines, hearing their stories, then when the bell rings you rotate onto the next winery. Because Painted Rock's 2009 'Red Icon' blend won gold, it was the wine we showed that evening.

The blend for the Red Icon changes every year based on the expression of fruit that each vintage provides. The Icon was conceived as a Bordeaux-like blend, but to be distinctively Okanagan. For Painted Rock this development came in consultation with their eonologist Alain Sutre who commented that the Painted Rock estate ripens Malbec and Petite Verdot like no other site he's seen in the world. Therefore they should use Malbec and Petite Verdot as starting componants of the blend, not as touch-up ingredients like in Bordeaux. So instead of starting the blend with a base of Cab Sauv and Merlot, in their first two vintages they started with Malbec and Petite Verdot and built the Cab Sauv, Cab Franc and Merlot around that. Now in its third vintage, because of the expression of fruit they decided to leave Malbec right out of the mix and instead use 1% Syrah to add something completely unique. Adding a Rhone variety to what was a Bordeaux blend is not a faux pas because they are insearch of a distinctly Okanagan wine, not Bordeaux or Meritage blend. With a final blend of 30% Merlot, 29% Cab Franc, 25% Cab Sauv, 15% Petite Verdot and 1% Syrah it looks like it worked out, as Wine Access named the '09 Icon the #3 red wine in Canada!

[caption id="attachment_91" align="aligncenter" width="584" caption="Andrew Rastapkevicius, Lifford Wine Agency & John Skinner, Painted Rock Winery"][/caption]

Unfortunately after a long trip to China immediately followed by two days of presentations and tastings with Ottawa restaurants before the Wine Access event, John lost his voice, needing me to co-pilot and help present his wines. In a hilarious turn of events, Anthony Gismondi suggested John start pounding back red wine to help get his voice back. When a top Canadian wine writer insists you start hammering back your own $90 wine, what can you say? But it worked! By the 4th or 5th group John was back in action presenting his wines.

Overall the event was a great success and Painted Rock was honoured to be recognized as a top producer of Canadian wines so early on. Since I needed to help present the wines, Rene Wallis (fellow blogger and sommelier at Brookstreet Hotel -, @ReneWallis) grabbed my camera and snapped all the pictures for this blog. The following are a few shots of some top wineries at the evening with Wine Access.

[caption id="attachment_94" align="aligncenter" width="584" caption="The boys from Tawse Winery in Niagara, winners of #1 Winery in Canada"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_97" align="alignleft" width="225" caption="Will Roman, Rosewood Estate Winery in Niagara"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_96" align="alignright" width="218" caption="Anthony Gismondi getting into some 2009 'Red Icon'"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_90" align="aligncenter" width="584" caption="At the Shore Club sharing a laugh and some 2007 Merlot with John Skinner and Rene Wallis, Brookstreet Hotel Sommelier and wine blogger:"][/caption]

The Ottawa restaurant scene has been very supportive of Painted Rock and other top BC wineries. In addition to the Red Icon, Painted Rock also produces a Cab Sauv, Merlot, Syrah and Chardonnay.  The following is a list of where you can find Painted Rock wines around town and see what all the hype is about. And for a short time there is a small amount of Painted Rock's 2008 Merlot available in Vintages.

Brookstreet Hotel, The Shore Club, Restaurant E18hteen, Empire Grill, Domus Cafe, Taylor's Genuine Food & Wine, Hy's Steakhouse, Fraser Cafe, Town, Wellington Gastropub and Johnny Farina's

Jacques Lardiere visits Ottawa

Its not every day (or year) that someone as important in the world of wine as Jacques Lardiere comes to Ottawa. Jacques is in a way who I want to be when I'm in my 60's. This guy is the stuff legends are made of in wine, I'd heard many of his theories 2nd or 3rd hand, but had never met him. He's influenced winemakers in all regions of the world, but never made wine outside of Burgundy. He's almost like the wine version of the Dos Equis man. He has an effortlessly cool panache with his full head of curly white hair behind black rimmed Armani glasses paired with a turtle neck beneath a blue blazer (with elbow patches), a red handkerchief and a turquoise watch...and he makes some of the best wines in the world. He's been the head winemaker at Maison Louis Jadot since 1970 and has seen just about every scenario that Pinot Noir and Chardonnay can throw at you. Negotiant houses in Burgundy can often get a lesser rap for the larger scale of their production by purchasing fruit from other producers and sub appellations in a region that is grounded in territorial singularity. Maison Louis Jadot under Jacques direction has elevated its reputation and separated itself from those kinds of producers by owning property all over Burgundy and producing estate wines that they've grown themselves and overseen completely. What fruit they don't grow themselves they purchase from farmers that they have had long-standing family contracts, some only handshake agreements spanning generations...after all Louis Jadot did celebrate its 151st birthday this year.

So for Jacques special trip to the capital, I organized an intimate tutored tasting and lunch for about 25 people at Restaurant E18hteen. We started with a flight of 4 whites: Macon-Villages, Bourgogne Chardonnay, Chablis and Meursault. Then moved into a flight of reds that started with their famous Beaujolais-Villages which is widely seen as one of the best examples of Village level Beaujolais because they practice 'replis' which is the process of declassifying 'Cru' Beaujolais fruit and blending it with the 'Village' level fruit. Jacques belives this gives the wine a great quality and complexity coming partially from the regions better vineyards. The Beaujolais was followed by an outstanding lineup of Pinot Noirs: 2006 Savigny-Les-Beaune, 2009 Cote De Beaune-Villages, 2005 Beaune Greves, 2007 Chambolle-Musigny, 2007 Beaune 'Clos Des Couchereaux' (of which there is still some bottles available in Vintages).

[caption id="attachment_83" align="aligncenter" width="584" caption="Photo Credit: Claire of"][/caption]

In the mere 4 hours we had with Jacques he was barely able to scratch the surface of his passion, but the one point that mesmerized me was his assertion that you can get different notes on the nose out of the glass when you swirl in opposite directions. I know this seems crazy, but grab a glass and try. If you're right handed, when you swirl your wine to aerate it you likely defaul to swirling it in a counter clockwise direction. This motion makes the wine swirl in an upward spiral, aerating the wine and releasing aromas from beneath. His idea is that if the wine is "working" (meaning if certain molecules in a well made wine from a complex terroir have fully polymerized, and this often requires aging to happen), you can a different set of aromas from swirling it clockwise in the opposite direction because the spiral is then going down. He made everybody try it and I have to say the idea is not as crazy as it sounds.

[caption id="attachment_84" align="aligncenter" width="584" caption="Photo Credit: Claire of"][/caption]

To finish off the seminar we had an incredible four-course lunch designed by Chef Matthew Carmichael to pair specifically with Jacques' wines. The wines all paired perfectly with the dishes and were able to extenuate them without overpowering. My personal favorite was the Nova Scotia poached lobster with barley, preserved lemon, spinach and lobster sauce. It hit all the right notes with the 2009 Pouilly-Fuisse it was paired with by playing texture off of the lobster and the cream, light herbatiousness with the spinach, and best of all elevating the citrus notes in the wine with the preserved lemon.

We also enjoyed an outstanding venison tartar with a 2009 Moulin-a-Vent from the Beaujolais, a 2002 Premier Cru Beaune 'Les Coucheraux' with a rack of lamb and the grand finale was a 2002 Grand Cru 'Clos Vougeot' with the cheese plate. A point Jacques underscored throughout the day was not to drink wines too early. They do often need time to come into themselves and we topped it off with an excellent case in point. While this 2002 will still age for years, it had all the complexities that Jacques was looking for in his "working" wine, swirling in both directions.

This was one of the best lunches in recent memory and I hope Jacques can come to town more often.

The Night That Was: Swedish Michelin Excellence at Restaurant E18hteen

I've had a busy few weeks following this event and have been meaning to post a follow up, but its gotten away from me until now.  I'd be remiss if I didn't make note of how amazing a dinner the crew at E18hteen presented by partnering with Swedish Michelin Starred Chef Gustav Trägårdh. I'd love to try capture it in words, but at this point I should let some pictures do the talking.  The following are a mix of photos taken by myself and Damian Hadala, head bartender at E18hteen.

The moral of the story was: watch out for Swedish cuisine, it is simple but innovative and is making waves internationally--and deservedly so. The moral of this post is: next time E18hteen is putting on a big dinner, you should go.

The food was amazing, we had incredible wines from houses like Malivoire in Niagara and Charles Smith in Washington State and most surprising of all, Chef Gustav was really funny. He came out between courses to present the food and tell a bit of a story behind it and with each story he had the dining room laughing. Nothing like a top chef who can put out Michelin Star food and have the crowd in stitches as well.


Top Swedish Chef to visit Ottawa

Heads up Ottawa foodies!! There are a few spaces left for an incredible dinner with one of Sweden's top chefs from the Michelin starred Sjömagasinet restaurant! Every so often Chef Matthew Carmichael and the culinary crew at Restaurant E18hteen host top chefs from other cities for collaborative dinners where they blend their various cuisines to come up with incredible evenings of food and wine. Back in June they hosted Derek Damon and his team from Montreal's DNA Restaurant for an outstanding dinner.  In similar fashion, this Tuesday October 25th Restaurant E18teen is partnering with the Swedish Embassy to present another very special guest, Chef Gustav Trägårdh from Göteborg, who will prepare a special 5 course menu in Ottawa.

Gustav Trägårdh is one of Sweeden's most celebrated chefs. His cuisine is simple, but full of flavors with Japanese, Thai and Swedish fusion. He has been working as head chef at Basement restaurant in Sweeden since 2001 and achieved his first star in the Michelin guide in 2004 and is currently at Sjömagasinet . He was awarded the best chef of the year in 2010 for his modern and simple creations at the culinary competition in Sweden.

When somebody says Swedish Chef, I usually think of Jim Henson's clumsy Muppet chef known for his many mishaps in the kitchen, as seen here being held up at gunpoint by a gang of lobster banditos. But the Michelin starred Chef Trägårdh couldn't be further from this. Here is a brief video showcasing his take on Lobster Salad, one of his signature dishes.

The food is not going to be the only incredible part of this evening. I am partnering with Eighteen's Sommelier Lachlan Dennis to present the evening's wine pairings with some great selections from Lifford Wine Agency.  Among others the evening will include wines from Norman Hardie Winery in Prince Edward County, Malivoire in Niagara and Charles Smith Wines out of Washington State. This is definitely a unique gastronomic feast for the sense that is not to be missed!

If you're interested in getting one of the few remaining seats, you can contact the restaurant directly at 613-244-1188 or email them at