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. 

24 Hours in Vancouver

Throughout my 10 days in the Okanagan working harvest I was inevitably teased with stories of Vancouver's great restaurant scene and overrun with dining recommendations. 2007 was the last time I was in Vancouver and a lot has changed in its culinary scene, so I decided to pull the chute and cut my Okanagan trip a day early to go on a 1 day bender exploring restaurants to try get the pulse of Vancouver dining. Even though I didn't veer too far out of Gastown, here are a few highlights:

There was almost unanimous consensus in the Okanagan that my one must-visit for lunch was Meat and Bread at Hastings and Cambie. What a cool spot! Guys, somebody please open one of these in Ottawa! I had their Fraser Valley Veal sandwich and a Phillips Brewery 'Blue Buck' beer (which aesthetically could be the official beer of Capital Wine).

Next it was onto Salt Tasting Room on Blood Alley, an unlikely back alley just north of Hastings. I'd heard about this place for years, but never been. Minimalist cement, wood and metal design...couldn't be more my style. I had a great flight of BC wines that I wasn't able to try while in the Valley, perfectly paired with a mix of preserves, cheese and charcuterie. And turns out that seemingly shady Blood Alley is actually home to quite a cluster of great restaurants--I also popped by the elegant Boneta wine bar for an app and drink and went around the corner for a few cocktails from the passionate bartenders at L'Abattoir. All a stones throw from Salt...Great little area.


It was unfortunate that I only stopped by for drinks at Hawksworth in the Georgia hotel, this may have been the overall highlight had I spent some more time there. The service, design and wine list were tops. And I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little in love with their logo (similar black and white minimalism to Capital Wine?). The bottle of Little Farm Riesling we drank in the lounge was one of my favourite Rieslings I tried on the entire trip, and our server was an alumnus of Restaurant 18 here in many good things happening there. It will be the top of my list to revisit on my next trip out west.

A visit to YEW inside the Four Seasons involved a few more Phillips Blue Buck Ales and a surf and turf charcuterie board that was outstanding. It was nice to meet the affable Executive Chef Ned Bell, turns out he has a lot of Ottawa homeboys as well. It was becoming clear to me that Vancouver does hotel restaurants and bars really really well!

While Meat and Bread, Salt and Hawksworth may have been my favourite stops from a list of 10 restaurants in 24 hours, very honourable mentions also go to Chambar, Wild Rice and Catch 122. Everything was really impressive and all within the Gastown area walking distance from my hotel. I'm a big fan of Vancouver again!

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:

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).

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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

In Oregon Veritas

I recently had Mark Vlossak, the president and winemaker at St. Innocent Winery in Salem Oregon visit Ottawa for a day of exclusive wine events.  St. Innocent is consistently regarded as one of Oregon's overall best wineries: prized by the most enthusiastic collectors, listed by the best restaurants and rated highest by the critics. The man behind the wine is a former pediatric doctor who moved to Oregon for an internship in 1980, then after being randomly inspired by an article in Bon Apetite magazine that predicted Oregon to be the best location to grow Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in America, he changed careers and never looked back. Since then Mark has become one of the foremost advocates of Oregon wines and is regarded as one of the Willamette Valley's pioneers and greatest ambassadors. This was more than evident when he came to Ottawa, as he wanted to educate everybody on top Oregon wines overall, as well as his own.

So to best showcase Mark's wines we reserved the entire Wellington Gastropub for a Masterclass on Oregon wines followed by an intricate four course lunch designed by Chef Chris Deraiche to pair perfectly with the wines. Then we invited a room full of Eastern Ontario's top buyers of American wine and wine writers to learn all about Oregon.

[caption id="attachment_51" align="aligncenter" width="584" caption="Brookstreet Hotel Sommelier Rene Wallis, also a blogger:"][/caption]

The great thing about this seminar was that Mark didn't want it to be just about his wines from St. Innocent. He asked me to bring some other great examples of Oregon wine from our portfolio to showcase alongside his to help build context and promote Oregon as a whole. Luckily we have an outstanding portfolio of Oregon wines in addition to St. Innocent, so I was able to bring great examples from Westrey, Bethel Heights, Adelsheim Vineyard, R. Stuart & Co. Winery, as well as Amity Vineyards. It was such a great learning experience because Mark not only knows all the winemakers from the rest of these vineyards personally, but in many cases has shared vineyards or even made wine with them.

[caption id="attachment_53" align="aligncenter" width="584" caption="Always animated: Mark using a knife to explain something about Oregon Sub-AVAs"][/caption]

The major takeaway points of Mark's presentation were that his wines are made to go with food, to be an extension of a meal, in a sense built to heighten the pleasure and experience of dining. They tend toward higher acid levels rather than being overly fruity, jammy or alcoholic; they are spicy, savory, incredibly complex and age worthy wines. All of Mark's wines are grown organically and in most cases biodynamically.  He believes this adds complexity to the grapes while they're in the vineyard, rather than needing to compensate for uninteresting fruit with overly intrusive wine making techniques in the cellar. They key to really great wine is starting with really great fruit, and when you can let nature do most of the work, minimal intervention in the wine making process will produce far more interesting wines. He looks to Burgundy for inspiration in his wines, in other words: they're complex, spciey and earthy like his 'Momtazi' Vineyard, but there is a subtlety and elegance even in his more powerful vineyards like the 'Freedom Hill'. Another major focus of the seminar was highlighting the outstanding white wines of Oregon. Likely most famous for its Pinot Noirs, Oregon often gets overlooked in its ability to produce some of the very best Burgundian style Chardonnays and Alsatian style Pinot Blancs and Pinot Gris. In fact, the St. Innocent 'Vitae Springs Vineyard' Pinot Gris was one of the day's favorite wines.

Since the lunch seminar was geared toward those in the wine trade, we wanted to have a slightly less academic version open to the public in the evening. The great team at Restaurant Eighteen volunteered to host the dinner and Chef Matthew Carmichael created an outstanding six course tasting menu paired with seven of Mark's wines from St. Innocent for $150/person.  This intimate wine dinner was capped at 30 people and sold-out immediately. Mark entertained the guests throughout the evening with his famous passion, dry wit and keen insights into the wine. Most winemakers are really interesting and passionate people who are crazy about one thing or another in relation to their wine...Mark's passion lies in wine dinners.  This is why he makes wine: to enhance a great meal. So the very best place to find him in his element is at an outstanding wine dinner, and he said that the dinner at Restaurant Eighteen was one of his most memorable.

[caption id="attachment_54" align="aligncenter" width="584" caption="2008 & 2007 St. Innocent 'Momtazi Vineyard' Pinot Noir @ Restaurant Eighteen"][/caption]

Since Mark's visit to Ottawa, St. Innocent has really taken off in the city. The wines have been bought by the case by many collectors and has found homes on many amazing wine lists around town. For more information on the wines themselves you can visit Lifford Wine Agency, St. Innocent Winery, The Wine Advocate or The Wine Spectator.

These wines are produced in very limited quantities and often have waiting lists for the following vintages, but you can still find lots on wine lists around town for your next great dinner out at Restaurant Eighteen, The Wellington Gastropub, Brookstreet Hotel, Hy's Steakhouse, The Shore Club, Play Food & Wine, Fraser Cafe, Bin 790, Juniper Kitchen & Winebar, Courtyard Restaurant or Absinthe Cafe.

And finally here is a fun video interview with Mark Vlossak by our very own Nick Keukenmeester for Lifford's 'Wine of the Week'.  If you are interested in more info on St. Innocent or just want to be informed of similar events and wine dinners in the future feel free to contact me at

Beautiful British Columbia

[caption id="attachment_24" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="Chef Anna March"][/caption] Hosting wine dinners is one of my favorite things.  A couple months ago my good friend Anna March, the executive chef at Mariposa Farms, lined up a special dinner event for July 27th at The Urban Element in Ottawa. The theme of her dinner was seasonal British Columbia fare, and knowing how amazing our BC wine portfolio is she asked me to help with the pairings.  So over a Monday night tapas menu at Allium back in May we brainstormed our ultimate summer seasonal British Columbia menu.

For those who have never been to The Urban Element before, it is one of Ottawa's great contemporary design venues. Inside the former fire hall on Parkdale Ave, just north of Gladstone, owners Carley and Oliver Schelck have created a large industrial chic open concept kitchen and dining room perfect for cooking classes, special events and wine dinners. So for $135 per person Anna and I put together a six-course menu of her favorite foods from time spent living and cooking in BC paired with some of my favorite wines from the Okanagan Valley. I led a tutored tasting and Anna did an oyster shucking and risotto cooking demonstration for the 20 guests in attendance.  It was a fantastic night of communal dining at the harvest table with BC oysters, salmon, crab, quail and cod; and to pair with Anna's more delicate seasonal flavours we used the fresh and elegant wines of Blue Mountain Winery and Joie Farm.

Photographer extraordinaire Orion Zuyderhoff-Gray was also in attendance to document the evening. Most of the photos below were taken by Orion.  For more information on The Urban Element, Anna March and Mariposa Farm or Orion Zuyderhoff-Gray follow their links to their home pages. There is always fun food and wine things happening at the Urban Element. Keep an eye on their calendar for upcoming events. This is what our BC dinner looked like last week: