As I get older and the number of choices I have made in my life start to outnumber the choices I haven’t yet made, I find myself reading and re-reading a couple of quotes, whose origin is lost on me:
“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us”
“I can do anything I want, but I can’t do everything I want”
I have the broad shoulders of a swimmer and I have used them to propel me across the Northumberland Strait, a 13km stretch from New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island riddled with jellyfish and bisected by a major shipping lane.
But, I grew up in a small town with an outdoor pool and no swim team and to this day am not really sure how to do a flip turn.
An Olympic swimmer is one thing I will never be.
I spent a couple years in fits and spurts working in the restaurant industry. At the time, despite the fact that I loved it, I didn’t believe food – the making of it or the serving of it – to be a worthy profession. (I know…). I did not become a chef. Not to say I might not one day….but I’m not right now.
All this to say that last week, I had the distinct honour of being amongst folks who have made their bigger-than-life dreams come true. I attended the Gold Medal Plates Canadian Culinary Competition here in Halifax.
Gold Medal Plates is a fundraiser for Canadian Olympic athletes, which helps defer some of the huge costs associated with training for an Olympics, and contributes to and supports athlete development. The competition takes place across Canada, and invites the best chefs from each major city to prepare a dish for a panel of expert judges for the prize of moving on to the national competition and potentially taking home the honour of top chef at the Canadian Culinary Championships. Competition attendees not only get to sample the dishes of each chef but are also treated to incredible entertainment and the opportunity to bid on some amazing silent and live auction items. Like cycling trips to Provence with Jim Cuddy, or the chance to play golf with Wayne Gretzky. You know, no big deal, right?
I arrived early, in time to see some of the chefs preparing to being building their tasting plates, and others engaging in some pre-competition camaraderie.
The room began to fill up quickly with faces I vaguely recognized: movers and shakers in the local food and restaurant business, Olympic athletes (you could tell who they were because they were beautiful, well-muscled, and quite possibly wearing sneakers with their evening attire), entrepreneurs, TV personalities, and other local food and sport lovers.
This was when I started pinching myself. How had I, a food-lover, writer and sometime triathlete/swimmer wearing a cardigan and touting my camera and my underdeveloped palate, ended up here, with the media pass around my neck giving me the bravery hob nob with folks who’ve made a life doing two of the things – cooking and sport – I love the most?
Nevermind. It was time to eat. I started out with Mateus Bistro owner/chef Matthew Krizan’s BC spot prawn, smoked Indian Point scallop, Nunavut arctic char tartar, Hungarian wild boar, Slovak tuile and grandpa’s roe emulsification.
I loved how Matt used ingredients that were inspired by his life experiences. It was like eating a story.
You know, I could have stopped here and been quite satisfied. This was it: the bar was set and I realized the calibre of food that I would be tasting that evening. A different flavour profile in every bite, with a level of detail and artistic talent that was truly incredible.
Speaking of my underdeveloped palate, I ate things that night that I never dreamed of eating, caul fat included. There was lamb tongue and sweetbreads from Mark Gabrieau of Gabrieau’s Bistro, which I only tasted because I completely trust Mark to do justice to foods that would normally make shivers go up my spine (in a not-good way). He did, by the way: tongue, my friends, is delicious.
But then, there was the winner, both in my mind and in that of the judges, in fact. Martin Ruiz Salvador of Lunenburg’s Fleur de Sel restaurant created this incredible gourmet take on a traditional Nova Scotia breakfast. As any of you regular Purple House Cafe readers know, I am a sucker for fancified comfort foods, and I effing love breakfast. Before I even tasted the perfect unison of fried quail’s egg run through a dot of tomatillo confit, I knew that this dish was the winner.
As if that weren’t enough, the whole food station was brilliantly and thoughtfully decorated, with finishing touches that had me thinking Chef Martin must have been spending his downtime on Pinterest.
And, of course, the best meal of the night was also served with the. best. cocktail. ever. It had me wishing I’d brought a change of clothes and a wig with me so that I could justifiably get in line for another sample under the guise of an alternate identity.
Once the tasting was over, we were escorted into another room (and handed a glass of chocolate mint vodka for the journey) to enjoy the evening’s entertainment: Jim Cuddy, Sam Roberts, Bruce Gouthro, and Anne Lindsay.
What are the chances of ever seeing this quartet of Canadian icons performing together again?
Zero, my friends. Zero.
So there I was, getting all misty-eyed about the incredible music/being forty feet away from Jim Cuddy, the show-stoppingly delicious food, my proximity to the Olympians who had realized the achievements honoured by our society since the Greeks, and the awesomeness of an evening celebrating the best of the best – the people who had made their dreams come true by winning a medal, opening a hotspot restaurant, or writing a song that audiences around the world knew every word to.
And then, with my feet on the ground, my camera poised high, and my hands stinging from clapping, I realized: here I am, too slow for the Olympic pool, too likely to chop off a finger for the professional kitchen, owner of a guitar that is collecting dust rather than platinums, working on living the dreams I’d never dreamed I’d have for myself, and loving every minute of it.