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Cassoulet Eh! (April 21, 2003)

I am a great fan of cassoulet – that bean-rich dish from southwestern France. Three towns in the Languedoc claim to have invented this stew of small white haricot de Tarbe beans and various meats, each touting theirs as the only authentic version: Castelnaudary, where they use pork, ham and pork sausage; Toulouse, where they prefer their famous garlic Toulouse sausage, preserved duck or goose; and Carcassonne, where mutton is the meat of choice.

The term cassoulet, incidentally, comes from the name of the clay dish in which the dish is cooked, a "cassole."

On Wednesday, April 16th, Martin Malivoire, proprietor of Malivoire Wines, took over Gamelle restaurant on College Street West in Toronto for what he called a "Cassoulet Eh!" Martin invited ten local chefs to prepare a cassoulet which was to be judged by a motley crew of wine and food writers and restaurateurs.

While we waited for the proceedings to begin, we sipped on Malivore Rosé 2002, the best pink wine I've tasted from Canadian soil. Winemaker Ann Sperling told me that she used 85% Cabernet Franc and blended in less than 5% each of Gamay, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay Musqué. The wine is deep pink in colour with a bluish tint; on the nose, it has a lovely rose petal note above the strawberry bouquet; full-bodied, clean with a hint of residual sweetness, a lychee nuance to the strawberry fruit and a tannic lift on the finish. It costs $15 at the winery and will be released in Vintages on May 24th.

This was one of the wines we would be tasting with the ten cassoulets along with three vintages of Malivoire Old Vine Foch in magnum – 1998, 1999 and 2000.

We were handed a score sheet (see below) and instructed by my old friend Jacques Marie on how to judge the finer points of cassoulet by critiquing Martin Malivoire's own effort (which meant we had eleven altogether to taste.) We had to score a variety of features of the dish and its creator, which got quite hilarious as the evening wore on and the bottles were drained.

Now, I have judged the Dairy Farmers' Canadian Cheese Grand Prix three times (120 cheeses to taste in two days), which is a pretty binding experience, but eleven cassoulets – that is something else.

We were treated to Asian fusion cassoulet, seafood cassoulet, cassoulet with foie gras, traditional and non-traditional cassoulet, and when it was all over my favourite was the very traditional style of Chef Jean Jacques Texier of Sassafraz.

I append the press release I received the next day from the Malivoire winery.


 

Cassoulet Eh?

Martin Malivoire has always maintained that his Ladybug Rosé is a perfect match with Mediterranean-styled cuisine. In his recent travels in France, Martin took a special interest in the cassoulet, Languedoc's culinary claim to fame. He returned to Niagara to further research and perfect his version of cassoulet and, while seeking out the secrets of great cassoulet from chefs of his acquaintance, Martin discovered a hotbed of interest in the subject.

So to further heat up the debate, but always in the spirit of culinary camaraderie, Martin was inspired to invite several chefs to compete in Cassoulet Eh! – A Challenge. Chefs were supplied with a numbered, inscribed cassole (the traditional vessel for cassoulet), hand-made by Tony and Sheila Clennell of Sour Cherry Pottery in Beamsville, and a supply of lingot beans. What they did after that is where the challenge came in!

On April 16, 2003, ten chefs took up Martin's challenge and presented their results at Gamelle restaurant in Toronto, and everyone in attendance was a winner.

The evening started with a welcome from Jean Pierre Centeno, owner of Gamelle, whose staff pulled out all the stops to make this event possible. Martin then turned the proceedings over to the legendary Jacques Marie, the MC (Master of Cassoulet), for an entertaining historical and geographical perspective on cassoulet. And then the beans began...

Some purists and some innovators, each chef presented his dish and talked about his ingredients and inspirations. Twenty judges scored each cassoulet on numerous culinary factors including appearance, texture, and balance, as well as some less serious categories like "authenticity of accent" and "passion in presentation" to add some levity to the evening. Each cassoulet was also evaluated for "wine friendliness" with Malivoire's Ladybug Rosé and Old Vines Foch.

When the scores were tabulated, the cassoulet prepared by J.P. Challett of Bouchon Wine Bar was the Chefs' Choice (highest score for culinary factors as judged by the chefs only). Jean Jacques Texier of Sassafraz was an extremely close runner-up.

In the category of Critics' Choice (highest score in culinary factors by all judges), Av Atikian of The Rosedale Diner took home the award, with Michael Olson and Brian Green representing the Niagara Culinary Institute in a strong second place.

Mark Walpole of Levy Restaurants (Skydome) was able to wow the crowd with both his unconventional cassoulet and his presentation, and took home the prize for highest score overall – both culinary and "fun" categories.

Highest "traditionalist" marks went to Jean Jacques Texier of Sassafraz, with Sean Moore of host restaurant Gamelle close behind.

Among the judges, the food and wine writers gave highest marks to the cassoulet ably presented by Jill Steinberg on behalf of Owen Steinberg of JOV Bistro.

Based on the reaction of the participating chefs and judges, Malivoire's first Cassoulet Challenge may have to become Malivoire's annual Cassoulet Challenge.

Malivoire Wine Company is a producer of limited-quantity wines, located on Niagara's Beamsville Bench. Environmentally responsible viticulture, a pump-free winemaking process and a sensitive interpretation of vintage are hallmarks of the Malivoire perspective.

Like great cassoulet chefs, Malivoire is traditional and innovative in just the right proportions!


SCORE SHEET

Malivoire CASSOULET EH

GAMELLE BISTRO, TORONTO, ONTARIO
Wednesday April 16th., 2003

JUDGE'S NAME:

CULINARY FACTORS
Appearance
Aroma
Flavour
Texture
Balance
Effective Use of Traditional Ingredients
Effective Use of Innovative Ingredients
Enjoyment

QUALITATIVE FACTORS
Chef's (or Proxy) Appearance
Passion Shown in Presentation
Most Sportsman-like
Accent Believability
Length of Presentation
Friendliness

WINE FRIENDLINESS
Match with Foch
Match with Ladybug Rose

 

 

 

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