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
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
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
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"
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
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!
Malivoire CASSOULET EH
GAMELLE BISTRO, TORONTO, ONTARIO
Wednesday April 16th., 2003
Effective Use of Traditional Ingredients
Effective Use of Innovative Ingredients
Chef's (or Proxy) Appearance
Passion Shown in Presentation
Length of Presentation
Match with Foch
Match with Ladybug Rose