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Cassoulet Eh! Encore
by Sheila Swerling-Puritt with Brian Stein
 (March 15, 2004)

As bouillabaisse is to Marseille, paella to Spain, cassoulet is le sud-ouest's claim to culinary glory. It is at best a hearty peasant dish, raised to the pantheon of greatness, using products the area is rich in – beans, lamb, duck or goose products, and often leftovers – cooked slowly and, of course, lovingly. When served, it fills the belly as only comfort food can.

There are two cities in southwest France that claim pride of place: Toulouse and Castelnaudry. What ultimately goes into varies from city to city – somewhere along the way the fabled walled town of Carcassonne got into the debate – but some things, as in a bouillabaisse, are a must and some things, like chicken, are a no-no.

Which brings us to Cassoulet Eh! Encore, the brainchild of Martin Malivoire, owner of Ontario's Malivoire Wine Company. What better way to bring together 16 Toronto and area chefs and pair the dish with two of Malivoire's premium wines made by winemaker Ann Sperling? Malivoire's 2002 Old Vines Foch, full and silky on the palate, which exhibited excellent red fruit and spicy oaky vanilla, and the full-bodied 2003 Ladybug Rose, which showed soft tannins and gentle acidity. Both were ideal matches for the flavourful cassoulets. Food and wine writers, plus the chefs, judged the final products. One thing is certain when the challenge is to taste 15 heavy bean-based dishes: a little can go a long way!

The event was recently held in Toronto at Jamie Kennedy's Wine Bar. Those arriving in the space set up for the tasting were met by the glorious scents of France wafting through the room, promising greater gustatory glory.

Chefs participating in this year's competition were:

  • Paul Biggs – Bodega
  • David Grascouer – Starfish
  • Michael Harrington – La Palette
  • John Higgins – George Brown College
  • Jamie Kennedy – Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar
  • Martin Kouprie – Pangaea
  • Segar Kulasegarampillai – Mildred Pierce
  • David Lee – Splendido
  • Aaron Linley – Bijou
  • Yasser Qahawish – Osgoode Hall
  • Guy Monjo – Reds Bistro & Bar
  • Anna and Michael Olson – Food Network & Niagara College
  • Steve Silvestro – Pastis
  • Matthew Sutherland – Fat Cat
  • Marc Zegers-Pony

The first flight was 8 tastings. Each chef presented his or her dish and talked about the ingredients and their inspiration. A couple of the chefs had roots in the sud-ouest; others had never tasted or cooked cassoulet before. So we received varieties of cassoulet based on their cookbook research and their unique spin on the ingredients. Martin Kouprie of Pangaea, who has a French lineage, claimed that Alice Waters of the famed Chez Panisse in Berkley was his inspiration. Judges scored each cassoulet on appearance, aroma, crust, flavour, texture, colour and viscosity. We also indicated on our score sheet which of the Malivoire wines we preferred as a pairing for the dish. Frankly, I found them both to be excellent matches.

By the second flight of 7 tastings, judges' portions had shrunk. After the tabulation was completed, the awards were given. Malivoire commissioned Tony and Sheila Clennell of Sour Cherry Pottery in Beamsville to make numbered, inscribed cassoles (the traditional vessel for cassoulet) and gave one along with a supply of lingot beans to each chef. They also presented a pottery crown to the winner of the "People's Choice" and one to the "Chefs' Choice." Segar Kulasegarampillai of Mildred Pierce in Toronto received the highest score from the judges, followed closely by Martin Kouprie of Pangaea, also located in Toronto, and Aaron Linley of Bijou, located in Stratford. The cassoulet prepared by Guy Monjo of Reds Bistro and Bar topped the chefs' list. Kouprie was again recognized, this time by his colleagues, as was Jamie Kennedy.




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