Recap of the Taste Canada Awards Gala

Celebrating its 20th year, the Taste Canada Awards gather food lovers and professionals to present silver and gold awards to Canadian culinary writers (both French and English), primarily in the cook book and recipe realm. Held at the Ritz Carlton Toronto, it was a gorgeous venue with twinkling lights hanging from windows and a rare opportunity to see food celebrities and notable Ontario chefs all in one place.

The evening began with a wine and cheese reception where guests could peruse the nominated books and taste lovely savoury cheeses donated by Monforte Dairy and the Forno Cultura Bakery. Niagara College Teaching Winery also provided enough wine to get everyone in the mood for celebrating (and likely calm the nerves of any nominees).

Before the awards gala, nominees made their way down the red carpet holding their book (in the case of printed writers). While some exhibited the nervous “take a quick picture and get out of here” attitude, many took the opportunity to let loose or showcase their gorgeous outfits.

It couldn’t have been an easy decision choosing the victors: there were 33 judges going through 147 submissions to finally narrow it down to 24 gold and silver winners. I was happy to see food bloggers represented as well; especially Chu On This, a blog by Annie Chu that I personally read. For a full list of winners head to their site.

Hosts Noah Cappe (stars in Carnival Eats) and Claire Tansey (who seems to have dabbled in all things food over 20 years) kept the awards distribution going at good pace, while keeping the audience laughing and engaged. A memorable moment happened after Samuel Joubert, whose cookbook Le Coup de Grace won silver in the general cuisine French category. Perhaps Quebecois slang became little lost in translation, but Noah had to point it out … keep it tight!

Luckily, after hearing so much about food, by 8pm we could actually eat! There were plenty of food stations to choose from, most presenting a generously-sized dish.

The chocolate station by Cacao Barry and Chef Jason Bangerter was the most stunning, using chocolates and other confectionaries to replicate a forest floor as a nod to the “terriors” noir and au lait. Like the chocolates I’ve sampled at Langdon Hall, where Bangerter normally presides, they have this rich depth that makes them special - it’s about the ingredient’s natural tastes, not something merely creamy and sweet.

My favourite dishes include:

1) Chef Dan Craig’s foraged mushroom consommé, the beaker apparatus concentrating the broth’s flavour with other ingredients and emitting such a cozy aroma around the station. Simply adorned with an agnolotti stuffed with ricotta and chanterelle mushroom and a surprising garnish of pickled apple, I could have easily devoured a full bowl of the soup.

2) A lovely elk terrine made by Chef Jaret Flannigan of The Wooly Pub. It was meaty and had just the perfect balance of spice without completely covering the elk’s flavours. Topped with bits of crunchy brown butter crumb, sweet roasted tomato jam, pickled onions, and a donair sauce it would have even worked as a burger. I wish saved Chef Jonathan Gushue’s foraged mushrooms with red kuri squash and sweet corn puree to pair it with. The dishes would have complemented each other well and their booths were situated in the same area.

3) While the beef in Chef Trevor Lui’s tataki was a bit chewy, the sesame chimichurri sauce and crispy root chips were spot on. I love the vibrant flavours; similar to the offerings found at Lui’s from Kanpai Snack Bar.

Chef Robert Mills’s smoked salmon macaron with salmon roe jelly was inventive and my first foray into savoury macarons – really something people should dabble into more. The squid ink macaron was lightly sweetened and contrasted against the salty salmon roe and smoked salmon.

While the Singaporean crab and corn fritters presented by Chef Matt Basile could have used more time in the oil, the line forming in front of the table certainly caused pressure to mount. In fact, this was also a problem that plagued Chef Vanessa Yeung whose steamed pork and shrimp dumplings with Asian chili jam was undercooked so had an odd mushy texture. Note to future chefs: if you need to cook food at the gala, choose something that has a very quick cooking time – something sous vide would work well.

There was also Chef Tawfik Shehata’s shrimp ceviche that incorporated full-sized prawns instead of chopped pieces. The ceviche’s tart coolness was a great balance against the other dishes, just not the easiest to eat standing trying to get the ceviche onto the cassava chips with a fork.

Most guests were excited to sample Chef Trevor Ritchie’s Rougie foie gras piped onto a wild rice brioche. There was a Thanksgiving taste to the bite thanks to the cranberry compote added.

Aside from the chocolate forest display, there was also a decadent macadamia, honey, and citrus chocolate bar from Chef Amede Lamerche and culinary students from Contestoga College … what a large piece of smooth chocolate studded with dried fruits and nuts.


Chef Dufflet Rosenberg also brought full-sized pumpkin, carrot, and chocolate Sammy cookies. Imagine soft pillowy cookies sandwiching that rich buttercream Dufflet pastries habitually use. If only I weren’t so full I would have wanted one of each flavour – the pumpkin was delicious.

All the while, we continue to sip on more wines from the Niagara College Teaching Winery. A group of food lovers, writers, and professionals – gathering to break bread (topped with foie gras of course).

Disclaimer: I attended the event on a complimentary basis. Rest assured, as noted in my mission statement, I will always provide an honest opinion.

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