"If I don't win tonight, there's a problem."
Antonio Park is about to open his second restaurant, Lavanderia, but his mind is on victory as he preps for the Montreal leg of Gold Medal Plates in a matter of hours.
The national culinary competition, which raises funds for Olympic and Paralympic athletes, has put together a $1,000 per ticket progressive dinner at five Montreal restaurants: Park, Impasto, BarBounya, Hôtel Herman and Micro Resto La Famille. Four groups of 20 or so diners will shuttle from restaurant to restaurant in limos and sample one course at each. (How they will fit into the tiny La Famille on Gilford is anyone's guess.)
Park wants to join past Gold Medal Plates Canada winners from Montreal like Martin Juneau (now at Pastaga) and Mathieu Cloutier (Kitchen Galerie). But first he has to get past the likes of Michele Forgione, Fisun Ercan, Marc-Alexandre Mercier and Simon Mathys.
In a patriotic twist, chefs must pair their dishes with a Canadian beer or wine.
"I came in second twice," says Park. "The second year I participated I should have won but I forgot to pair my dish. I couldn't believe it! That won't happen again."
When told of Park's bold prediction, Impasto's Forgione refused to talk trash.
"Antonio is a competitive guy. If I had to put my money on anyone, it would probably be him. I'm just going to prepare my dish and see what happens."
That dish will involve octopus with homemade 'nduja and pan-seared smoked caciocavallo, which Forgione will pair with Cheval Blanc.
Park was mum on specifics but divulged that his dish would hint at his Korean roots and contain some French influences.
Judges for tonight's showdown include Juneau, Cloutier, 2013 winner Danny St-Pierre, grand dame of Quebec gastronomy Rollande DesBois and food critics Robert Beauchemin, James Chatto and Gildas Meneu. Chefs will accumulate points for visual presentation, texture, technical achievement, taste, beverage compatibility, originality and wow factor.
The Montreal winner will go on to the Canadian Culinary Championships, which will take place in Kelowna, B.C. in February, and compete against ten other chefs from across the country.