Three cheers for the Canadian Culinary Championships, in its 13th iteration this weekend, though the first as the culmination of the regional events staged by Canada’s Great Kitchen Party! For those who don’t know, the Kitchen Party held events in eleven cities across Canada during the fall and found a regional champion chef in each one. Now we bring them all together to Kelowna, B.C., the balmy city by the lake in the heart of the Rockies, to compete in a gruelling triathlon of culinary competition. One chef emerges as the Canadian Culinary Champion.
The weekend began earlier than ever this year with the judges and chefs flying into Kelowna from a dozen different corners of Canada, some leaving blizzards and temperatures of 50 below (brrr Winnipeg!); others wafting in on balmy tropical breezes from Vancouver and Victoria, where the cherry blossom is already in bloom.
We have three new faces among the esteemed judiciary this year. From St. John’s, chef, medal-winning Culinary Olympian and a past Gold Medal Plates gold medallist, Chef Roary MacPherson; from Moncton, chef, restaurateur and educator, Chef Emmanuel Charretier; and
from Montreal, writer, journalist and broadcaster, Gildas Meneu. They are the Senior Judges from their respective cities and they were warmly welcomed by the rest of us as we gathered in the lobby of the Delta Grand Okanagan Resort. Present and correct were our Ottawa-Gatineau Senior Judge, author and broadcaster, senior editor of Taste & Travel Magazine and former restaurant critic of the Ottawa Citizen, Anne DesBrisay; Toronto SJ writer and editor, food scholar and intrepid explorer of the industrial food complex, Sasha Chapman; from Winnipeg, chef, pastry chef and educator, Chef Barbara O’Hara; from Saskatoon, writer, journalist, dining critic and all-round food guru, Noelle Chorney; from Edmonton, wine, food and travel writer, certified sommelier and wine instructor, the founder of Edmonton’s Slow Food convivium, Mary Bailey; from Calgary, teacher, broadcaster, author and former restaurant columnist for the Calgary Herald, John Gilchrist; from Vancouver, world-renowned wine and food judge and the wine and food voice for Western Living magazine, Sid Cross; and also from Vancouver our co-Senior Judge and Judge Invigilator, food writer, editor and teacher, Andrew Morrison. Ted Grant, chef, educator and culinary entrepreneur, was arriving next day and our final judge, chef instructor at Okanagan College right here in Kelowna, master pastry chef, Perry Bentley was meeting us at our destination this evening, the amazing Kitsch Winery on the hills above the town.
There we were hosted to a splendid dinner orgnized by Laura Kittmer of Wines of British Columbia, with wines provided and introduced by Kitsch Wines, Fitzpatrick Vineyards, Roche Wines, Orofino Winery and Maverick Esate Winery. Preparing the meal in the enormous kitchen of the Kitsch family home was none other than Chef Mark Filatow of Waterfront. It was a famous dinner of many courses, each wine perfectly paired to a wine chosen by Chef Filatow, who is also a renowned sommelier. For the judges, it was a delightful opportunity to catch up on news before the business of the weekend began.
Talking of which, here are the chefs taking part in the Championships this year, listed from east to west.
Representing Newfoundland and Labrador, Katie Hayes of Bonavista Social Club, in Upper Amherst Cove, NL
Representing Nova Scotia, Thomas Carey of Fresh Twenty One, in Dartmouth NS
Representing New Brunswick and P.E.I., Irwin MacKinnon of Papa Joe’s, in Charlottetown PEI
Representing Montreal, Jason Morris of Pastel
Representing Ottawa-Gatineau, Yannick LaSalle of Restaurant Les Fougères, in Chelsea QC
Representing Toronto, Elia Herrera of Colibri
Representing Winnipeg, Jesse Friesen of The Merchant Kitchen
Representing Saskatoon, Christopher Hill of Taste Restaurant Group
Representing Edmonton, Davina Moraiko of RGE RD
Representing Calgary, Dave Bohati of Murrieta’s
Representing British Columbia, Takashi Ito of AURA, in Victoria BC
Readers with keen memories will notice that three of these competitors have taken part in previous years – chefs Hill and Bohati in 2015 and Chef Friesen in 2017, to be precise. Does this give them an edge? That remains to be seen.
On Thursday night, the competition began with the chefs being ceremoniously paraded and introduced then given a bottle of the Mystery Wine, as chosen by our esteemed National Wine Advisor, David Lawrason. Only he knows what it is but the chefs and their teams have all night to analyze it and ponder what dish they might create to match it most perfectly. At 6:30 a.m. on Friday they can go shopping for ingredients. Of course we throw a few extra challenges into their path. They have to cook the dish for 400 guests as well as the judges; they can only spend $500 (could you throw a dinner party and spend $1.25 per person on food?); they must shop for everything they need inside Kelowna’s city limits and their receipts will be meticulously scrutinized. It’s a test of economy as well as wine-matching skills and cooking, and the pressure is intense. Tonight we will taste the dishes they invent and learn the identity of the wine. I can’t wait…