The Road to Luxembourg
I still remember it like it was yesterday. The day I knew I wanted to cook for the rest of my life.
Grade 10 we were given our final assignment for our food and nutrition class. It was to cook a meal for family where we do food costing, preparation, plating and at the end write a report. My cousin, Eric, who is currently the Sous-Chef at North & Navy in Ottawa came over for that dinner years ago and showed me the basic fundamentals to cooking and executing that dinner. He showed me how to butcher a beef tenderloin, make a basic roux for sauces, plate food to make it look professional, and so many more skills. It was that dinner where I realized there was so much more to food than kraft dinner with peas and hotdogs (fantastic combination by the way). I realized that food can be made into art.
For my 16th birthday all I wanted was white plates so I could prepare and present food. I remember I would come home from school every day and whip up something from what I could salvage in my house pantry. Some dishes would taste great but others would be atrocious. That’s the thing about cooking though, is it’s a trial and error industry. You learn from your mistakes, but that’s what makes you stronger at your craft. To this day, some of my food may not come out as I want it but I’ll always try to remake it until I’m satisfied.
Midway through grade 12, I was told about this incredible school in PEI called the Culinary Institute of Canada at Holland College. It’s known as one of Canada’s top culinary programs (arguably the best) but that’s because of its incredibly knowledgeable Chef instructors, the hands-on work experience you get, and the access to fresh, local and sustainable seafood and produce. I was accepted to the Culinary Institute of Canada in early January of 2015 with the commitment to play hockey for the College team. I was scared, moving away from home for the first time is not easy for anyone really. It’s like leaving your current life and starting a brand new one. That’s the risk you must take because life will only really change when you become more committed to your dreams than you are to your comfort zone. I don’t regret the decision I made at all.
One month before I arrived I was told that the hockey team folded and that there would no longer be one. It was then where I decided to hang up the skates, jump in a beer league and just play for fun.
First year of culinary school was amazing. My very first day in the kitchens, a massive 8–10LB salmon was placed in front of me. “Holy shit, what do I do now?”. Chef Bob Miller guided me through the process of breaking down many different types of animals and seafood. I learned so much that year. I remember seeing the previous culinary team practicing and always told myself “I want to do that one day”.
When first year ended, I went on my summer internship (requirement through the program). I worked at one of Ottawa’s top restaurants, Supply & Demand. I was only there for a few short months, but I learned so much about not only cooking but also myself. The Chefs and cooks there were so professional and talented. I was just an intern mid-way through culinary school. I struggled, but I respect that group of Chefs and that kitchen so much. I’ve taken many skills from there like having a sense of urgency, staying CLEAN and organized, but it was also there where I first tasted real, fresh, and tasty food. Just as things were starting to get rolling there I was sidelined for a few weeks due to a surprise appendectomy. The second half of my internship I was at a new restaurant in Kanata called Amuse Kitchen & Wine. I learned there how to properly cook proteins and work every station.
Second year of culinary school started and I felt stronger and more confident. I met a Chef from out west during my second rotation who I was introduced to through Chef Kimball Bernard. This Chef’s name was Jeremy Tucker who ran the restaurant at Cedar Creek Estate Winery in the Okanagan Valley, BC. Little did I know, I would be moving out west post-graduation to pursue my dream. The connections the students make at the school are like no other. Everyone most likely ends up with a job post-graduation and part of that is what makes the school so special. The friendships I made, the support staff (shout out to Donna!), the Chefs and teachers. Everyone there is so passionate and dedicated to being a close community. It was almost like a family. If I can give any advice to a new culinary student is to put in a 100% effort because what you put into it is what you will take out.
I moved out West in May of 2017. I learned so much at Cedar Creek. The cooks, Chefs, servers, literally all the staff at the winery are a close group. The restaurant is a farm to table restaurant that does wine pairings with the wine made on site. The vegetables and fruits there were literally picked the morning of and then three hours later found its way onto the changing menu. I worked cold cuisine and pastry there but I also got to be in the middle of the hardcore rush of having to run the pass some nights. Every cook and chef that I worked with there were all great mentors and I will remember those memories for the rest of my life.
Once the restaurant closed for the season, I moved back to Ottawa. I got a job at Fratelli Kanata where I worked on the hotline. The thing about that restaurant is its ALWAYS busy. Every lunch and dinner service we were always in the rush. My plan was to work there until the following summer and then hopefully go back to Cedar Creek.
I found out there was an opening on Culinary U-25 Team Canada and that they were out recruiting a few candidates. Like I said earlier, it was always a dream to represent my country so I put my application in. Little did I know, I got a phone interview the next day. My interview was with Chef Joerg Soltermann who is the team manager and one of the coaches. I will always remember one specific part of the interview. I said, “It would be a fantastic experience.”. He chuckled and said, “my friend, if we accept you, it will be a long and hard endeavour”. My stomach sank but I carried on with the interview.
It was the afternoon of December 15th. The day I will never forget. I was sitting on my good pal Carson’s couch absolutely destroying a burrito from Mucho where I received the email “Congratulations, you have been selected to be on CYTC”. I jumped up and down, ran in circles aimlessly like a four-year-old who gets rewarded with a candy bar. I was so happy, but at the same time I became very nervous. I’m not sure if that’s because I feared going or scared because I knew my life would change forever.
I moved back to Charlottetown, PEI and my very first day I walked in and I am not going to lie, I got sweaty. All the Chefs and team members were sitting around the big table in the boardroom and the first words I heard from anyone was from Chef Joerg. All that was said was “It’s time to get shit done”. I was so fired up. It’s like I was back in the team huddle with the Kanata Blazers before a big playoff game.
Moving on, we were then given a binder that had our entire food program made up. All of us were told to memorize it that night as the next day we would start cooking. The next day we got in and we were right down to business. That’s when it all hit me that in 11 months I will be representing my country at the second largest cooking competition in the world, the Culinary World Cup, which is held every four years in Luxembourg.
Over the next two weeks we would be practicing our food program as a Swedish Chef (also the head judge for most international cooking competitions in the world) would be coming in the evaluate us. When Chef Gert Klotzke came in I was the one in the middle of plating our buffet platter for him. My team was quietly chuckling because I was calm but all the sudden all eyes were on me and I was shaking so much. I was so intimidated at the time. He tasted our platter and gave us feedback. His feedback was essentially start over from square one. This was a wakeup call for everyone, however it was one of the best things that really built this teams character, drive, and passion.
Over the next few months there was so much trial and error but that’s how you learn and never make those mistakes again. We all became perfectionists. We couldn’t use carrot because there was something already orange that we were using. We couldn’t use a dough because we already had a dough mixture implemented on our food program. It was so tough. We were running out of ideas. Our Chefs got involved starting with Chef Joerg. A few months later it was set in stone and we were ready to start full practice runs.
The Culinary World Cup is broken down into two categories for the U-25 Competitors. First day is a 3 course meal for 70 guests cooked from start to finish in 6 hours. Second day is a buffet platter for 12 guests. Finger food (AKA hor d’oeuvres), two hot, and two cold. A seafood platter with three garnishes. A main course cooked with the given ingredients which are lisanto ham, squab, and foie gras. Finally, a dessert. We only have 4.5 hours to execute and present that day.
My roles on the team are in the first day to do all the butchery and plate up for service. The second day I am responsible for the hor d’oeuvres.
Our team consists of nine members, five of which will be competing. Although some may not be competing, they are the most important members to this squad. They keep the boat afloat.
To my family, the most important people to me and the ones that kept the train going when times were getting tough, thank you. To the teachers, coaches, mentors, and Chefs from day one, thank you. I wouldn’t want to compete alongside anyone else. We have all been through so much. Blood, sweat and tears were shed through this process but it built our character. My teammates and I are so ready.
All of us have one collective goal that we are so passionate about. That’s to have gold medals around our necks on November 29th, 2018. See you on the other side.
Thank you for reading.
Stay tuned for part two…