Things are really heating up at Okanagan College as the culinary department prepares for its biggest event of the year.
It’s the Canadian Culinary Championships, a national competition with top chefs from all across Canada, and it’s a big deal.
“We’re the only college in Canada that has this opportunity,” said Vincent Stufano, culinary and pastry arts manager at Okanagan College. “Each province will have competing chefs from different establishments, restaurants, hotels, catering business. The winner of that competition represents his or her province here this weekend.”
The Canadian Culinary Championships is the grand finale of Canada’s Great Kitchen Party, where 11 cities around the country compete for top chef honours.
The finalists will be partnered with Okanagan College culinary students to battle through several rounds, including a secret black box competition.
“So in here is every chef’s nightmare,” said Stufano, pointing to the black box. “You come in, you don’t know what’s in there and, when it’s revealed to you, you have a certain amount of time to prepare dishes for your judge.”
Stufano says the pressure is intense for the competing chefs, and it’s no picnic for their apprentices either.
“The students are assigned to all the chefs, so each chef gets three to four students for the entire weekend,” Stufano explained. “These students go into this blind and it’s a big deal for them.”
But the pressure can pay off.
“A lot of them get job offers,” Stufano said. “It’s a huge opportunity for your skill set and developing relationships.”
At the college, students are heavily into preparations for the two-day event.
“Students are very keen on this event because it’s something we tell them about from the first day of school,” said chef instructor, Mike Barillaro.
“We’re working on the event tonight which is where the students will meet whatever chef they’re working with. We’re doing espresso dusted venison. We have a marsala and beets syrup. We have a green chick pea puree and we have a little homemade cracker that goes on there, too.”
Barillaro is excited for opportunities that his students will be exposed to during this high-profile event.
“This is our ninth year. It’s been a great event for us,” Barillaro said. “One student from last year actually went to work in one of the top guy’s restaurant in Ottawa.”
As for the students, there is a sense of excitement buzzing around the kitchen.
“It’s a once in a lifetime event,” said one student. “I’m super stoked.”
Another chef-in-training, who has only been with the college a few short months, feels very lucky to have this opportunity.
“It’s only my first year right now. I’m hoping to work towards my red seal. I’ve really been wanting to be a chef my whole life. It’s been a passion of mine.”
And, as for any concern about being paired with a loud Gordon Ramsey-type chef, the trainees have been well prepped.
“The chefs always tell us not to take anything personal that the chefs will tell you,” one student said. “They’re just trying to get you to be on your feet, to be efficient and do your best.”
Tickets are available for the Canadian Culinary Championships which takes place at the Delta Grand Okanagan, Feb. 1 and 2.