The following is a first hand account of the competition by Chef Jason Streefkerk (pictured on right) from our Kelowna location:
Just over a week ago, alongside Chef Feenie and Chef Matt Stowe, I represented Cactus Club Cafe in the Canadian Culinary Championships. We took home the Silver Medal and made a huge statement in the Canadian culinary scene. The competition is the culmination of months of regional events taking place in 9 cities across Canada with over 90 restaurants competing, with Cactus Club being the only multi-unit restaurant competing in the country. The finals pit the 9 regional winners against each other in 3 separate events, all designed to push them to the limits of their culinary abilities.
Event 1 was the Blind Wine Pairing. The night before each team was handed the same unmarked bottle of wine, $500 for food, $50 for cab fare and instructions to have 350 tasting plates ready for service at 6:00pm that perfectly matched the unknown wine…no problem right? The rest of the night was spent huddled around a table, joined by Sebastien Le Goff, tasting the wine and planning our dish. We identified the wine as a Riesling (Later unveiled as a 2008 Chateau des Charmes Riesling), and decided to pair it with Roasted Butternut Squash Gnocchi, Bacon and Pumpkinseed Crumble, Brussels Sprouts and Parmesan Foam.
The next morning we jumped into a cab and headed out with our shopping list and $500 cash. After 2 hours running around Kelowna we had our food and $80 to spare. The rest of morning and afternoon was spent in our prep kitchen; 9 teams sharing 5 ovens, 18 burners and very limited prep space. Fortunately we were given 2 student sous chefs from the culinary program at Okanagan College, the extra hands were welcomed and made the weekend much smoother. At 3:00pm we transported our food over to the event space and even found time for a quick burger. We were joined by 2 more students for service that night, which made plating 350 dishes in 90 minutes much more feasible. The team worked very well together, the plates looked great and we were very pleased that our dish paired well with the wine. It was a good start to the competition.
The next morning was Event 2, a 60 minute Black Box which challenged teams to prepare 24 plates (2 dishes, 12 plates each) using only the black box and a limited pantry. This year the secret Black Box ingredients were hand selected from across the country and were: bakeapples (also known as cloudberries), goose breast, Le Rassembleu bleu cheese, Shoal Lake Oh Canada wild rice, Lake Diefenbaker steelhead trout and two pounds of parsley roots. The teams were kept in isolation, and staggered in 15 minute intervals into the competition kitchen. Once the team opened the box they had a maximum 10 minutes to announce their dishes, and the remainder of the 60 minutes to finish cooking and plating. It was an intense couple of hours, and many of the Chefs struggled to identify all of the ingredients properly. The bakeapples proved to be the most difficult, with only the Chefs from Toronto and the Maritimes correctly identifying them. Chef Feenie and Chef Stowe put together two amazing dishes, and provided lots of drama using up 59:56 of their 60 minutes. The first dish was a Citrus Cured Steelhead with Puffed Rice, Fondant Potato and Bakeapple Beurre Blanc, the second dish was a Pan Seared Goose Breast with Jus served over a Parsley Root and Bleu Cheese Puree, Spinach Puree and Brown Butter Panko.
The final event of the competition was later that evening, offering Chefs an opportunity to showcase themselves and their restaurants. We had paired ourselves with Haywire Wines, and their Pinot Noir. Our final dish was a Duo of Rabbit served with 3 Preparations of Carrots. We had a Rabbit Presse, Boudin of Rabbit and Foie Gras, Brown Butter Carrot Puree, Carrot Pearls, Carrot Paper, sauced with a Truffle Infused Jus. The set up was similar to the Blind Wine Pairing night. We had 90 minutes to serve our dishes to the guests and also plate for the judges within a predetermined amount of time. However, unlike the Blind Wine Pairing, we would have to plate a total of 585 plates in that 90 minute time frame. To accomplish this feat, our team was joined by 6 students from the local culinary program. We could not have done as well had they not joined our team. Our team executed perfectly, and the feedback we received from our guests was very positive. We successfully finished our service without any issues, and after congratulating and thanking our students, we eagerly awaited the results from the judges.
It was such an honor to have the chance to represent Cactus Club in this event, and I thank Chef Feenie and Chef Stowe for including me on their team. This weekend showed the rest of the country what an amazing company Cactus Club is, and we definitely earned our Silver Medal. It is hard to believe that 6 years ago I was hired as a dishwasher and last weekend I stood side by side with some of the best Chefs in the country. Truly this is something that I will cherish for the rest of my career.