Live Blog: Judging The Best Canuck Food

Sunday, 6:46am (local)

Photos from the Black Box…en route to waking up and the airport now…


Saturday, 10:35pm (local)

The winner was Hayato Okamitsu of Calgary’s “Catch”. Frank Pabst of Vancouver’s Blue Water Cafe won the silver, and Deff Haupt of Montreal’s Renoir landed the bronze. We’re all off to a pub in town, and I mean at least a hundred of us, to drink plenty and make the merriest. It’s been a good weekend. Photos and video to follow. Home in the morning. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, 4:04pm (local)

I’ve just awoken from a wee and desperately needed nap. Headed downstairs now for a pre-seriousness beer with some friends and then the beginning of the end regrettably begins to end. The next time I check in you’ll know who the new Canadian Culinary Champion is…

Saturday, 1:58pm (local)

That was incredibly intense! I thought coming in that the Black Box would be exhausting and stressful, but in actual fact it was brutally insane and exceptionally cruel! Indeed, I took no pleasure at all in unveiling for each chef the following:

1. Fresh rainbow trout.

2. Pork loin (with a little cap fat).

3. Local carrots.

4. Local oats.

5. Saskatoon berry syrup.

6. Local gouda (thanks for the reminder, Sid!)

The gasps from the crowd were audible and sincere. These Black Box reveals were staged at 15 minute intervals, and each chef went straight at it in front of the crowds. Needless to say, there were lots of oat encrusted trout fillets and pork sliced and sauced with berry-infused reductions (one chef did a oat schnitzel, which was very cool). I’m going to take a break for a few hours before the final competition starts at 6pm. Stay tuned. I’ll announce the winning chef via Twitter as soon as the numbers have been crunched and James Chatto tells the many hundreds packing the hall.

Saturday, 7:40am

Arg. Yawn. Stretch. Coffee. And so it begins. In a little over an hour from now I will make my way down to the kitchens where the chefs will be told of the randomly determined order in which they will compete. We will steer them to a private room where they will hand over their cells phones and Blackberries during which time the media and assorted guests will be told of the six Black Box ingredients. At 9:30am, the first chef will open their Box, and will then have just 10 minutes to come up with two dishes that incorporate all of the Black Box ingredients in one or other (or both) plates. Once the 10 minutes are up, they will tell me what they’re going to cook, and then they’re off to the races. No sweat. They each have just 50 minutes to plate 9 servings of each dish. I will call out a five minute warning, a one minute warning, and then from five seconds down in a remarkably dramatic fashion (naturally). If a chef goes “over time”, he will be docked 1 point for every 30 seconds. These things tend to be remarkably close, especially with so many competitors vying, so going “over time” can be lethal to one’s chances. Oh boy, what fun.

Friday, 11:57pm (local)

The mystery wine-pairing competition is now behind us. It was a stellar night. The wine turned out to be a 2005 Inniskillin Malbec, a bold one that led many chefs to think it was a Syrah or a Cabernet. Lots of pork and lamb accordingly, though one chef did plate some snapper dusted with cinnamon for his match (and it worked remarkably well). Vancouver chef Frank Pabst of the Blue Water Cafe did braised elk cabbage rolls with celeriac and apple puree, black rice, and a reduction of the wine and the braising liquids. Like I said, strong stuff all round. Very impressive. Once the event folded I headed to one of the bars in the hotel to tell and listen to the rudest, most vile jokes imaginable, and now I’m back in my room, wondering where this little belly came from. Tomorrow is going to be a very long day. The Black Box starts in 9 hours, which means I need to be up in 7. I think I’ve been tasked with the big ingredient “reveal”.


Friday, 4:17pm (local)

Going to inspect the kitchens now to make sure everyone is playing by the rules…

Friday, 4:03pm (local)

In case you missed it, this is the home video I made of my experience at last year’s Canadian Culinary Championships. I apologise for the quality. My camera back then was made of balsa wood and bubble gum, and I was training to be a professional hyperbolist…

Friday, 2:40pm (local)

It’s probably a good time to lay out exactly what it is that’s going on here. The Canadian Culinary Championships are made up of three competitions. Tonight we have the mystery wine-pairing competition. Tomorrow at 9am we have the Black Box competition, wherein each chef is presented with five mystery ingredients with which they must plate for over a hundred people. I will be refereeing this one, and won’t be spending too much time with the judges. Then, at 6pm, we have the Grande Finale, which will see each chef doing as they wish, going all out, full stop. Each event is scored equally, so the chef with the top marks at the end becomes the Canadian Culinary Champion (sort of big deal). To see the list of competing chefs, scroll all the way down to the bottom of the live blog.

Friday, 12:04pm (local)

The judges meet for lunch. Quite the view from our table. That’s John Gilchrist from the Calgary Herald and the CBC, James Chatto of Toronto Life, and Sid Cross from Western Living up top and the whole crew down below.

Friday, 10:33am (local)


A massive breakfast is followed by computer angst. Photos aren’t uploading to Scout through the hotel’s firewall or something. Using Flickr and iPhone instead.

Friday, 8:19am (local)

Stunning morning. Well rested. Suspect bed is made of marshmallow and opium.

Thursday, 10:21pm (local)

So bagged. I just wrapped an interview with the documentary crew, and I wasn’t at all at my best (that’s my stand-in in the photo above). The final question – “Are you nervous about making a mistake as a judge and a referee?” – was answered thusly: “No. I’m happy in the knowledge that all of the chefs except Frank Pabst live hundreds of kilometers from me, and I’m pretty sure I could take Frank.” Off to bed I go…

Thursday, 9:15pm (local)

The mystery wine for the wine-pairing competition tomorrow night was just distributed to the chefs. They each received a single, beautiful wooden box with their name engraved in silver on top. The label-less bottle lay within. It’s a red. The more eager among them opened these straight away for a whiff and a sample. I had a swish…everyone thinks it’s a Cab Franc from BC. We’ll find out tomorrow…

Thursday, 8:21pm (local)

The chefs have arrived in the presidential suite with the documentary crew plus the bigwigs from title sponsors Epcor and General Electric. We’re getting into the wine…

Thursday, 6:45pm (local)

We’re in the presidential suite (amazing), hammering out all the final details and rules before the competitions begin. I have a dual role this year. I will be judging and acting as the referee. My job is to ensure that all the chefs don’t bend the rules by trick or accident, so I will be spending a lot of time in the kitchens during tomorrow’s first competition, the most dreaded and difficult of them all, the Black Box.

Thursday, 5:52pm (local)

Fellow judge and Calgarian John Gilchrist just took us on a cool nickel tour of the hotel. This place is huge, with so many restaurants and dining rooms. One can get lost in here very easily. Judges meeting soon.

Thursday, 3:37pm (local)

Arrival at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. Lots of media out front and flag waving chefs there to welcome us. Very cool. Check it:

Thursday, 2:04am (local)

Riding to Banff with all the judges and chefs plus the Lively Media camera crew on a pimped out bus. In the photo that’s Andre and Melissa from Bearfoot Bistro and James Chatto from Toronto Life.

Thursday, 11:20am (local)

Touch down in Calgary. Fellow judge Sid Cross a few rows back. BC competitor, chef Frank Pabst of the Blue Water Cafe, a few rows ahead.

Thursday, 7:07am

Ah, I knew I was forgetting something! I don’t need a coat in Banff during February do I?

Thursday, 5:51am

On my way to the airport and absolutely positive that I am forgetting something that is vital, like a charger or a USB cord. I’ll post a full run down on how the weekend will go when I arrive at the hotel…

Wednesday, 10:58pm

I have to get up in six hours for the flight to Banff so this will have to wait until tomorrow. What? I know. Totally anti-climatic. I was just setting this post up now so I can spend a few extra minutes waking up in the shower at 5:00am and pulling deep on my coffee. There are three competitions over the next three days and lots of sideshow amusements to relate, so bookmark this particular page and check back often. I’ll be plugging away where and when I can via iPhone and laptop, and if you’re not yet following this site on twitter, we’re @scoutmagazine.

PS. I am not playing Donkey Kong on my blackberry in that photo at the very very top…

Wednesday, 10:00pm

I’m off to Banff to judge the Canadian Culinary Championships with colleagues Sid Cross, James Chatto, and other food and wine penning friends and neighbours from around the country. The competing chefs, each chosen through trial at battle royales held in their native regions (called the Gold Medal Plates), are as follows:

Edmonton – Chef David Cruz, Sage Restaurant
Calgary – Hayato Okamitsu, Catch Restaurant
Toronto – Chef Patrick Lin, Senses Restaurant
Montreal – Deff Haupt, Le Renoir
Ottawa – Chef Charles Part, Les Fougères
Vancouver – Chef Frank Pabst, Blue Water Café.

The video below is from the Vancouver competition, and it’s worth a watch, if only in the enjoyment of seeing Frank Pabst get positively goosy at winning.

There are 5 comments

  1. I’m interested in hearing what you thought of the the food tonight. The chef from Ottawa was the best IMO…

  2. As a participating judge from Vancouver I am now almost full of their delicious Alberta pork. Impressed by the quality of the local lamb coming from the Ewe-Nique farm.
    Andrew left out the 6th ingredient in the black box: Aged local Gouda cheese!
    Congrats to all the participating regional chefs for showing their high culinary skills and their conscientious attention to this Championship in raising attention to the high standards of cooking in Canada.