Chefs tackle black box

The black box competition took over the culinary arts building Saturday. The chefs had one hour to come up with and create a unique and delicious dish, using all seven ingredients.

The ingredients, unknown to the chefs until the hour countdown began, included Newfoundland salt cod, Saskatchewan honey, savoy cabbage, tart cherries, Focaccia dough and quail eggs.

The competition's lone B.C. representative, Jesse McCleery from Galiano Island, pan-roasted the fish and laid it on a bed of beer-braised cabbage with fried bread glazed with honey and a sunnyside up quail's egg.

McCleery said he was feeling the pressure representing the hosting province.

“There's tons of pressure, especially with the black box,” he said. “I'd be happy if I never have to do a black box again, it's not really how I cook, but it was fun.

“I'd rather do it with a bunch of friends while we're having beers or something.”

While this year's competition hosts chefs from cities like Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Calgary, McCleery says coming from a small community has its advantages.

“I think half the reason why we're special is not just the food, but it's the island and our location,” he said. “It's nice to get out of the city and not have to see what all the other restaurants are doing all the time ... just kind of focus on your own thing.”

Despite the benefits of his relative isolation, he says his favourite part of this weekend's event is rubbing shoulders with chefs from across the country.

“That's the best part, obviously you want to win ... but the best part is meeting all these guys,” McCleery said. “Just getting to meet more of your peers who do the same thing.”

McCleery hasn't been to Kelowna in about 14 years, and he was a bit surprised by the city's growth. While most of his time in town has been spent working, he says he managed to get out to Raudz Regional Table the first night he arrived, and met Kelowna's Chef Rod Butters.

“When I was in Tofino, he was the big name a long time ago, so it was nice to meet him.”

The third and final leg of the the competition, the grand finale, takes place at the Delta Grand Resort this evening, where the winner will be announced.

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