Chefs shine under pressure

Considering all the talk lately about plant-based diets, the competitors figured there might be a vegetarian theme to this year’s Canadian Culinary Championships.

When they pulled off the lid for the Black Box Challenge Saturday morning at Okanagan College, their suspicions were realized.

“We suspected that it might be vegetarian,” said Montreal’s Jason Morris. "So I don’t know why I was so surprised.”

The Black Box Challenge was the second of three events at the Canadian Culinary Championships, which wrap up Saturday night at the Delta Grand Hotel. The 11 chefs are given a box full of ingredients, and they have one hour to prepare 15 plates of their creation for the judges.

This year’s ingredients were chestnuts, quinces, saffron, sweet potatoes, lion’s mane mushrooms, buckwheat groats and yoghurt. They had 10 minutes to write down what they were going to make and then another 50 minutes to create it, which included the time required to prepare the 15 dishes.

The two most important criteria were creativity, worth 40 per cent, and taste, which represented 30 per cent. Points would be docked for dishes that took longer than an hour.

“The timing is the biggest issue for me,” Victoria’s Takashi Ito said after he finished. “To be honest, I’m not on the floor in the kitchen all the time like I used to be. My concern was always the timing.”

Ito, representing AURA waterfront restaurant + patio, prepared a Chinese mushroom and grain dumpling with a yam and saffron quenelle, stone fruit chutney and chestnut yoghurt puree. The ingredient that threw him for a loop was actually the buckwheat, which he said he should have known given his Japanese heritage.

“I do use a lot of buckwheat, ground flower,” Ito said. “It’s a soba noodle. Born in Japan and raised in Japan, I should know soba, right? But I had actually never seen it whole.”

Ito, who won the people’s choice award on Friday night during the mystery wine pairing competition, figured preparing a dumpling would set his dish apart from the rest.

“We noticed that the criteria is very unique here, because uniqueness is actually 40 per cent,” Ito said after he finished and was watching the rest of the competitors prepare their dishes.

“I see a lot of people making a pasta, like tortellini or ravioli. So I went with a little bit of a different shape, needing the skill of making the dumpling.”

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