I had barely had time to settle in Toronto, following my mad dash across northwestern Ontario, when I found myself flying home to Winnipeg last week for a four-day training program with my coach and evening dining instructor to prepare for the Skills Canada competition in Edmonton.
In short, from the time my brother and I left Winnipeg on May 1, I have been going flat out — as a cross-country driver, furniture mover, newbie cook, and, now, national culinary competitor.
As a consequence, I have tried to avoid sitting for long periods of time; I fear if I stop moving, my head will keep spinning right off my body, onto the floor and down a hallway or street like an errant ball or tumbleweed.
However, the effort and exhaustion have been worth it: the past few days in Edmonton have been great fun and, more importantly, I’ve made great strides technically and creatively as a cook.
The competition spanned two days: three and a half hours on the first day to prepare the appetizer course; four on the second to prepare the main. The scope was similar to the provincial competition: the first course had to feature quail served both hot and cold, and the second, salmon and scallops; both had to feature a farce or forcemeat, and a sauce.
Day One: Quail Duo
Terrine with a Fennel, Orange and Basil Slaw, and an Apple Coulis
Bacon-wrapped Ballontine with a Spinach Farce, and a Port-wine Reduction
Day Two: Salmon & Scallop
Loin of Salmon with a Scallop Mousseline Crown, Pan-seared Scallops with a Shiitake and Button Mushroom Duxelles, Roasted Garlic and Lemon Parisienne-style Gnocchi, Asparagus, and a Beurre Blanc
Did I win? Nah.
I am totally cool with the result, too. I knew the odds were slim, my competition steep. I also knew simply doing it — and all the work that would go into getting ready for it — was reward enough for me.
Will there be other competitions in my culinary future? Hard to say. After all, it’s been many years since I actually competed in anything — and never at something as challenging as cooking.
During my years in secondary school, I competed quite frequently and quite capably in public speaking and debating. And while all competitions are similar in some ways, the key difference, for me anyway, between competitive communications and cookery is that I had natural knack for speaking in front of a crowd.
Cooking is another story.
In fact, I suspect one of the reasons why I’m so enamoured with the culinary arts is because I actually have to work my butt off. Yep, it’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
And being a competitor at Skills Canada? Made the Grand Finals in Cyprus over a decade ago seem so… simple.
No matter. I try to live my life like I might get run over by a big red bus. I love a challenge, too. And on the heels of Edmonton 2012, I’m ready to tackle this challenge.