Friday, January 27, 2012

The Almost Famous Chef Competition and a Giveaway!

Update: Daniela Molettieri from the Institut de tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Québec student won the competition for her Fillet of Veal Stuffed with Wild Mushrooms signature recipe. She will go to Napa Valley from March 9-12 and compete at the finals!

Earlier in the week I had the pleasure of interviewing Hans Berg, from the International Culinary School at the Arts Institute of Vancouver.  Coming up next week is the 10th annual San Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Canada Regional Competition, and Hans earned a spot to compete in the Canadian regionals for the chance to go all the way to Napa Valley in March for the finals.

This competition is a fantastic opportunity for culinary students, who are paired up with a chef mentor and will have a chance to win prizes, job opportunities, and the chance to meet celebrity chefs.  Hans expressed what an honor it is to even be in the regionals, and how excited he is to compete.

Born and raised in Norway, Hans' original career path was to be an engineer, but he found that his heart just wasn't in it.  The applied math was fine, he expressed, but the theoretical "just wouldn't stick in my head.", which I can relate to wholeheartedly.   Taking some time off from school and doing a little travel, Hans met a girl in Hawaii and followed her to Montreal, where he began working as a dishwasher in a little Italian restaurant. It was there that he became hooked.

"The chef there shaped the way I approach food.  The ingredients speak for themselves."  Hans worked his way out of the dish pit and went on to prepping food, but eventually was laid off.  This is common in the restaurant industry, as tourist seasons slow to a crawl and establishments try to keep ahead by laying off extra staff.  Back home in Norway, he found himself working at a high end contemporary seafood restaurant, with a modern take on traditional recipes.

Soon, Hans's girlfriend got a job in Vancouver and again he followed, this time enrolling at the International Culinary School at the Arts Institute.  "I wanted to learn the why of doing things.  I knew how to do them, but I didn't know why I was doing it."  Hans spoke glowingly of the program-the fantastic instructors, which includes local chefs with restaurants in the city. Graduating this summer from the Culinary Arts and Restaurant Management program, Hans spoke of a possible move to Victoria, BC and has plans to get into butchery.  "I think it's a dying art.  Making sausages, curing, making pates..." Listening to him speak, it's hard not to get caught up in his enthusiasm.

So, what does a chef like to eat when he's cooking for himself?  "If I were to cook for myself, I'd make a simple pasta dish."  Hans is a huge fan of Italian and Mexican food, which he describes as simple, homey, and hearty.  "And you gotta have a baking stone," he interjected when I confessed my love of pizza.  "I picked one up and it was $25!"  Okay Hans, I promise-I will buy one next chance I get.

Onto the looming competition-how did Hans get  himself chosen for this great honor?  In mid December, seven or eight chefs were thrust into competing in a "black box" situation where you are given 3 or 4 unknown ingredients and 30 minutes to do as much as you can, the best you can.  "It really tests you.  It's all about creativity because you keep it simple, but not so simple it doesn't impress."  As soon as Hans won the competition, he began developing his dish for the Canadian regionals.  "I thought about food from home, and what they would be eating about now, and went from there.  Food should have substance, be comforting.  Uncomplicated.  A meal should be real. I like to keep food simple but still impressive." This chef is a guy after my own food-loving heart, as we talked about a mutual admiration for John Bishop's work and I expressed how "Fresh" is one of my favorite cookbooks.  Co-incidentally, Hans had just been cooking some of John Bishop's recipes that very day!

The dish in production for the competition is cod and potatoes, but not just any cod and potatoes.  As Hans described it I couldn't keep writing and instead just stopped and let my imagination take over.  Simple, yet still sophisticated, the dish sounds amazing and I can't wait to see how it fares in the competition.  When asked about the challenges to competing, Hans listed that being watched to see if he's using proper technique, working in a new kitchen, and not being able to deviate from the recipe pose some challenges.  On the other hand, "it's and exciting opportunity to have the top people in the industry rate your dishes!"  Oh, indeed.  I'm not sure I'd be up for that!

Hans' signature dish for the competition

Drop by the Almost Famous website for more details about the competition, to see live streaming video and to find recipes from past year's winners!  Once the winner is announced, there will be more recipes of the chef's signature dishes.

Does all that talk of food make your mouth water? Well, you are in luck-I've paired up with the Almost Famous competition to offer a gift certificate to one lucky reader for a dinner for two, and this time I have a fantastic local twist!  The winner, chosen at random,  will have their choice of a $125 gift certificate to The Painted Boat located right here on the Sunshine Coast, OR a $125 gift certificate to Cardero's in Vancouver.  It's not often that I have the opportunity to provide a prize local to the Sunshine Coast!

To enter:

  • Leave a comment on this post (1 entry)
  • Tweet the following about this giveaway (1 entry):   

RT to enter to Win $125 gift certificate for dinner #AFChef frm @scatteredmom

I'll draw a winner on Saturday, February 4th after 8am PST.  Check out the Almost Famous Chef Competition site for more information about the competition, or take a look at their Facebook page. You can even follow on Twitter!

Good luck!

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