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Kelowna contest cranks up heat on Canada's top chefs

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Danny St. Pierre prepares 26 plates of capon chicken, trout, cherries and other goodies for the judges Saturday at the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna.
Danny St. Pierre's disappointment was evident as he sat down after creating mouth-watering dishes from diverse ingredients he had no idea were under the box an hour earlier on Saturday.
The award-winning Montreal chef had just concocted two meals for each of 13 judges by using capon chicken, rainbow trout, mushrooms, parsnips, cherries and honey butter. He had to make the taste and
presentation more impressive than the chefs he's competing against within a 60-minute
"I had a tough ride," St. Pierre said. "I'm not super happy actually. I underestimated the time factor. We went through it and I'm not very enthusiastic about our chances.
"Maybe we're going to get lucky, but you know what? The flavours were bold and nice. The techniques were OK. My chicken skin was a bit soft. Maybe this is going to make me lose points."
Such is the thrill-of-victory, agony-of-defeat tension that permeates the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna. The black-box competition, the most stressful of the weekend's three rounds, forces the 11 best chefs in the country to produce masterpieces in a strange kitchen with unfamiliar equipment while the clock ticks down.
For Halifax chef Martin Ruiz Salvador, the contest was especially unforgiving. He prepared the lions-head mushrooms but forgot to put them on the plates. He realized his error when he presented them to the judges.
"He was crestfallen," said Calgary judge John Gilchrist. "There were a few expletives spoken. He knew there was a major mistake. . . . It's really unfortunate."
Each chef was allowed one sous chef in the kitchen and given 10 minutes to decide what two dishes he wanted to plate. Spectators seated on a small grandstand in the kitchen at Okanagan College cheered each competitor as his hour wound down.
The judges score each of the dishes and add them to the overall tally for all three rounds. They dock points for missing ingredients or exceeding the time limit.
For 21-year-old Kayja Becker, the competition is a thrill. Enrolled in the college's advanced culinary arts business program, she has volunteered for the past two years to help chefs chop vegetables, bone trout and put their plates out.
"It's such an amazing experience to be with the top chefs from across Canada and see what they do," Becker said. "There's such high adrenalin and such a concentration of talent all in one little area."
Chef Duncan Ly from Calgary's Yellow Door Bistro won the first challenge on Friday. He and the 10 other chefs had to design the best dish to pair with a mystery wine (Blind Trust White 2012 from Laughing Stock Winery), find all the ingredients in Kelowna and feed 425 guests.
All 11 chefs partially prepared their signature dishes before the gala event at the Delta Grand hotel Saturday night. St. Pierre and sous chef Myriam Pelletier made a beef-tongue salad with cranberry ketchup, radishes, poached egg, pickled onions and croutons.
The overall champion was announced late Saturday night.

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