Culinary Services competing with Canada’s best

U of S Executive Chef James McFarland and his team are getting ready for Canada’s premiere culinary competition.

On February 2 and 3, the U of S team will show off its chops at the Gold Medal Plates Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna, B.C.

“So far it is a process of practice and refinement,” said McFarland. “Each day we’re practicing, planning, reviewing techniques and discussing all the potentials.”

The Gold Medal Plates competition, an invite-only event pitting Canada’s tops chefs against each other in a variety of culinary competitions, has raised $12 million for Canada’s Olympic athletes since 2004.

This year’s event, marking McFarland’s second time competing, will have the U of S cohort facing off against 11 other chefs who won gold in regional competitions across Canada. McFarland won’t be alone in his quest for gold, as Moksud Mohammed, executive sous chef, and Doug Mark, sous chef, will be there to lend their talents and support in this challenging three-part competition.

“I am confident in my team’s high level of combined skill and experience, as well as a strong connection in the kitchen, from not only competing together in the past but working together every day,” said McFarland. “It will be an intense couple of days!”

The first event will be a Mystery Wine Pairing in which chefs will be given a bottle of wine and are challenged to shop for all of their ingredients throughout Kelowna’s grocery and specialty food stores via Taxi, create a dish with local ingredients that best complements the wine with a set limited budget ($1.25 per person) and time, and serve it to 400 guests that same evening. The second event is a Black Box Competition; chefs will be provided a box containing a small amount of diverse foods that they must use to produce a delicious dish in one hour. The third and final competition is the Grand Finale where anything goes as chefs are asked to create their best dish, paired with a Canadian wine, beer or spirit from their regional beverage partner.

“One thing I strongly recognize—whether or not it’s the Mystery Wine, a Black Box competition or Grand Finale—is that when we are working as a team we have to work to each other’s strengths. We need to be able to communicate effectively, know what the other is doing, and adapt to the situation immediately without looking back,” McFarland said.

While there are a lot of unknowns in the competition, one thing the U of S team does know is that they will be prepared.

McFarland and Mohammed have been practicing the black box competition by having their colleagues create boxes of random ingredients from which they have to prepare a dish in one hour. McFarland said it is an intense hour that requires speed, precision and finesse. Once the final dish is done, the team tastes and discusses the best parts of the dishes and determine any missteps and areas for improvement.

Beyond that preparation, McFarland said the black box is a mystery, but he hopes “there are products we have worked with and are familiar with.”

No matter what happens in Kelowna, McFarland and his team have wowed many with their talent, drive, and hours of hard work. 

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