If the art of plating a dish didn’t already have its own set of challenges, certainly performing under a ticking clock in a room full of observers adds to that pressure. This past weekend at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts (PICA) on Granville Island in Vancouver, British Columbia, eight of the country’s brightest up-and-comers did just that.
The Hawksworth Young Chef Scholarship program was created by chef David Hawksworth to foster Canadian culinary talent and provide an opportunity for young chefs to develop and demonstrate their skills. Now in its second year, the scholarship competition this past weekend brought together top competitors from across the country—such as Michael Dolente from the Shangri-La Hotel, Toronto and Alec Fraser from Model Milk in Calgary—following regional heats in Toronto and Calgary to participate in the final in Vancouver. The prize: a stage at a top international restaurant, and $10,000, provided by the Chefs’ Table Society of BC. “All these girls and guys work very hard and it’s nice to have something that’s just for them,” says Hawksworth when asked what this program means to him. “I hope it brings some excitement [to the industry]. It’s celebrating great food from great talent.”
During the two rounds of this year’s competition, contestants worked feverishly for three hours to produce a winning entree and dessert in a kitchen they weren’t familiar with, with an assistant from PICA most had never worked with before. When the time expired, dishes were whisked away to the secure judge’s room where chefs and industry professionals at the top of their game, such as Le Crocodile’s Michel Jacob and award-winning food journalist Jacob Richler, awaited the dish for evaluation. All components were meticulously dissected for consideration, tasted individually, and then judged as a whole. Everything mattered. Concept, presentation, execution, and of course—if not above all else—taste. Scores on each were aggregated for a final mark. “It’s not easy doing what they’ve done,” Hawksworth says, validating the efforts of each contestant. “It’s stressful, a lot of work, and they’ve got to put themselves out there.”
Though, for the brave few who do, the win within reach is well worth it. After all was sautéed, flambéed, and tasted, it was Winnipeg native Michael Christiansen of the Pear Tree Restaurant in Burnaby, British Columbia who took home the top prize. After being handed his cheque, a slightly stunned but delighted Christiansen revealed without a doubt that, “it’s the best possible outcome that could have happened.”
This is just the beginning, not only for this young chef, but also for the growing program. “[The scholarship is] really doing something for the industry,” Hawksworth says. “I’d like to see Canadian restaurants really get on the map on a global scale.” This task is well on its way with Hawksworth and his team hoping to advance the program with the inclusion of additional heats in cities such as Montreal and the Atlantic provinces. Through their tireless efforts, the scholarship program, even in its infant years, is serving as a national platform and ushering in the next generation of Canadian culinary talent.
Photos courtesy of the Hawksworth Young Chef Scholarship.