The Georgia Straight is a proud media sponsor of the Canadian Culinary Championship Vancouver qualifier.
While Karen Blair in no way claims that the Canadian Culinary Championship is responsible for Canada's homegrown chefs being elevated to rock-star status across the country, she will proudly allow that the long-running culinary competition has been something of a barometer.
“Not that we started the trend, but we were ahead of the trend, I have to say,” says Blair, organizer for the Canadian Culinary Championship. “Back in 2004 to 2007, if you were to look at reality TV and the Food Network and all of that, the idea of them being rock stars wasn’t happening. We were at the front of that process, and I’m really proud of that.”
One of the inspirations for the Canadian Culinary Championship came from Blair’s visits to Europe, where diners actually know who’s cooking for them at restaurants.
“That was part of our vision,” she says. “We wanted to make sure that the Canadian public knew about the exquisite talent that we had in the restaurant field. Back in the day, all you used to know was what the restaurant you were eating at was called. Our vision was to bring the chefs out and feature them. We did that way before all these reality TV shows.”
Nearly two decades later, the Canadian Culinary Championship has been cemented on the national food scene as both an important fundraiser for charity, and a celebration of culinary excellence with a serious competitive side.
The first stage of the Canadian Culinary Championship has chefs in cities across the country facing off in a head-to-head qualifying competition. In Vancouver, the following nine local luminaries will do battle at BC Place on Wednesday (October 18):
- Akira Kishimoto, Kishimoto Japanese Restaurant
- Alana Maas, Northwest Culinary Academy
- Daniel McGee, Maxine’s Cafe & Bar
- Jasper Cruickshank, Wild Blue Restaurant + Bar
- Kyle Lee, CinCin Ristorante + Bar
- Mark Singson, Mabuhay YVR
- Nandakishore Rangan, Sodexo Live!
- Vish Mayekar, Pepino’s Spaghetti House
- Warren Chow, Wildlight Kitchen + Bar
Those chefs—who’ll be assisted by helpers (either staff from their restaurants or cooking-school students)—will not only be preparing dishes for judges, but also for those attending the Vancouver Canadian Culinary Championship qualifier.
“The chefs are right there—they’re handing you the dishes, so you’re able to dialogue and chat with them about the ingredients and what they’ve created,” Blair says. “It’s the best food you can imagine. So often at these galas you’re getting a catered, I don’t know, cold chicken dinner. People know that doesn’t happen here.
“The dishes you get to taste are the exact same dishes the judges are getting,” she continues. “And the chefs don’t know when they’re going to be giving their dishes to the judges. So they can’t prep their best to the judges, and then give just whatever to the guests. They have to give the exact same quality to everyone.”
Judges will include Canadian Culinary Championship national head judge Chris Johns, 2022 Vancouver gold medallist chef Bobby Milheron, chef Andrea Carlson of Burdock & Co., and chef Roger Ma of Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar.
Winners from qualifiers in each city then go onto the championship, to be held in Ottawa in 2024. Blair says those who’ve taken home the crown in previous Canadian Culinary Championships have found the competition to be a game-changer. Last year’s winner—Ottawa-based vegan chef Briana Kim—ended up so overwhelmed with reservations that she needed to find a bigger space.
While food will be the big drawing card in Vancouver, attendees can also look forward to musical entertainment featuring ex-Barenaked Lady Stephen Page, Vancouver veteran Barney Bentall, and Spirit of the West alumnus Geoffrey Kelley. MCing the night will be Canadian media personality Jessi Cruickshank.
Tickets for Vancouver’s Canadian CulinaryChampionship competition start at $450. Blair notes that a major component of the entire event is giving back, with partial proceeds allocated to charity.
“We are a social enterprise,” Blair says, “and as a social enterprise our vision is to make sure that, not only are we elevating and celebrating the cultural talent across the country through food and entertainment, but that we’re giving back to the community.”
Nationally, money raised will help support Music Counts, a Canada-wide initiative that funds music programs in underfunded schools. SpiritNorth, meanwhile, will use contributions from the Canadian Culinary Championship to establish, and run, sports programs in Northern Canada, where funding can often be hard to access.
Locally, the Canadian Culinary Championship will be supporting Vancouver organization Fresh Roots, which teaches kids how to grow food.
“Fresh Roots is trying to adjust that system and make sure that youths can grow and cook good-quality food,” Blair says. “So it’s changing the system of understanding nutrition and access to food."
Ultimately, Blair says, it’s all of Vancouver that benefits from Canadian Culinary Championship.
The foundation of what we are has not changed, which is that we’re the greatest culinary competition in Canada,” she says. “It’s something that chefs want to be a part of—it’s not a reality kind of competition. It’s the true-blue thing with proper judges.”
And, yes, those judges have a hand in creating the next generation of rock stars.
“Vancouver is one of the leading food cities in Canada,” Blair enthuses. “All you have to do is take a look at our nine contenders, and take a look at the ethnic diversity. We’ve done a great job this year with having incredible chefs, each with a different lens on food and how to pair it with beverages and work with different ingredients.
“We also have incredible ambassadors for the program, including Roger Ma and Alex Chen, who of course have won as Canadian Culinary Champions. I believe one of the reasons we have such great chefs here is because they’ve come back as winners.”
For more information on the Vancouver qualifier for the the Canadian Culinary Championship, go here.
Where: BC Place
When: Wednesday (October 18)
Tickets and info: greatkitchenparty.com