What was a highlight moment for you at the competition?
The Hot Kitchen. It went so well. It was really good. That was the highlight for me. It’s a bit hard when it’s your first day, and the first day of the competition … but we started with a bang.
Any surprises at the competition?
I would have to say the judging. A lot of the long-time judges that you’d traditionally see at this calibre of competition didn’t come back — which, on one hand, was a good thing, because it opened opportunities for newer judges to participate. But the trade-off is that some of the newer judges weren’t maybe as qualified. For example, it’s now possible to have a WACS-certified judge who has never competed. A top-level competitor sitting as a judge brings that knowledge and experience to the judging panel. I think that was missing this year — and perhaps is why there were not a lot gold medals awarded. In the Cold Kitchen, for instance: Only one gold medal out of 35 national teams? There’s gotta be something wrong. There were other teams — like the American, Swiss, Finnish and German — that had really good tables and deserved gold, and I can’t understand why they didn’t get it.
The effect of a rule change also had a surprising effect. In the Cold Kitchen, there used to be medals for each of the four entry categories, but that was changed to only one medal encompassing all categories. So, in the past, teams could get different combinations of gold, silver and bronze medals and then an overall ranking in relation to other teams. Now, there seemed to be almost an “averaging” to come up with a one-medal ranking. That isn’t necessarily indicative of the actual level of individual category performance. And it short-changes the teams’ ability to promote multiple-medal awards — that can be a disadvantage in generating sponsorship, especially for regional teams or smaller countries.
What was the worst time for you in these two and a half years?
When James [the original pastry chef] left the team. It was also hard when Dave left, but his role was replaceable from within the team. When you lose your pastry chef … well, pastry is one-third of the Cold Kitchen and one-third of the Hot Kitchen — and no one else on the team can step in and take over. I think that really affected the guys, was hard for them. But it made them even tighter.
Did that make you anxious at all?
No, not really. Yes, we lost two members, but Poyan stepped in and took on the buffet platter and did a terrific job. And Jennifer did an outstanding job with the pastry. Having only six or seven weeks to get ready when someone normally has a year or a year and a half? She worked day and night — I don’t know how she did it. There were no excuses, no complaining … heading in to the competition, I knew everyone would bring their best. That’s all you can ask of a team. And I was very happy with what they did — and proud of how they did it.
What will you remember most from the two and a half years of being with this team?
The cohesiveness of the team, and the camaraderie. All of the teams I’ve worked with have always worked well, but this team was amazing … the way they got along right from the start. They’re a really tight group, and I think that’s what saved the team in those last six weeks before the competition.
And I’ll remember the coaches. I’ve always worked with Fred — for almost 25 years, competing and coaching — and I know him as one of the best anywhere. I knew what Bruno could do and I’ve always respected him, but I’d never worked with him as closely as this time. The commitment that I saw from him was amazing, like discovering a totally new person. As a coach, he’s on a level with Fred in my mind. And Clayton was key to us doing okay in Germany after our pastry chef left in August. You can be willing — as Jennifer was — but when you don’t have the knowledge and experience, you need someone to help you. Clayton was that for Jennifer, the mind behind her ideas, helping her to refine and shape them … and doing in six weeks what normally evolves over a year and a half. Without Clayton’s help and coaching, I don’t know what we would have done.
Did you get much sleep?
Not really. But likely more than the boys and Jennifer!
Did you eat properly?
Oh, yeah. That’s one area that I always make sure is really good. When they’re working that hard and long, the team members have to have proper nutrition, and good food. We bring along chefs who are responsible for the lunches and dinners. Team Alberta captain Doug Overes, with Anthony McCarthy from Saskatoon, supervised the meals with members of Team Alberta providing a lot of help. Everything is on a schedule, so breakfasts were at the hotel where we stayed, and lunches and dinners were at the culinary school kitchen where the team did all its work.
How were the accommodations?
Really nice. We pretty much had the hotel to ourselves. They only had 24 rooms and we took 22, so it was like Canada House!
Any celebrating after?
We went for dinner, and the team also went on a Rhine tour after the competition ended.
Anything new for you at this competition?
One of the highlights was the work Jessica Keyes did for us on the blog, Facebook, YouTube and so forth. We had never before done this kind of online coverage during a competition. Quite a few people commented on what a good job she did — and it was exciting to see people follow us and what was happening.
What made you most proud of the team?
They never gave up, even with the two members — especially the pastry chef — changing so close to the competition. They just kept going.
What did you learn about yourself?
It’s time to retire! Time to let the young guys do it. I think I kind of knew that already going in. It’s like the mind is there, but the body is not quite what it used to be, quite up to all the stress and demand and time commitment. I’d find myself making little mistakes, forgetting things I never would have before. I need to take a break … do nothing for a year or so … and regroup. Just concentrate on my job and family life.
What was the best about being part of Team Canada?
I guess the achievement over the last two and a half years … finding the members and getting them to work together and making our country proud because we did well. We started with nothing and have something at the end. It’s not so much pride as satisfaction that you did it, and did it well, and that everyone is happy with the results. I respect the team chefs and the coaches very much, and I’m glad of the friendships made.
What will you reminisce about years from now?
The menu for the Hot Kitchen and how it came together. In May we were still not where we wanted to be. Then Bruno came up with the lobster idea for appetizer … he’d tried it in his restaurant and sent it for us to see — and it was the key that opened up a direction for the menu. Then Brad came up with the main course, and Clayton helped Jennifer when we had to come up with a new dessert in September. That was exciting.
I think we’ll also talk about the china for the Cold Kitchen. A couple of years ago I was at the Bocuse d’Or and attended a grande Chefs du monde dinner honouring Paul Bocuse. Each chef got a commemorative plate from Raynaud Limoges, along with their catalogue. At the time I thought it was a really neat pattern, and then in January 2011 when we needed to select china, I wrote off to France and was able to make arrangements to get this pattern. It was difficult to work with because of the shapes … and some pieces had a bump in the centre, others a sort of nest in the middle. The platters are key to presentation and how you lay the food out, and this china was very modern and a challenge to work with. The guys didn’t much like it at first! But I always think that every time you have to work harder, the end result is better. If it’s easy, the work is average.
Would you do it again?
No, I think it’s time to retire. I believe very much that it’s possible to stay too long! It’s like wine: you have to keep it in the bottle for a while so it can mature, but leave it too long and it’ll turn to vinegar. I will be there to help and to coach, but it’s time for some of the young guys to take over.
Last thoughts on the whole experience? And what now?
I’m very satisfied … very content … very happy with the results. It’s time to move on — and now I can go fishing! I didn’t go at all this past summer and only once the summer before, so that’s where I’ll be next summer. I love it and I’ve missed it. Quiet … peaceful … with my tent in the woods … out in the fresh air, fishing …