Living in the North can put a Skills Canada competitor at a disadvantage.
Take Inuvik’s Devon Burgess, for example. For him to practice prior to the cooking event at the national championships in Halifax was made virtually impossible due to a lack of ingredients. Burgess couldn’t get his hands on pastry flour, fresh produce, a gelatin alternative known as agar and, during break-up, even milk was scarce.
However, that doesn’t stop him from competing. He’s not about to let living above the Arctic Circle be an excuse for not being able to get things done, and done well.
The soon to be 31-year-old cook, who plies his trade at Twisted Concession, would dearly love to see year-round produce grown in Northern greenhouses to help lower food costs. He’s certain that could be accomplished with the right decision-making by those in power. He also sees the opportunities presented by living in the remote NWT. One of his long-term goals, he said, is to establish a fine dining scene in Inuvik, population 3,250.
“It’s a bold statement,” he acknowledged.
Burgess, who took culinary arts at Thomson Rivers University in Kamloops, B.C. and is now pursuing his red-seal apprenticeship through the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary, said his first time competing at Skills Canada nationals on Tuesday and Wednesday was an experience he’ll savour, whether he’s a medallist or not.
“To get that exposure is amazing,” he said. “I would love to get a medal but, at the end of the day, I’m not losing because I’m learning… even seeing some of the other competitors, their dishes and their techniques, I was pretty blown away. I was like, I’m probably going to try and do that now.”
On Tuesday, he and his fellow cooking participants were asked to make an appetizer platter consisting of 30 pieces. On Wednesday, they were given ingredients to make a seafood pasta entree and lemon meringue pie, but no recipes. It was mostly up to the cooks to decide which ingredients to use and in what quantities.
Each task came with a three-and-a-half hour time limit, which can expire fast enough to catch some competitors off guard.
“It can be daunting,” said Burgess. “There’s always curve balls in the kitchen.”