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Capturing gold at the Culinary Olympics

Whistler and Vancouver may be counting the days until the 2010 Winter Olympic Games descend upon British Columbia, but their chefs have already stepped up to the podium in the culinary world.

Whistler and Vancouver may be counting the days until the 2010 Winter Olympic Games descend upon British Columbia, but their chefs have already stepped up to the podium in the culinary world.

Executive Chef Jeffrey Young has called the kitchen at Whistler’s Westin Resort and Spa home for only about six months. He has plenty of experience in culinary competitions, amassing a total of 20 gold, silver and bronze awards in about 25 competitions. This year, he found himself a member of the 17-person Team B.C., representing our region on the international stage at the XXII International Culinary Olympics (better known in the world of top chefs and confectioners as the Internationale Kochkunst Ausstellung, or IKA), which took place from Oct. 19 to 22.

“As far as competition, I’m not new to that at all,” said Young, “That’s something I’ve had a passion for for over 20 years.”

The IKA has actually been around for almost 10 decades, testing the mettle of chefs to the same degree that the real Olympics test athletes from around the world. The competition started in 1896 as a small cooking contest at the Frankfurt fairgrounds, where it remained for 100 years before moving to Berlin, and finally to its new location in Erfurt, Germany.

This year, the competition featured the largest assembly of culinary professionals ever – 40 national teams, 90 regional teams, and 11 military teams from 53 countries – for a total of 2,000 chefs and confectioners competing in 20 categories. The teams spent four days in special, glass-enclosed kitchens, which allowed the public and judges unrestricted viewing of their performance.

Young said he thrives on the pressure and adrenaline from the competitive atmosphere, and it doesn’t get much more competitive than the IKA.

Team B.C., which included Whistler’s very own Chef Young, took home the gold medal in the regional team category for their full display of cold foods, which included an assortment of canapés, appetizers, buffet platters, vegetarian items, main courses, desserts and pastries. Within the canapé and appetizer category, Chef Young prepared a “kicking horse” coffee-charred lamb loin with pistachio and dried stone fruit crust, and linguine with minted yogurt froth.

“We did a full table, and everybody had various jobs to do, and it goes everywhere from pastry, like petits fours, and showpieces and cakes and all that sort of stuff to main course to platters to hors d'oeuvres… so there’s a variety.”

Team B.C. included seven chefs and 10 additional support staff including coaches, who all worked extremely well together.

But the hard part of the competition came months before the competition itself took place – team members had to raise almost $100,000 to cover their costs.

“It’s a big component. We fundraised for over a year through various functions all over, from downtown Vancouver to the Island to the Okanagan, all over.”

Now, Young and his teammates know what kind of effort and work it takes to take home gold.

“It’s discipline. It’s just like anything else. Say you’re going to go to the Olympics for ski jumping – it’s the same thing,” he said, “You have to be mentally ready to do it, you have to practice, and you have to raise money. It’s exactly the same, it’s just a different sport.”


Extra helpings

It looks like we’ll be able to eat local a bit longer. The Winter Farmers Market that is being held on a trial basis each Sunday at the Squamish Lil’Wat Cultural will be running until the last Sunday before Christmas – Dec. 21.

Organizers had originally planned to run the market for only six Sundays, but the response from locals and tourists has been overwhelmingly positive, and farmers seems to have plenty of produce and preserves on hand so the event has been extended.

“People are seeking authentic experiences like the ones offered by the Winter Farmers Market and the Squamish Lil’Wat Cultural Centre,” Jeff McDonald, manager of corporate and member services for Tourism Whistler, said in a recent press release, “Combining them lets visitors to Whistler and local people experience both at the same time. It takes advantage of two kinds of tourism that have grown in recent years: agri-tourism and cultural tourism.”

Apples, squash, carrots, beets, potatoes, organic eggs, and Lillooet honey are just a few of the fresh, local products that shoppers can snag at the Sunday market.