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‘I was just ecstatic’

Wild Blue Restaurant + Bar chef de cuisine Jasper Cruickshank wins Canadian Culinary Championship
Wild Blue Restaurant + Bar chef de cuisine Jasper Cruickshank took home the 2024 Canadian Culinary Championship in Ottawa on Feb. 3.

For Whistler chef Jasper Cruickshank, the love of cooking originated at the dinner table.

“It was just something that brought our family together,” Cruickshank said.

“So it was something that really made me want to be a part of cooking, and the joy it brought to people … it just felt natural.”

Cruickshank’s passion never faltered—he joined culinary school at 17, fresh out of high school, “and never looked back,” he said.

Seventeen years later, Cruickshank’s love of cooking has carried him all the way to a Canadian Culinary Championship.

The Wild Blue Restaurant + Bar chef de cuisine took home the national championship in Ottawa after two days of intense competition on Feb. 2 and 3.

“I’ve done competitions in the past, but nothing like this. This was a completely different scenario,” he said. “There is three little competitions you have to do within a three-day period, so it was a lot to take in, and I just pushed through.”

Given the intensity of it all, Cruickshank said he felt “a big sense of relief” upon learning he took home the crown.

“It was a few days of very little sleep and very long days … at that point you’re kind of running on just fumes, so once I found out I was just ecstatic,” he said.

“It was a great experience, and the other chefs that were part of the competition, they were a great group of guys, so yeah, it was an all-around good environment to be in.”

Cruickshank drew on his B.C. roots and a profound appreciation for local ingredients for his championship entry, the “Wild B.C. Experience.”

“This award-winning dish, paired with Roche Tradition Pinot Gris, featured a Side Stripe shrimp terrine with a daikon parcel filled with leek purée and a leek-wakame tuille; a Dungeness crab tartlet with delicate fuille de brick, poached Dungeness crab, crab espuma, and masago rice pearls,” read a release from Wild Blue. “A Geoduck reduction provided the perfect complement to the ensemble.”

The two-day event started Friday, Feb. 2 with a Mystery Wine Competition, in which chefs were challenged to craft a dish (while staying within a budget of $550 for 250 servings) complimenting an unlabelled wine. The catch? They received the wine just 24 hours prior.

Cruickshank’s winning creation, a pork terrine with pickled mustard seed, kohlrabi, caramelized parsnip puree, natural jus, and chive oil, “perfectly harmonized with the wine later revealed to be Zweigelt from Lailey Winery Niagara River VQA,” the release said.

The next day, the chefs competed in the Black Box Competition, followed by the event’s Grand Finale, in which Cruickshank emerged victorious.

“I just wanted to showcase what we have [in B.C.],” Cruickshank said, adding he and his team planned for everything ahead of the competition—including having multiple dishes ready to go depending on the wine pairing.

“We got the wine, it was red, and we tasted it, and it was like, yeah, it will go great with the pork terrine that I was trying,” he said. “So we went with that dish and it paid off.”

Now, Cruickshank joins the ranks of Canada’s most esteemed chefs, including names like Roger Ma and Alex Chen (who is also partner and chef at Wild Blue), as well as Melissa Craig, formerly of the Bearfoot Bistro, who earned the honour in 2008.

“Going forward, I don’t know what it exactly means, but it’s just a stepping stone, that’s how I look at it,” Cruickshank said. “It was a challenge, it was an experience, and we’ll go onto different things from there.”

Cruickshank wanted to thank the team at Wild Blue “for all the support,” he added. “They have been great to me.”