On the (chopping) block

The Telus World Ski and Snowboard has long been known as the premier event of the season for skiers and snowboarders, but if a few members of the local culinary industry have their way, TWSSF will become quite the annual spectacle for foodies, as well.

This year, organizers have introduced a new event to the roster of sport, music and arts: the Chef Challenge. The two-day event sees 12 chefs from some of Whistler's finest restaurants compete head-to-head in Village Square using a themed ingredient, Iron Chef-style, on Saturday, April 18 and Sunday, April 19.

A few weeks back, I outed myself as a Food Network junkie, so it's probably no surprise that I'm eager to see what our local culinary talent can come up with in just 30 minutes, under the intense glare of the public eye.

A panel of four judges, which includes the Fairmont Chateau Whistler Wine Room's Ben Pernosky, Melissa Craig of the Bearfoot Bistro, Bernard Casavant from Burrowing Owl Estate Winery, and Andre Lariverie of the Green Table Organization, will judge the 30-minute heats. The winner walks away with $1,000, a full set of Dudson dish and glassware, the Whistler Chef Challenge jacket, and entry into a new event for 2009 Cornucopia, the Cornucopia Chef Challenge.

Jo Hyland, operations manager for Watermark, is coordinating this inaugural competition. The Chef's Challenge was dreamed up by the Westin's executive chef, Jeffrey Young, and Astrid Cameron-Kent of Astrid's Fine Foods. It is intended to showcase the talent of local chefs, while also showing off some quality local ingredients.

Culinary arts are also a creative endeavour, so this new event fits under the arts and cultural theme of the festival quite naturally.

"Chefs can find quite a lot of self expression through their cooking and creations," Hyland said.

While most of the events at TWSSF are geared towards a younger crowd, Hyland expects the new Chef's Challenge will appeal to a wider demographic.

"We're going to have both speakers mic'ed and we have a couple of emcees as well, sort of bringing in an entertainment factor to the stage," she said. "...It's designed for everybody."

Sous chef Edison Mays joined the ranks of Whistler's Four Seasons' kitchen in December, coming to our snowy slopes from the balmy beaches of Nevis, a tiny island in the Caribbean, where he was running a restaurant called Mango for two years.

Before that, he worked with Four Seasons' Chef Scott Dolbee, opening the Boulevard in Beverly Hills, and Cut with Chef Wolfgang Puck.

Mays had essentially cooked his way around the world, working in kitchens as far away as Vietnam and France, but had never been to Canada. With the Olympics just around the corner, Mays couldn't have picked a better time to make the move.

"It was a great opportunity to learn and it's beautiful - Whistler has its majestic feel to it, as well," he said.

Born in Santa Ana, California, Mays traveled back and forth between Mississippi, where he spent time on a farm and learning to cook from his aunt, who ran a restaurant.

"Cooking just came naturally. I didn't even know what a chef was, for years," he said.

Mays actually went to college to be a doctor, but when he realized that profession wasn't for him, he took a break to figure things out, deciding to cook his way around the world while he made a plan. He had accidentally found his calling.

"I have a saying that food is love, and to me, that's what it's all about," he said. "...It's like composing art."

When Chef Dolbee subtly mentioned the Chef Challenge to Mays, the sous chef quickly jumped at the chance to represent the Four Seasons on stage.

"Chef Scott always gives you opportunity, and he'll put the carrot out there, but you have to go for it."

For Mays, who has appeared on a number of shows on the Food Network, cooking for a crowd promises to be a lot of fun.

"A challenge just kind of keeps you alive, it keeps you excited about food. You get to just pull from the air, from natural creativity, and those are always good points to ignite in your culinary career," he said, adding that he likes the adrenaline rush that comes along with competitions like the Chef Challenge.

For more information on the Chef Challenge, visit www.whistler2009.com .



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