Monday, March 11, 2013

S Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Winners

I always love following young chefs on their way to fame... not because I can say "I knew him or her when", but because of how passionate they are.  Congratulations to all the S Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef winners (posted below). Pictured above is  Jean-Christophe Comtois, the Canadian finalist who might not have won overall, but did Canada proud and won in two categories: The Acqua Panna Fan Favourite and The Mystery Basket although he didn't win the overall competition.  I was lucky enough to get to interview him.  Here are some of the highlights.

  1. I hear that you were a math teacher before turning to the idea of becoming a chef.  What made you make that giant leap?
While I was studying to become a math teacher, I was cooking a lot, but just as a pastime. The more I was learning about food and cooking, the more I wanted to learn. I was getting more passionate about cooking then I was about math. Taking advice from friends and family, I decided to take the leap and went to cooking school. 

  1. What made you want to become a chef?  Math teaching aside,  when did you first know that being a chef might be the career choice for you?
I think that deep inside, I always wanted to work in the food industry. Being younger, my mom used to teach me some things in the kitchen. I've always enjoyed eating. This interest in good food led me to try to cook for myself or for some friends and furthermore to become a chef. 

  1. What was it like – Day one at École hôtelière de la Capitale?
My first day at École Hôtelière was very nice. So many things I had to learn. I was excited to start and learn the basic techniques of French Cuisine. 

  1. How did you get selected for the S. Pellegrino® Almost Famous Chef Canadian Regional Competition?
One of the Chefs at school asked if anyone was interested in entering the contest. We were four candidates. We had a mystery box challenge and other Chefs came to choose their favorite dish. I was selected to represent my school. 

  1. How did you prepare for the competition?
After deciding on what I wanted to cook, I spent a lot of hours practicing, rethinking, adjusting, tasting and planning my routine. Taking advice from teachers at my school. 

  1. Whenever I watch cooking competitions, I feel incredibly stressed and can’t imagine the pressure.  What was the most challenging part for you?
During the competition, the most challenging part was to adapt to the context: a new environment, plenty of people in the room, time flying away. I wanted everything to be done right and to taste good. 

  1. What was the inspiration for your winning dish?
My signature dish was inspired by where I'm from and my experience as a young chef. I wanted to put forward products from Quebec (veal, cheese, squash). My plating is similar to the things we do at the bistro where I worked. The polenta was inspired by a stage that I made in France. 

  1. What will you do to prepare for the finals?
To get ready for the finals, I will review my recipe, rethink my routine, make little adjustments on the plating and focus on the fact that I have a real chance of winning. 

  1. Where do you see yourself in five years?
I don't know precisely where I'm going be in five years. I know for sure that I still be cooking. I'd like to travel and learn from different chefs.  

  1. Anything else you’d like my readers to know about you, about changing careers, about following dreams….
When seeking happiness in a career, I'd say “GO for it”, follow the path that you're most passionate about. Passion for what you do will always get you through adversity. 

Congratulations Jean- Christophe and all the rest of the winners.

Overall results:
-The 2013 Overall Competition Winner:  Kristen Thibeaul, Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts Boston
-The Acqua Panna Fan Favorite Winner: Jean-Christophe Comtois, École Hôtelière de la Capitale, Québec
-The Mystery Basket Winner: Jean-Christophe Comtois, École Hôtelière de la Capitale, Québec
-The People's Choice Award Winner: Kristen Thibeaul, Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts Boston
-The Signature Dish Winner: Acenette “Ace” Gonzalez, The Culinary Institute of America - San Antonio

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