“There’s a lot going on all the time…” chef Jamie Stunt told chef Briana Kim. “It can be a bit overwhelming. Don’t be distracted by any of it. Try to stay focused.”
Last November, Briana Kim, of Café My House in Hintonburg, won the 12th annual Ottawa Gold Medal Plates event. It was on the strength of a brilliant and beautiful vegan dish based on the humble cremini mushroom. On Thursday, she and her team will head out to Kelowna, home of the CCC, to compete with 10 other Canadian chefs from coast to coast — winners, all, of their respective city competitions. In Kelowna, they’ll face a three-part contest.
Kim will recreate her gold medal dish on the final night of the country wide championships. First though, on the Friday night, she’ll face the Mystery Wine Competition, and on Saturday morning, the formidable Black Box.
Stunt was one of the chefs Kim turned to for wisdom as she and her team approached CCC 2018. Others include the 2016 GMP winner, Joe Thottungal of Coconut Lagoon (who, like Stunt, placed second at the CCC), Simon Bell (Stunt’s sous chef at the CCC), and Atelier’s Marc Lepine (a two-time CCC gold medallist, in 2012 & 2016).
They all said the same thing: “Just do what you do best out there.”
Doing what she does best is veganism. And her plan is to stick with her plant-based cuisine for both her final dish, and for the Wine Pairing competition. As for the Black Box, she’ll have no choice but to work with whatever mysteries she encounters when she lifts the lid.
“It’s actually the Black Box I’m most looking forward to,” Kim told me when she took a few minutes out of a frantic week for a chat. “Some people may look at the (plant-based) food I make and think I’ll be disadvantaged at that competition. But I’m used to using ingredients in creative ways, making them stand out on the plate. We do that every day with our own menu, in our own kitchen. And besides, I grew up eating and cooking all kinds of fish and meat. Once you have the techniques, they don’t go away.”
Still, there’s nothing complacent about her approach to the competition: Kim and her sous chef Samantha Mueller, have been preparing for months with practice black boxes, setting up the pantry she’ll be given at the Okanagan College kitchen, and accepting mystery ingredients from fellow chefs. One of the Kim-Mueller team strategies has been to follow a piece of advice from veteran competitor Marc Lepine: “Assume you only have 55 minutes at the Black Box (rather than the allotted hour), and work with that.”
“It’s been fun. Stressful at times, but I’ve really enjoyed the process,” Kim says. “It’s like the daily intensity of kitchen work, times 10. As a chef, to get a chance like this to really push yourself, to compete at this level… well, I love it!”