Last November when my wife Cathie and I moved to Armstrong we started looking around for ways to get involved in the community. I volunteered as a photographer for the B.C. Winter Games, and we spent the rest of the winter designing our new home. This summer we met Andrea Gunner, coordinator of the IPE Iron Chef 100 Mile Diet Challenge, and volunteered to assist with that event. We had never been to the IPE.
I had the good fortune to be one of the volunteers at the junior final, while Cathie worked at the final of the pros. As volunteers we did whatever necessary, getting the tables ready for the competition, washing dishes and such.
The junior final pitted the Vernon team of Eli Garlick, David Enns and Emma Enns against a combined Kamloops/Armstrong trio of Kaitlyn Clement, Dayton Kier and Brianne Stenhouse. The teams had one hour to plan and prepare three courses, then present their creations to the judges. The secret ingredient was peach plums, and other black bag ingredients included Crannog Ales’ cherry/black currant stout, honey, mixed baby summer squash, feta cheese and llama sausage.
The Vernon team created a menu of savoury crepe with summer squash, feta cheese and peach plums, fresh pasta with llama sausage and a lemon plum and ale cream sauce, and honey ice cream in a waffle cone with cream sauce. The Kamloops/Armstrong crew produced a classic arugula salad with blackberries and peach plums, llama sausage, feta and peach plum-stuffed chicken breast with risotto served with an ale sauce, and peach plum and blackberry sweet perogie with vanilla cream and honey almond brittle.
Brave and creative choices indeed.
What struck me from the start was the calm demeanour of both teams as they planned their menu and started cooking. Kaitlyn Clement only met her teammates five minutes before the contest started, and Garlick, Enns and Enns are in their early to mid-teens.
At their age, following a recipe in mom’s cookbooks was a major challenge for me, never mind creating pasta from scratch.
What also made me smile was the unfailing politeness of all six competitors. Each dirty dish brought to the sinks was accompanied by “please” and returned to a “thank you.” And they all respected each other while negotiating the confines of a small stage, with “excuse me” and “sorry” peppering every encounter at the communal fridge.
As volunteers we got to try each dish as the generous judges finished their tastings. The Vernon team elicited praise from the judges including: “Amazing!” “Can’t believe they are so young!” and “Beautiful creativity.” Among other comments the judges passed on to the Kamloops/Armstrong team were: “Yummy!” “Lovely!” and “Gorgeous.”
If anything, those were understatements. I’m not a big pasta person, but the dish created by the talented artists from Vernon left me breathless. I could eat that every day, and twice on Sunday.
In the end, the Vernon team was ahead on the judges’ scorecard by one point, so Gunner did the only fair thing and made the executive decision to split the prize money evenly between the teams.
As a final statement on the quality of these young people, as the judging process was taking place, both teams cleaned up their work areas immaculately.
When the excitement had died down I had a chance to talk to both teams, and told them I was going to lobby the local seniors facilities to hire them because that is certainly the quality of food I’d like to eat when I get there.
They thought I was joking.
As a community newspaper editor of some 27 years, now retired, I faced the constant conundrum of seeing a small number of young people get their names in the paper, frequently in the police blotter. And that skewed the general outlook of readers about young people, though we constantly tried to ensure some semblance of balance.
In events such as this, the professional chefs get the glory. They are extremely competitive, because the prestige of a win means more patrons in the seats of their restaurants. And at the IPE, the pros were superb.
But for me the young competitors were the stars. They showed a pure love of cooking and appreciation of local food.