A few months ago a Twitter user with the handle @CDNFoodChamps started following me on Twitter. Once I realized that this account was for an actual competition and not just a bunch of food champions from Canada (???) tweeting and being generally obnoxious, I’ll admit I was intrigued. I’m a casual cook (a ‘home cook’ is how I think they put it), and not really terribly efficient when I’m in the kitchen anyway, but when I saw that they were recruiting for a competition this summer, I thought why the hell not and went for it.
I couldn’t decide which of the 6 categories I wanted to compete in: bacon, burger, dessert, seafood, pasta, or sandwich. I quickly outed pasta, seafood, and burger: I almost never eat pasta anymore (Italy will do that to you), I don’t really make burgers myself (although I certainly know how to appreciate a good one and ended up judging this category!), and seafood…hmm just didn’t really seem like me. I eventually got rid of sandwich as well, because even though I love sandwiches, I didn’t feel prepared to go out on a limb and say that my sandwich was the best in Canada. I mean, I’ve had some pretty damn good sandwiches, including one not 5 minutes ago from a tiny place called Kiosk from Kings Cross Station (roasted pork belly; they included a huge piece of crackling! And yes I saw platform 9 & 3/4). Eventually I chose to apply in dessert because I feel like I have the most familiarity with dessert: the first thing I ever cooked on my own was dessert! Me and dessert, we go back a-ways ;)
I didn’t really expect to hear anything back to be honest – this seemed so exciting and like so much fun that it didn’t even occur to me that there wouldn’t be loads of applications to compete. This didn’t stop me from hassling the organizers via social media about when we would hear back though! I applied as a “wild card” competitor since I’m not a professional (I’ve taken maybe 2.5 cooking classes at George Brown through their continuing education culinary program, but I really don’t think that counts). So when I got an email saying that I had been selected to compete, I was SO. EXCITED. Initially I wanted to make the first cake I ever baked (Emeril’s Chocolate Fantasy Cake, which is deliciously moist and fudgy and awesome), and just add stuff to it. I made different variations on several cakes (so many cakes) for weeks and weeks and held many taste tests, and in the end, after many cakes, arguments, bags of sugar, and cherries (so many cherries), we came up with our entry: Double Chocolate Brownie Cake with Caramel and Bourbon Cherry Jam.
They were filming the competition for a TV pilot, so we did tons of interviews before competing, after competing, after hearing about the preliminary and final rounds, and during the actual cooking itself. There was quite a lot of surprise when I announced that my signature ingredient was bourbon; watch out, I’m a badass! Because of this (or perhaps in spite of, I’m not sure), our beautiful confection earned us a third place finish in the preliminary round! Which meant we went on to compete in the final round, which consisted of 5 competitors. I was the only home cook chosen to go on the final round so was basically thrilled anyway.
The second round was way more fun, and basically just straight chillin’: we knew the stove took ages to heat up, and our second cake actually tested out better than our first, ‘signature’ cake (according to the completely impartial observers who tried our cake, aka my brothers and dad). We were also the only ones to make a full cake, coincidentally – this was kind of surprising to me. We were given Alberta canola oil as our secret ingredient, and when I went to go get some a few weeks before the competition, the only kind I could find was cold pressed canola oil, which had a very strong taste (corn-y). We eventually found a much more neutral tasting oil, so that was a big relief! After surprisingly few trials and tribulations, we settled on a coconut-vanilla pound cake and raspberry glaze and a coconut cream middle. I went out on a limb and added a very small amount of cold pressed oil, and topped the cake with caramel popcorn for a fun twist. Who doesn’t like popcorn?! We even popped it ourselves, which I’ve never done before, so that was…slightly anxiety-causing.
Excitingly, I placed third again! Still the only home cook in the top 3, along with a French patissier and a caterer, I’m the runner-up to go on to the World Food Championships in November in Florida. I’m kind of bummed that I don’t get to continue the ride but it seems surreal that I got third! Just goes to show that you’re only guaranteed to fail if you don’t try! Wishing you all sweet treats this week :)