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Calgary chef competing against other young chefs in Durban, South Africa

Rupert Garcia, 24, works in a kitchen in this undated photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Barry Mallin

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Rupert Garcia, 24, works in a kitchen in this undated photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Barry Mallin

TORONTO - Rupert Garcia has faced a daunting summer in the kitchen preparing to take on chefs from around the world Friday in South Africa.

The 24-year-old from the Calgary Golf and Country Club is representing Canada in an event that pits entrants from as many as 25 other countries against one another.

Open to young cooks under age 27, the competition is being hosted by La Chaine des Rotisseurs in Durban. The competitors, chosen through contests in their respective local countries, have four hours to compose a menu and prepare a three-course meal (an appetizer, main course and dessert) to serve four using ingredients revealed when the event commences.

"The competition itself is a 'black box' so you never know what you're going to get," Garcia said by phone ahead of his trip to Durban. "I think that's the biggest challenge. I've practised different conditions and that's the biggest challenge — not knowing what's going to show up."

He only knows that he will be given one type of meat, fish, fruit and vegetable and a list of non-mandatory ingredients. "They really want you to get creative."

In the Canadian competition last fall, Garcia defeated eight others from across the country to snare the gold medal for his three-course creation using the mystery items Arctic char, golden caviar, beef tenderloin, wild rice, pears and dark chocolate.

To prepare, he's been grilled by top chefs in such locations as Winnipeg and Burnaby and Kelowna in B.C., in addition to receiving guidance from his boss, executive chef Vincent Parkinson. Garcia is a graduate of the Southern Alberta Institution of Technology.

"It's a cooking competition, not a pastry competition, so there's going to be a lot of cooks obviously good with their appetizers and mains, and desserts are what'll make you stand out so that's what I've been working on," says Garcia, whose family came from the Philippines 14 years ago and settled in Calgary. "Hopefully my dessert can stand on its own."

Judges award marks for taste, presentation, originality and kitchen technique.

Garcia says he's thankful for the experience and honoured to be representing his country at the Concours International des Jeunes Chefs Rotisseurs. "All I'm going to do is do my best. If I'm happy with my plates and I don't win then I know I did my best."

La Chaine des Rotisseurs is an international gastronomic society with members in more than 75 countries devoted to promoting fine dining. The event is a chance for chefs up to age 27 with fewer than five years professional experience to showcase their talents and creativity in an international arena.

Follow @lois_abraham on Twitter.

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Online: www.chainecanada.org

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