Three chefs were thrown in the pressure cooker yesterday as they competed in the Manitoba Pork Black Box Competition at Assiniboine Community College.
With just hours to create and cook a soup and main course, Jill Kerr said she knew it was important to keep her entrée simple after her mystery basket revealed Arborio rice.
Choosing to make a risotto, the short-grain rice required a lot of time and nurturing. The decision ultimately impacted how she attacked the other ingredients in the basket, which featured bacon and pork loins for proteins. And it’s a decision she relishes making.
"I love black box challenges," Kerr said. "I love the pressure. And I love to be creative with the ingredients."
The tight timelines didn’t seem to bother her either, as judges such as Komfort Kitchen owner Derek Woychyshyn strolled in and out of her cooking station monitoring her every move.
Kerr, a first-year culinary arts student, comes by her love for food honestly.
Her mother, Janice, owns a restaurant in Hamiota called Mom’s Kitchen.
Since she was a teenager, she has helped out in the restaurant, beginning as a waitress before slowly working her way to the back of the house.
When she travels home on weekends, she often gets creative, hosting dinners at the restaurant that she described as "fine-diningish."
With four siblings, Kerr said food and family dinners have always been a big part of her life and helped shape her love for food.
While her mother would love to hear that she’s coming back home to run the restaurant when she’s finished the two-year program at ACC, Kerr said she still has designs on getting her Red Seal in both cooking and baking, her first love in the kitchen.
Chef-instructor Bryan Hendricks said the black box challenge is a good measuring stick for the students to learn how they will handle the stresses of a real kitchen.
"We want the students to troubleshoot for themselves and things always go wrong," Hendricks said. "When it goes wrong, that’s when we’ll stand back and watch how they recover. Do they give up? Do they break down? Do they get angry and start chucking stuff across the kitchen? Or do they regroup and fix the problem?"
In the end, after the plates were judged by a series of criteria that ranged from presentation to taste and creativity to technique, Kerr finished second.
"I’m really surprised and happy," she said, adding the prize money will be used toward tuition next year.
Kerr was narrowly edged by Minnedosa’s Whitney Glasgow, whose soup may have been the difference in the competition.
Brandon’s Nick Ewasiuk finished just out of the prize money, less than two points back of Kerr.
While Glasgow earned the $800 first prize and Kerr $600 for second, in an incredible show of class and teamwork the students decided to split the money between all three competitors.
» Twitter: @CharlesTweed