Mike Smith challenges chefs at NAV Centre

Nick Seebruch

CORNWALL, Ontario – World famous chef Mike Smith was at the NAV Centre to judge the culinary skills of the chefs competing in the IACC Copper Skillet competition.

London, ON The International Association of Conference Centres (IACC) holds these competitions amongst the chefs of their association members with one chef standing tall at the end.

The Copper Skillet is a black box competition which means that the chefs did not know what to expect going in.

Smith praised the black box format as the purest form of competition for a chef.

“We’re not trying to trip them up,” he said. “This is what a chef can expect to face every day. Any chef worth their salt should be able to come up with a meal on the fly when presented with an ingredient.”

There were five competitors in the adult category of the competition and two in the junior under 26.

Cornwall was well represented in the competition by Nav Centre chefs Luc McCabe and Jessica Neville in the adult and junior categories respectively.

Smith, along with the other judges, Chef Javier Alarco and Food Critic Peter Hum, patrolled the cooking area.

They were judging the competitors based on creativity, use of ingredients, presentation and finally flavour.

At the start of the competition the ingredients were revealed and the contestants had 15 minutes to start planning their meal.

There were a variety of ingredients that could commonly be found in any kitchen as well as three protein ingredients. The contestants had to use two of the three protein ingredients in their meal.

The contestants had to create two plates, one for presentation and one for eating.

Chef Michael Smith noted that Jessica Neville was the only one who chose to use the tahini in her dish.

At the end of the competition, it was announced that the judges had picked Kent Philips of Toronto and the Nav Centre’s own Jessica Neville as the winners.

Nav Centre Director of Conference Services Ian Bentley said that the Nav was proud to bring such a competition to Cornwall.

“Usually these types of competitions go to the larger cities,” he said. “Our General Manager Kim Coe was a driving force to bring this competition to our town.”

The winners will go on to compete in the finals in Los Angeles in April.

Chef Javier Alarco said that competitions like these were a great test of a chef’s creativity and skill.

“These black box events are great because they are so spontaneous,” he said.

Chef Alarco also had some advice for chef’s thinking of competing.

“Don’t think about winning your first time,” he said. “The more you lose the more you learm.”

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