It’s hard to know what secret ingredient attracted such a large crowd to the Samsung Cooking challenge, at Vancouver’s Home and Design Show this Saturday. Maybe it was the anticipated appearances from celebrity chefs like Chef Corbin Tomaszeski, or Top Chef Canada contender Geoff Rogers. Maybe it was the chance to see one of the three regular foodies competing alongside three of the best chefs in the city. Maybe a good dose of healthy competition is all it takes, and if it happens to be in an NHL arena, then up go the stakes!
One thing’s for sure, the crowd did not heard like cattle for the anticipation of a daily feed. In fact, the fad of cooking as entertainment is rarely about audiences actually tasting any dish. When was the last time you watched The Food Network, and had the chance to sample a soup that Chef Ramsay described as “bone dry” or a steak “so undercooked Old McDonald is still trying to milk it”? If the cooking entertainment craze is rarely about audiences actually eating the food, then what are people really biting into? After experiencing the Tag Team Cooking Challenge, and later interviewing host of the event, Chef Corbin Tomaszeski, I may have discovered its recipe for success.
Chef Corbin first fell in love with cooking as a kid, upon discovering “When you cook, people just show up. Food was above and beyond feeding, but was a way of connecting and bringing people together. Food was all about community”.
Looking around the room, from its stage with the animated competitors, to the buzzing audience members, all I could smell was community. At the judges’ table sat community leaders, Keri Adams of CTV Vancouver, Neal McLennan of Western Living, and Erin Ireland of It’s To Die For. The audience not only was seasoned with diverse vendors from the Design show itself, but with regular Vancouverites, including the three tag team competitors; average foodies from the city. As for the three celebrity chefs, they graciously gave back to the community in more ways then one. For the event, they sacrificed the little precious free-time they had, to whisk away from their renowned restaurants; Maenam (Chef Angus An), Blacktail Florist (Chef Geoff Rogers), and West Oak (Chef Tim Cuff). Not only that, but they each graciously donated $100 vouchers from their restaurants for the lucky audience members, who also had the chance to engage in some healthy competition.
Even with the $5,000 worth of Samsung appliances at stake, this competition was as rare as they come. Let’s call it Chicago blue. It’s uncommon to see competitors going out of their way to encourage one another, while cracking jokes along the way. For Chef Corbin this type of competition is about “Bringing back the fun factor in food”. True to his word he kept things fun and audiences on their toes, quite literally. At one point three of them were dancing in front of the stage while eating entire jalapeño peppers. As it turns out, playing in the kitchen, goes beyond playing with your taste buds and testing their limits. It’s about testing your own limits in the kitchen despite the unanticipated setbacks along the way. Perhaps in this competition that meant the challenge of creating a tasty dessert that combined the unlikely combo of apple, jalapeño pepper, and honey. But it’s all about enjoying the process, and as Corbin says, “If you’re cooking and it doesn’t work out and you burn it- big deal. Like riding a bike, you’ll fall off a few times and get hurt along the way but eventually you’re going to get it-and it’s not that difficult.”
And even while playing, the chefs and tag team members did manage to create some magic on their plate, and based on the judges’ reactions, clearly on their palates. Paired with Chef Geoff Rogers, Elaine Vuong ended up claiming the prize. And since this whole event comes down to the success of the dish, I was curious to know how Chef Corbin defined success as a chef. By now, I had a feeling that his definition would cut much deeper then fame and fortune. I hit a soft spot.
“Success for me is that feeling I get when somebody speaks to a memory, or some sort of sensory trigger that they’ve had happen because of a result of my food.”
With thoughts of the interview marinating in my head, I was just about to leave when an organizer stopped to tell me that Elaine, who won the contest, was giving the entire $5,000 Samsung kitchen prize to her mother. Corbin’s view of a meal triggering nostalgia, drifted back to me. It must have been felt for Elaine, who seemed compelled to give to her mother a prize that represents so much more then making tasty food. It all boils down to the saying, you are what you eat. If what you eat is prepared with family and friends, seasoned with love, well then there you go. You’re forever left with the best kind of aftertaste.