LaSalle student chefs go for sixth championship

By Tracey Arial

The pressure is on for two student chefs at the Pearson School of Culinary Arts on George Street in LaSalle.

Today they defend the honour of their school and their teacher in a regional culinary Olympiad. To add to their pressure, students from all five of Montreal’s chef schools are competing for the first time ever and the event itself takes place on home turf.

“Our school sent a candidate to the provincials for the last five competitions,” says Pierre Auclair, a pedagogical consultant with the Lester B. Pearson School Board who represents their culinary school on the regional organizing team. “We have a teacher—Nicolas Robineau-Roberge—who has gone to Quebec to coach our student chef for three competitions in a row. He’s really in a zone now getting his students ready. It’s so competitive.”

The competition is a little bit like Iron Chef or Top Chef, except there aren’t cameras or an audience in attendance.

All of the student chefs earned their way in to these regional championships by winning similar competitions within their own schools. The Pearson one took place last December.

This year’s competition is tougher than usual though. It’s the first year that all of Montreal’s culinary schools are participating. Student chefs from l’École Hôtelière de Montréal, Calixa-Lavallée, St. Pius X Culinary Institute, l’Institut de tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Québec, l’École des métiers de la restauration et de l’Hôtellerie, and the Pearson School of Culinary Arts will compete for the regional championship. 

Unlike the television versions, student chefs and their coach/teachers already know which ingredients they’ll have to cook. They’ll be expected to prepare King Quail in an appetizer; Fluke flat fish in an entrée and chocolate mousse for dessert.

Most of them have spent hours working with those ingredients by now, but the two competitors from Pearson certainly have.

Their teacher/coach Robineau-Roberge has had them “performing intervals” every day, and he’ll continue working with them right up until the big day, February 19.

He even stayed at Pearson until 10:30 last night putting his student competitors through an entire competition after class.

“I’d much rather put them through the pain and have them hate me now so they can have fun competing that day,” said Robineau-Roberge. “It’s just like preparing for a running race or a bike race. You try to make sure that they do everything over and over again until they can do everything like robots—creative robots. They have to be able to keep their cool and come up with new strategies when something goes wrong. I’ve seen students cry at this competition when they weren’t prepared.”

Ten chefs, including Foodlab chef Seth Gabrielse and L’Eau à la Bouche chef Anne Desjardins, will judge student skills at deboning the poultry, filleting the fish, maintaining a healthy clean workspace, limiting waste and preparing tasty dishes. 

The competition begins at 8:30 in the morning. The student chefs must serve their appetizers at 1:30, their main dish at 2 p.m. and desert at 2:30 p.m. They’ll lose one point per minute per judge for lateness.

At the end of the day, Montreal’s winning student chef will be crowned at a cocktail with industry insiders and food sponsors, including Pierre en Gros, which is supplying the Fluke fish.

For one really talented student chef, this will be the second of five similar competitions.

The winner of this regional competition faces off against the winners from all the culinary schools in Quebec. That winner will represent the province at a Canada-wide version later this year.

Assuming that the winning Canadian student chef is still under the age of 22 years old, he or she will go to São Paulo, Brazil to participate the 43rd WorldSkills Competition next summer.

The pressure will be really on if that happens. Canada won the last Worldskills competition in 2012 too. You can hear champion Albertan chef Peter Keith talking about his win at: 0404/.
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