Cheering on the resort's best and brightest young talent on a national stage should be old hat for most Whistlerites by now, except for it's usually on the slopes or trails, not in the kitchen.
But 19-year-old culinary wunderkind Toshi Akama made his community and school proud after competing against some of the country's emerging young chefs at the Skills Canada National Competition in Toronto, from June 4 to 7.
Pitted against other college-trained cooks from across the country, Akama, who enrolled in the culinary program at Vancouver Island University in September, was put to the test in a contest reminiscent of the popular Food Network series, Chopped, after earning gold at the provincial round in April.
The competitors were given a black box containing a trio of secret ingredients they had to feature prominently in each of their three courses: parsnip, duck and strawberry purée. Akama got prolific with his main course, preparing duck three ways, with duck liver ravioli in onion marmalade to start, followed by a pan-seared roast duck breast, and finished off with a braised duck leg and leeks.
Despite his best efforts, Akama did not place in the top three, but still enjoyed taking part in his first-ever cooking competition.
"It gave me a bit of a reality check just because there are so many good competitors around the country," he said. "But most of all it was just fun."
Akama is no stranger to resort kitchens, having practically been raised at The Westin's Ka-Ze Sushi, which his parents own.
"I grew up with some pretty good food, obviously. I'm pretty fortunate for the palate I grew up with," he said.
Besides helping out in his dad's kitchen, Akama also gained invaluable experience in Grade 10 working as a dishwasher at Mario Enero's contemporary Canadian restaurant, La Rua, which has since closed.
"When I worked with the kitchen crew there, it was really nice," said Akama. "That was one of the biggest breaks too because they're all probably the nicest guys I've ever met. I just really enjoyed their food there."
The budding chef followed that up with a stint last year as a kitchen helper at the Four Seasons, which he credited with cementing his passion for cooking.
"I didn't expect to get that kind of job right away, but I think it's what really made me open my eyes to what I wanted to do," he said.
Now, Akama has his eyes set on his next goal: soaking up as much as possible at Kelowna's revered Mission Hill Winery, where he will work on the catering team for the summer.
"From there, I just want to see where my opportunities come from because (Mission Hill is) a pretty big name. I'm definitely excited to work there," he said.
But even with such a promising future ahead of him, Akama, like many others his age, hasn't quite figured out exactly where he wants to end up in his career. For now, he's taking it one day at a time and growing his already well-honed skill set.
"I don't know yet," he said of his ultimate career goal. "Some day I might want to be an executive chef somewhere, but right now I just want to learn and cook."