The winner of the annual Whistler Chef's challenge has a lot going on these days. Jeff Park, the Chef de Cuisine at Araxi, is in the process of moving into a new Squamish home, preparing for the arrival of his first child and working hard so his parents will be proud of him.
Coming off a very busy Cornucopia weekend, Pique wanted to find out more about Park's victory at the Chef's Challenge on Friday as Cornucopia started to swing into high gear, but things relating to family seem just as important or more important to Park, who works in the kitchen at Araxi.
Park started his kitchen career late compared to many other food services workers. He launched a successful graphic design career before returning to school to learn how to chop, slice, dice, measure and mix great food. His parents weren't very keen about his move to the kitchen as a career at first. Park explains he racked up a significant amount of debt during his university years and early years in graphic design. In fact, he says, his father didn't speak to him for a long time after he left his first career to learn the food industry. Now at the age of 38, he's into his second stint at Araxi after spending a few years living and working in Calgary.
Park enjoys the limelight when he's involved in things like the Whistler Chef's Challenge, which he participated in last year as part of a team.
"I enjoy more of that adrenaline," he admits. "I like the butterflies."
In the nights before the Chef's Challenge, Park lost sleep stewing over the pending competition.
"My wife said I was being like a kid right before exams or a date," says Park.
The pressure ahead of a competition is different from preparing food for 350 to 400 people, he says. According to Park, competition experience makes him better at what he does every day back at the restaurant.
"The creativity comes a little more naturally when you are tense," Park concludes. He finds his most creative work comes right before a tight deadline. The trick, says the kitchen coordinator, is to convert the stress into something positive.
That's exactly what he did over the course of the two-day Whistler Chef's Challenge. On day one he scored enough points to continue the competition the next day against Mathew Aleksich, who started the competition working for Milestones and reportedly finished the event with a new job at the Four Seasons.
Park decided to cook up a pear dish he described as a great breakfast or dessert dish along with Twice Baked Souffle (see recipe next page) while his competitor went with a meat dish. The secret ingredient both had to incorporate was tea. Park had Oolong while Aleksich worked with Jasmine.
Here's where the family thing comes back in. Park chose not to attend the award ceremony Friday evening because he had dinner plans with his parents, who were going to be travelling up to Squamish from their home in Vancouver for the dinner. Park asked his co-worker, RD Stewart, to attend on his behalf. When the results were revealed Stewart accepted the $1,000 cheque for Park along with a very fancy Viking pepper grinder and a wok. Stewart called Park while he was enjoying the evening with his wife and his parents and told him the good news.
Park's plans for the $1,000? He and his wife will invest it into the nursery they have planned for their son. Paint, furniture and other baby needs are required for the room so the money will work nicely to get the room ready for the baby.
Twice Baked Soufflé
150g all purpose flour
1 onion, cut in half
1 bay leaf
12 egg yolks
12 egg whites
900ml whole milk
350g of Farmstead Farm's White Grace cheese from Salt Spring Island
In a saucepan, melt the butter. Once completely melted, add the flour, stir to combine and cook on very low heat for 10 minutes until a roux is formed. Stud the onion with the bay leaf and cloves. Add the onion to the milk in a separate saucepot and bring to a simmer. Strain the milk into the roux, cook and thicken to make a béchamel sauce.
Remove the béchamel from the heat and beat in the white Grace Cheese, then incorporate the egg yolks.
Preheat oven to 350F. Beat the egg whites to soft peaks then fold them into the béchamel mix. Pour the mixture into prepared soufflé molds. Bake in a waterbath for 20 minutes. After removing them from oven, rest for a few minutes. When cooled, take them out of the molds and place them onto a baking sheet. Bake at 395F for eight minutes.