The pressure of competition is something Matthew Aleksich thrives on. His participation in the Whistler Chef's Challenge during Cornucopia was a given.
We were introduced to him last week, when Aleksich was second to Jeff Park in the annual cooking competition. Second is a place Aleksich doesn't aspire to. Looking back on the competition, he knows what prevented him from taking top spot.
He chose to make a pork dish in the first round and a smoked beef dish using tea, the secret ingredient, in the final round of the competition.
The protein was overcooked in the second round and he knew it.
That was the difference. He says the soufflé prepared by his competition in the final round wasn't perfect but it was 45 minutes of good effort.
"I love it," Aleksich says of competition cooking. "I don't even feel pressure. It's just fun. I like it a lot."
He's no stranger to the pressure having competed a number of times in a number of different events.
"I'm not a big fan of losing," he says. "I usually do well at these things."
Being a gracious second place finisher at the chef's challenge in Whistler, he says he doesn't mind losing (or in this case, placing second out of eight — hardly a "loss" in the eyes of many) to Park.
Last year, Aleksich was off on a commercial fishing adventure with his father so he missed the challenge after competing in 2010.
This is where it is revealed that, much like Park, Aleksich is also a huge family guy. Aleksich credits his mother and stepfather with being key to his success in the kitchen. He explains that his mother was a very good cook, but she didn't really enjoy cooking so she didn't do much. From the age of 12 or so he and his stepfather prepared most of the dinners for the three of them.
Aleksich explains that he fell in love with the preparation of food in the time he spent preparing dinners for his family. His summers were often spent commercial fishing for crab, prawn and salmon. While most kids were enjoying summers off school, Aleksich was working on his dad's boat so winter was his playtime. He spent many winter days during his school years skiing in Whistler. These youth experiences led him to research cooking schools. The program offered at Malaspina College in Nanaimo came out on the top of his investigation so he enrolled and excelled.
"You are always learning, it is never boring," Aleksich says of his current feeling about food.
He found his way to the Fairmont Waterfront once he finished cooking school. Fast forward a few years and he's in Whistler to work at the Westin during the lead-up to the Olympic Winter Games. Fast forward again and he's at La Rua working with what he calls a great team. When La Rua closed for renovations, he helped out at Milestones. When it was announced that La Rua wasn't reopening he says he started networking with the people in Whistler's fine dining establishments to find his next kitchen. The Four Seasons took an interest and just before the Chef's Challenge Aleksich says he agreed to join the team at the Four Seasons.
"It's addictive, it really is," Aleksich says of Whistler. His arrival here in April of 2009 was supposed to be a one-year stay.
The day of the interview is the kind of day he loves in Whistler. The morning consisted of a single ski run followed by the interview and then a free day through the afternoon on a day off from the kitchen at the Four Seasons.
Look for this ambitious kitchen keener to potentially entertain you on the popular cooking show called Chopped. He says he intends to put together an audition for an upcoming season of the show to satisfy his love of competition in the kitchen. If he makes it on to the show his only goal will be to make it to the final show to be crowned the Chopped champ. With the kind of ambition Aleksich has when it comes to competition it is more likely a situation of when he makes it onto the show instead of if he makes it.