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Whistler chef operating at Gold Medal Plates



One thing is clear about Chef Tim Cuff. The executive chef at Aura is really proud of the garden he and his team planted on the roof of the Nita Lake Lodge.

His garden supplies all the herbs his team of cooks need - from green onion to chives, from parsley to cilantro, and dill to sage - the garden produces it all and Cuff plans to expand the garden at the start of the next growing season.

He beams while talking about the beets, artichokes, beans, radishes and cabbage growing on the roof of the lodge.

The garden is one of the weapons in his arsenal as he prepares for battle at the Gold Medal Plates competition on Nov. 4 in Vancouver.

The Whistler chef is going up against ten other B.C. chefs attempting to represent Canada's west coast at the annual national Gold Medal Plates Championship this February in Kelowna.

The competition for the local chef will be tough. Foodies will recognize at least a few of the people Cuff is going up against: Rob Feenie from the Cactus Club Café and Top Chef Canada winner Dale MacKay of Ensemble Restaurant. MacKay has placed second in the last two Gold Medal Plates events and Feenie won the competition in 2009.

This will be Cuff's first entry into the competition and he is out to win it. In fact, there's only one result acceptable to Cuff.

"I have to win," he said. "I have to win. If I don't, to me it is a complete and utter waste of time."

Cuff grew up in Saskatoon and in his youth his parents had a garden that produced food for the family.

He grew up on meat from the neighbourhood butcher and milk and cheese from the local dairy.

"It is the way I grew up cooking," he said sipping a fancy coffee. "It is bred in me. That's what you do. If you want to cook good food it is what you do.

"When I went to Mission Hill Winery they had a herb garden and vegetables. We had fruit trees on site and that's what we picked."

When asked about his motivation for being involved in the competition Cuff said a number of times that it is all about the fun. He also recognizes that chefs who become widely known through cooking competitions and television shows can draw a significant amount of attention to the company worked for.

He points to Whistler's Melissa Craig at the Bearfoot Bistro as a great example.

"She's still Canada's best chef," said Cuff.

He recognizes that being involved in the competition will generate pre-marketing for the hotel and his restaurant. Cuff also said it is great for his staff who work hard every day to produce great food.

People like Craig and Feenie are regularly in the spotlight generating awareness for their restaurants. Publicity of that variety can't be purchased through advertising.

Cuff wouldn't reveal what dish he plans to create for the Gold Medal Plates event - only information he would give up was that he plans to serve a cocktail with the meal he creates. He said most chefs serve their dishes with wine and he thinks he might be the only competitor who plans to pair the food with a cocktail.

"I guarantee you that if I win this it will be on the menu and the cocktail will be on the lounge list," Cuff said.

The Gold Medal Plates competition will be held at The Westin Bayshore in Vancouver.

Cuff and his competitors will each prepare an appetizer-sized dish for about 500 to 800 guests. The dishes will be judged on visual presentation, texture, taste, drink compatibility, originality and "wow factor."

Robert Clark from Vancouver's C Restaurant is the defending national champion. He also won in 2006.

Craig was a silver medal winner at the competition in 2007.

Gold Medal Plates events are planned in major cities across Canada and funds generated through the event go to the Canadian Olympic Foundation. To date, the Gold Medal Plates organization has donated more than $5 million to help fund Canada's elite athletes.