Jordan Mieczkowski is representing Canada on Friday at the 2012 Jeune Chef Rotisseurs International Competition in Berlin. The Chaîne des Rôtisseurs event is a chance for chefs up to age 27 with less than five years professional experience to showcase their talents and creativity in an international arena.
Mieczkowski, 23, who's been with the Hotel Grand Pacific for four years, worked with experienced chefs from Manitoba to British Columbia doing "black box" competitions. After a tour of the kitchen he would be presented with a mystery box of ingredients from which he had to concoct a three-course meal in the same four-hour timeline he would face at the competition. Local judges provided criticism.
He also practised working with ingredients he was unfamiliar with, such as rabbit, black garlic and charcuterie-style cured meats, as well as different plating styles and wording on menus — "a little bit of everything."
He said the preparation built up his confidence despite the short time frame. Most contestants, who have qualified through national events, have about a year to get ready.
"Everyone says that my work now is like night and day," Mieczkowski said in a telephone interview. "I wish I'd have known. I could have done a whole year of training, but to cram it into four months for what I've done I'm pretty proud of myself.
"I feel pretty confident. I know it's going to be hard."
Once they receive the mystery ingredients, competitors have 30 minutes to design a menu, then spend the remaining 3 1/2 hours cooking and presenting an appetizer, main course and dessert to serve four.
The contents of the "black box" change each year, but the compulsory items at the 2011 competition included: squabs, skate wing, sea urchin, parsnip, lobster mushrooms, Bartlett pear, Jerusalem artichokes, white chocolate, pancetta and pomegranate. Non-compulsory items included various other vegetables, fruits, liquors and fresh herbs.
"It's pressure right from the get-go," said Mieczkowski, who worked for a couple of years in a local pub after high school before deciding to go to culinary college.
Each of the approximately 25 international competitors is judged on taste, originality, creativity, presentation, portion size, nutrition, dress, kitchen cleanliness and timing. To ensure objectivity, contestants are identified by number only rather than by name.
There's no peeking to see what fellow contestants have on their plates.
"You can look if you want to, but I've been told never to look at someone else's stuff while you're working. You could be intimidated or you could slip up."
If he wins, Mieczkowski will join other Canadians who have won since the contest was introduced in Switzerland in 1977. Canada's first gold medallist, Geoffrey Couper, won in 1986 in Koblenz, Germany, while Daniel Craig followed with a gold in Adelaide, Australia, in 2006. Canadian competitors picked up silver in 2008 and bronze medals in 2007 and 2010.
Celebrity chef Michael Bonacini, who was born in Wales, won gold in 1980 when he competed for England. He has since moved to Toronto where he has teamed with Peter Oliver in a chain of upscale restaurants including Auberge du Pommier, Jump and Canoe. They've been entertaining film-goers and glitterati at their Luma and Canteen restaurants in TIFF Bell Lightbox during the Toronto International Film Festival.
International Chaine des Rotisseurs: http://www.chaine-des-rotisseurs.net