TORONTO - Halifax chef Brenan Madill admits to a few jitters as he prepares to represent Canada at a contest pitting his skills against those of his international peers.
"I've got to say more than anything it's the butterflies that are going crazy right now," said the Seasons by Atlantica executive sous chef.
"I've been playing sports before in which I've been highly competitive, so I'm getting that same feeling I used to get back then, so it's kind of more nerve-racking than an exciting feeling."
The 25-year-old has been practising every way he can for the Sept. 6 competition in which he'll be up against entrants from as many as 25 other countries. He defeated eight other regional contestants to become the Canadian champion last fall.
The Jeune Chef Rotisseurs International Competition put on by Chaine des Rotisseurs — an international gastronomic society with members in more than 75 countries devoted to promoting fine dining — 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.
Once they receive the mystery ingredients, competitors have 30 minutes to design and write a menu, then spend the remaining 3 1/2 hours cooking and presenting an appetizer, main course and dessert to serve four. They're judged on taste, originality, creativity, presentation, portion size, nutrition, dress, kitchen cleanliness and timing.
Madill finds his daily work helps him hone his skills.
"Basically every day I come to work I either try to get a little bit faster, work a little more organized, just the little things, every day is really practice," he said recently by phone from the restaurant kitchen.
His boss Luis Clavel, executive chef of Seasons by Atlantica, has been giving him mystery boxes of ingredients on which he practises and is judged. Madill has also had a chance to observe Culinary Team Canada, of which Clavel is a member, in action when they spent a week this summer in Halifax preparing for upcoming competitions, culminating in Germany in 2016.
Madill said competitors in the Jeune Chef Rotisseurs event are on an equal footing. No one knows what the ingredients will be, they're all told what equipment they can expect to work with and all chefs even have to wash their own dishes.
Though he knows he'll have four burners and an oven, one cutting board and two whisks, he'll have to adapt to using induction heat (he works with natural gas in Halifax).
Madill hopes his experience as a restaurant dishwasher in high school will stand him in good stead.
"You're marked on the cleanliness of your kitchen and the utilization of your product — anything they can mark you on they're gonna. It makes it difficult. It really makes you think."
He's been practising using the same pot more than once before having to wash it, which will save time during the competition. "If you boil the water and blanch your vegetables for later and then after that boil some cream for mashed potatoes and then try to use it again to try to make your sauce just by wiping it out because there's no cross-contamination but yet you didn't have to wash."
Madill, who graduated at the top of his class from the Nova Scotia Community College culinary arts program in 2010, has won several other awards for his prowess with food.
If he wins the Istanbul competition, Madill 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 and Canoe. They'll entertain film-goers and glitterati at their Luma and Canteen restaurants at TIFF Bell Lightbox during the Toronto International Film Festival.
International Chaine des Rotisseurs: http://www.chaine-des-rotisseurs.net