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Okanagan College’s Culinary Arts program hosted its annual Road to Riccione Cook Off this week with a coveted prize on the menu for two winners: a trip to Italy and the culinary adventure of a lifetime.
The event kicked off Tuesday morning with Okanagan Chefs Association (OCA) Junior members serving up dishes with equal parts creativity and skill, while the afternoon portion of the competition saw OC Culinary Arts students vying for the title of Student-of-the-Year in a Top Chef-style culinary faceoff. Competitors in each round were presented with a tantalizing array of ingredients with which to prepare an Italian-inspired meal, including dessert, for a panel of judges that included OC Culinary Arts instructors and other esteemed chefs from around the Okanagan.
After a fast-paced morning of competition, Riley Eberts of Waterfront Wines was named winner of the OCA round, delivering the judges a decadent pan-seared duck and quail egg main, followed by a lemon olive oil chiffon cake for dessert.
In the afternoon round, Daniel Cardoso rose to the top with a masterfully plated Arctic char main dish, accompanied by a classic panna cotta to finish. The competition among Okanagan College’s Culinary Arts group was incredibly close. When all the judges’ marks were tallied, only .25 of a point separated Cardoso from his classmate and second-place finisher Annie Low.
“I really wasn’t expecting this, but it feels incredible – especially given how well everyone cooked today,” says Cardoso, who graduated from the Culinary Arts program in February and returned to the College for the competition.
Born in Castlegar and a Kelowna resident for more than a decade, Cardoso cites culinary classes in middle school as one of his earliest inspirations for chasing the dream of becoming a chef. He now works in the kitchen at Summerhill Pyramid Winery.
“I want to keep learning and travelling to build my skills, so this trip to Italy will definitely help me do that,” adds Cardoso. “I’m incredibly excited for it. It hasn’t really sunk in yet.”
Morning judges for the cook off included Tina Tang, Pastry Chef at Predator Ridge Resort, along with OC Culinary Arts instructors Chef Jim Armstrong, Chef Mike Barillaro and Chef Roger Planiden. In the afternoon, OC students competed under the watchful eye of Chef Melissa Masters, Junior Director for the OCA, joined by OCA member Chef Willi Franz and OC’s Chef Jim Armstrong and Chef Reinhard Foerderer. OC Culinary Manager Chef Bernard Casavant served as the chef organizer.
In order to qualify for the Road to Riccione Cook Off and the chance to be named Student-of-the-Year, Cardoso and five other classmates had to first pick up another honour – the Culinary Arts program’s AMA student of the month award.
“AMA stands for attendance, marks and attitude,” explains Casavant. “You can measure the first two, but attitude is that intangible quality that sets everyone – students and professionals – apart in this industry. We’re extremely proud of Daniel and all the students for the way they have progressed in their skills and how they performed this week.”
In October, both Cardoso and Eberts will accompany Casavant and Barillaro to Riccione, Italy where they will tour cooking schools and the region. They will also get to host a traditional Canadian Thanksgiving Dinner for Canadian guests at the Hotel Belvedere.