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Masterful skills put to the test

Chefs thrown curveball at Disaster Dining event

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An ironic twist of fate left a cooking competition in not-so-hot water on Thursday.

Three local chefs participated in Manitoba's first Disaster Dining competition, hosted by the Canadian Red Cross at the Walmart store on Kenaston Boulevard.

Their masterful skills were put to the test as they worked exclusively with non-perishable food items during a 30-minute time crunch. A panel of four judges -- Paralympian Jared Funk, dietitian Lana Pestaluky, disaster management specialist Barbara Crumb and Const. Mitch Rochon of the Winnipeg Police Service -- scored their cold cuisine.

Chefs Korene McCaig of Bonfire Bistro, Heather Porteous of Misty Lake Lodge in Gimli and Chris Buffington of Siloam Mission, each had double-burner hot plates at their disposal, all of which proved useless once the plates' power waned around the competition's 10-minute mark.

Megan Blanchette, funding development co-ordinator for the Red Cross, insisted the power outages weren't planned. They proved appropriate though, considering the event's purpose.

"The idea kind of stemmed from the fact that a lot of people we find aren't prepared when disasters happen," Blanchette said. The Red Cross says 66 per cent of Canadians aren't prepared for a natural disaster, although they recommend having enough non-perishable food on hand for a 72-hour crisis.

"So we have given (the chefs) a chance to create these masterpieces using only non-perishable ingredients. It kind of gives families the idea of what they can put in their own disaster kit when it comes to food," Blanchette said.

In the last year alone, flash floods and a natural gas pipeline explosion in Otterburne left Manitobans in adverse situations. The Disaster Dining simulation tries to casually remind shoppers to prepare for the worst, said Cailin Hodder, provincial lead for the Red Cross's planning and response team.

"In Canada, every four hours our Red Cross volunteers are responding to a disaster," said Hodder. "Even today, we're in what we call a heat alert... people don't think of it as a disaster, but we include it because if it were to escalate, that could get detrimental."

As the clock wound down at Walmart, the chefs presented a variety of tasty-looking plates. McCaig delivered a savoury pancake with mushrooms, spinach, crab and salsa, while Porteous offered a southwestern chicken quesadilla with three-bean pasta salad. But Buffington's curry and ginger couscous crab cakes with pineapple and ginger salsa was the judges' favourite.

Buffington said he was "very honoured" to win as he clenched a new ceramic chef trophy.

"We rely heavily on donations (at Siloam), but to just have non-perishable items -- usually we have some fresh and some non-perishable -- it's very different.

"I'm sure the crab cakes were soggy, but they were still good," he joked.

Porteous, who recently competed on Chopped Canada (though her episode has yet to air on television), learned from Thursday's defeat.

"(Having) no heat, that was horrific," she said. "I should have planned a completely cold dish that wouldn't have required heat."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 15, 2014 B2

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