Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Recipe for culinary catastrophe

Luckily, I have pro chef along for charity cook-off competition

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There comes a time in every man's life when he must step onto the field of battle, push aside his deepest fears and, using every weapon in his arsenal, vanquish his enemies.

For me, that heroic time will come Thursday night and my weapon of choice will be a spatula, possibly a whisk, or, if things are looking really grim, a wooden spoon.

Because tomorrow, for the second straight year, I will put my culinary skills on display at the Celebrity Cook-off for charity at the Centro Caboto Centre on Wilkes Avenue. Tickets are $30 and include hot and cold hors d'oeuvres and a glass of wine. They're available online at www.cabotocentre.com or by calling 204-487-4597.

This year's food fight pits me against such culinary giants as Ina Sidhu from CTV News, a yet-to-be-confirmed Bomber legend like Doug Brown or Obby Khan, and my very good buddy Big Daddy Tazz, one of Canada's most popular standup comedians.

While I am supremely confident in my ability to wield sharp utensils, I am a little worried about going up against Tazz due to the fact he has never met a food he doesn't like. When I called yesterday to do a little trash-talking, he was already tasting victory.

"You think you lost bad in the pasta-eating competition?" is how Tazz began the conversation. "That was nothing! I cook so well the next time you call my place, it won't be to talk; it'll be to make reservations.

"My one weakness is I can't cook for just two. I cook enough for the Russian Army, or the entire cast of Star Wars. Also, I watch a lot of Hell's Kitchen, so I know how to swear, and cower in fear."

As you can tell, this fundraiser for the Italian centre is the culinary equivalent of a European soccer riot, assuming the riot took place on a stage under hot lights with about 500 wine-swilling audience members hurling helpful cooking tips, such as: "Stir that (bad word) risotto! Stir like you've never stirred before!"

The way the cook-off works is each celebrity chef is paired with a professional chef and the teams get 60 minutes to whip up an appetizer and a main course from a "black box" of mystery ingredients.

"Your main meat will be a mystery," Maria Rossol, special events co-ordinator for the centre, explained.

The judges will be randomly selected from the audience -- three to taste the appetizers and three for the main course.

Maria stressed the general idea is the celebrities are supposed to do all the actual cooking under the guidance of the professional chefs. Fortunately, I am confident I can persuade my partner to employ the latest culinary technique, by which I mean "cheating."

Speaking of partners, this year I have been teamed up with Mike Brown, named head chef of the cooking studio at DeLuca's on Portage Ave. last September.

"I'm OK with flouting the rules for sure," Mike told me, laughing. "I'm not going to put too much pressure on us. We'll go and have fun and interact with the crowd."

When I asked what our secret strategy would be, the banquet chef paused, then chirped: "Go in blind!" He quickly added "ha ha ha," so I'd know he was kidding. At least I think he was.

"I have a few ideas," Mike told me. "I'm not too worried. I think we'll keep it simple with a nice presentation, good flavours and a positive attitude."

While in his first year as a head chef, the 33-year-old father of one daughter has spent the last decade sweating for a living in a host of local kitchens. "I'm loving it," he crowed. "I'm a cook through and through."

The two of us are keeping our fingers crossed the mystery meat will not be something that swims in the sea. "I hope it's not baby squid," Mike chuckled. "I'm a meat guy. I love a rack of lamb or steaks. Red meat is my specialty. I've been doing a lot of oxtails lately and it's been going great."

Mike always dreamed of being a top-flight chef, even when he spent a year running a hotdog cart. "I mainly did it at Bomber games and in front of the convention centre," he recalled, happily adding: "If the mystery ingredient is a European wiener, we've got this in the bag."

My rivals should be very afraid. The cook-off hasn't even started and I'm already a wiener.

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 3, 2013 A2

History

Updated on Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 12:14 PM CDT: corrects spelling of hors d'oeuvres

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