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Strong-arm stirring secures cook-off trophy

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I can tell from the way you are reading this column you are wondering why my right arm is so much bigger than my left arm.

Medically speaking, that's just what happens when you are forced to rely on a single arm to power your team to a surprise victory in the culinary equivalent of a no-holds-barred wrestling match.

I am referring here to the second annual Celebrity Cook-off held Thursday night at the Caboto Centre wherein I duked it out with Bomber legend Doug Brown, Ina Sidhu from CTV News and my buddy Big Daddy Tazz, one of Canada's most popular standup comedians.

The way the charity event worked was each celebrity chef was paired with a professional chef and the teams had 60 minutes to whip up an appetizer and a main course from a "mystery ingredient," which turned out to be pork tenderloins the size of whaling harpoons.

I do not wish to spoil the surprise, but I will now give you a tiny hint about the outcome of this hard-fought competition: I AM THE CHAMPION! HA HA HA! NEENER NEENER NEENER!

OK, I apologize for all the capital letters, but I am still extremely stoked about this stunning victory, which, as I believe I have already alluded to, was due in large part to the miraculous strength of my right arm.

I was lucky enough to be partnered with an awesome cook named Mike Brown, the talented and calm head chef from the cooking studio at DeLuca's, which also supplied the winning chef in last year's cook-off.

The general idea was that we "celebrities" would do all the actual cooking under the guidance of the professional chefs, but Mike and I came up with a much better system wherein he did the simple stuff such as thinking up the menu, chopping, slicing, seasoning, sauteeing, garnishing and putting things into ovens and taking them back out, whereas I was responsible for the more complex culinary task of carrying out the majority of our team's stirring.

So, while Mike was casually throwing together tenderloin kabobs flavoured with an African spice blend called Harissa and a seared herb-crusted roast with wilted spinach and a balsamic reduction, there I was, clutching an extremely heavy wooden spoon in my right hand, sweating over a saucepan the size of a manhole cover, stirring a crimini mushroom risotto.

While hundreds of wine-swilling audience members looked on in awe, I bravely stood under the hot lights and stirred the rice around and around and around for about an hour. At one point, Doug Brown, a huge culinary talent in the sense that he is larger than the Richardson Building, peered over my shoulder and said: "Wow! You really know how to stir!" OK, I may be paraphrasing him slightly, but you get the general point.

Speaking of the legendary Doug, he just made it to the cook-off in time, because he is also a medical sales representative and, before the contest, he had been busy showing doctors at a local clinic how to use a fancy new device on a (cough) cadaver.

A classy competitor, I asked Doug whether he had washed his hands before cooking and (fortunately for me) he was amused and said: "Yes, about 16 times!"

In the end, my partner Mike was thrilled about keeping the crown for DeLuca's cooking school and restaurant. He's a very humble chef and when I asked him the secret to our success, he snickered: "You're stirring was exceptional. It obviously made the difference.

"We made a solid team. They'll be fearful of putting us back together."

I don't want to brag, but at the end of the night, Mike and I had to spend a great deal of time hoisting our trophies in the air as the audience snapped pictures. Thankfully, that was a piece of cake for me, what with my powerful right arm and all.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 8, 2013 A2

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