Fundraising competition partners SAIT students with popular chefs
Heat billowing from the Culinary Campus kitchen one a recent evening wasn't just from fired-up ovens — it was the heat of competition.
For the third annual Chef to Be event, six chefs from such restaurants as Murrieta's, Charbar, Bridgette Bar and Yellow Door Bistro, were paired with SAIT Professional Cooking students in a black box challenge that was about food and fundraising as it was about connecting education and the restaurant industry.
"The beauty of this is it's really a collaboration between industry and our learners," says organizer and SAIT culinary instructor Michael Allemeier. "When we can put the two together, it's a win-win."
The idea behind the competition was sparked four years ago when Andrew Denhamer, owner of Fine Food Stop, approached Allemeier and suggested getting local chefs to help SAIT students.
An hour later, the pair had an outline for what became Chef to Be.
Funds raised through ticket sales — and the raffled prize of a chance to sit with the judges — go toward five $1,000 scholarships for students in SAIT's culinary programs. Two are given to students on the winning teams from the event, provided they meet the academic criteria. The remaining three go to other students who meet pre-determined criteria that includes volunteering, attitude and the students' GPAs, says Allemeier.
Teams are based on the classic culinary brigade with a chef and sous chef working with a current SAIT student and an alum from one of the culinary programs.
In some ways, the competition serves as a reunion.
"Quite often on teams, we'll have up to three alumni," says Allemeier. "We're very proud of them and this is a way to check in to see their journey and success, what they've accomplished."
Under the direction of the chefs, each team must come up with two different dishes using all six of the secret ingredients unveiled only a few hours before the event.
Teams make enough of their dishes to feed the judges, including former CBC dining critic John Gilchrist and SAIT culinary instructor Hayato Okamitsu, along with all those who bought tickets to the fundraising event.
Sonya Hyderman, a second-year Professional Cooking student, kept busy making lamb empanadas under the guidance of Charbar executive chef Jess Pelland — who is also known for winning an episode of Food Network Canada's Chopped.
As someone who already works for Charbar, Hyderman said the competition was like a "sped-up day at the office," but they were a coordinated team because they'd gone in with a game plan.
The empanada would win for people's choice — earning Hyderman one of the $1,000 scholarships.
More importantly, though, there was the chance to work with Pelland and feel the adrenaline that comes from competition.
"I enjoy the rush of it, serving hundreds of people," she says, adding she wants to be an event chef, working with hotels or catering, after graduating.
Savannah Weal, meanwhile, had not participated in any cooking competitions before she was added to Chef Dave Bohati's team where she was tasked with preparing a number of ingredients.
"The opportunity for a Professional Cooking student to participate with such high-rated chefs in Calgary was amazing," she says.
"It was a chance to get to work with someone with so much experience." Bohati, the executive chef at Murrieta's, took a risk by making fresh pasta in the limited time. The risk paid off— he and his team won Judge's Choice.
"When they announced the winner, it was really shocking," says Weal. "I looked over at Chef Bohati and his mouth was open."
While the opportunity alone was beneficial, Weal says the $1,000 scholarship will help cover her family financially.
"I'm very grateful. I'm going to tell other students to do it," she says.