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Butter dash, bread rash: Edmonton chef wins bronze in wild Gold Medal Plates competition

'The whole thing is so stressful. I had zero sleep for four or five days'

Eric Hanson

Edmonton Chef Eric Hanson took home bronze in the Gold Metal Plates national finals. (Alberta Culinary Tourism Alliance)

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Not sleet, nor rain, nor snow — or hands full of hives — could keep Eric Hanson from winning bronze at the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna.

After running out of a key ingredient during the Gold Medal Plates final, the Edmonton chef raced more than three kilometres on foot through a record snowstorm to get the supplies back to the kitchen in time.

The clock was running out, their food budget was blown, and they had run out of butter.

'There are a lot of things that can go wrong'

"You're doing the 450 plates and the rule is, you can't run out of food, that's just not allowed. If you screw up one thing, you're immediately out," Hanson said.

"Next thing I know, I'm outside running at full speed, hilariously. You have that moment at the store, and everyone's going about their normal, daily lives and you're that frantic person, running for the butter, trying to scan it as fast as you can."

The Gold Medal Plates preliminary competition is held in 13 cities across Canada, before the top contestants from each city are are chosen and sent to the final food tournament in February.  

"The whole thing is so stressful. I had zero sleep for four or five days," Hanson said in an interview with CBC Edmonton's Radio Active.

"There are a lot of things that can go wrong in a competition and you don't know what hurdles you're going to overcome, but it was certainly a challenge."

That may be an understatement.

The national competition, which acts as a fundraiser for the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic teams, is designed to be a pressure cooker, and the weekend turned into a comedy of errors for Hanson and his team from the Prairie Noodle Shop.

'Oh no, this is going to be interesting'

After the butter emergency and a sleepless night working in the kitchen, Hanson — along with fellow chefs David Leeder and Stephen Baidacoff — took part in the black box competition.

Chefs are locked in a room before being asked to transform a box of secret ingredients into something delicious to present to a panel of judges and television cameras.  

When Hanson opened the box, his stomach churned with equal parts surprise and horror.

"I opened that box and thought immediately, "oh no, no, no. Why did I do this?'" Hanson said.

The box was filled with foods Hanson's allergic to: gluten, dairy, oysters and zucchini.

"I had the option to list all of my allergies, which are plentiful, but I chose not to in the interest of fair play," Hanson said.

"I opened the box, and the first thing I saw was beer, and then a bread dough. I was like, 'Oh no, this is going to be interesting.'"

In the end, Hanson's prawn dish was award-winning, but the chaos of the competition continued.

They were locked out of a competition venue and forced out into the cold until they could figure out how to get back in. Then the heater stopped working in one of the outdoor tents, freezing his herbs and congealing his butter into "spaghetti tubes."

And finally, the head judge never got a chance to taste Hanson's signature dish because a server dropped it on the floor.

"There were so many of us working so hard for this little thing right here, " Hanson said, smirking as he clutched his bronze medal.

"I feel really good about our first time competing."

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