Nash chef Matt Batey wins silver at Canadian Culinary Championships
'It was exhilarating and absolutely exhausting,' says Batey of the two-day cook-off
"It's so intense," he says of his first time at the annual competition, which draws finalists from 11 cities across Canada for the two-day Canadian Culinary Championships that include a black box competition, gala dinner and mystery wine.
"It was exhilarating and absolutely exhausting."
- FOOD AND THE CITY | Market Restaurant expands to Calgary Farmers' Market
- FOOD AND THE CITY |Rouge executive chef Jamie Harling on sourdough perfection
"You physically train. You mentally train. We practiced in the kitchen and did cardio on our own," said Batey of his preparations with pastry chef Matt Wilson (previously of the Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino) and PM saucier Landon Schwarz.
"Even though we were in good physical and mental shape, you can be prepared, but never really prepared," Batey said.
"It was our rookie trip, and we were there with chefs who have been there before. Until you physically do it yourself, there's never any true preparation."
Pastry chef provides a 'big leg up'
Batey won gold in Calgary back in November to land his spot at GMP, and since then has received advice from others who have taken part in the competition, including Chef Duncan Ly, who at the time was at Hotel Arts and Raw Bar.
While all the other chefs brought two savoury sous chefs as part of their team, Batey strategically brought a pastry chef along.
"So the big leg up for us with the mystery wine challenge was we had a pastry chef with us, so we introduced a couple of elements into our dish that were more pastry-specific.
"It was really neat to be able to do that with him," he said.
Beetroot meringues were a nod to our Alberta ingredients, with cherry sorbet that incorporated the best of the Okanagan.
"A big part of our approach was to go to the national championships and cook the food that we cook," Batey said.
"It's all stuff that's already in our wheelhouse, our repertoire. In competition it's never the time to try something you've never done before."
Their hard work paid off in the form of a silver medal (gold went to chef Marc Lepine of Atelier in Ottawa, and bronze was awarded to Alex Chen of Boulevard in Vancouver), presented in the province Batey still calls home.
B.C. mentors like second fathers, says Batey
"From that point on he became like a second father," Batey said.
"I was 21, engaged with a one year old son, working in a really competitive business at what was arguably the biggest, baddest, most greatest restaurant project in the country. It was intense and immense."
Batey went back to Vancouver to work for Bruno Mardi, Michael Noble's mentor, in 2004. From there, he headed to the Okanagan to work at Mission Hill Winery for seven years before Michael brought him back to Calgary to open the Nash.
"A lot of who I am as a culinarian is directly attributable to Michael or Bruno," Batey said. "So it's almost like a father-grandfather-son situation."
Family and teamwork, the makings of a great kitchen
It was a familiar scenario for Batey. Growing up in Victoria, B.C., he often spent time in the kitchen with his own father.
"My parents didn't cook professionally, but both had stressful professional jobs," Batey said.
"As the oldest, if I was going to spend any time with my dad it was going to be in the kitchen, cooking for the family.
"My dad baked as a stress reliever, so I have very vivid memories of baking Williamsburg Orange Cake with my dad at 9 p.m. on a Monday night while watching Monday night football, because that was his idea of relaxing," Batey said.
At 14, Batey was washing dishes part-time, and that eventually led him, as it leads many others, to the restaurant kitchen.
"Suddenly it was like, hey can you toss this Caesar salad? And then all of a sudden you're doing all these menial jobs, but at 14 it's the coolest thing ever," Batey said.
"I fell more and more in love with it," said Batey. "I always played team sports growing up, and working in a kitchen felt very akin to being part of a team. There are always people around, and you're all working as part of the greater good."
This sense of kinship and teamwork in the kitchen helped Batey bring home the gold in Calgary and the silver in Kelowna, and it is applied to the daily operations at the Nash.
"When one person isn't having the best game, they get support from the others," he said.
"In the kitchen if someone isn't having a great service, we all help get them out of the weeds. One player on a team doesn't win or lose the game."