It’s about -35 C, give or take, and 10 of us are tucked in around a long wooden table. Outside this make-shift restaurant on ice, the wind howls.
Inside RAW: almond, we’re about to taste what all the fuss is about.
At the helm in the kitchen, chef Kelly Cattani is methodically placing house-made pork sausages, a slab of pork belly and duck confit plus roasted carrots and sauerkraut on 10 plates.
A server places the meal in front of us, and Cattani appears beside the table.
“This is actually a traditional Alsatian dish called choucroute garnie, but I’ve been calling it ‘Pig, Pig, Duck,’” she explains.
Guests chuckle, and we dig into Cattani’s meat fest. The sausages, especially, are a big hit. As one guest says: “This is so good, I would buy this out the back.”
The 31-year-old chef, one of two female chefs invited to cook at this year’s edition of the restaurant on ice, is just hitting her professional stride.
In October 2013, Cattani and her crew from Elements restaurant and the University of Winnipeg’s Diversity Foods, won the Manitoba edition of Gold Medal Plates.
On Wednesday, she flies to Kelowna, B.C., for the Canadian Culinary Championships, a three-day cooking competition to crown Canada’s top chef.
Cattani is trying to keep everything in perspective and her nerves in check.
“I cannot face something like this with an expectation of winning. [I have to] just go, cook, have fun, see new things, meet new people and enjoy the experience,” she said.
Winning would be fantastic, Cattani said, but she’s trying to not focus on the top prize.
“Que sera, sera. If we do something the judges are into, then so be it. If not, it’s going to be a really great time anyway,” she said.
The annual cooking competition is a fundraiser for Canadian Olympic athletes and is held in cities across the country. Eleven top chefs representing each region compete in the three-day event.
In 2006, Winnipeg chef Makoto Ono, formerly of Gluttons Bistro, won the national contest. Since then, no local chef has taken the title.
This year’s championship starts Feb. 6 with a "mystery wine pairing" competition. Chefs are given a wine, a small budget to grocery shop and one day to prepare a dish perfectly suited to the vintage.
On the morning of Feb. 8, chefs must use all ingredients in a black box to create two dishes in one hour for 12 judges. That evening, chefs will serve their signature dish to several hundred guests at the gala along with the judges.