Winnipeg chef encourages creativity on Twitter

You know the formula: aspiring chef is presented with a black box containing mystery ingredients. Then he or she creates a dish using those ingredients.

Chef Ben Kramer launches cooking challenge using #twitterblackbox

Chef Kelly Cattani won last week's twitterblackbox challenge using milk, bone marrow and raisins (Kelly Cattani)

You know the formula: aspiring chef is presented with a black box containing mystery ingredients. Then he or she creates a dish using those ingredients. Chef Ben Kramer of Diversity Catering has taken that idea to the Twitter world, calling it "Twitterblackbox."

Here's how it works: four ingredients are posted on Twitter at the beginning of the week, chefs or home cooks turn those ingredients into a dish, then post a photo of it on Twitter using the hashtag #Twitterblackbox.

Anyone can enter and anyone can vote after the Friday deadline using the hashtag #blackboxvotes. Then the winner chooses the ingredients for the next week, so it's self-perpetuating.

I want people to get and stay excited about food.- Ben Kramer, chef

It all started a couple of years ago when some cooks held a local Iron Chef. Then Kramer and Chef Alex Svenne got the idea to put it on Twitter.

"We're all so busy, we spend more time together on Twitter than we do in person," said Kramer, laughing.

The idea kind of petered out, but three weeks ago Kramer decided to revive it because his chef, Kelly Cattani, who won Manitoba's Gold Medal Plates, wanted to practise for the nationals.

"We thought of it as a novelty and something to keep the creative juices flowing and have fun," Kramer said. "I want people to get and stay excited about food."

At first only professional chefs were entering, but Kramer is pleased that there are now more non-professional cooks entering than professional.

"It gives them a chance to play on the same level that we're on, but it also exposes everybody to totally different ideas because restaurant cooks think a lot differently than home cooks."

He's also impressed by the level of creativity going into the dishes.

"My circle is an online community of people who are interested in food and wine and having a good time, so it's the easiest way to all connect no matter where we are and what we're doing," he said. "And I like the fact that Twitter is very public, so everybody gets to see."

Judging is based on the photo, so the food is not actually tasted. But contrary to what you might think, people are not necessarily voting for the prettiest dishes. Some photos are taken with a phone and not professionally lit.

"You may get that initial 'wow' factor, but I've noticed more of the votes go to a dish you would actually want to eat," said Kramer.

As it happens, Cattani won last week's competition, so she chose the mystery ingredients for this week: anchovy, kale, cheese and any pulse.


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