Hole punch helps Ottawa chef win gold at culinary championships

Atelier's Marc Lepine is the first chef to have won gold twice at the national championships.

Marc Lepine first two-time winner of prestigious competition

Atelier head chef Marc Lepine became the first two-time gold medal winner this weekend at the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna, B.C. (Canadian Culinary Championships)

Marc Lepine made history at a prestigious national culinary competition this weekend — and he's got his trusty hole punch to thank.

Lepine, the head chef and owner of Atelier — an Ottawa restaurant inspired by the art of molecular gastronomy — became the first two-time gold medal winner Saturday night at the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna, B.C.

"Honestly, I was very, very surprised this year," Lepine told CBC Ottawa's All In A Day after he got back to the city on Monday.

"We were going to be pretty happy if we just made it to the podium."

Lepine, his sous-chef, and the rest of the Atelier team beat 10 other chefs with a dish of smoked steelhead trout with a miso-molasses glaze, cured pork belly, barley and corn porridge, and corn cob broth.

It was his first time back at the championships since winning his first gold medal in 2012, as the competition requires winners to take a three-year break before being eligible to return, Lepine said.

The team won three different events during the two-day competition, including a "black box challenge" — which gave chefs an hour to create 14 different plates using seven mystery ingredients.

Despite his culinary pedigree, even Lepine was stymied by one of the ingredients. 

"There was this weird kind of seaweed stuff — I wasn't quite sure what it was, to be honest," Lepine said. "We just added that to our squid, made kind of a salad."

Hole punch was 'secret weapon'

Then there was the hole punch: one of their "secret weapons."

His team used the tool to transform black salsify, a root vegetable, into their own unique creation.

"We took a vegetable peeler, and made thin shavings of it, and perforated it with the hole punch the whole way down and then fried it. So we had these perforated chips in the end," Lepine said.

"It's all about details. Just a little bit of creativity, right? That's what they're looking for."

Listen to Marc Lepine's All In A Day interview here.