Chef Chovancek Talks Junior Chef Challenge
We love a good food competition. A good food competition with teens? Bring it on.
Fans of Master Chef Junior, take note: this Saturday, October 24, the Vancouver Home and Design Show will be home to our own teens-do-the-darndest things-event.
The Samsung Junior Chef Challenge, pairs up two local teens with top Vancouver chefs Craig Scherer of Trattoria Burnaby and Geoff Rogers of Blacktail Restaurant and Lounge on the Vancouver Magazine Cooking Stage, creating an entrée and a dessert in just an hour. The results will be judged by Mark Driesschen of CTV Morning Live—and our own Greer Ross-McLennan, a 16-year-old foodie-in-training whose Cast Iron Girl blog highlights her experiments in the kitchen and study of culinary arts (and full disclosure, she comes by her love of food naturally—she’s the daughter of our food editor, Neal McLennan).
Greer had a chance to chat with the Challenge’s emcee, Chef Jonathan Chovancek from Bittered Sling, to get insight on both what to expect this weekend, and what it takes to enter the culinary world.
What’s your secret to creating magical food? How do you manage to constantly blow foodies’ minds while juggling multiple roles and successful companies, Bittered Sling and Kale + Nori?
Wow! I’m flattered that you say that—my cooking style really has evolved over the years to be less trendy and more influenced by my travels around the world, enjoying global cuisine and beverage with my partner in life and business (the amazing Lauren Mote). I love big global flavours, but I really anchor it with great seasonal, local ingredients.
What do you enjoy most about working as a professional chef? People? Creative control over food?
You know, interacting with guests, clients, colleagues and staff really is the best part of my career. Thinking about how many amazing people I have cooked for—and with—over the years and around the world never fails to blow my mind. Food brings people together in an incredibly intimate way and creates true legacies.
There are masters of food and masters of drink. How did you accomplish dovetailing them so seamlessly?
It helps that for the past half decade I have been at the side of one of the best palates in the world! Lauren constantly educates me on the beverage side of things and I think we keep each other pushing forward with our individual careers. Experience really does pay off—over time I have had the opportunity to develop my palate and my mind’s flavour encyclopedia by eating and drinking the best, and sometimes the worst, all over the planet.
How old were you when you first started to realize your passion in the culinary arts?
I started cooking at 20 when my aspirations to be Lenny Kravitz’s lead guitar player seemed to be unattainable. I went to VCC and then cooked with some incredible chefs on Vancouver Island using local, seasonal ingredients two decades before farm-to-table was a buzz term. Starting in the business being surrounded by a ‘slow food’ philosophy really shaped my career.
It’s often said that the restaurant business is a tough one to work in—long hours, harsh critics and such. Do you agree?
It is even more challenging in Vancouver. This is a very expensive city to live in for young cooks and we have a decreasing labour pool feeding an increasing demand for young professional cooks. Food costs are increasing, however the public is not compassionate about raising our prices to compensate. That said, Vancouver is a great place to be a cook and we have a ridiculous amount of culinary talent in the city!
What are you most looking forward to with this competition?
I am looking forward to seeing what the young chefs cook and how they handle the challenges. It should be a fun afternoon.
What are some nuggets of wisdom you want to tell these burgeoning young chefs before they start the competition?
Keep it simple, watch your seasoning. Listen to your chef coach and have fun!
What do you wish you could tell your younger self about starting a business and/or becoming a chef?
Save every penny and invest in North Shore real estate! Having capital gives you a better opportunity to chase your dreams.