Pressure cooker: RRC instructor and former student to face the heat together at national culinary contest

Chef Gordon Bailey, Red River CollegeNext week, Culinary Arts instructor Chef Gordon Bailey will return to his old stomping grounds in P.E.I., to represent Manitoba at the senior level of the Canadian Culinary Federation’s national competition.

And while the contest is sure to be the usual high-pressure affair, Bailey says the most exciting part so far has been coaching his junior representative — former Red River College student Argie Garcia.

An RRC instructor since 2013, Bailey describes Garcia as a gifted person who cares about his cooking, has a solid work ethic, and performs well under pressure.

“Cooking is about listening to the environment and the food,” says Bailey (shown above), who in 1999 moved from Winnipeg to Charlottetown, where he opened Lot 30, one of P.E.I.’s most celebrated restaurants.

“Food is something where your passion can be distinctly read through the taste and presentation of your plate. A good cook can put their personal story in it, and [Garcia] does that.”

This year’s competition also takes place in Charlottetown, as part of the Culinary Federation’s 55th annual national conference. The contest consists of a Black Box Challenge — similar to the Mystery Box Challenge on TV’s MasterChef — in which competitors from each province will be given 15 minutes to create a menu using a batch of secret ingredients and pantry staples, and an hour to prepare and plate their servings.

Argie Garcia, St. Charles Country Club“This is my first competition ever, so it’s pretty surreal,” says Garcia. “I’ve only been cooking for two years, but the day of (the provincial qualifying round) I gave it my all.”

Bailey was Garcia’s instructor for his Apprenticeship Level 1 and 2 courses, delivered at RRC’s Paterson GlobalFoods Institute. The two even shared a mentor — both served under Chef Takashi Murakami (formerly of St. Charles Country Club, where Garcia currently works) — albeit 23 years apart.

In the lead-up to the competition, the pair trained together two or three times a week, brainstorming ideas for recipes that compliment as many food combinations as possible.

Bailey — whose culinary specialty is seafood with a Prairie infusion — says he’s excited to work with fresh East Coast fare again, and expects it to make an appearance in his menu during the challenge.

“It’s crazy that Chef Bailey won the Senior competition and we get to do this together,” says Garcia adds. “He’s been really helpful and supportive and we’re more like colleagues at this point.”

Both the Junior and Senior Culinary Challenges take place on Tuesday, June 12.