Despite having to overcome some serious obstacles, a Grand Forks resident placed third recently at the Canadian Food Championships in Edmonton.
For Neil Krog, a city councillor and owner/chef of Twisted Forks Catering, it was his first time at the Canadians, which took place on July 22-25 and was televised live on CityTV. Krog finished third in the sandwich category despite slicing the tip of his pinky the day before while prepping for another category.
“My goal going in was to not finish last because that’s bad,” said Krog. “I wanted to make the top five. I thought I could make the top five. I ended up in third, which got me in the finals and I was hoping to move up. The top two got to go to the World Championships. I guess I was Miss Runner-up. If the top two couldn’t go, that entry would pass to me but they both went.”
Krog said the event was exciting and he was thrilled to be a part of it. “It was cool,” he said. “I was nervous but it was good.”
Although it was Krog’s first time at the Canadian Championships, he has had plenty of experience competing in barbecue competitions in the United States. In fact, that’s how he heard about the Canadian one, from a American acquiantance who had been at the World Food Championships. The only way to get from Canada to the Worlds was through the Canadian Food Championships and so Krog went about seeing if he could qualify.
“I was watching Anthony, he was in sandwich (category) at the Worlds on TV there,” said Krog. “I talked to him later a bit and found out that there is a Canadian one. What they’re doing is taking the six categories and getting the top two to go to Worlds as Team Canada. I just wanted to tell people I was part of Team Canada. That’s how I heard about it.”
Although he fell one spot short of qualifying for the Worlds, Krog was pleased with how things went. He said it was a lot different experience from the barbecue events.
Krog competed in two categories: pasta and sandwich. The other four categories were seafood, burger, dessert and bacon (yes, bacon has its own category). There were 20 contestants in each category, which came from across Canada. Krog was one of only three from B.C. who competed in the event, which was held in downtown Edmonton at the same time as a Taste of Edmonton food festival.
“A lot of the competitors were executive chefs from restaurants across Canada,” he said.
For the Canadian Championships, each chef had exactly one hour from start to finish for each item. Chefs had to supply their own food and most of the utensils and other supplies. Once complete, the competitors brought their finished dish in front of the judges to sample and vote on.
Krog said just getting to Edmonton was troublesome because he worried about getting through security at the airport. “It looked interesting going through security becuase it’s all full on knives and rolling pins,” he said. “Fortunately, it wasn’t carry on so I was okay. I did have spices and I though they would freak out. They looked strange but they weren’t liquid so it was fine.”
For his opening round sandwich, Krog went with a cedar plank salmon with a lemon caper aioli on a bed of mixed crab. “I took third so I moved on,” he said.
In the sandwich final round, Krog said the top five had to use a “secret” ingredient, which turned out to be cream soda. “How the heck do you make cream soda?” he said. “We all had to include it into our dish, which was weird. I cooked onions infused with cream soda. I also used blackberries, becuase I thought that might go with it, and some candied bacon. I added some brie cheese and old cheddar and made a triple stack grilled cheese.”
Krog ended up third once again for his final round sandwich and didn’t qualify for the worlds. It was still an impressive result considering he chopped off part of his little finger the day before during the first round of the pasta category.
“I didn’t get the golden ticket to the Worlds,” he said. “I missed it by a point.”
Krog said another obstacle was that he couldn’t find any fresh produce or fish in downtown Edmonton where he shopped. He ended up taking several hours going out to a CostCo on the outskirts of town by cab. He also slammed the trunk door of the cab on his head and had a big bruise.
If you watch the video you can see Krog clowning in front of the camera in his trademark style although that would bite him in the behind. “Buddy with the camera is coming in and I say, ‘wanna see some cool knife work?’ and I’m going really fast cutting peppers and I cut the tip of my little finger off.”
Krog tried to keep going but was bleeding profusely. He ended up leaving the cooking area and running down the street. He managed to get some bandages and gloves from the St. John’s Ambulance tent and was able to slow down the bleeding and continue.
“I came back but I lost five minutes and that just killed it,” he said. “I had planned to make a pasta version of a bloody caesar. I was still making my sauce but when it came down to plate my beautiful idea—they were at 48, 47, 46 seconds left. I just grabbed it with my good hand. It just looked horrible.”
Krog ended up being the last competitor with about a second left. He did find out that he finished 15th in the first pasta round, “so at least I wasn’t dead last,” he said. “So that was sweet.”
Krog said overall it was a great experience and he is already planning to return next year and improve on his scores. “It was fun,” he said. “I would have loved to have gotten at least second. It was much more spur of the moment because some food items just weren’t available. As soon as I finished, I wanted to do it again. I wanted to go back and made it better. I’m planning on going back for 2016 and go to Worlds. Next time I’m not going to be an ass and show off for the camera.”
You can see the Canadian Food Championships broadcast online on YouTube. Krog appears in episode two (at around the 2:30 mark), episode five (3:15) and episode seven (1:08).