I had the pleasure of participating as a Chef in the Pan American Food Festival this weekend.  This is an annual event but my first time with them.  I had the pleasure of assisting some Master Chef’s – Norman van Aken from the US, Roger Arakaki from Peru, and Rich Francis from our home and native land.  To see these masters remain cool and calm given time constraints and stage performance, it was inspiring.  I worked as part of Chef Norman’s (mainly because I didn’t speak any Spanish) team and we made a Conch Salad (ceviche style) and Black Eyed Pea Fritters – really delicious dishes.  The Conch Salad was refreshing and bursting with the taste of conch, citrus and hot peppers – so you know, he cooks with scotch bonnets 🙂 .  His second dish, fritters – black eyed peas seasoned and deep fried to golden brown perfection – even without a dipping sauce, these were deliciously awesome.  His lovely wife Janet accompanied him on this tour and she knows what she’s doing in the kitchen!  Chef Norman has been described as ‘legendary, visionary and a trailblazer’ as well as ‘the culinary Titan of Florida’. He is “the founding father of New World Cuisine,” a celebration of Latin, Caribbean, Asian, African and American flavors. He is also known internationally for introducing the concept of “Fusion” to the culinary world. He is the only Floridian inducted into the prestigious James Beard list of “Who’s Who in American Food and Beverage.” His restaurant “NORMAN’S” was nominated as a finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s “Best Restaurant in America”. He has been a James Beard Foundation semi-finalist for “Best Chef in America”.   

I also got to watch Chef Roger use quinoa in most interesting ways.  As breading for shrimp that he deep fried and served on fried noodles with a sauce and his second dish was fried tofu with seaweed and baby bok choy.  There is a definite Japanese influence to his cooking as he is part Japanese.  Chef Roger is born of a Japanese father and Peruvian mother, Roger Arakaki studied Japanese cuisine while living in Japan for 9 years, learning the country’s traditions, discipline and working styles. He has taught in many of Lima’s best schools and universities, and participated in many events to promote Japanese cuisine throughout Peru. He also manages the competitions that form part of Mistura, Latin America’s most important culinary festival.  

Chef Rich is one of our local Aboriginal-Canadian celebrity Chefs.  I was lucky enough to be able to assist him as he made a delicious gazpacho using the fruit in season – peaches.  His second dish was pan fried pickerel, so fresh you could have eaten it raw. Chef Rich is a graduate of the Stratford Chef School.  Rich’s career highlights include working for Toronto’s Splendido and Peller Estates in Niagara-on-the-Lake.  A member of the Tetlit Gwich’in and Tuscarora Nations, he has worked since 2010 to raise the profile of modern Aboriginal cuisine.  Rich is currently the first Aboriginal to apply and compete on Top Chef Canada.  He is on season 4 as seen on Food Network Canada. 

The whole place was filled with different Chef’s doing demos, unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to see too many as I was busy in the kitchen.  I would have loved to have seen more of them and taste their cooking – maybe next year!  So this was my first experience as a Sous Chef and let me tell you, I have a new found respect for this role.  You want to take over but can’t – you never take over from a Chef unless asked to.  It took a lot of restraint, but I did it – too scared not to.  There were a lot of us helping out these Chef’s and I met some fascinating and talented people in the industry.  The organizers were awesome, seamless organization and behind the scenes activities.  Anything we wanted/needed for those “oh yeah, let’s add this” moment we got – so a big thank you to them.  All in all a great weekend! 

Attached are some pictures of some very happy people – who took a break every so often, to capture the moments.  For those of you that attend the adult classes via the PC Cooking School circuit, that’s my friend in pink – Paula, whose Paella class is outstanding! 

NVA, Paula, MaryLuz, Janet

Janet, Mary Luz, Paula and Chef Norman


Chef Roger


Chef Rich

NVA, Janet, Mary Luz, CP, PZ, MaryCatherine

Mary Catherine, Janet, Mary Luz, Paula and Chef Norman