Let’s properly set the stage.
The energy and excitement in the building was amazing. Knives flashed, pans sizzled, and spices flew as four ‘undiscovered chefs’ battled it out.
The task at hand?
Create the most tantalizing dishes they could using a “mystery box” of ingredients and only 30 minutes per course.
A week-long trip to northern Spain, a stage at Michelin star restaurant Pedro Larume in Madrid, and exposure to the top experts in Canada’s cooking industry.
That’s where we met Jeremy Austin. One of the final four contenders in Nella Cucina’s search for Canada’s greatest undiscovered chef, Austin’s passion and creativity in the kitchen earned him 1st place.
We caught up with Jeremy, who is currently in Italy doing a stage at Antica Corte Pallavicina.
WÜSTHOF Canada: How did you hear about Nella Cucina’s “Discovered Culinary Competition”?
Jeremy: My chef, Jackie Chau of Mercatto College Street, suggested it to me. I wrote the application not expecting to have a chance to compete and was surprised to see an email from Brae Mason of Nella Cucina asking if I could compete on the same day my sous chef had been scheduled. I was thinking of not replying to the message and maybe not participating, but my wife insisted on it.
WÜSTHOF Canada: Sounds like a smart lady. What was it like to be a part of the competition?
Jeremy: It was an amazing experience - you really get to explore what’s possible in the kitchen. Pairing beef tongue with potato chips, arugula and truffle paste is truly a wonderful dish. It's connecting the dots that's maybe not the easiest part. There has to be restrictions and that’s what all great cuisine is.
WÜSTHOF Canada: What was the first thing that popped into your head when it was announced that you had won?
Jeremy: To be completely honest, I didn't know what to think. I knew my family was very happy for me and proud but, all I could think was that it was finally over! The cooking was the easy part of the competition. On the other hand, standing there in front of the judges with someone’s hand on a knife handle connected to a bowl covering what quite possibly could be your dish - indicating you’re the winner - was hard. The room was so silent you could hear a pin drop…
WÜSTHOF Canada: We can imagine how nerve-wracking that must have been for you. We understand you’re recovering quite nicely now though in Italy?
Jeremy: I am currently doing a stage in Italy at Antica Corte Pallavicina for Massimo Spigaroli, one of the most influential chefs in Italy. He makes some of the worlds best culatello and has the oldest cellars in the world (700 years). It's very hard work. The days are long but the people are great. It's a very humbling experience to say the least.
WÜSTHOF Canada: Wow. That sounds truly amazing. So, why cooking? What is it about being a chef that you love most?
Jeremy: I fell into it by accident! My father told me to get a job when I was younger so I applied as a dishwasher in my small town of Thornbury. I remember on my very first day, I watched the kitchen’s well choreographed dance of movements that went into creating a dish, a sequence of events that were only capable in that single moment by chefs who were unafraid of fire and knives. I was amazed. Thirty minutes in, I knew it was what I needed to do for the rest of my life.
WÜSTHOF Canada: Speaking of knives, what is currently in your kitchen arsenal?Jeremy: I have the creme Classic Ikon 9-inch Chef’s knife and I love it. The rest of my knife kit is filled with Japanese made knives, which are very sharp but also very fragile. I am considering buying a set of the WÜSTHOF Classic Ikon Creme series. They are wonderfully made and keep their edge nicely. They are easily sharpened on a stone and are very strong.
WÜSTHOF Canada: What's your signature dish?
Jeremy: I'm not really sure I have one yet, I just have ideas at this point that I am unable to express to the public. I am very excited about one dish I am thinking about. Here’s the backstory: One morning I was picking herbs in the garden for one of my dishes for Antica Corte and saw a bright yellow piece of fennel lying in the mud. It was absolutely beautiful. Something that was truly magnificent and completely reproducible. The yellow must have been caused by the broken branch that was still connected to the plant - my guess was that the branch was unable to get enough chlorophyll. So I have decided to make an old recipe: a viking bread that is made with a dark beer, like Guinness, and rye bread that has been crumbled and dried out, with a butter and white wine poached white fish, braised salsify, and yellow fennel. Then, at the table, fermented fennel juice is poured to recreate the wet mud.
WÜSTHOF Canada: Yum! You’re clearly very talented, so what's next for you?
Jeremy: Hopefully lots when I return from Italy. My wife and I have been talking about going to India or Japan in September for a year. It's a toss up between the two. But, this summer we are hosting a pop-up restaurant for 3 days! 12 courses are being served and all ingredients come from the family farm. This year has been so fast-paced that anything can happen. We have also talked about an event at the farm including 12 chefs doing 12 dishes in their own style. It will be a meeting of hopeful Canadian chefs coming together to talk about the future and what is necessary to make Canadian cuisine known worldwide.
If you want to keep up with Jeremy’s European cooking adventures, you can get a glimpse of his savoury world by following @jercrad on Instagram, or read along on Jeremy’s blog.
Are you coveting Jeremy’s creme Classic Ikon 9” Chef’s knife that he used to win the “Discovered Culinary Competition”? Find more information about adding a set to your own kitchen here.