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Okanagan chef ducks past competition at national finals

Simon Dufresne wins 2023 Chef’s Hat National Young Chefs Challenge in Niagara Falls, Ont.
Vernon’s Simon Dufresne (second from right) is all smiles after winning the 2023 Chef’s Hat National Young Chefs Challenge in Niagara Falls, Ont. (Facebook photo)

Simon Dufresne likes the excitement of pressure culinary competitions.

Or, as he puts it, he likes to get himself into trouble. Even when the trouble is not his doing.

The Vernon chef overcame wonky wiring to win the prestigious 2023 Chef’s Hat National Young Chefs Challenge in Niagara Falls, Ont.

“I had one hour to do four plates of an appetizer and four plates of a main course,” said Dufresne, who celebrated his 22nd birthday before heading east.

“My induction burners kept blowing the fuse so I really had to persevere and keep going. No easy task,” said Dufresne, who is chef de partie at Lake Country’s 50th Parallel Estate Winery. “It kept blowing the fuse in the first 10 minutes. They finally figured out it was a wiring problem. But losing 10 minutes out of an hour is a lot of time to lose in a competition.”

No problemo for the B.C. Young Chefs champion.

Dufresne and the other contestants were told three weeks prior to the national competition that they would be plating four dishes of a first course, and four plates of a main course with two bases (like soup base) in the dishes.

The mandatory proteins were beef shoulder for the opening course, and whole duck for the main course. Everything else was to be their own creations.

Practising for perfection at his workplace prior to the event, Dufresne wowed the judges. His first course consisted of beef tataki with chili crisp, Yuzu Ponzu vinaigrette, roasted garlic aioli and finished with sesame seed.

For the main course, he seared duck breast with duckleg wanton, added duck-fat-roasted Chinese broccoli with Asian pear kimchi and a plum wine and duck au jus.

“The judges had very little to say in the way of critiques,” said Dufresne. “The head judge said my chili crisp was the best he’s ever had, and the sponsor told me afterward I was the hands-down winner.”

While being a fan of culinary competitions, Dufresne said the journey to Niagara Falls was “a difficult one,” demanding immense perseverance, and unwavering dedication. But it was all worth it.

“First and foremost, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to every single person who has contributed to my growth as a young chef since Day 1,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “Your unwavering support and belief in my abilities have been nothing short of incredible. You have helped shape me into the chef I am today, and I am forever grateful.

“I would like to extend a special shout-out to some remarkable individuals and organizations that have played pivotal roles in my culinary journey. Their guidance, encouragement, and generosity have been instrumental in my success.

“Last but certainly not least, I want to express my deepest gratitude to my partner Sarah, as well as my mom and dad, Carolynn and Denis. Their unwavering love, patience, and understanding have been my anchor throughout this exhilarating journey. They have cheered me on, stood by me during the highs and lows, and believed in my talents.

“Thank you all for being a part of my journey. I am humbled and deeply honored by this incredible recognition.”

Between competitions, practice and work, Dufresne has not had a day off in more than a month, and he’s got a very busy summer ahead.

He next hopes to take part in the B.C. Apprentice of the Year competition slated for Vancouver in October.

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Roger Knox

About the Author: Roger Knox

I am a journalist with more than 30 years of experience in the industry. I started my career in radio and have spent the last 21 years working with Black Press Media.
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