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.
“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.