When Jeffery Young, culinary devlopment chef at the B.C.-based Browns Restaurant Group and member of Culinary Team Canada, talks about the upcoming World Culinary Olympics, it’s clear he’s as passionate about artful presentation as he is about cooking.
“There’s the hot side of the competition, which is the cooking,” Young explains. “Then there’s the cold side, the artistic side. There’s artwork involved in making things look beautiful, and that part really captured my interest. I love cooking, and I’m an artist, too.”
The 43-year-old Vancouver-born chef is honoured and excited by his involvement in the competition, calling the opportunity the pinnacle of his career. “It’s on my bucket list,” he says. “If we win, that’ll [fulfill] my ultimate dream.”
The dream took hold when Young was a teenager. He joined the kitchen crew at a Vancouver country club as a dishwasher, and eventually enrolled in the Culinary Arts program at Vancouver Community College. After graduating, he apprenticed under chef Ernst Dorfler at Vancouver’s Pan Pacific Hotel, eventually becoming chef de partie. From there, Young trekked across the country, accepting kitchen jobs from Manitoba to Halifax. He even ran a mobile kitchen for the film industry. Last February, he joined the team at Browns.
Young’s culinary mantra is timely and simple — take advantage of what’s readily available to you and, even if you’re an art aficionado like Young, don’t let presentation take away from exceptional taste. “Utilize what’s in your region,” he says. “Use organic and sustainable when possible, and keep it simple. Don’t overthink things. Even though there’s crazily artistic stuff out there, it’s still about good, quality food. Put a lot of love into it.” Young enjoys savoury dishes and gravitates to local, fresh meat and seafood. He’s also a fan of game, a taste he acquired while hunting as a young man.
His knowledge and skills served him well as a member of Team Manitoba and Team B.C. in the 2004 and 2008 World Culinary Olympics. In 2010, he competed as a support member of Team Canada. Now, with the next competition looming, Young brings more than artistry to the table. “[What sets me apart] is hard to say,” the chef muses. “It’s probably my sense of calm, and my organized, methodical personality. But I don’t mean to say that I’m like that and no one else is,” he adds, laughing.
It’s no secret competing in any event with the word “Olympic” attached to it will significantly change a competitor’s life. Young agrees the experience has transformed him. “It’s taken every free moment,” he says. “Every holiday or day off is going towards that team for three years. It’s a big commitment and sacrifice, and sometimes you have to put work and family second.”
Despite the sacrifices, the thrill of wowing judges and the learning experience associated with it make competing worthwhile. “I learn and see different things and study trends. I’m big in the loop,” he says. And, while being privy to the hottest and newest trends would be a privilege for any chef, Young says he’ll probably continue to keep it simple in his own kitchen. “I don’t think it’ll change anything at home, but I’m always learning. And [as for the Olympics] I’m ready to make this happen. I’m in 1,000 per cent.”
photo courtesy of Randall Cosco