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Fusion of flavours at NLC cooking competition, says Chef Dale Mackay

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Chef Dale Mackay stands in the Northern Lights College Professional Cook kitchen.

Fusion Faceoff 2024 wrapped up with a big win from the Red Team, and Chef Dale Mackay is glad he was able to participate once again.

The Top Chef Canada winner was invited to work with the Professional Cook students taking part in the competition that took place March 20 on the Dawson Creek campus of Northern Lights College. He first took part in the 2022 event and jumped at the chance to be part of it again this year.

“I love doing competitions and I love hosting competitions… [normally] I’d show up, be the host, and then leave, but here I got to come and submerge myself and meet all the students and really got to know them,” he said. “This school is pretty unique in that it’s pretty tight and everyone’s really supportive of each other. People are supportive in other places, but it seems like the instructors really make sure people respect each other.”

The Fusion Faceoff teams were made up of students in Professional Cook Level 1 and students in the Indigenous cohort pilot program. Team captains were chosen through an in-class competition where they had to chop an onion properly, segment an orange, and quarter a chicken. Whoever did the best job moved on until two remained to be named captain.

Dale hit the ground running upon his arrival in Dawson Creek. His first day was spent doing demos with the students, including different ways to prepare salmon and how to cook lobster. Day two was spent doing the mad dash grocery shop portion of the competition through the Dawson Co-op food store. Day three was the competition itself, and it was something to see.

“Both teams did so well, the fact that all these students are first years, and last year we had first and second years,” he said. “There were some tipping points where I thought, ‘oh man, this isn’t going to go well,’ but that’s why competition is so good… it pushes you past your comfort zone.”

Having domestic, Indigenous, and international students in the program meant the “fusion” part really shone through in the food that was prepared.

“The fusion was really there, and you could see that in a lot of the dishes,” said Dale. “We’d have a little bit of heat, and we’d have some indigenous [ingredients] and it all just really worked together.”

The week culminated in a gala dinner, where the teams worked together to make and plate a five-course meal before the official announcement of the winners.

It was neck-and-neck between the appetizers and main course, but it was a sweet, crunchy crumble the Red Team had for their deconstructed cheesecake dessert that pushed them over the finish line to take the top spot.

Dale said both teams should be very proud of themselves.

“When you put yourself in uncomfortable situations consistently, you really have the opportunity to shine under pressure, and nothing feels better than accomplishing something like that,” he said. “Unless you’re willing to put yourself out there, you’re not going to have those feelings; you earn them, and they all earned them [during the competition].”

To learn more about the program, visit our Professional Cook program page.