Cat McInroy has experience wielding a spatula, though she doesn’t consider herself a professional chef.
But the numerous weddings, parties and dinners she has catered for friends and family were enough to disqualify her from Master Chef Canada, a TV show that pits lay chefs against each other, when she applied last year.
That, and the cooking classes she took through distance ed during her last 15 years with the RCMP, make her one of the more experienced contestants in a take-off of another popular TV program, dubbed “Come Dine With Me Tagish”.
Five non-professional chefs will get a chance to test their mettle in the commercial kitchen of the Six Mile River Resort in Tagish, each taking on a Saturday night crowd in May.
It might just provide the inspiration McInroy needs as she heads for a career change, setting her sights on the Baking and Pastry Arts program at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) next fall.
The contest is the brainchild of Mitch Dupont (née Cormier), affectionately known as Mama by those who frequented her much-loved pizzerias in Whitehorse. She says she helped the name along as a welcome alternative to ‘the pizza lady’, which was threatening to stick.
The first time I met her she was tossing pizza crusts at Bocelli’s Pizzeria in 2007, where I enjoyed a delicious marinara and an Arctic Red. (For those new to town, I’m dating myself: that was the precursor to Yukon Brewing’s Yukon Red.)
In 2008, she sold Bocelli’s and began the transition to Tagish with her husband Doug, where the Six Mile River Resort opened for business in 2011, equipped with a full kitchen, seating for 30 and rental cabins.
Mama says the resort is becoming a go-to place, not just for tourists but for locals all over the Southern Lakes.
Energetic and intense, she told me the idea of the contest came up in response to friends and customers who casually say, “Man, I think it would be so much fun to own a restaurant.”
The restaurant, located on the Tagish Road just east of the Tagish bridge, will kick off its 2014 season with the chef competition. Officially opening April 25, each Saturday in May will feature a menu created and served by a community cook, with the support of a kitchen crew and a $300 budget.
Each evening’s chef will arrive at 3 pm with nothing pre-made, serve an appetizer by 6 pm, and follow it up with a main and a dessert. All while being an entertaining host to the 30 diners.
Though she appears vivacious and bubbly, McInroy says this is the only part that gave her pause. She tells me she will definitely not be singing – she got that over with at her high school grad – but she is creative.
Her eyes light up as she describes making chocolate sculptures and blowing sugar. (You have to look this up on the internet by the way, I had no idea sugar could do these things…)
And her creativity is certainly going to be at play during this event. I am permitted to divulge that her meal will involve a tour of Asia with a Russian twist. Apart from that, I am sworn to secrecy, but I can say that her diners are in for a treat that goes beyond the food.
The other prospective contestant I spoke to is none other than Doug Dupont, the other half of the Six Mile River operation.
A gasfitter and plumber by trade, he’s keeping busy finishing up the resort’s rental cabins. He says he gained lots of culinary experience keeping the home fires burning, feeding their three daughters while his wife was running restaurants in Whitehorse.
No stranger to large barbeques, he doesn’t sound at all intimidated by the idea of wearing the culinary pants for a night. He plans on being creative and intends to surprise with things that nobody else does.
The hints he let drop were that he will likely stuff a vegetable with something delicious and incorporate seafood and meat. He doesn’t expect to win, but plans on having a lot of fun.
Dupont confides that, while he’s not terribly attached to being a contestant (and hints that it might have been his wife’s idea), it would be fun to be able to remind her and everyone else in years to come that he won, with “some weird meat”.
And what do the competitors get out of this? Well, there is the $1,000 cash prize up for grabs.
But those I’ve spoken too are more excited about the inspiration they hope to gain from the other chefs, the challenge of working under the constraints of the contest, and the collaborative atmosphere they anticipate from judging each other.
That’s right, the winner will be determined collectively by the contestants.
For those who want to sample the hidden talents of stay-at-home chefs, seats must be reserved in advance. The meals will go for $30 a head for a single night, or $125 for the whole event.
And if you can’t make it in May, the resort provides a nice stopover on the Southern Lakes Loop to Tagish and Carcross. It will be open seven days a week till September, from 8 am to 8 pm.
For fans of her Mama’s pizza, or fish and chip days (she also used to run Finney’s Fish and Chips), these are staples on the new menu in Tagish, along with specials every night.
She reminds me that food made to order from scratch is not ‘fast food’, in fact she is a proponent of the Slow Food Movement, so diners are invited to enjoy the waterfront view and linger.
To reserve tickets for the “Come Dine With Me Tagish” event, email email@example.com or call 867-399-4121.