EAT BEFORE SHOOTING. That’s the lesson I learned after photographing a cooking competition for the Hawksworth Young Chef Scholarship Foundation. The HYCSF is a non-profit that hosts an annual Canada-wide cooking competition to help kickstart the careers of young chefs. Winner receives $10,000 and a stage at a top international restaurant.
The Hawksworth team contacted me last year to photograph the semi-finals in Montreal at the Institut de Tourisme et d'Hôtellerie du Québec. 7 young chefs had to present a lamb dish to a panel of judges including David Hawksworth and chefs from Montreal restaurants such as Toqué, Leméac, and Maison Publique. The chefs weren't just judged on the food - they were being observed closely throughout the cooking process to make sure that their stations stayed clean, that they used proper technique, and that they utilized their line chefs efficiently. Imagine the pressure of cooking with judges behind your shoulder and 3 cameras pointing at your every move.
It was pretty cool to see the event in person, see everything that goes on behind the scenes, and then see the final product from the video crew. You can see the Montreal competition on episode 8 of The Next Course.
Photographing such a high-stakes event was exciting. It got hot in there. It smelled great. The main challenge wasn’t the pressure, the ticking clock, or the constant awareness it took to stay outside the path of the chefs or video crew, the hardest thing was to avoid eating everything I saw. When a guy started pan-frying the lamb in butter right in front of my face, I nearly shoved the thing in my mouth. And then I had to watch the judges eat the beautiful dishes in front of me. So next month, when the 2016 competition gets going, I’ll make sure to photograph it on a full stomach.