The Culinary Olympics

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Nov 29, 2008

"Eating is more than a simple intake of nutrients. The food culture shouldn't only concern itself with what is eaten, but also 'how' it is eaten."
Ctefan Wohlfeil

Seth Shaw is passionate about food. Raised in Lincoln, Maine, his interest in culinary arts began while helping his grandfather prepare chowder competitions. His high school teachers' encouragement and expertise in a culinary course deepened his passion for cooking. And after three years of work at River Drivers, a small restaurant, he realized that cooking was his calling. 

Following high school he enrolled in the two year Culinary Arts program at the Culinary Institute of Canada (CIC) on Prince Edward Island, Canada. A formal profile says of him, "Seth enjoys skateboarding, snowboarding and other hands-on activities, but his real passion is food." 

I first heard about Seth from his parents and longtime friends, Tim and Bonnie Shaw, the Assemblies of God pastors of Community Evangel Temple, Lincoln, Maine. A few months ago they told me about Seth and The Culinary Olympics. 

The Culinary Olympics (Internationale Kochkunst Ausstellung or IKA) are held every four years in Erfurt, Germany and are considered one of the most prestigious international cooking contests. First conceived in 1896 when the first competition included four nations competing in a local cooking contest at the Frankfurt fairgrounds, now in 2008 teams from 53 nations competed in a dozen categories. 

Seth and his team of eight other chefs under the age of 23 won competitions, earning the right to represent Canada as members of the Culinary Youth Team Canada. They prepared for two years of grueling training. Each chef logged an average of over 60 hours per week in the kitchen of the Culinary Institute of Canada besides their regular work and school schedules. 

This year the event began on October 18 with the opening ceremony which included the Parade of Nations. The next four days were action-packed team competitions and the best of individual exhibitors with awards each day. The website called it, "Four days of cooking without limits," which culminated with the Final Award Ceremony on October 23. 

On October 7 Seth's Dad sent an email to family and friends. "Bonnie and I are excited about traveling to Germany to take in this competition. One of those 'once in a lifetime' opportunities." 

Another email arrived on October 21. "Hey everyone, just had to send along a quick update. Yesterday at about 6 pm the announcement came down "Culinary Cold Plate...Junior Team Canada...Gold Medal!!! We all went crazy waving Canadian flags." 

I wish I had space to include the drama from his email which was the day of the hot plate competition. I could feel the drama as he described their work on 110 plates for lunch (lobster, salmon, and crab cakes) and the following four-stage event with each person having just 30 minutes. 

Here is part of that email, "The work space faced the auditorium where we were all seated. Canada and the USA had the biggest cheering sections. Honestly, it was the most pressurized environment I have ever been in and I wasn't even doing anything." 

"Seth, along with the other three rehearsed that 30 minute journey hundreds of times and it all came down to one shining moment. I've never been prouder of Seth than today...can you tell? (smile)" 

The final email came from the JFK Airport on Friday, October 24. "Team Canada secured a silver medal in the hot competition." And though Seth's dad acknowledged the team's disappointment, he also referenced their great joy in actually earning gold and silver medals. 

Passion. It doesn't really matter if it is music or art, construction or law, growing corn or roses, being a teacher or an entrepreneur, or even being a chef, when someone has passion for what they do, we all sit up and take notice. 

Congratulations, Seth. Your passion inspires us all. 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
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