Tla-o-qui-aht chef Ottis Crabbe has been selected to join a prestigious Canadian culinary team that will compete internationally in the food world’s version of the Olympics.
Now a part of Culinary Youth Team Canada, 19 year-old Crabbe discovered his love for cooking when he was just 13 — working at the Abbondanza pizza restaurant owned and operated by his parents in Ucluelet on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
Crabbe says he began by working the till at the restaurant, but soon found his way into the kitchen.
“Ever since the first day of working there I realized that I really want to be … a chef,” Crabbe says. “I was out of trouble and had something to focus on which, now, I am very thankful for.”
Crabbe took professional cooking courses at Vancouver Island University (VIU) as soon as he graduated high school, then went on to work at the European-Mediterranean Lake House Restaurant in Shawnigan Lake as a work placement.
While he was working there, he found out one of the VIU faculty members Jason Lloyd put his name forward for Culinary Youth Team Canada, and had a chance to interview.
When he found out he was accepted as part of the team, he was thrilled.
“I kind of lost my mind,” he laughs.
“It was humbling to have that realization that I was going to be actually competing for Canada. I’m really honoured and still kind of star-struck by it.”
Culinary Youth Team Canada consists of nine young chefs, all graduates from culinary schools across the country.
The major event the team competes in is called the IKA/Culinary Olympics — an international event where 24 junior national teams from countries around the world compete.
The teams take part in timed events, such as the “Restaurant of Nations,” where teams have five hours to prepare a three-course meal for 65 people. The Culinary Olympics are scheduled to take place in Germany in 2024, with plans pending due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Crabbe will begin training with the other selected team members and keep practicing until the time comes to compete. He says he continues to stay inspired by the foods of other cultures, including traditional Indigenous cuisine.
“I want to cook so many things,” he says. “I think my favourite thing to cook is something I haven’t made before. Something I get to have a brand new experience about.”
Currently, Crabbe is still a student at VIU in the Culinary Management diploma program and will graduate this spring. His father took the same course, he says, so he is proud to be following in his footsteps.
Lloyd, VIU’s acting associate dean for Applied Trades and Technology and former program chair for the Culinary Arts program, says Crabbe will be the first student chosen to join Culinary Youth Team Canada in at least a decade.
“When Ottis came into our program, he came across as a very professional student straight from the start,” he says.
“I think it’s great for the institution, it’s great for the culinary program, it’s great for Ottis. It’s a win for everybody.”