Jasper Cruickshank loves competitions. On October 19, the chef de cuisine at Wild Blue Restaurant + Bar in Whistler took home the gold medal at the Regional Qualifier of the Canadian Culinary Championship, held in Vancouver.
His award-winning dish, “Wild B.C. Experience”, was, he said, “Inspired by my British Columbian upbringing and my respect for local ingredients.”
Judges were won over with his side-stripe shrimp terrine with a daikon parcel filled with leek purée and a leek-wakame tuille, a Dungeness crab tartlet and masago rice pearls. The dish was topped off with a geoduck reduction and paired with Roche Wines Tradition Pinot Gris 2021 from the Okanagan Valley.
My goal, he said, “was to take them on a sensory journey along our coastline and terroir, while upholding the integrity of local products.”
With this win, the next stop is the Canadian Culinary Championships in Ottawa, February 2-3, 2024, when he will go plate by plate against chefs from eight other regions. Vacay.ca asked about the road that led him to where he is today as his stature in the culinary world grows.
Jasper Cruikshank: I grew up in Vancouver. At the ripe age of 17, I enrolled at Vancouver Community College for their one-year culinary program.
Vacay.ca: What made you decide to do that?
JC: My earliest memories are of family gatherings. Any time the family got together it was always over a meal. Food brought us together. I loved cooking alongside my grandma and my dad. I loved watching “Chef at Home” because it always gave me inspiration. And I like to eat.
Vacay.ca: And after graduating, what did you do?
JC: I was lucky enough to work with chef Romeo Oloresisimo at a Kettle of Fish restaurant. He was into culinary competitions. He pushed me into my first competition when I was 19. I came in third place and I caught the bug. For the next five years, I entered over 25 competitions. I was on the Canadian Junior Culinary Team competing at the Culinary Olympics, I was on the BC Team and competed in Basel, Switzerland.
Vacay.ca: For you, what is the thrill in competing?
JC: It was the push and the experimenting that helped me gain a lot of ground fairly quickly and helped me develop who I was at an early age. When I was 24, celebrity chef Alex Chen hired me as the junior sous chef at Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar in Vancouver. I was part of the team that opened the restaurant. That was a great experience. I worked there for several years, then decided to go to Australia.
Vacay.ca: Why Australia?
JC: I was inspired by the multicultural and multifaceted food scene at the two-hat Bentley Restaurant + Bar. A two-hat in Australia is like a Michelin two-star rating. I returned to Vancouver and during the COVID-19 pandemic, I worked for a catering company doing home packages, trying to keep in the market during everything that was going on.
Vacay.ca: What took you to Whistler?
JC: Late in 2021, chef Alex Chen reached out to me. He was planning to open Wild Blue Restaurant + Bar there — and wanted me to be part of the team. I worked for him twice before and I knew this would be a good experience. We started working on the concept in March and opened in August 2022. I’ve enjoyed living here since then.
Vacay.ca: What is it about Whistler that appeals to you?
JC: It is a beautiful, friendly, and supportive community. In summer, it’s a mountain biker’s playground with lots of trails, hikes, and beautiful mountains. It is one of the best places to mountain bike in north America. In winter, that’s a whole other thing, skiing, snowboarding, a lot of touring for anyone who wants to hike up and ski down.
Vacay.ca: How did you feel when you won the regional qualifier that would take you to the national competition in February?
JC: Great! I was happy and relieved and felt I belonged here to showcase my ability. Having been out of the competition for a long time, Alex gave me the opportunity to get back in. There’s a lot of pressure getting ready and you don’t know how it will turn out. You just have to do your best.
Vacay.ca: How are you feeling about going to the national competition in Ottawa?
JC: Great. We’re already practicing and focusing on our goal to bring home the gold.
Vacay.ca: How would you describe your style of cooking?
JC: I like to work with local farmers and producers. I like pushing myself to create something a little different with a flavour that helps you remember the dish that makes you want a second bite. When it came to the competition dish, I wanted to craft something that reflected growing up on the west coast.
Vacay.ca: Where have you travelled in Canada?
JC: To every major city except Montreal and Quebec City. These two cities are at the top of my bucket list. Food is a big part of travel for me. I usually plan big trips around the food
Vacay.ca: You’ve lived in Australia, Germany, Denmark — where in the rest of the world outside of Canada would you most like to visit?
JC: Japan is No. 1 on my list. It’s a great food destination. Hopefully next year.
Vacay.ca: When you are on this dream trip, who would you most like to find yourself seated next to on a plane? Apart from your girlfriend.
JC: A Canadian chef like Michael Smith. He is a TV culinary legend. I met him once and follow him on Instagram. I would like to pick his brain. To ask him about his experiences in this industry. [Read More About Michael Smith]
Vacay.ca: What’s the biggest challenge that you have faced in life since you started to cook professionally?
JC: For me it is time. Achieving a work/life balance. I’ve seen a lot of relationships that don’t work because of the time you have to dedicate to your job. I try to spend as much time as possible with family and friends.
Vacay.ca: What are your hopes for the future?
JC: Apart from winning this competition and starting a family, I would like to make my mark in the industry by supporting and mentoring anyone who would like to be part of my team.
Vacay.ca: Will you do more competitions after Ottawa?
JC: I’m not sure. If some arise and the timing is right, I’d never say no. Challenging myself is who I am. But work and family are most important to me at this time in my life.
Vacay.ca: What would you like to be doing in five years?
JC: Professionally, to be an executive chef is my first goal. That’s what I have been working towards for the last 17 years. Every day is a step closer. Personally, my girlfriend and I would like to start a family in a couple of years.
Vacay.ca: Where would you like this to be?
JC: Definitely in B.C. My heart is here. I love Whistler. It’s only a couple of hours to Vancouver where our families are. So anywhere in between would be fine. Even Vancouver Island.