Debbie Calicetto of Abbotsford has always enjoyed cooking meals for her friends and family and loves trying out new recipes.
She is a volunteer youth care worker at Cyrus Centre for at-risk youth in Abbotsford where she also cooks meals, challenging herself to come up with creative dishes using donated food.
Despite having no formal training as a cook or chef, Calicetto entered a recent cooking competition – and won.
The two other judges were Clinton Herman, a host of the radio morning show The Peak, and Ryan McDonald, executive chef at Urban Fare.
The event took place Feb. 22 during the BC Home and Garden Show at BC Place.
Calicetto, who is also a dance teacher and owner of Can Dance Studio in Mission, applied as a contestant by submitting her story about how she cooks meals for Cyrus Centre.
A few weeks later, she found out she had been accepted and was invited to go up against three others in front of a live audience.
Calicetto’s three competitors were a full-time caterer and food stylist for TV, film and magazine; a chef who works at his mom’s restaurant; and a chef who owns his own restaurant.
The challenge involved three 20-minute rounds, with each contestant being presented with a black box of ingredients at the start of each round.
One contestant was eliminated at the end of each level.
In the first round, the four competitors were required to make an appetizer using kale, coconut cream, ginger beer, maple syrup and kangaroo meat.
Calicetto prepared an Indian curry soup.
“I was told I was very brave to cook curry as I was presenting my dish to the top Indian chef in Canada. But I made it to round two, and Vikram Vij loved my dish,” she said.
In round two, the three remaining contestants were required to make an entree using eggplant, beets, wasabi horseradish, cinnamon honey and a wild salmon.
Calicetto made a nut-crusted salmon on braised eggplants and beets cut into different-sized squares.
She advanced to the final round – dessert – against one other competitor, and their ingredients were cherry soda, cinnamon honey, chocolate apples and pistachios. Her creation was a soda crust apple pie with a salted caramel chocolate sauce and pistachio cream.
Calicetto said she could not believe it when she was named the Chopping Block champion.
“I started to cry. I was a dance teacher and I just beat out three top chefs,” she said of her reaction to the win.
Her prizes include a helicopter tour over Vancouver for four, with a stop on top of the Hyatt Regency and a private meal cooked in the penthouse suite by the executive chef.
She also won a large gift basket of food and kitchen items, and all the leftover food from the competition was donated to Cyrus Centre.