The pressure was on as Canada’s Great Kitchen Party hosted the 2024 Canada Culinary Championship at Ottawa’s Shaw Centre Feb. 2-3.

The contest featured 10 chefs from across the country who competed for the title of top chef of Canada after placing first in their respective regional competitions. Throughout the two-day event, contestants competed in a series of challenges to demonstrate their skills to a panel of judges.

In the end, B.C.’s Jesper Cruickshank of Whistler’s Wild Blue Restaurant + Bar was proclaimed Canada’s top chef.

Karen Blair, chief operating officer of CGKP, said prior to the competition that she was looking forward to having the competition held in Ottawa for the third year in a row. The organization was founded in 2003 to help showcase chefs and culinary talent across the country.

“The Ottawa community, both the culinary community as well as citizens and sponsors, have been fantastic in receiving us,” Blair said in a pre-competition interview.

The culinary championship’s main mission is to ensure that youth in Canada have equitable access to music education, sports opportunities, and healthy foods, said Blair. CGKP supports two organizations, Music Counts and Spirit North, as well as local food charities or programs. Funding for these causes is driven through ticket sales, sponsorships, and CGKP’s international travelling program.

The championship comprised three different events throughout the weekend, beginning with a mystery wine pairing, a “black box” ingredient challenge, and the grand finale where contestants got to flaunt their own signature dishes.

Senior Judge Cory Haskins has been involved with the culinary contest since its first appearance in Ottawa in 2019. Every year, he said, he looks forward to trying the variety of flavours that he is presented by the contestants.

“With each competition we are bringing in chefs from across Canada, (and) we don’t know these particular chefs, so it’s always exciting to see the diversity that comes with all the different cooking styles and presentations,” Haskins said.

One of the dishes presented during the Black Box challenge at the Canadian Culinary Championships. Feb. 3, 2024 (Photo by Jordan Chan and Julian Sun)

Along with Haskins are other judges who took part in the regional competitions, as well as Chris Johns, the head judge. They are given a rubric for each event, and according to Haskins, the dish’s overall flavour and “wow-factor” are the most important when it comes to impressing the judges.

“Each (event) has its own things that I’m excited to be able to see and learn from.”

The chefs used the Shaw Centre’s grand kitchen throughout the event and presented their dishes on the ballroom floor. Heidi Danson, Shaw Centre’s event services manager, said she had been looking forward to organizing the event for months.

“This is such a unique event, and I think that because we have such an extravagant culinary team in house, it’s always special for us to host this and see it come to life,” she said.

One of the competitors this year was Ottawa native Raghav Chaudhary, the executive chef of Aiana, a restaurant located on O’Connor Street in the downtown core. After nearly 10 years of being in the culinary industry and having studied at Ottawa’ Cordon Bleu chef school and the Culinary Institute of America, he said he was excited to be representing Ottawa at the championships.

“There’s a connection with the city, with the people, and just with the overall food. Growing up here, there’s somewhat of an essence that I want to represent and help define what Canadian cuisine is becoming,” said Chaudhary.


Although Chaudhary placed second in the regional event, the original first place winner was not able to compete in the Canadian championship, allowing Chaudhary to take part instead.

“We kind of had to step in and take the opportunity,” he said prior to the event. “It’s truly a big honour… we really want to make the city proud.”

To prepare, Chaudhary said he had been strategizing how to visualize different scenarios, specifically for the first two challenges where chefs were required to come up with dishes on the spot.

“There’s a lot of different combinations and outcomes that can happen, so I think the best preparation for that is brushing up on our general knowledge and being in the kitchen as much as we can.”

Despite the tension, Chaudhary said he was excited about the competition’s challenges and representing the capital on home turf.

Guests watching the competition also received samples of the award-winning dishes through a cocktail reception. Musical entertainment was provided by Terra Lightfoot, Kevin Fox and Steven Page, former lead singer of the Barenaked Ladies.