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The daredevil mentality.
It’s inspired tightropes strung between skyscrapers, barrels plunging over falls … and for culinary innovators like Sean MacDonald, new taste sensations.
“Honestly, I’m not afraid to do anything at work. I’m a very creative person, a very hands-on person, and I want to push the boundaries and express myself through food,” says MacDonald, the executive chef at Calgary’s MARKET restaurant.
“Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it works so well that we end up putting it on the menu.”
MacDonald, 25, has quickly made a name for himself on Calgary’s restaurant scene since graduating from SAIT’s Professional Cooking program in 2013.
He’s risen through the ranks of the local elite with stints at MARKET, Rush, Teatro, and MARKET again; he’s earned a finalist nod for top chef in the Best of Calgary 2016 awards; and he’s participated in the Canada-wide Hawksworth Young Chef Scholarship competition.
Now, the big prize awaits. In October, MacDonald will pack up his knives, his pans and his ingenuity and head to Milan, Italy where he’ll wage culinary battle as Canada’s representative in the worldwide S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2016 competition.
“Very, very exciting,” he says. “The winner is named the world’s top chef under the age of 30, and there are only 20 of us involved. It’s a massive opportunity.”
MacDonald earned the Canadian ticket to this prestigious global culinary joust at a competition in Toronto in June where he emerged from a field of 10 hopefuls with his signature dish—duck with carrot puree, fennel and roasted date jam—that scored a unanimous decision from a panel of three judges.
“Sean was professional, well-spoken and focused, and his flavors were on point. He blew the judges away with the simplicity of his food and the expertise of his technique,” says DeSousa.
“His passionate story, relating to the dish to memories of his grandfather, evoked an overall connection to his Canadian roots, which we all agreed made him the best contender to represent our country in Milan.”
MacDonald, who’s travelled across Europe in recent years to explore trends in cuisine, says competing is an entirely different world, compared to the day-to-day activities of the kitchen. “You have to execute everything perfectly, and there are so many variables at play—temperatures, altitudes, equipment. It’s high stress and high intensity.”
The competition at Milan will be identical to the one in Toronto—develop, complete and plate that same signature dish in a six-hour time frame.
As part of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef competition, established industry professionals also mentor the 20 rising stars in the months leading up to Milan. In MacDonald’s case, he was taken under the wing of Normand Laprise, one of the three Canadian judges at Toronto—traveling to Montreal in July, and working alongside Laprise at his award-winning restaurant Toque.
“We worked on the best way to add flavour, depth and finesse. His approach shows so much knowledge and experience, and I learned a lot about making even the most subtle improvements,” says MacDonald.
“As far back as high school, I’ve loved cooking and eating out with my friends. The idea of cooking for a living really intrigued me—and I’ve always been driven to be the best that I possibly can.”
Written by Todd Kimberley (JA '92)