Black Box Dry Run: The Westin’s Chef Ryan O’Flynn Prepares for the Gold Medal Plates

Mack and I were privileged enough to be invited to Chef Ryan O’Flynn’s dry run for his upcoming appearance at the National Gold Medal Plates competition.

Chef O’Flynn has been at the helm of The Westin Hotel since early last year, and in November, he won gold at Edmonton’s Gold Medal Plates, earning him a berth to the national contest. Taking place in Kelowna from February 6-8, 2015, the competition is comprised of three stages, including a “black box” portion: “Chefs will receive only 10 minutes notice, and a black box containing 10 ingredients of diverse foods before having to produce and plate one spectacular dish using 6 of the 10 ingredients for the national judges. All in one very short hour!” Tonight’s black box dry run was meant to help Chef O’Flynn flex his culinary skills in preparation for next week.

Chef O’Flynn originally hails from Edmonton, but had spent the majority of his career overseas in high-end kitchens in Europe. That experience is helping him raise the standards at The Westin, and now, on a national stage, he is proud to be just one of two hotel chefs represented at this year’s Gold Medal Plates. Given the winner is essentially crowned Canada’s best chef, the competition is fierce, but Chef O’Flynn has his eye on the prize.

Westin Black Box Dinner

On Wednesday, Mack and I arrived just after Chef O’Flynn had started cooking. The clock ticking down, he only had sixty minutes to create a dish using at least six of the ten ingredients chosen by the Westin’s Director of Food and Beverage. In the box: oyster mushrooms, chanterelle mushrooms, lamb, Chilean sea bass, nutmeg, cilantro, goat cheese, figs, dates and lady fingers.

Westin Black Box Dinner

Guests were encouraged to interact, ask questions, and otherwise, get in the way of Chef O’Flynn, as to simulate the environment he would encounter in Kelowna. I’m not sure we did the best job at this, as I know I was content to watch him work, but it was obvious Chef O’Flynn could handily multitask, and even in conversation, was duly focused on the task at hand.

Westin Black Box Dinner

When asked the process he underwent to compose the dish, he responded by asking, “How does a musician write a song?” – he has just come to know how to combine and balance flavours. One could also say that this might be in his blood; his dad Maurice O’Flynn was a chef and managed Culinary Team Alberta to a world title in the 1990s.

Chef O’Flynn finished his dish with fourteen minutes to spare. And instead of incorporating six of the mystery ingredients, he ambitiously worked in all ten.

Westin Black Box Dinner

We all marveled at how well the components worked with one another: the base of whipped goat cheese melted into the medium rare lamb; the nutmeg sauce enhanced the earthy mushrooms; the perfectly crispy sea bass skin topped with sweet cilantro-lady finger crumble. Our only criticism was related to the toughness of the oyster mushroom – the hour wasn’t enough to reconstitute the dried mushroom, and in hindsight, Chef O’Flynn shared that would likely have left them out of the final dish.

Chef O’Flynn deserved the applause he received; we can only hope it will be a good omen as he travels to Kelowna next week. Best of luck to him as he strives to make Edmonton proud!

Thanks again to the team at The Westin for having us – it was a treat to be a part of the preparation process!

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