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Local cooks 'chopping' for charities in cooking show-inspired event

'I love home cooking ... but it’s a lot different cooking under pressure and being judged,' says chef; segment winners to face off against Chopped Canada winner

There was a double buzz of excitement in the air at Eclectic Café on Saturday night for the third segment of the Chopped for Charity competition.

Part of that buzz was the hungry pleasure of the guests, enjoying food and drink while watching the competition, and the other was the pressure on the contestants to cook on the clock in an unfamiliar restaurant kitchen.

But that’s what home cooks Corey Taylor, Meagan Bianco and Rebecca Nicandro signed up for.

“I love home cooking,” said Taylor. “I’ve spent a lot of time watching cooking shows. My wife says my cooking is good, so why not?”

However, “it’s a lot different cooking under pressure and being judged,” he said in the bustling kitchen.

Bianco also grew up watching cooking shows.

“I loved Chopped, although at this moment it feels like a bad decision,” she joked before the cooking started.

Nicandro owns produce farm Dragon Acres in Brechin and thought it would be fun to live like a chef for a night.

The contest is based on the Food Network show Chopped Canada. Melanie Robinson, who co-owns Eclectic Café with Alana Bell, won a Chopped Canada episode, which gave her the idea for the four-event competition.

“It was something to do during the slow season to try and bring some excitement to what we do. We are a local and very charity-focused business, so we want to support local charities in a fun and creative way,” she said.

The competition is a fundraiser for local charities. Proceeds from the first event went to the Green Haven Shelter for Women, with proceeds from the second going to The Sharing Place Food Centre. Saturday’s event aided the Couchiching Conservancy. Proceeds from the finale will go to the Orillia Youth Centre.

Robinson was able to bring in Chopped Canada judge Anne Yarymowich, who judged all four seasons of the popular show. She was the executive chef at the Art Gallery of Ontario for 17 years. She is now retired and living in this area.

“The judges and the audience are having fun with it. It’s for anybody who has a love of food. It’s fun for all of us,” Yarymowich said.

Chef Connie Powers, of the Rogers TV show Farm to Fork, and Nathan Taylor, an editor with OrilliaMatters, rounded out the judging table.

Contestants had 40 minutes to make an appetizer and 45 minutes to make the main course.

“They do not know what the ingredients are ahead of time,” said Robinson. “They have full use of the restaurant’s bountiful supply of fresh produce, meats, rice and grains, vinegars, sauces and oils to create their dish.”

The judges were rating the food based on creativity, taste, use of ingredients, and presentation.

Corey Taylor was the winner of the night. He will join Susan Gibb and Bryan Lazary — the winners of round 1 and 2 — to try to beat Robinson in the sold-out finale May 25 at Eclectic Café.

Tyler Knight, of KnightVision Creative Agency, has been volunteering his time and equipment to video and livestream the events.

“He’s done so much for us,” said Robinson.

Anyone wishing to make a donation to the charities can do so at There is also a jar in the 39 Mississaga St. W. restaurant for cash donations.

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Gisele Winton Sarvis

About the Author: Gisele Winton Sarvis

Gisele Winton Sarvis is an award winning journalist and photographer who has focused on telling the stories of the people of Simcoe County for more than 25 years
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