Amateur chef from Vic West put to test on TV

Victoria man’s culinary talents judged on Food Network program

Stephen Childs cooks up a vegetable stir fry dinner while wife

As a professional engineer, Stephen Childs knows how to get the most out of a space.

Walk into the compact, split-level condominium he shares in Vic West with wife, Jennifer, and 14-month-old daughter, Della, and the first thing one sees is pots and pans, hanging industrial-style on a ceiling-mounted rack.

An avid cook, Childs wanted to create more usable space on the counters.

He also hates major cleanup jobs.

“When you cook, do you do the dishes after dinner or before?” he asks the visitor, with a knowing smile.

That aversion to scraping dry, caked-on food from dinner dishes inspired him to create a dish he calls chipotle chili bites.

The success of his culinary creation, combined with a New Year’s Resolution to “put himself out there more” and try new experiences, saw Childs enter tryouts for Food Network Canada’s amateur cooking show, Recipes to Riches, with his wife earlier this year in Vancouver.

Childs’ flavourful dish combines chili with polenta, an Italian pudding which, when thickened with corn meal, hardens into a crust when cool.

“I thought, ‘chili’s good, polenta’s good,’ I wonder how I could make this an edible dish in your hand?” he recalls.

The two components are fairly straightforward, he says, but combined they make a unique dish that has taken on a life of its own in terms of its popularity with Childs’ friends and co-workers.

Entering the competition together was a natural for the couple, who both love to cook, Jennifer says.

Her family has a tradition of cooking and baking. She and her sister, who was visiting from Banff, went to the 2011 tryouts on a whim, but missed the cut.

This tiome around Jennifer entered her decadent dessert, called moochalicious love cookie chocolate espresso shortbread. She made it past the first round, but saw her husband’s creation earn him a spot on TV.

One of 21 national finalists filmed in seven different food categories, Stephen competed against a woman from Alberta and Ladysmith’s Lyndsay Wells in the show’s Savoury Snacks episode, which airs at 8 p.m. PST next Wednesday, Oct. 24. The winner receives $25,000 and qualifies for the national finale, which offers $250,000 to the overall champion.

In true reality TV style, Childs was sworn to secrecy about the result of his episode, even to his wife.

“All I know is that he came home with some blisters, so I know he worked hard,” Jennifer says.

She harbours not even a friendly grudge against her husband – she rates his chipotle chili bites a “12” on a scale of 1 to 10. “The whole process has solidified how important food is in our life,” she says.

Stephen downplays his culinary prowess, noting that “anyone can do it.” Asked what advice he might give aspiring entrants for next year’s show, he says, “Don’t be intimidated by the kitchen. What’s the worst that can happen?”

Food Network Canada is channel 30 (245 in HD) on Shaw, 143 (689 in HD) on Telus Optik TV.

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