Since I’m a fan of Chopped Canada, I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to ask Chef Aitken some questions relating to his experience and in true form Chef Aitken was kind enough to set some time aside from his busy schedule to sit down and talk with me.
Food Tease: What made you decide to compete in Chopped?
Chef Norm Aitken: 10 grand… would be the first probably motivator. After that would be just to see where I would place within my peers. See I enjoy competition, so as soon as I saw the opportunity to compete especially for the 10 grand, yeah that was it…Giddy up!
Food Tease: Did the Food Network solicit you to compete? or did you apply?
Chef Norm Aitken: No, I applied. Michael Smith tweeted out that there was a casting call, so I applied.
Food Tease: Why did you decide to submit your application now in your life?
Chef Norm Aitken: Opportunity, strictly opportunity.
Food Tease: Did you ever think you would be auditioning for a culinary show on television?
Chef Norm Aitken: I’ve done a little bit of stuff with Food Network before just working with Mike (Michael Smith). I kinda knew the in’s and outs of T. Yeah, I definitely see myself doing something with TV.
Food Tease: How much notice did they give you from the time that you found out you were selected to the time you were competing?
Chef Norm Aitken: Probably 3 months.
Food Tease: Are you given any type of compensation in order to compete?
Chef Norm Aitken: No, nothing.
Food Tease: How many practice runs at the black box did you perform before the actual taping of the show?
Chef Norm Aitken: It was more the physical part of it – the practical part of it I didn’t necessarily need to practice. It was more of my timing. Knowing it was under a time restraint. I just needed to figure out how long it took me to cook mashed potatoes or make pasta so I could understand my timeline a little bit better. I did two separate practical runs.
Food Tease: Did you consult anyone for tips in order to prepare for the event?
Chef Norm Aitken: No.
Food Tease: Did you know your competitors prior to the show?
Chef Norm Aitken: No.
Food Tease: Upon entering the set, what were your first impressions?
Chef Norm Aitken: Oh Shit!!
Food Tease: Can you please elaborate on the ‘Oh Shit’?
Chef Norm Aitken: Umm…It was…yeah, it was walking into the studio… and it was like ‘oh shit’, okay, now this is real! There’s no turning back at this point.
Food Tease: What was so overwhelming about it?
Chef Norm Aitken: The reality of …It’s like now I’ve seen my competitors face to face. I’ve now traveled in a van with them, I’ve now listened to their small banter which I never partake in…its’ too early in the morning and I wasn’t finished with my first coffee yet. I didn’t say much…I said my name and I was from Ottawa and that was it. I kept to myself, I didn’t say much else. I didn’t say I was a chef /owner of nothing just from Ottawa, Norm… and that was it.
Food Tease: Were you at all intimidated by all the cameras and with the set in general?
Chef Norm Aitken: Oh totally, yeah for sure. Yeah, you seem to lose…your confidence seems to slip into your gut.
Food Tease: Did you have any second thoughts?
Chef Norm Aitken: Second thoughts of whether or not I would do it? or would I just leave?
Food Tease: Any of the above
Chef Norm Aitken: No…no, never.
Food Tease: How did you feel competing in front of your long time mentor and friend Michael Smith?
Chef Norm Aitken: Well I was here to prove it to myself, by proving it to myself I suppose I’m proving it to my mentors too right?! Hand in hand there it is.
Food Tease: Was it more added pressure knowing someone on the panel as opposed to a complete stranger?
Chef Norm Aitken: No, I don’t think it was intimidating.
Food Tease: What concerned you the most about the black box in general?
Chef Norm Aitken: My concerns would have been an ingredient there that I didn’t know what it was or where it came from.
Food Tease: Were there certain ingredients that you just hoped and wished ‘please don’t be in the box’?
Chef Norm Aitken: Yeah, Offal meat.
Food Tease: How did you feel after the first course?
Chef Norm Aitken: Beat!
Food Tease: Why? time constraint beat?
Chef Norm Aitken: Time constraint beat, physically beat, mentally… completely drained. I was like: Oh shit, that’s what I’m up against?! It was a pressure cooker and I had a couple of things go down in the first course that I wasn’t expecting (the dragon fruit soup had turned grey in color after being pureed) and then by the time you look to try and recover…you’re out of time so it really doesn’t matter. So you present what you present and that’s the whole point of it. You have you and only you to blame, you’re the only one. So yeah, you’re hard on yourself.
Food Tease: How were the nerves?
Chef Norm Aitken: Shot.
Food Tease: Was there one course (appetizer, main or dessert) that you felt may been your weakness, your Achilles’ heel?
Chef Norm Aitken: No, well prepared for any course.
Food Tease: Was there any tension on the set?
Chef Norm Aitken: No, I wouldn’t call it tension.
Food Tease: What would you call it then? Nervousness?
Chef Norm Aitken: Yeah, that’s all.
Food Tease: Was there a feeling of camaraderie between the competitors or was it simply a matter of ‘let the best man win’?
Chef Norm Aitken: No, I wasn’t there to make friends…let’s just do the day and see who comes out.
Food Tease: At what point in the competition did you feel that you had a very good chance at winning?
Chef Norm Aitken: After the main course.
Food Tease: When did they shoot the episode?
Chef Norm Aitken: They filmed it roughly a year ago.
Food Tease: Was it hard to keep the result a secret? Especially from those closest to you and for that long?
Chef Norm Aitken: No. Why? Because I didn’t want to ruin it. I didn’t want to ruin it for them.
Food Tease: What do you take away from your success of the show?
Chef Norm Aitken: That obviously I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.
Food Tease: What do you think this success will do to Juniper’s reputation? Let alone you as a chef?
Chef Norm Aitken: I don’t know…I guess we will have to see. Whatever comes, right?!
Food Tease: Where do you go from here after such a success?
Chef Norm Aitken: Where ever it takes me.
Food Tease: More competitions in your future?
Chef Norm Aitken: If everything aligns then I would do it. It’s all about the opportunity… if the opportunity presented itself correctly.
Food Tease: What’s the most valued piece of advice you’ve been given?
Chef Norm Aitken: Do what you love.
Food Tease: Where do you see yourself in 5 & 10 years?
Chef Norm Aitken: I see myself in the business, to what capacity…I’m not sure. Still be owner probably, cause I just don’t want to work for anybody else. I want to be the captain of my own ship…I just may have more than one ship…that’s all.
Food Tease: Do you see this experience as a personal growth experience?
Chef Norm Aitken: Ofcourse. Anything you do in life should add to your personal growth.
Food Tease: Every chef let alone every person has a personal ‘mantra’, rules that they live by. What are they for you and why?
Chef Norm Aitken: Learn how to wet shave! (he says with the biggest grin on his face).
Food Tease: Seriously?! (I couldn’t stop laughing) Now, let’s try that again…
Chef Norm Aitken: No room for second place. You only live one life, you’ve got one shot at it… Blaze your own trail.