From ‘helping’ his mom cook dinner at home to getting caught asleep in front of the TV on the Food Network after a ‘sick day’ from school, Gus Koenigsfest had a passion for cooking from a young age. Born and raised in North Vancouver, Gus always knew that this was what he wanted to do.
Gus got his first taste of a professional kitchen at the age of 15 at the Cactus Club Café, working as a dishwasher on weekends. Over time, he worked his way up through the line, and his passion and drive to get better only grew. He loved the fast-paced, high-pressure environment of the kitchen as well as the camaraderie among the staff.
In his last year of high school, Gus was able to participate in the ACE-it program through VCC and the North Vancouver School District, allowing him to spend afternoons earning the first step to his Red Seal and get the foundation that every cook needs to succeed. Through the program, Gus also had the opportunity to be a support member of Culinary Team Canada and go the 2016 Culinary Olympics in Erfurt, Germany, where he would meet his mentor and Vancouver Conseiller Culinaire, Chef Scott Jaeger of the Pear Tree Restaurant. Gus started to stage with Chef Jaeger while finishing his ACE-it program, and when a spot on the team opened, he attained a full-time position at the restaurant. This started Gus’ ascent to a more polished cook and competitor: “Working under Chef Jaeger, I really got to learn a more refined and technical approach to cooking.”
During his more than three years at the Pear Tree, Gus competed at the regional Chaine competition twice, finishing as runner up the first time, and winning in his second attempt. He competed against other Pear Tree cooks both years: “Cooking against the people you work with every day adds an interesting aspect to the competition, where you’re practicing with the person that, in the end, you really want to beat. I think in a way it pushed me harder because I would see the plates they put up and think,‘Wow, I need to step it up!’”
Gus has an approach to cooking that he thinks gives him an edge: “I always make it a focus to try to have the best time possible on the day. I think you cook better when you’re loose and happy, rather than being overly intense. That doesn’t mean I’m smiling ear to ear the whole time, but when I feel like things aren’t going right, I’ll take a second and realize that I’m doing what I love. I had better enjoy it, or what am I doing here?”
After his National win in Calgary, Gus is feeling more driven and inspired than ever. He will continue to train primarily under Chef Jaeger and, with the international competition in Paris less than two months away, Gus is eager to get back to spending his weekends in the kitchen and doing his best to make it three wins in a row for Canada.
“It really is an honour to represent your country, and definitely something I never thought I’d have the chance to do. I’m so grateful to Chef Jaeger for all the work he puts in coaching and teaching me every day. I’m looking forward to the adventures of the next year all around Canada, and hopefully I can bring it home for us again.”