The Aluminum Chef and the aluminum footprint

Aluminum Chef challenges chefs to create half-hour dishes using only 100-mile ingredients.

Credit: Optimum

Aluminum chef winner Sonia Zebadua

We struggle to be Oceanwise, Organic and Local, but the ease of our disposable lifestyle can be harder for some to give up

A couple weekends ago, like many Vancouverites, I was enjoying the overcast but rain-free festivities at the Dragon Boating Festival. I saw one race and divided the rest of my time between food carts (some of whom may grace our streets shortly) and the Rio Tinto Aluminum Chef Competition.

The Aluminum Chef challenges young chefs to create dishes in 30 minutes using only 100-mile ingredients (i.e., protein and produce grown within 100 miles of Vancouver). This provides a fantastic opportunity to showcase some of our young up-and-coming talent and also to discover a few inspirational ways to prepare local produce.

Unfortunately, the sponsor, Rio Tinto, also stipulated that the chefs had to use the company’s “Slide” aluminum foil in three innovative ways.


Innovation with 100-mile ingredients

The two finalists presented plates that demonstrated West Coast flair and flavours. Runner-up Jack Trulong, from the International Culinary School Art Institute, had some difficulties as the wind kept extinguishing his stove in the blustery outdoor kitchen. The judges (Marc André Choquette of Voya; Milton Wong, co-founder of the Dragon Boat Festival; and Michael Schrader of 24 Hours) allowed him extra time to finish his poached salmon served on a corn salad with a shallot and champagne sauce.

Sonia Zebadua of Vancouver Community College, the deserving victor, presented a game hen, two ways (seared breast and thigh stuffed with mushroom and spinach), served with young vegetables, confit fingerling potatoes and zesty watercress puree.

Remember, these dishes only take half an hour to prepare.


Foiled again

While all the competitors managed to invent innovative dishes, they seemed at a loss when it came to the foil. Uses for the foil included: lining the oven tray, creating deeper sides for the oven tray, covering a pot and wrapping parcels of food. All of the uses appeared somewhat superfluous.

I asked one of the competitors why she’d covered the pot with foil instead of using a lid. She replied, “Because we have to use foil.”


The less shiny side of foil

The principal environmental concern with aluminum and aluminum foil is the high resource cost of mining bauxite and processing it to extract the aluminum.

The good news is that aluminum is 100 percent recyclable (unlike plastics, which degrade in quality each time it is recycled). Aluminum foil can be recycled in Vancouver with your “container” recyclables. If you’re local council won’t recycle foil, find a local recycler using

The bad news is that as an element, aluminum doesn’t decompose, and most people don’t recycle foil. Annually, Americans throw out enough aluminum to rebuild their entire commercial airline fleet four times!!!


How to reduce your aluminum footprint

> Don’t use aluminum foil when something more durable, like a container, will do.

> If it’s clean when you’ve used it (e.g. you’ve wrapped up bread to reheat it), fold it up to re-use it.

> If it’s a little bit dirty, wipe it off for re-use.

> Buy recycled aluminum foil. It takes only 5 percent of the energy required to make “virgin” foil to make recycled foil.