It seemed as though the fates were conspiring to keep him from competing at the Iron Chef 100 Mile Diet contest in Armstrong last weekend.
But 33-year-old Kamloops chef Romeo Oloresisimo was determined to make it, and that determination and some talent won him top honours at Sunday's grand finale at the Interior Provincial Exhibition.
"I was very, very happy to win," said Oloresisimo, executive chef of Ora Restaurant in the Kamloops Trade and Convention Centre.
It was especially poignant after he decided to dedicate his efforts to the memory of his grandmother who died in the Philippines shortly before the contest.
"I didn't tell anybody but I was doing it for my grandma," he said.
The win also brought a sense of redemption since Oloresisimo had competed in only one contest since moving to Kamloops from Vancouver more than a year ago, and he'll admit he didn't do very well.
The young talent was top of his class at Vancouver Community College's prestigious culinary school and quickly rose through the ranks to become executive chef of Vancouver's Kettle of Fish restaurant, which subsequently earned accolades as Vancouver's best seafood restaurant two years running.
So he was hoping to try again after he lucked into an invitation to compete when Iron Chef 100 Mile Diet contest organizer Andrea Gunner bumped into him at a chef's collaborative on Aug. 12.
He decided to attend with little time to spare, which made for a gleeful organizer who had noticed the creativity and level of knowledge he showed at his chef's collaborative booth.
"I thought 'Oh yeah, this is going to be a contender,' " said Gunner.
Gunner came up with the contest's ingredients from a 100-mile radius to surprise people with the diversity of food produced in the area.
The plan worked.
"Now that I know about (the diversity of local ingredients) I'm going to be using at least 90 per cent local ingredients in featured dishes," said Oloresisimo. "So I'm excited."
During Sunday's finale to determine gold and silver in front of an audience of 400, Ora Restaurant faced off against Podollan Inn's Table 24 of Salmon Arm.
They were given a box with artichokes, nectarines, mead, smoked garlic and hot peppers, which they had to incorporate into a five-course menu in 60 minutes.
A final secret ingredient turned out to be goat cheese, which suited Oloresisimo's game plan to a T, he said.
Oloresisimo and Ora cooks Brynn Hill and Cody Field opened with a one-minute savoury bread and baby arugula salad with cherry tomatoes, goat cheese and nectarine. The second course was open face ravioli with an artichoke fondue. Third was venison with a goat cheese polenta. The fourth course was honey glazed pheasant with smoked garlic and morels. And they finished it off with goat cheese and honey gelato with a toffee pudding.
The meal drew enthusiastic compliments from judges.
"Creative, inventive yet harmonious," said Oliver Kienast, chef of Markus' Wharfside Restaurant in Sooke.
"The best polenta hands-down that I have ever eaten," said KISS FM Radio morning personality Dawn Tyndall of Vernon.
Also judging were A&W Restaurants corporate sponsor Johnathan McMurray and a special lucky audience member, 14-year-old Josh Liegerman of Kelowna.
The winners received a Henckels Santoku knife set engraved with 2012 IPE 100 Mile Diet Iron Chef Champion and a cash prize of approximately $900.