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When dinner goes wrong

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Jun 25/01) - Even excellent cooks have their bad days. That means it's possible for the most creative kitchen whiz to turn out the driest, least palatable roasted goose ever tasted by humankind.

Chocolate cakes don't always rise, cookies are sometimes meant to be gooey and bannock occasionally has the consistency of a hockey puck.

Just ask Joanne Taptuna, a resident of Kugluktuk.

"When I first learned how to make bannock, it was so raw and so heavy, no one would eat it," says Taptuna.

"I said I was never going to make it again, but my husband said I had to keep trying."

Years of practice allowed her to perfect her technique and these days Taptuna's bannock barely has time to cool down before her family polishes it off.

She had similar experiences when she entered the world of yeast bread. "The first time, it took six hours. It didn't rise and was heavy as a rock," she says. "It wasn't soft. It was like those baby cookies."

The silver lining in Taptuna's case is that the recipes gone awry were kept safe within confines of her family.

Jacques Labonte of the newly opened Wild Wolf Cafe in Rankin Inlet experienced failure on a much grander scale some years ago. He was cooking in James Bay, Ont., while the infamous dam was being constructed. Preparing a meal back then meant cooking for 7,000 people.

"There was 2,500 pounds of tortiere that went sour," says Labonte. "I had to throw it out."

Part of what makes a good chef a good chef is the ability to fix mistakes and improvise. Labonte said he's learned a few tips like fixing too-salty dishes with raw potatoes and too-spicy dishes with sugar.

But what to do when you've prepared prime rib for 45 people instead of 450?

"I called one hotel and they called one and so on and so on," says Ray Lovell, a maitre chef de cuisine on three continents and a two-time gold medal winner in international competitions.

"They started arriving with all their prime rib."

Not all mistakes can be so easily remedied, though.

"My first cooking job was with the Boy Scouts. I was making oatmeal for breakfast and it called for a pound of sugar. I added a pound of salt," says Lovell, now a resident of Iqaluit.

"The 250 kids were not too impressed."