Fort St. James Cody Karey shows big chops on stage, in kitchen

One of the region's most accomplished recording artists is coming home for the Canada Winter Games closing ceremonies.

Organizers have said very little about the content of the Games finale, but with the example of the high-quality opening ceremonies, there is certainly expectations for a big finish. That anticipation was given confidence with the news Cody Karey would be on stage.

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Karey was just a Fort St. James high school kid in 2006, when Prince George was paid a visit by team from David Foster Star Search.

They found one.

Karey's vocal talent shot out to the judges like a laser. Foster himself took the teen under his wing, developing his career on the Verve Records label owned by the superstar music producer.

Not every David Foster project has the complete package to rise up the ranks of the high-end music industry. Karey did. He excelled in the recording studio, presenting an acclaimed album to the world two years ago. His matinee star looks made him a Vevo hit. His northern B.C. affable charm made him a talk show darling. And in concert, well he was so engaging that soon he was singing alongside the likes of Sarah Brightman, Andrea Bocelli, Katharine McPhee and The Tenors (one of whom is another northern B.C. alum, Fraser Walters).

When a vocalist was needed for David Foster's star-studded events, it was Karey they tapped to be the face of the franchise. As such, Karey has wowed the crowd at Gibson's Amphitheatre in Los Angeles, Madison Square Garden in New York, Mandalay Bay at Las Vegas, and a standing ovation at the BMI Pop Awards.

Karey is on national television every week, currently, but it curiously has nothing to do with music. It is centred on high-stakes performance however. Karey is one of the finalists on CTV's MasterChef Canada cooking competition.

Karey hopes no one is surprised that someone with acclaimed skills in one field is also skilled in another. He also hopes nobody is surprised someone from a small, rural, northern Canadian town can make it to stardom. He has now done it twice just to prove the point. He was no more exposed directly to glitzy music stars during his upbringing than to celebrity chefs, yet in both he is now a bona fide achiever. All it took, he said, was dedication to the things he loved. Even as a small child, those things included the intricacies of how music was made and the intricacies of how food is prepared.

"I've always been passionate about food as another art form," he said. He would stay up late watching marathons of Iron Chef while his friends were out at bush parties and playing hockey.

"I just always thought I could do what those TV chefs were doing," he said. "Even as a kid I was curious about cooking but never had the opportunity to be exposed to great food until I started travelling a little bit. Working with people like David Foster has the benefits of getting to meet people like Wolfgang Puck, having dinner with him in L.A. at his restaurant. And moving to Vancouver, there is just an immense culinary scene here and a vast variety of cultures that, for me, has been really inspiring, too, to connect with food more and get more excited about cooking."

One fateful evening he got a call from Foster's sister and business partner Jaymes Foster, a successful music industry executive and one of the judges at the star search competition in Prince George that spotted Karey in the first place. She and Karey had become friends over the years and she wanted to have a visit, but couldn't get a babysitter that night. Karey offered to come over and cook dinner. Jaymes was so impressed watching him whip around the kitchen that she suggested, and not dismissively, that he audition for MasterChef Canada.

A few formalities later and Karey was indeed offered the opportunity to audition for the celebrity chef panel that presides over the show each week. At 23, he was one of the youngest aspirants to the show's kitchen battles, and his perfect pitch didn't score him a single point on this stage, but his youth and incongruent specialties were surpassed by some mad skillet skills.

When the stakes are high, it is often wise to fall back on what you know best. To cook his way onto the show, Karey sliced up something a northern B.C. resident would be familiar with, and it worked.

"My audition dish was an ode to that exact experience (of living in the Fort St. James area). I did rainbow trout with peas and carrots, but with a difference." He turned the vegetables into an emulsion, then concocted a bacon-tomato jam and slathered it over the trout steaks.

"I wanted to take something that was so nostalgic for me that we would do over the campfire or at the cabin on Stuart Lake, but take it to haute cuisine level," he said.

He made the first flight of competitive chefs, then made the final 16, and he has survived the initial cuts so far, with another episode coming up Monday. But even if you survive for another week, you are out of the frying pan and into the fire, forced to cook again for your TV life. You are watched by the panel of judges and the dispassionate cameras, you are given a box of surprise ingredients from which you must work each episode, you are alone at the stove, and you are on an unforgiving clock.

"For me, obviously I'm a performer - a singer and musician - and the nerves on stage are present and they drive me forward, but they are nowhere near the level of nerves I feel in the MasterChef Canada kitchen," Karey said. He is so stressed by the conditions of the show that he doesn't even have the mental space to break into song. His friends will tell you, Karey is always singing, no matter what the situation. This must be a special form of pressure indeed.

So a question that emerges from that is, are you learning more as a chef or learning more as a performer?

"You know, you draw a really interesting connection there. I feel like the MasterChef Canada experience so far has really taught me a lot as a cook, and discovering what I was capable of with seven ingredients and a tonne of pressure, but that pressure lends itself to performing as well. Having cooked in that kitchen and knowing that level of pressure, I now know what I can face. That opens the door to everything else. There is nothing I can even think of I wouldn't hesitate to try, now, in a performance capacity, because of this experience. It won't be nearly as much pressure as MasterChef Canada."

In a subliminal sense, he feels another kind of pressure in his life - the tug on the heart to visit home. He gets back to Fort St. James about once a year and he tries to time it for the late summer or early fall when the fishing is best. He misses his family and close friends, and he misses Stuart Lake which is, even for locals, one of the most spectacular natural features of northern B.C. It is hardly a coincidence that it was chosen by historic figures like Simon Fraser and James Douglas to be their base of operations.

Another Fort St. James vocalist is deeply connected to the Canada Winter Games. Jerusha White is the voice heard singing O Canada during each sports' medal ceremonies, she was showcased on the Nancy O's stage this past week and she will be on the plaza mainstage on the last night of the Games just as Karey is on the closing ceremies stage. There must be something in that Stuart Lake water that's good for the singing voice.

"I'm thrilled to be a part of it," Karey said. He just wishes he could spend more time here and show his home region what is about to come next in his career. His music career, that is.

"I'm focused on MasterChef Canada right now. I'm growing as a person and growing as an artist and I feel that in the very near future I will have a slightly different, slightly newer sound to show people. I can't help but feel my sound is going to migrate in a fresher, younger direction but still maintain the things I love about my work so far - the love and romance; the big, lush instrumentation; the full, classically trained voice, but maybe not as operatic in style."

Like the closing ceremonies themselves, that is all the public gets to know right now, a tantalizing appetizer for what's to come. Until the next Cody Karey album comes out, we will have to be content with watching him close out the Canada Winter Games and whip up creative dishes as long as the MasterChef Canada judges let him. No matter what happens, we now know Karey is a man who can truly sing for his supper, or, cook it up himself.

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