By Steve Hubrecht 

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Fairmont Hot Springs chef Lara McCormack is in the running to be on the cover of Taste of Home magazine.

McCormack is taking part in the Favourite Chef — one of the biggest online cooking competitions on the continent and she’s on a roll. 

When the Pioneer spoke with her last week, voting for the first round of the competition — the top 60 — had just closed, and McCormack had swept into the second round with ease, finishing with the third most votes of any of the 60 competitors. As this issue of the Pioneer went to press, she was in the midst of the second round of voting — the top 20 — and appeared poised to continue her streak of success, sitting third out of 20 competing chefs.

But be warned, with a gap of a few days between press deadline and when the Pioneer ends up in most readers’ hands, nothing is guaranteed and those standings are subject to change. Readers can do their part to send McCormack into the third round by casting a free vote online at But hurry – voting for the second round closes at 8 p.m. MDT on Thursday, June 6 – the day this edition of the Pioneer hits newsstands.

The Favourite Chef, presented by celebrity chef Carla Hall, draws thousand of participants from across North America. It’s run annually by media company The winner gets a $25,000 prize, goes to New York to meet and cook with Hall at the James Beard House, and appears on the cover of Taste of Home magazine. The contest also doubles as a fundraiser for the James Beard Foundation. Everyone can cast a vote online in the Favourite Chef for free once each day. But, for a donation to the James Beard Foundation, you get extra votes.

McCormack is well known to many Columbia Valley residents as the co-owner (along with her husband Adrian) of From Scratch: A Mountain Kitchen in Fairmont Hot Springs. The McCormacks sold the restaurant part of their business last year, but they continue to run their catering services and doing the hot lunch programs at local schools. They still operate their production kitchen, where they create condiments and frozen meals sold throughout the valley and offer cooking classes. And they are still regular vendors at local farmers’ markets.

A friend suggested McCormack apply to be part of the Favourite Chef earlier this winter. McCormack is not particularly competitive by nature, and so was initially unsure. 

But the nonprofit James Beard Foundation supports many culinary-related causes dear to McCormack’s heart. And by late winter most people in the valley’s food industry are subject to seasonal economic doldrums. “So I thought it might be a good, fun pick-me-up. That, plus it helps those good causes,” McCormack told the Pioneer.

She filled out an application, which took two full hours to complete, sent it in and didn’t hear back for more than a month. “I thought I hadn’t been picked,” she said. Then, seemingly out of the blue, she got a message. She was chosen and had to start setting up her page on the competition site.

McCormack has been busy posting photos of the dishes she cooks, the people that make up her cooking world; and sharing images of the Columbia Valley.

Favourite Chef contestants and other viewers are able to see their position in the voting, but not the exact number of votes each contestant has. This inspires the contestants, and their family, friends and network of supporters to keep tuning in and voting, as they are never entirely sure how many votes their candidate needs to make it to the next round.

Initially McCormack was 19th out of 60 contestants in the first round. As the voting went on she rose to sixth place, and then up to third as first round voting closed.

McCormack was overwhelmed by the support, calling it heartwarming, and said she was amazed by how the contest has reconnected her with old friends and acquaintances. “I’m getting emails and notes from people I haven’t heard from for years,” she said. “I’m going to enjoy this ride and whatever it brings. I’m having fun.”

Explaining what inspires her to cook, McCormack said she believes in the art of gathering over a delicious meal with good company, which nourishes body and soul. “Whether I am cooking for my family, a client or 150 kids for hot lunch, the amount of happiness I see over a meal keeps my soul and inspiration going,” she noted.

Her go-to dish is what she calls ‘Gloria’s Lasagna’ — one of her mother’s recipes, which she recalls fondly from childhood.  “I use only high quality ingredients and ideally make my lasagna noodles from scratch. Fresh tomatoes and herbs from the garden along with valley-raised ground beef or veggies . . . of course, a lot of mozzarella, parmesan, cottage cheese and farm eggs to boot,” added McCormack.

If she wins the competition, she plans to give half the winnings to the Windermere District Farmers’ Institute to help get a proper roof over the Wednesday Agri-Park Farmers’ Market at the crossroads. 

“When it rains, the vendors get soaked. My heart aches when all the baked goods get wet,” she said. 

McCormack will use the rest of her winnings to pivot her business into personal cooking classes and to finish a cookbook she has in the works.