‘I feel alive’: Campbell River chef competes on new survival cooking show

Jade Berg says he wants to continue combining his love of the outdoors and food. (Supplied by Hulu Press)

When Jade Berg of Campbell River got an Instagram message from ITV America producers about competing in a cooking show, he initially brushed it off as a scam.

However, after more messages were received and some research was done, Berg would find himself on CHEFS vs. Wild. It is a soon-to-premier show on Disney+ where world-class chefs are dropped in the wild.

The chefs then have to survive while they gather food to prepare a five-star meal in a “wilderness kitchen”.

Getting to this point in Berg’s life took a big move and many life changes. Initially from Alberta, he moved to Vancouver in 2008 to pursue his dream of being a chef.

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Arriving with less than $100 in his pocket, a cell phone and a stack of resumes, Berg says the journey has shaped his culinary preferences.

“After years of working in chain restaurants and up into fine dining, I started to feel a disconnect,” said Berg. “Our food would show up in boxes and it just wasn’t for me.”

The disconnect would lead him to Powell River, where he would meet his significant other, and help open a restaurant with a young couple. Afterwards, he and his partner decided to move back to Vancouver and then to Campbell River when they found out a child was on the way.

While the food industry in Campbell River was more underwhelming than he expected, Berg created a new business, Wild Isle Cooking.

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“I just wanted to cook the food that I wanted to cook, and that led to catering for some clients on remote islands or some yachts and eventually into boat work.”

A back injury in 2018 that required surgery, however, took him out of the cooking industry for a while. He’s returning through CHEFS vs. Wild, which brings his hobby of outdoors and wild food cooking to the spotlight.

“For me, it’s all about the connection to the land and learning how to use that to the best of my abilities,” said Berg. “It’s one thing to order some good food from somebody, but to be able to be the one out there putting in the work you respect it a lot more and the connection to that dish is so much stronger.”

He began sharing his experiences on Instagram, which led to the show’s producers – who produce Alone and Hell’s Kitchen – contacting him.

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Berg will be featured in episode three of the series. He says the challenge of surviving to get food was difficult enough, let alone doing it during one of last year’s atmospheric rivers.

“To prepare for there, there’s not much you can do besides making sure you have the right gear and having an open mind,” he said. “Anything that I thought I would find was so subpar in terms of mushrooms or hoping for any berries that would have been remaining.”

Challenges aside from the heavy rain and lack of food options included hypothermia and ensuring he stayed mentally and physically prepared.

“The wind and the rain at night were crazy and what they don’t show is that we had to build our own shelter, we had the clothes on our backs,” he said. “We’re sleeping on a bed of sword ferns without sleeping bags and you get cold.”

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Despite the difficulty, it led to some interesting results in what he would be able to cook.

“I would have to say hands down incorporating seafood into a dessert,” he said. “I really wanted to do something that would push the envelope a little bit and do something nobody else had done, hopefully, on the show.”

Post-show, Berg says he wants to continue working with the things he loves: cooking and being outdoors.

“It’s not going to be an easy path, but it’s something that if I don’t take that risk and I don’t try, playing the safe bet I’m never going to have that experience that I really want to have,” said Berg.

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“Our food security, not only being on an island, but our food system in general is strained and it’s costing more than ever,” he added. “Going out and teaching people how to get outside, find some really cool food, how to utilize that, that’s really what it’s going to be all about.”

Berg says he has a YouTube channel launching soon and his adventures can be followed on Instagram.

CHEFS vs. Wild will begin streaming on Disney+ on Oct. 26.