Baking back to health, maybe wealth

Don Harquail used baking to help his recovery from a double brain aneuryism he suffered three years ago. Now his Golden Toffee Nut Gems might help make his rich on the realty TV series Recipe to Riches. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER
Don Harquail used baking to help his recovery from a double brain aneuryism he suffered three years ago. Now his Golden Toffee Nut Gems might help make his rich on the realty TV series Recipe to Riches.

Baking helped Don Harquail regain his health. It might also help make him rich.

Harquail was curling with his team at the Vancouver Curling Club three years ago when he was stricken by a double brain aneurysm. It was, he says, like a nuclear bomb exploded in his head.

Surgery fixed the weakened blood vessels but repairing the damage to his memory, cognitive and motor skills took time. And baking.

The son of a cook, Harquail knows his way around the kitchen. So as part of his therapy to repair his wounded brain, he opened his recipe books because he knew they’d demand his full attention, he’d have to follow their directions precisely, he’d have to be mindful of detail.

One of his favourite recipes was a baked nut, graham and maple syrup concoction that had been passed on to him years ago by a colleague at the Vancouver Orchid Society, another of his passions. Over the years he’d modified the recipe to incorporate some of the tastes he loved, like a dab of chocolate, pine nuts, cashews, almonds.

He didn’t have a name for his creation, but it was always a huge hit at Christmas, or at special gatherings of friends and family.

One night, while looking for something to watch on TV, Harquail stumbled on a repeat episode of a show called Recipe to Riches, a reality series in which 21 regular folk try to win a $250,000 prize developing a favourite recipe into a commercial product for the grocery store shelves.

“It was so much fun, and a Canadian production,” says the Burnaby resident, who ended up watching the entire first season.

When he saw an advertisement for auditions for the series’ second season, he paid it no mind until one night, in the middle of a fitful sleep, his head exploded again. This time with an idea.

“That little seed germinated something in my brain,” says Harquail. “I should try this.”

He went through his recipe drawer and sorted five favourites, including a chicken dish, but he always kept coming back to the baked nut bars.

“It has a uniqueness of ingredients,” says Harquail. “You don’t see many recipes with pine nuts.”

Harquail emailed his recipe to the show’s producers who quickly called him for a phone interview. He attended an audition at the Delta Hotel in Vancouver, bringing along 35 friends for support.

“They were so proud because they had helped me through a difficult time,” says Harquail. “I knew something good was going to happen.”

He made the show.

In February, Harquail was flown to Toronto to tape his segment, which included consulting with the producers and marketing experts to give his bars a catchy name, Golden Toffee Nut Gems.

Harquail’s episode, themed Candies and Chocolates, airs on Nov. 21 at 8 p.m. PT on Food Network Canada, and while he can’t reveal what happens, he says he already feels like a winner.

“I would have never ever thought of entering something like that,” says Harquail. “I’ve got a real sense of pride that I had achieved that.”

To learn more about the Recipe to Riches show, including downloads of weekly winners as well as past episodes, go to


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