As I explained back in August when I went to Tom Colicchio’s ‘wichcraft, I have a bit of a pop culture blind spot when it comes to Top Chef. I watched a bit of Season 7 in the Fall, although I missed more episodes than I watched. So when the All-Star edition started in January, I was committed to watching the whole thing. Kristine gave me the low-down on all the cheftestants (h/t Entertainment Weekly), and how they did during their seasons. I watched the show all the way through and loved it. I definitely don’t think I’d eat half of the food on the show (my own hang-ups over seafood mostly), but it was super fun to watch. Like any other reality show, I think they cast just as much on personality as on ability, because they have to make sure interesting/engaging/crazy individuals are in the running.
So! This brings us to tonight’s premiere of Top Chef Canada! Because I don’t have the long viewing history that Kristine & Debbie do, I won’t really know if they’re following the traditional format, although I’m guessing it won’t really deviate too much from a Quickfire Challenge followed by an Elimination Challenge, with some sassy guest stars and judges thrown into the mix. I thought I’d try to briefly recap the episodes, along with my thoughts on the cheftestants I love and those who annoy me.
So here we go! Right off the bat we are introduced to Thea Andrews, our Padma for the show, as well as some background on Mark McEwan, our Tom Colicchio (Side Note: I went to McEwan Foods for the first time after work on Monday, but I’ll get to that another time). Our other resident judge is Shereen Arazm – who? – exactly. I read a bit about her on Wikipedia, and she was born in Toronto and waitressed at Terroni while in university. Fast forward to now, and she’s part of the Dolce group that owns Geisha House in L.A. among other restaurants and bars, in addition to the L.A. branch of Terroni. We also get a quick glimpse at some of the guest judges for the season; not surprisingly many Food Network Canada personalities (Michael Smith and Lynn Crawford, but where is Chuck?) and more (Susur! GAIL SIMMONS! I’m obsessed with Gail!). Up for grabs for are a GE Monogram Kitchen, $100,000, and bragging rights as Canada’s Top Chef. Not too shabby.
We begin with a pimp slot for Porter Airlines and a quick introduction to selected cheftestants:
Todd, 40, St. John’s – tied for oldest competitor, only chef from the East Coast (why?!)
Rob, 27, Toronto – Executive Chef for Mercatto, which is up the street from my office, but I’ve never been
Patrick, 40, Toronto – originally from Chicago, where he was a chef for Oprah, he now lives in Toronto with his husband
Rebekah, 29, Calgary – owner and Executive Chef of Nectar Desserts, she calls herself Calgary’s dessert queen (but can she cook?)
Connie, 29, Calgary – Co-owner and Co-Executive Chef at Charcut, can de-bone a pig’s head in 4 minutes or less (!)
Andrea, 27, Toronto – Executive Chef and Director of Great Cooks Culinary Centre
Steve, 35, Toronto – Chef de Cuisine at Origin! Wants to bring the Latin Flare! He is my favourite right away, because I went to Origin at Christmas and LOVED IT.
Derek, 30, Montreal – wants to rep his city, no formal culinary school training
Francois, 32, Vancouver - french canadian, but living and cooking in Vancouver
Darryl, 29, Winnipeg – former hockey player, turned to cooking after a shoulder injury forced him to retire
Dustin, 29, Toronto – Executive Chef at Grace (on College, still haven’t been here either), big smiley face, worked for Susur for 6 years
Dale, 30, Vancouver – has worked for Gordon Ramsey, now working the single dad angle.
+ 4 others they did not show (Clayton, Jamie, Chris, Michael)
Chef whites on! Here we go! First a pimp spot for GE Monogram appliances in the TCC Kitchen. Thea and Mark announce the first Quickfire Challenge, which will have 4 rounds, with the winner getting immunity:
1st round: Fillet a fish, cut into portions, first 8 move on.
2nd round: Peel as many artichokes as you can in 5 minutes, first 4 move on.
3rd round: Make the perfect hollandaise sauce, 2 move on (valuable lesson here: don’t put tarragon in your hollandaise people! This turns it into bernaise sauce).
4th round: Dale vs. Connie, competing for immunity. 20 minutes to make a unique dish with the ingredients from the previous rounds.
Dale wins immunity!
The first Elimination Challenge is to create a dish that defines your personality. Pimp spot for Loblaws in Queens Quay! Cheftestants have $100 and 30 minutes to shop. All I have to comment on here is that you are obviously not going to find venison at a freaking Loblaws, Clayton. Duh. Back in the TCC Kitchen, they have 90 minutes to prepare, where Chris wants to express his hopes and dreams through a trio of scallops and Francois is making lobster because he’s tough and hard on the outside, but tender on the inside, and by the way EVERYONE is sweating. Can they turn on the AC in there, please?
Our guest judge for today is Vikram Vij, of Vij’s restaurant in Vancouver. Cheftestants present their dishes in groups of four, and then we move to the Judge’s Table (Pimp spot for SmartWater!), while the others wait in a supply closet, surrounded by many mortgage payments worth of Le Creuset. Thea pulls in Rob, Francois, Andrea and Derek, and they have the best dishes of the night! Rob is a fly fisherman, so he made a BC halibut, with butter poached lobster and a mushroom puree. Mark loved it! Francois made a pan-roasted lobster with sweet corn ravioli, but didn’t have time to add his sauce – the judges said he didn’t need it. Andrea made a pierogi with pickled onion and pork tenderloin to reflect her Ukrainian heritage. Derek wanted to bring the Quebecois, and made maple glazed salmon on buckwheat pancakes. Shereen was a fan, because she likes chicken and waffles, so she can get down with the sweet & savoury together.
The winner: Rob! He wins $2,500 of Le Creuset (drool).
He calls in Michael, Clayton, Chris and Jamie, who had the least favourite dishes. Coincidentally (or not?) these are the four cheftestants not highlighted at the beginning of the show. Clayton’s dish was immature, and while an aggressive application of blueberries might work on venison, it doesn’t really work with pork tenderloin. Chris’ scallops were burned, and his three elements did not connect. Michael’s lamb was so rare that the gamey taste really came through. He also had some broth that congealed on the plate because of the addition of chevre, and it was confusing and unappetizing. Shereen said it looked like vomit. Don’t hold back Shereen! Jamie’s dish lacked flavour, and Mark told him that he needs to push through his boundaries.
Going home: Michael
Next Time: Canadian cheese!
My favourites based on this episode are Connie, because she’s super intense, and Steve, because I was obsessed with the tostones at Origin. Who do you like the best? Who do you think the early frontrunner is? How did I make it through this whole recap without mentioning Todd’s seal flipper? Is Shereen the female Anthony Bourdain? Let me know in the comments!