Twelve recognizable faces return for this Sunday’s debut of Top Chef Canada: All-Stars. Thirteen, actually, if you include head judge Mark McEwan. But the culinary competition—airing at 10 p.m. ET on the specialty network—boasts four new faces to help McEwan whittle down the dozen hopefuls to one grand prize winner who will pocket $100,000, a Monogram kitchen worth $25,000 and the to-this-point elusive title of Top Chef Canada.
Alongside McEwan are resident judges in former Globe and Mail restaurant critic Chris Nuttall-Smith, author and food contributor Mijune Pak, restaurateur Janet Zuccarini and host Eden Grinshpan.
“We’ve had a lot of fun,” McEwan says during a recent conference call with the judging panel. “Our different personalities work perfectly. Everybody comes at it from their own angle, but all of the comments are complementary. Eden was kind of the wild card as the host, but she turned into a rock star. There was a great energy on set.” Nuttall-Smith, after spending a decade as a secretive food critic for a national newspaper, has stepped into the glare of television cameras for the first time but didn’t wilt under the pressure of critiquing dishes to a chef’s face.
“When you are a restaurant critic, you keep things secretive so you some semblance of regularity when it comes to service,” he says. “And you also do it so that the chef doesn’t come and stand table-side and ask you what you thought. You never have to look them in the eyes. When you are in a competition like this, it’s face to face and that is humbling but also a lot more direct and it works. It’s not always comfortable, but this season the calibre of chefs is so high that you often find yourself tripping over yourself to capture just how exciting and beautiful a dish was.”
The Top Chef Canada chefs returning to create those dishes are Season 1’s Connie DeSousa, Dustin Gallagher, Andrea Nicholson and Todd Perrin; Season 2’s Trevor Bird, Jonathan Korecki, Curtis Luk, Elizabeth Rivasplata and Trista Sheen; Season 3’s Nicole Gomes and Dennis Tay; and Season 4’s Jesse Vergen. Nicholson may have once worked for Zuccarini, but the owner of Toronto hot spots Café Nervosa, Gusto 101 and PAI Northern Thai Kitchen didn’t let that influence her taste buds.
“These are professionals,” Zuccarini says. “These are people who own their own restaurants and I’m judging at that level. I’m not judging at an amateur level or somebody who is a line cook. These guys are high calibre and that’s what we’re looking for. And they brought it. Andrea did work for me, but I didn’t favour anyone, even if I wanted to.”
The resident judges were mum on specific details when it came to the challenges the chefs face but we do know several guests drop by to critique the proceedings, including Chopped Canada‘s Susur Lee, John Higgins, Lynn Crawford and Antonio Park; Lidia Bastianich; Sugar Showdown‘s Josh Elkin; and Daniel Boulud.
“We have an amazing new set design,” Pak says of Sunday’s debut. “The panel makes for some really interesting conversation and insight into food.”
“And the only injuries were to pride,” Nuttall-Smith says with a laugh.
Top Chef Canada: All-Stars airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Food Network Canada.
Images courtesy of Corus.