Everything about Top Chef Canada, eh?

Top Chef Canada All-Stars gets worldly and cuts one chef

Man, did it feel great to tune into Top Chef Canada again: I didn’t realize how much I’d truly missed the franchise until the all-stars were back in the kitchen, dripping sweat and expletives on the way to creating foodie pieces of art.

And, after a crash course in how tough this season is going to be, the 11 remaining we back at it on Sunday night.

In “Street Markets of the World … Unite,” the Quickfire Challenge began innocently enough, with the Top 11 expected to produce perfect mise en place. This isn’t the first time that’s been done on Top Chef Canada, but the All-Stars edition came with a bit of a twist in the first round: filleting sea bass. I expected Todd Perrin to ace this one—he works with seafood every day—and he was the first to complete it. He, Dustin, Nicole, Andrea, Trevor, Jonathan, Jesse and Dennis moved on to Round 2. (Connie’s laser beam eyes betrayed her disappointment.) Shallots were up next and the chefs had to brunoise (dice to 1/8 of an inch) as many as they could in three minutes. Jesse, Todd, Dennis, Jonathan and Andrea made it to Round 3: shuck as many oysters as possible in four minutes. Dennis, who aced this test back in Season 1 in an arm cast did it again on Sunday with 14 perfect oysters. (Like Eden, my mouth was watering seeing all those mollusks lined up for consumption.) Dennis and Andrea (who shucked 13) went head-to-head in the finale: creating a plate using all of the ingredients they’d just prepped in 15 minutes.

It was interesting to see Dennis and Andrea’s different visions for their food—he went with Vietnamese sweet and sour soup accented by fish and oysters and she decided the sea bass was the star of her plate—and then observe Mark McEwan and Eden’s reactions. Andrea won out (I was so hungry looking at that fish) and scored immunity for the week.

Food markets around the world are bursting with ingredients unique to their regions and served as the theme for Sunday’s Elimination Challenge. Andrea’s advantage was being able to choose which country’s food she wanted to prepare and joined Brussels alongside Nicole and Curtis. The test was for the chefs to serve their plates to folks in a pop-up market at Toronto’s Artscape Wychwood Farms where patrons and Susur Lee voted on the best. But, rather than working as teams, everyone was on their own to come up with a recipe idea, prepping and serving to 75.

Several recipes intrigued me, among them, Nicole’s Brussels themed Morrocco dog (grilled ground lamb and spiral fries), Trevor’s grilled meat and “dirty” salad and Connie’s chilled Vietnamese noodle salad with crispy fried pork belly. (As an aside, how tragic was Connie’s story? Learning she was spending a month away from her dying mother to compete on Top Chef Canada shows how much she wants to compete.)

As usual, Susur Lee was a perfect guest judge, able to enjoy food and point out where improvements could be made. (I’d be happy if he was there every week.) Tops in the judges’ eyes were Trista’s grilled lamb saddle, Dennis’ prawn toasts and Nicole’s potato-wrapped ground lamb, with Dennis winning the challenge. It was an impressive feat considering he had to completely rework the recipe after the empanada dough fail on Day 1.

Trevor, Todd and Connie found themselves in the bottom and in danger of being eliminated. It was the second week in a row for Todd, who was criticized for being too safe with his cod salad. Like he did last week, Todd opined the flavour was too much for the judging panel and Chris Nuttall-Smith shot back that Todd was simply being too safe. Connie’s emotional plea to remain in the competition was certainly heartfelt and I think she’s lucky Todd was there to be picked off. (I’d love to see him in Top Chef Canada: Seniors.)

Top Chef Canada: All-Stars airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Food Network Canada.

Images courtesy of Corus.

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Top Chef Canada: All-Stars returns … and burns one chef

All I can say is, it was about time. About time Top Chef Canada not only returned to our screens but in an All-Stars edition. After a couple of years away, the homegrown version of the popular culinary franchise returned Sunday with 12 former contestants ready for another shot at the title, a fancy kitchen and $100,000.

But as interesting as it was to see chefs like Andrea Nicholson, Trevor Bird, Trista Sheen and Curtis Luk back, a lot of focus was on Mark McEwan’s new co-stars: host Eden Grinshpan and resident judges Janet Zuccarini, Mijune Pak and Chris Nuttall-Smith. Watching the chefs arrive in the swanky, shiny, huge new Top Chef Canada kitchen, I immediately had a soft spot for Connie DeSousa, Dustin Gallagher, Andrea and Todd Perrin. The four were in the inaugural season of Top Chef Canada and lost to Dale McKay, but they were under the heat lamps as the competitors in this country’s first foray into the franchise. I’m hoping one of them wins. (As an aside, I’ve eaten at Perrin’s Mallard Cottage and it is fantastic.)

A new, fiery Quickfire Challenge logo kicked off Sunday’s debut, as the dozen chefs were tasked with making something reflecting Canada’s four seasons. Spring meant asparagus and other fresh, green, young shoots, autumn was apples and pumpkins and winter meant rooty, rustic ingredients like kale. The biggest challenge, and a harbinger of what toughness is coming this season? They had a mere 25 minutes to make something. No roasting or slow cooking of anything would be possible. Any feel good backslapping during the challenge was quickly quelled when Dennis and Curtis were told their creations weren’t good enough. Dustin and Connie were tops, with the former taking the win. The self-professed class clown of Season 1 has come to cook.

As for the Elimination Challenge, a brilliant bit of work by the producers meant every chef was presented with the ingredients that got them eliminated from Top Chef Canada the first time around. The shocked looks on their faces was enjoyable and I’m all for haunting them with bad memories. What was impressive was that almost all of them decided to re-create the plate that got them cut, aiming to prove their initial idea was sound, if not the taste. With two hours of pre-prep under their belts, the 12 headed to Toronto’s Lavelle for 60 minutes of cooking and service.

Nuttall-Smith may have hidden behind a byline as a food critic for The Globe and Mail, but he didn’t hold back on Sunday night, despite everyone knowing what he looks like. He called Elizabeth’s crispy pig ear salad “greasy diner food” that was “hamfisted.” Zuccarini said she didn’t want to eat another bite of that salad. Ooof. The two were equally impressed with Connie’s chocolate souffle with peanut butter ganache and Andrea’s bison. Clearly, the pair are ready to be critical when they have to as well as praise what excites them. That’s what you want from judges on a show like this.

Andrea, Trista and Curtis exorcised old demons when they were chosen as the Top 3 chefs for the week, with Trista pocketing $5,000 for her pot au feu. (Can I also mention I love that Judges’ Table takes place on the set this season, rather than a separate space like before?) Jonathan, Elizabeth and Todd found themselves on the bottom and Todd got downright feisty when Pak suggested his fruit crumble may have been good enough for his restaurant, but not the Top Chef Canada kitchen. And just like that, Elizabeth was told to pack her knives and go.

Top Chef Canada: All-Stars airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Food Network Canada.

Images courtesy of Corus.

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Top Chef Canada: All-Stars returns with former chefs and new-look judges

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.

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Food Network Canada announces Top Chef Canada: All Stars cast

From a media release:

Canada’s most prestigious and high-stakes culinary competition is back with Top Chef Canada: All-Stars. For the first time in Canadian franchise history, Top Chef Canada brings some of the country’s most accomplished chefs from past seasons to battle it out for a chance to earn what has eluded them all: the title of Canada’s Top Chef.

Twelve all-star chefs compete in cutthroat challenges and receive bold critiques from the judging panel which includes recently announced host Eden Grinshpan, head judge chef Mark McEwan and esteemed resident judges Chris Nuttall-Smith, Mijune Pak, and Janet Zuccarini. This season, the returning chefs unpack their knives and fight for a chance to win a $100,000 grand prize courtesy of Interac Flash and a Monogram kitchen valued at over $25,000. Top Chef Canada: All-Stars premieres Sunday, April 2 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Food Network Canada.

Meet the 12 chefs returning to the Top Chef Canada kitchen for a second chance at winning it all:

  • Connie DeSousa – Season 1, Calgary, AB.
  • Dustin Gallagher – Season 1, Toronto, ON.
  • Andrea Nicholson – Season 1, Toronto, ON.
  • Todd Perrin – Season 1, Quidi Vidi Village, NL.
  • Trevor Bird – Season 2, Vancouver, BC.
  • Jonathan Korecki – Season 2, Ottawa ON.
  • Curtis Luk – Season 2, Vancouver, BC.
  • Elizabeth Rivasplata – Season 2, Toronto, ON.
  • Trista Sheen – Season 2, Toronto, ON.
  • Nicole Gomes – Season 3, Calgary, AB.
  • Dennis Tay – Season 3, Toronto, ON.
  • Jesse Vergen – Season 4, Saint John, NB.

Throughout the competition, the chefs serve up refined dishes for acclaimed culinary guest judges including: Chopped Canada judges Lynn Crawford, John Higgins, Susur Lee and Antonio Park; Sugar Showdown host Josh Elkin; television personality, cookbook author and restaurateur Lidia Bastianich; culinary superstar, chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud; chef/owner of Raymonds in downtown St. John’s Jeremy Charles; celebrity chef, restaurateur and cookbook author Maneet Chauhan; chef/owner of Montreal’s Maison Publique Derek Dammann; food writer and cookbook author Sabrina Ghayour; chef/owner of Montreal’s Toqué! and Brasserie T! Normand Laprise; owner of Big Gay Ice Cream Doug Quint, and chef/owner of Toronto’s Bar Raval, Bar Isabel and El Rey Mezcal Bar, Grant Van Gameren.

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Top Chef Canada: All Stars turns up the heat

From a media release:

Top Chef Canada is back for its fiercest season yet! Turning up the heat for a brand-new season of Canada’s most prestigious and high stakes culinary competition, Top Chef Canada: All-Stars kicks off its return by introducing an all-star roster of talent to the judges’ table. Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef and television personality Eden Grinshpan (Chopped Canada) joins as host alongside Head Judge Chef Mark McEwan. Esteemed Resident Judges rounding out the panel include acclaimed restaurant critic and writer Chris Nuttall-Smith; Mijune Pak, food writer and creator of Follow Me Foodie; and powerhouse restaurateur Janet Zuccarini.

For the first time in Top Chef Canada history, chefs from past seasons return to face cutthroat challenges and bold critiques from Canada’s most refined palates as they battle for the title that has eluded them all. Top Chef Canada: All-Stars premieres Sunday, April 2 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Food Network Canada.

Meet the Top Chef Canada: All-Stars host and judges’ panel:

  • Eden Grinshpan, Host: Graduate of both cuisine and pastry at Le Cordon Bleu, Eden is a judge on Chopped Canada and hosted her own food adventure series Eden Eats on Cooking Channel in the U.S.
  • Mark McEwan, Head Judge: Mark is a revered chef and restaurateur. As a leader in Canada’s food scene, Mark is owner of One Restaurant, Bymark, Fabbrica and McEwan Foods.
  • Chris Nuttall-Smith, Resident Judge: Chris is a critically-acclaimed food writer and restaurant critic, most recently spending 10 years as a columnist for the Globe and Mail.
  • Mijune Pak, Resident Judge: Mijune runs culinary adventure blog Follow Me Foodie, is a published author and regular food contributor for a variety of Canadian news outlets.
  • Janet Zuccarini, Resident Judge: Janet is a well-known Toronto restaurateur, owning Toronto hot spots Café Nervosa, Gusto 101 and PAI Northern Thai Kitchen.

This season, returning all-star chefs unpack their knives and come back to fight for a chance to win a $100,000 grand prize courtesy of Interac Flash and a Monogram kitchen valued at over $25,000. Stay tuned for more information on which all-star chefs are slated to compete in this must-see event.

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