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.