Chef David Zilber on Top Chef Canada’s landmark Season 10: “It is a litmus test for the state of gastronomy in this country”

Top Chef Canada is celebrating its landmark 10th season this year, and the homegrown version is celebrating in style.

First, the season is being dubbed Top Chef Canada X, and is rife with newer, bigger challenges, devious twists and a new face on the judging panel in Chef David Zilber. Zilber, originally from Toronto, has worked in some of the top kitchens around the globe, most recently as head of the Fermentation Lab at the revolutionary three-Michelin-star restaurant NOMA in Copenhagen, ranked as the top restaurant in the world.

Returning Monday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Food Network Canada, the first challenge for the chefs—the traditional showing off of knife skills—has its stress and energy level upped because they’re doing it outside in front of a crowd of people, host Eden Grinshpan and judge Janet Zuccarini. It only gets better from there.

As in past seasons, Top Chef Canada‘s casting team deserves a gold star for landing a diverse crop of chefs from across the country, serving up dishes celebrating their regions and backgrounds.

We spoke to David Zilber—who joins Grinshpan, Zuccarini, Mijune Pak, Mark McEwan and Chris Nuttall-Smith—ahead of Monday’s return.

How did you end up on Top Chef Canada as a judge?
David Zilber: I was a guest judge on Season 8 and I enjoyed it. It was fun and pretty inspiring and I meshed well with all of the other judges—some of them I had known before—and it was an honour to come back.

What are your thoughts on the Top Chef franchise overall?
DZ: It’s become a household name. It has launched whole careers. So many chefs from the U.S., Canada, and overseas, capture the hearts of a nation and become the next generation in food television or opening restaurants. In that regard, it’s a catapult for all of these people. The talent is real. It’s not like a reality TV show where they are getting the craziest personalities; these are the people with the chops to actually cut it. The number of former co-workers who have been on Top Chef Canada that I have worked alongside, I’ve looked up to or have taught me things, is extensive. It becomes a colosseum for culinary talent that champions a worthy contestant in the best sense.

What was the experience like being alongside the Top Chef Canada judges more long-term?
DZ: I’ve known Mijune for years, cooking for her in Vancouver and then at NOMA before I was ever a judge; Chris Nuttall-Smith I’ve known through his food writing and he did a profile on me years ago; I’ve cooked in Mark McEwan’s restaurants and he has cooked at places where I was a sous chef… there is actually a lot of culinary history in Canada. I say big country, small industry. So, I didn’t feel intimated, they knew me. [Laughs.] Sometimes on my good behaviour and sometimes on my not-so-good behaviour. Kitchens are heated places, what can I say?

On the judging panel, there are a lot of voices vying for a position, if you will. There are a lot of opinions. [Laughs.] It’s understanding what angle to take and what one’s specialty is. Mark might be looking more for the classical technique if that’s there. Mijune is super-poetic with her words. Chris is super-witty. That was the learning curve for me. What is my voice and how do I contribute to this in a way that is true to myself and not stepping on anyone else’s toes?

What are your thoughts on the 11 competitors this season?
DZ: I was supremely surprised at how good some of these cooks were. They were putting out two-star Michellin dishes in the time trials. There was a lot of talent. Early on, I could see who wasn’t going to last based on some of the Quickfire’s and lo and behold it turned out to be true. The chaff fell to the wayside quickly and what we were left with was strength on strength. And there were some sleepers; people who I thought wouldn’t last that long who ended up in it for the long haul.

It really is a litmus test for the state of gastronomy in this country and it’s a positive test at that because the contestants really show Canada’s mettle.

Top Chef Canada airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Food Network Canada.

Image courtesy of Food Network Canada.

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