Chris Nuttall-Smith is still pinching himself that he’s a resident judge on Top Chef Canada.
“This is a competition that resonates with people not just in Canada but around the world,” the food journalist and critic says. “Working hard, on the fly, under so much pressure. It’s a competition and a format that’s so fun to do. I’m so happy to get the call saying, ‘Hey, we’re doing another season.'”
Returning Monday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Food Network Canada, the newest season of Top Chef Canada features familiar faces in chef, cookbook author and host Eden Grinshpan; chef and owner of The McEwan Group, head judge Mark McEwan; and fellow resident judges in restaurateur Janet Zuccarini and food writer and personality Mijune Pak.
Not so familiar? The impact the pandemic had on production. Where past seasons saw the competitors scramble out of vans and into McEwan’s eponymous high-end grocery store to shop for products, Season 9 has the ingredients trucked into the studio for a timed shop by the professional chefs. And the classic Restaurant Wars challenge has been scuttled in favour of Takeout Wars.
As always, it’s the professional chefs—and the food they create—that are the stars of Top Chef Canada. In Monday’s debut, we’re introduced to the 11 facing off against one another. The cast includes Kym Nguyen, who identifies as non-binary and whips up killer British-Asian fare; Indigenous chefs Siobhan Detkavich and Stéphane Levac, who bring their roots to their recipes; and Erica and Josh Karbelnik, who are married.
“This season really reflects Canada, who we are as a nation and what our culinary culture is,” Nuttall-Smith says. “More people are finding opportunities, carving out niches, are having a chance to show what they can do. And, as a judge, it makes the food way more interesting.”
That’s evident in Monday’s opening minutes when the competitors are tasked with creating a plate that represents their brand. Everything put forward is unique, authentic and—as evidenced by Grinshpan and McEwan’s reactions—for the most part tasty. That’s not to say there aren’t duds, but this season’s chefs are really bringing it. That’s to be expected, especially with $100,000 and a Lexus RX Hybrid Electric SUV handed to the winner. And, despite the fact not every dish presented to him is a home run, Nuttall-Smith enters each Elimination Challenge meal feeling the same emotion: hope.
“My perspective, as a restaurant critic and a food writer is that every dish and every chef starts at 100 per cent,” he explains. “I look at it as ‘You’re the best chef in the world, and let’s see how it goes.’ A lot of times that really pays off, and other times it doesn’t. But my expectation is always, ‘This is gonna be great.'”
Top Chef Canada airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Food Network Canada.
Images courtesy of Corus Entertainment.