Top Chef Canada exit interview, episode 7: casseroled
This season, we’ll be chatting with each week’s eliminated chef after they get the boot (or, rather, after their boot-getting episode airs—this stuff was recorded months ago). This week’s eliminated chef: Ottawa chef Curtis Luk.
What was it like to see Richard Blais when you walked into the kitchen?
Oh, I was ecstatic. I’m a huge fan of his. It was really an honour to cook for him, and I know that he’s been through the same grinder that we were going through.
You did pretty well on the unlabelled can quickfire. How did you find that challenge?
I thought it was cool. I love the absurd and the strange and I think that for me, it was right up my alley. I may not have gotten exactly what I wanted, but you know, that’s part of the risk. It’s really interesting trying to create something like that.
What’d you get again?
I got a cranberry jelly, canned hummus and oh God, what was the other one? Oh yeah, tomato paste and I made a carrot pakora with a fresh salad and a cranberry tomato foam.
And there was some poached salmon?
Yes! There was the salmon—oh my God! I felt it needed a bit more to bind it together to go with the pakora.
I have to ask—have you made pakoras before?
Yes, I worked in an Indian restaurant for maybe six months way back when. A northern Indian restaurant, with the tandoor and all that.
You seemed to be one of the nicest, most collaborative chefs this seasons round. You didn’t get into fights with anyone else.
Certainly, I really do like to get along with people. I really don’t like unnecessary conflict, so for me it’s always important to get along with people whether you’re working with them or competing against them.
How did you learn how to make the macarons that you made in the George challenge?
I was travelling and I just happened upon them, and I thought they were the most fantastic thing. Years later I figured, I’ll try and make them. I did a lot of research and kept doing different recipes and finally it came together for me.
For the elimination, you got handed tuna casserole. Didn’t you say you’d never had one?
No, not quite. My mom used to make me lunch, and she made a lot of those instant packet meals. One of them was called Tuna Helper. You throw in canned tuna and they have noodles, and you throw in a seasoning packet and you mix it all together.
You made two different takes on the tuna, right?
I was just thinking about the elements of the dish, which included the noodles, the canned tuna, the creamy sauce and the cheese and all that. So I felt that doing a cannelloni form would incorporate all those ingredients and components together.
And there was a warm tuna salad? With albacore?
It was yellowfin actually. We couldn’t get albacore, which I would have preferred. Honestly that was sort of a throwback to a previous idea I had. I honestly wasn’t a huge fan of it—I think the cannelloni was a stronger idea. If I had refined that idea more and just made it simpler but just incorporated some other elements to it, it would have been a great dish.
The judges thought your plate lacked cohesion…
Ultimately I think that showed. I do agree with them.
…and flavour. Do you agree?
Yeah, but it is tuna casserole, right? If I wanted to make curry or add, you know, sweet and sour sauce, that wouldn’t be tuna casserole, and I would probably be bashed for that. I was sort of in between a rock and a hard place for that.
What’s coming up for you?
Well, in a couple weeks I’m going to Vancouver—I’m going to be working with Trevor [Bird]. He’s opening Fable, of Restaurant Wars fame, and I’ll be helping him out.
If you were to open your own place in five or 10 years, what would it look like?
I would like to get back to my roots. I grew up eating a lot of Chinese food, and I want to recreate some of those techniques and flavours and incorporate a modernist touch and use modern techniques. I think the trend these days is to go for casual, but I’d like to add back a little more style and finesse to the dining experience, something that’s really nice and polished.