Top Chef Canada exit interview, episode 8: meat and potatoes
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: North Vancouver’s Jimmy Stewart
You worked under season one winner Dale MacKay, right? What was that like?
Dale is amazing. He’s a mentor. He will show you how to do something all the way through, and he’ll let you screw it up once or twice, but after that—you learn it, or you’re done.
He told me last year that he prepped for the show by trying to fill in all his culinary gaps. Did you do something similar?
I tried doing the blindfolded vegetable taste testing thing. And when I saw the meat blindfolded taste test thing, I was just kicking myself in the ass so hard.
And you also worked at Colborne Lane and Origin in Toronto. What was that like?
I was at Colborne Lane with Matt Blondin, and that was fun. Lots of techniques being learned there. And Origin was a lot of fun too, I was on the raw bar, and just pushing out numbers like you wouldn’t believe.
Is that where you started getting into the modernist cooking style?
Oh, absolutely. Every restaurant before that was more classic French, classic Italian, and once I got there, I was like “oh wow,” there’s a lot of Asian flavours going on and a lot of modern technique happening. I thought it was really, really fun and I think it’s necessary in the food world now to know how to do it.
Do you find Canada a little too conservative?
Generally it’s very conservative, it’s just not open to the idea of it yet, just because people view that as pretentious. But I think it’s slowly coming along.
Did you check out Matt Blondin’s Acadia restaurant when you were in Toronto?
When I first arrived, before going into good ol’ lockdown of Top Chef, I went in for dinner. I thought it was great. I love Matt—he’s one of my best friends. Watching the show, he was just like, man, you’re not even doing anything far out there, and they’re just hating it. Any time I did anything slightly nouveau, I got ripped apart for it!
Yeah, your modernist stuff often didn’t serve you too well in the competition. Do you think the judging style was stacked against you?
Definitely. I just feel the judges’ style was very much meat and potatoes or meat and starch, and that’s just not what I think Top Chef is all about.
Then again, sometimes the modernist things didn’t go your way—you had that camembert foam that just came apart on you.
Absolutely, it just died down. I had Xavier run to the kitchen to get a CO2 canister for me. And of course Mark McEwan’s standing there, he’s grilling me: “Nobody likes these modern techniques! Nobody should be doing any of these techniques! Did you fail science class?” And I was just like, “No Mark, I did real well in science, thank you.” And they didn’t show when I get the CO2 canister right on and it ends up working really, really well.
In the end, you got eliminated on the super simple kind of food you thought the judges wanted—a green Minestrone soup and green salad.
Well, the green Minestrone is a mushroom broth, and you balance that out with just salt, lemon juice and the truffle oil for some umami flavour. And then some very, very fresh vegetables, some pesto and a little pasta called acini di pepe. It’s a classic Italian soup. But according to Mark, there’s no such thing as a green Minestrone. I beg to differ.
The judges thought there was way too much truffle oil.
I agree that there can be too much truffle oil on a lot of different things, usually if it’s a cheap, boxed truffle oil that isn’t very good. Fortunately for us at McEwan, I had a big budget so I decided, sure, I will buy that $80 bottle.
What are you up to nowadays?
I’m leaving Bearfoot Bistro and I’m going to Australia. The place is a very farm-to-table oriented restaurant. The cooks go out that morning and you pick all your vegetables, because you know how many reservations you have that evening, and you cook everything to order—nothing’s done ahead of time. Everything’s pristine and completely respected.
Why do you think so many young Canadian chefs are heading to Australia?
Because they’re realizing that a lot of Canadian diners want to have meat and potatoes, and don’t want to see where cuisine in the world is being pushed.
When you come back from Australia, what do you hope to be doing?
When I come back from Australia, I’d love to open my own restaurant. Dream job: a bit of a smaller place, focus on really fun, unique food that has as many Canadian products as I can—do as much foraging as we can, go on fishing trips, stuff like that.