Season two of Top Chef Canada premieres this Monday, and to celebrate, Food Network Canada held a mock quickfire challenge at Victor (the home kitchen of competitor David Chrystian) for the Toronto-based contestants. Judges Mark McEwan and Shereen Arazm were on hand with Lisa Ray (in an ivory Pink Tartan sheath dress) playing host, as on the show. Chrystian had home field advantage, while Ryan Gallagher (sous chef at Ruby Watchco and erstwhile private chef for the Thompson family), Daniel Boulud–alum Carl Heinrich, Frank and caféAGO sous chef Elizabeth Rivasplata, Crush Wine Bar sous chef Trista Sheen and Sarah Tsai of the Toronto Lawns Tennis Club vied for the symbolic win (the real show, of course, was filmed months ago).
Top Chef Canada is never without surprises, so the chefs should have seen this one a mile away: they were asked to make hors d’oeuvres with secret ingredients supplied by the various media outlets there to cover the event. Special ingredients ranged from banal (like bacon and frozen vegetables) to inventive, like birch syrup and tamarind (both given to Tsai). Our picks were dried morels and gochujang, which were combined with the Grid’s gift of stilton and bacon and given to chef Sheen. The chefs scrambled for their ingredients then made a mad dash into the kitchen (with Tsai losing the contents of her bag in the process) before attacking the challenge. There was a strange calm about the kitchen—part of which chef Sheen attributed to knowing this challenge was only for fun. The chefs rarely broke the silence, but when they did it was to scream “at your back!” or “behind!” as they scurried around the kitchen (along with constantly queries about how much time was left). There was a camaraderie that we didn’t quite expect, given how contentious the show usually gets—chefs offered to share their tools and ingredients and commiserated over the sweltering heat of the kitchen.
When it was all over, the chefs presented six dishes, three of which were served on crostini, making it officially a trend. Sheen’s appetizer was no exception: her crostini was tossed in gochujang and olive oil, topped with a bacon and stilton pâté (it tasted like an even richer foie gras) and garnished with white radicchio, deep-fried morel slivers and a truffle vinaigrette. The day’s unofficial winner, as crowned by McEwan and Azram, was chef Gallagher, who served foie gras with maple syrup on a parsnip base, topped with bacon and a gooseberry gastrique. McEwan’s explanation of the judging process: “I look at the size and does it explode in my mouth” (insert your own dirty joke here). For his troubles, Gallagher was offered the prize of taking home as much of the leftover produce as he’d like. He demurred, however—he was taking the subway home.
Top Chef Canada airs Monday, March 12 at 10 p.m. on Food Network Canada.