Top Chef Canada recap, episode 11: Italian stallions and KD virginity
Last night’s episode of Top Chef Canada kicked off with a little sentimental reflection by the chefs at their digs—the condo that is finally living up to its “luxury” billing now that there are only five occupants (cramming the original 16 contestants in there probably violated some kind of occupancy regulation). Trevor Bird hoped to God that he wouldn’t have to do dessert again (foreshadowing alert!), while David Chrystian announced to all of Canada that he was set to go home and propose to his girlfriend (good luck, David!). This week’s twists and turns, including guest spots from an R&B star, a former MuchMusic VJ and a legend of Italian cooking, in our recap below.
This quickfire featured yet another guest judge whose food cred is less than unassailable: Keshia Chanté. It also featured a human-height box of Kraft Dinner. There was an awkward moment when the KD was unveiled and the chefs struggled to look composed—nay, brave—in the face of this latest bit of sponsor integration. The challenge: using what host Lisa Ray called the two “signature ingredients” in a box of KD (noodles and cheese sauce) to make two dishes, one refined and one everyday.
The reaction from the cheftestants ranged from Trevor’s “this is fun as hell” to Xavier Lacaze’s barely concealed terror (the Frenchman admitted he was a “Kraft Dinner virgin”). This being Top Chef Canada, where simplicity reigns, we were disappointed that no chef made the ur-simple move of a straight, back-of-box rendition. Notwithstanding his enthusiasm, Trevor played it super-safe: he decided to present the same dish twice over, one plated simply and the other plated all fancy-like (he added broccoli, roasted garlic and sausage). He was joined on the bottom by Jonathan Korecki, whose fancy coconut curry Kraft Dinner was just too much for Chanté. At the top were Xavier—mac-and-cheese au gratin and a little cake of roasted duck breast and noodles—and the winner, David, who made a grilled-cheese sandwich with KD as the filling. Chanté said the dish “really embodies the Kraft Dinner brand.” Whether that’s something any top chef would aspire to seemed beside the point as the diminutive Victor chef collected his $10,000—most of which he planned to spend on an engagement ring (awww!).
In a deft pivot, Ray went from thanking the good people at Kraft to extolling the virtues of a traditional Italian family meal (i.e., the anti-KD). For their elimination challenge, the chefs were tasked with cooking a six-course Italian meal that would be judged by none other than Lidia Bastianich, the master of such feasts. All five of them were to collaborate on an antipasto plate, followed by a zuppa (Jonathan), primo (Xavier), pesce (David), secondo (Carl Heinrich) and dolce (Trevor, struck down by the laws of reality-TV karma).
The Mark McEwan-tie-in factor was doubled in this episode: not only did the chefs shop at his eponymous grocery store (with some obligatory ooh-ing and ah-ing over the luxe balsamic vinegar), but they also cooked their feast at his restaurant Fabbrica (with some obligatory ooh-ing and ah-ing over the admittedly magnificent wood-burning oven). Rounding out the guest list was a motley assemblage of Italian-Canadians: Rick “the Temp” Campanelli, George chef Lorenzo Loseto, Charlie’s Burgers impresario Franco Stalteri and Carlo Rota of Little Mosque on the Prairie fame.
The chefs who wowed the judges took opposite tacks. For his fish course, David went super-simple: sea bream and European sea bass roasted whole in the wood oven along with some fennel and radish. Bastianich was glowing in her praise: “You’ve really captured the essence of Italian cuisine.” Surprisingly—this is Top Chef Canada after all, the bastion of simplicity—Jonathan ended up taking the win for his deconstructed stracciatella soup, featuring a whole poached egg in parmesan broth with lemon zest instead of the usual egg drop. In praising the dish, Bastianich noted that soups “aren’t honoured enough,” but Rota probably had the definitive word: “Next time I have a blistering hangover, this is what I want.”
The other three chefs all shared the stage at the bottom. A visibly shaken Carl, still unfamiliar with the losers’ circle, was told by all that his pork sausages tasted like processed, whipped kielbasa (the horror!) instead of proper Italian salsiccia. Trevor, meanwhile, was raked over the coals for playing it safe with his straight-up tiramisu, which Shereen Arazm characterized with her best sad trombone sound. But the big loser this week was Xavier, who’d earlier complained that as a good Frenchman (and French soccer fan), he just didn’t like the Italians. In the end, it seemed like Italian food didn’t like him much, either: the veal ragú he paired with his homemade but undercooked pappardelle was just plain over-salted—an unrecoverable and, at this stage, unforgivable error. In McEwan’s characteristically terse summation: “the resounding flavour was of salt.” Rubbed in the wound, presumably.
Next time on Top Chef Canada
For the second-to-last elimination challenge, the four remaining chefs get a little sous-cheffing from some season one contestants, including Dustin Gallagher, Connie DeSousa and François Gagnon. The challenge: “high fashion meets haute cuisine,” whatever that means. Tears, doubtless, to follow.
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