With only four chefs remaining in the competition, last night’s episode of Top Chef Canada started in style—with Carl Heinrich, David Chrystian, Trevor Bird and Jonathan Korecki suiting up at their condo, accompanied by appropriately gladiatorial music. Over the next 43-odd TV minutes they’d be confronted with a legendarily tough (and foul-mouthed) guest judge, and one of those perplexing elimination challenges that leaves a chef between a rock and a hard place. Find out who makes it to the final and who gets sent packing, below.
As the chefs entered the kitchen, they were met by the unsmiling Marc Thuet and Biana Zorich, the pair behind the various Thuet Fine Foods properties (Bistro Thuet/Bite Me/Conviction, Petite Thuet, etc.). Trevor rightly predicted, “Oh man, he’s gonna tear us a new asshole.” The challenge couldn’t be simpler: in two-and-a-half hours, make two pies, one sweet and one savoury. Oh, and just to make things interesting, Thuet brought two impeccable specimens of his own—a perfect blueberry pie and a 24 hour–braised pork belly beauty with smoked speck, chanterelles, boudin noir, foie gras and duck fat pastry. In other words, no pressure.
The chefs set off flailing, trying to come up with something to rival the master Alsatian’s creations. David went Quebecois with old-school rabbit cîpate, although he made a fundamental Top Chef error using pre-made puff pastry (he was, however, the only chef to make his own ice cream, an impressive mascarpone sour cream concoction). Thuet opined that the pie totally lacked in seasoning, a huge chef burn. Jonathan tried to invoke the pies of his grandmother, offering a potato and caramelized leek number with a dill and bacon fat crust, a heartstrings-tugging move that had no effect on the stone-faced chef, who declared the potatoes insufficiently cooked (“you must have tasted it yourself”). Carl, true to form, went super simple with a traditional peach and blueberry that was not unlike Thuet’s own and a quiche with cheddar, ham, chanterelles and duck fat crust that was also not unlike Thuet’s. He won the challenge, along with a custom Caesarstone countertop. Trevor’s runner-up consolation prize: his apple-bacon tart with a walnut crust will soon be available to Milestones diners Canada-wide. And $3,000.
After a challenge so carefully focused on skill, the episode, inevitably, went downhill. Sadly, the chefs bade farewell to the entertaingly grumpy Thuet and Zorich and instead turned their attention to the Shops at Don Mills, where, as host Lisa Ray put it in a phrase so sublimely nonsensical it had to be written by committee, “Fashion, dining and entertainment come outside to play.” The challenge: take your cooking from the kitchen to the catwalk with a fashion-inspired lunch for 50 VIP fashionistas.
The chefs were, understandably, a little perplexed. Before the cooking itself started, however, there was a little twist as each chef got paired up with one of the runners-up from season one of Top Chef Canada: Carl with Rob Rossi, Trevor with François Gagnon, David with Connie DeSousa and Jonathan with Dustin Gallagher’s smile (which, happily for Jonathan came with the chef himself, a fellow Susur alum).
Once the chefs arrived at the Shops at Don Mills, they were greeted by a phalanx of models, whose main purpose seemed to be to lend heft to the challenge’s paper-thin haute couture/haute cuisine premise (made even more thin by the total lack of any prominent fashionistas—would it have killed them to bring in Jeanne Beker?). Jennifer McLagan, most recently known for her offal cookbook Odd Bits but also a noted food stylist, joined the judges, fitting in, just barely, with the fashion theme.
Trevor ended up doing surprisingly well, considering that his plate consisted of a hunk of potato-crusted lamb loin with a little porcini foam and ratatouille (Shereen Arazm asked him how his dish was related to haute couture, to which he replied “the amount of labour”). Still, he was bested by the surprisingly attractive plate that Carl turned out: a triangular piece of European sea bass pan-fried onto a triangular piece of cracker, served on a triangular plate with elegant curlicues of roasted pepper coulis, baby greens, hearts of palm and zucchini aïoli. As Mark McEwan put it, Carl took something that could have been boring and “elevated it to a position of grandeur.” The win netted him $10,000.
With Trevor and Carl both securely in the finale, the judges were tasked with choosing which chef would not be joining them. Jonathan made a three-dish dim sum plate, inspired by the “prettiest thing he could think of,” his wife’s polka-dot dress (awwww). Still, Arazm thought it ended up looking pretty bland on the plate, and the food itself was dogged with execution errors, like a doughy dumpling wrapper. David’s Japanese-inspired dish was an outright stunner: a little round of nori-wrapped tenderloin topped with wasabi pea compound butter and sided with colourful chive purée, veal jus–glazed shallots and some celery root. Unfortunately, everything tasted bad, especially the chives, which spurred a competition between the judges as to who could express their disgust in the strongest terms. While the challenge might ostensibly have been about how the plate looked (and David’s did look the best), in the end, this is a chef’s competition, and the chef with the worst-tasting dish was sent home (David again). A small consolation prize: his accumulated $20,000 in winnings, with which he intends to buy a ring for his girlfriend (awwww).
Next time on Top Chef Canada
The producers pull the old bring-back-the-gang trick for a second episode in a row with Xavier Lacaze, Jimmy Stewart, Elizabeth Rivasplata, Trista Sheen and David all back in chefs whites. Also present: Vancouver Indian chef Vikram Vij, who seems to have a particularly jolly way of putting down a dish. This should be a fun 90-minute finale—although judging by the preview, it looks like it takes place entirely in Toronto. (UPDATE: Turns out, it’s taking place at Hockley Valley Resort)
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