Top Chef Canada recap, episode 3: the craving games
Last night’s episode of Top Chef Canada accomplished a couple of rare feats: it brought last season’s host Thea Andrews onto the same set as this season’s host Lisa Ray without any sparks flying; and it managed to theme an entire episode around the appetites of pregnant women without being grossly offensive (even if it couldn’t escape being deeply corny). So, to the fine people at Insight Productions, we say: good on you. Oh, and the cooking? Actually, it was a few notches up from last week’s construction-site rigamarole, although it did include enough you-just-can’t-make-this-stuff-up bombs to keep us amused.
The chefs walked into the kitchen to discover a table piled high with an array of downright evil food pairings and an extremely pregnant Andrews wearing a bright pink dress (inevitably, Ray described her as “glowing”). After a little cheeseball baby bump humour (“as you can see, I’m working on a little independent production of my own”), the two hosts presented the challenge: create an amazing dish using your assigned pair of horrifically clashing ingredients, the admittedly reductive reasoning being that pregnant ladies like to eat weird things.
The central drama of this cooking segment was Jonathan Korecki’s heroic attempts to wrestle his super-stinky durian (“this tastes like fried garlic and strawberries with the smell of shrimp paste”) into submission, pairing it with white chocolate. And while he didn’t make it on top, he also wasn’t kicked out of the kitchen by the other chefs, like Trista Sheen, who looked like she was positively retching. The worst dishes included Elizabeth Rivasplata’s burnt-looking morsel of cornish hen with cocoa and cauliflower purée and Sarah Tsai’s “healthier chips and dip” made with heirloom tomatoes, parsley, gai lan and banana chips, which Andrews and Ray found inexcusably bland. The challenge was won by a chef who told the confessional cam earlier: “This is perhaps the worst thing I’ve ever made. If I win for this, I’m going to fucking laugh!” Jimmy Stewart, tasked with pairing oatmeal and wasabi, made some garam masala–spiked wings sided with wasabi pea–bedecked oatmeal. Of the chef, Andrews pronounced, “I don’t know what you were thinking. I think you’re a little deranged. But I like it.”
In a reenactment of every middle school nightmare, the chefs pair up into teams, starting with Jimmy, fresh off his victory, picking Jonathan, and ending with Sarah and Xavier Lacaze getting lumped together at the end. The challenge: cater a double whammy baby shower for Andrews and also-very-pregnant resident judge Shereen Arazm, with one chef creating a boy-themed dish and the other a girl-themed dish. Andrews’ advice to the chefs before they headed out to McEwan to shop: don’t be afraid to take risks.
Joel Aubie’s risk: a house-made scallop sausage (no, really) wrapped in bacon. Curtis Luk’s risk: making macarons, something that “to my knowledge has not been done on Top Chef.” And Trevor Bird’s risk: working with Curtis, who not only played the savoury-chef-making-difficult-dessert gambit (which almost always loses), but spilled his eggs all over the kitchen floor. “Why are you still cooking, Curtis, and why am I cleaning your fucking mess?” Trevor cried at one point (worry not, though: they hugged it out before exchanging somewhat unconvincing “I love yous”).
The party itself was hosted right beneath the Toronto Life offices at George, Curtis’s old stomping grounds, with the chefs cramming into the fishbowl kitchen to ready their plates. Head judge Mark McEwan popped by to scare them check on their progress, asking Trevor if he was confident about serving a room of pregnant ladies medium-rare meat (implication: don’t do it), and giving Sarah a death glare when she announced she was serving chocolate sauce laced with, ahem, prosciutto fat to accompany her sweet arancini.
The tasting proved just as amusing, with Curtis likening the guests to a pack of hungry wolves (note to restaurateurs: this is why you keep the chefs in the back of the house). By the cosmic serendipity of extreme trendiness, both Elizabeth and Jonathan made maple-bacon doughnuts, with the latter’s, fried à-la-minute, judged the better of the two. The dishes of teammates Sarah and Xavier—the aforementioned arancini and a fried goat cheese ball, respectively—shared two things in common: they both included prosciutto, and they both caused the judges to spit their half-eaten morsels onto their napkins (Ray even seemed to wipe down her tongue at one point).
At the top of the heap this week were Curtis (pink peppercorn macaron with meyer lemon and lemongrass), teammate Trevor (black peppercorn-roasted tenderloin), Jonathan (the doughnut champ) and Carl Heinrich (poached salmon on fingerling chip), with the win going to the chef who stuck his neck out the furthest, Curtis. As McEwan put it, “it’s nice when you stick your arm out and it comes back with a bouquet of roses.” Or something.
On the losing end were the gruesome twosome of Sarah and Xavier, along with Joel, of the scallop sausage and, once again, Victor’s David Chrystian, the most experienced chef in the competition, for whom Arazm seemed almost embarrassed (“I expected way more from you”). And while Xavier’s weird prosciutto-wrapped ball of cheese got its fair share of drubbing (Ray said her mouth was “traumatized” by it), it was the sweet-mannered Sarah who got the boot, with McEwan pronouncing that she’d gone from merely boring in the quickfire to downright offensive in the elimination challenge.
Next time on Top Chef Canada
San Francisco’s Chris Consentino (you know, the dude who smelled Toronto’s Chinatown from three blocks away) drops by to judge a challenge based around offal—or, as Ray pronounces it, “oh full,” which is exactly how most viewers will feel when they watch the way Jimmy handles the veal brains. Smell you there.
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