Top Chef Canada recap, episode 7: placing products

Top Chef Canada recap, episode 7: placing products

The giant Michael Smith and the merely tall Thea Andrews (Image: Food Network Canada/Insight Productions) 

TOP CHEF CANADA
Season 1 | Episode 7

Top Chef and blatant product placement have always gone hand in hand, with each season ratcheting up the level of sponsor integration. Far from being an outright fault, it has become something many fans almost look forward to—albeit with a little cringe. Top Chef Canada really outdid itself last night in that regard, with both the quickfire and the elimination challenges centred around a sponsor—a real milestone in the annals of Canadian TV brand integration. But episode seven was about more than just the all-important sponsors; it also featured a delightfully snarky Michael Smith, some adorable pictures of chefs with their significant others and rhyming put-downs from the judges. We recap it all, after the jump.

Quickfire

The unsuspecting chefs in front of their Le Creuset pots (Image: Food Network Canada/Insight Productions) 

This week, the contestants were presented with nine colourful little Le Creuset pots hiding their secret ingredients, and asked to open them one by one. Lo and behold, as each chef opened their sponsor-supplied cast iron vessel, they discovered… All-Bran cereal. Nine times over. The chefs, confronted with such an obvious product-placement gag, gamely tried to keep a straight face. The challenge was pretty straightforward: make something creative using All-Bran.

Todd Perrin’s All-Bran pancake with salt cod brandade (Image: Food Network Canada/Insight Productions) 

The guest judge this time around was PEI chef, TV host and cookbook author Michael Smith, who quickly shed his nice-guy image by tearing into Grace’s Dustin Gallagher for the presentation of his porcini and All-Bran–crusted venison with a foie gras–All-Bran sauce (“The drips on the plate—are those All-Bran, too?” he asked). Rob Rossi of Mercatto also got singled out for burning his fried chicken and then turning the wing to hide the burnt bit (“That’s a classic cook’s trick,” Smith chided). The winner of the quickfire was Newfoundlander Todd Perrin, who, according to Smith, “did an excellent job of representing the East Coast” with an All-Bran pancake and a salted cod brandade (a sort of oil and cod emulsion). But the real winner was Kellogg’s, the maker of the cereal— the words “All-Bran” must have been uttered at least 50 times.

Elimination

The elimination challenge this time around was to prepare a familiar dish for a romantic dinner—with a twist. But not too much of a twist, since the chefs had to prepare and serve their dishes for couples on anniversary dates at Milestones (which, as we were reminded during each commercial break, serves “food created for all of your life’s milestones”). The mere mention of the mega-chain’s name drew a hilarious side-eye from Connie DeSousa, who admitted that she was “familiar” with the place, since there is a location across the street from her restaurant in Calgary. The chefs drew knives to divide up into courses: Andrea Nicholson, DeSousa and Perrin drew appetizers; François Gagnon, Patrick Wiese and Rossi got mains; and Dale MacKay, Darryl Crumb and Gallagher were on desserts.

The tasting portion of the show turned out to be unusually interesting, with Milestones executive chef Jeff Dell and the judges speaking candidly about just what sort of dishes are suitable for the restaurant. Rossi’s grilled sirloin with goat cheese pavé and broccoli purée might have been visually stunning, but Dell said the presentation was too “precious” for his customers. Likewise, MacKay’s deconstructed pavlova was certainly innovative but, as head judge Mark McEwan put it, it was “way too complicated for a chain restaurant.”

Dustin Gallagher’s strawberry shortcake (Image: Food Network Canada/Insight Productions) 

The chefs who made it to the top this week all managed to come up with dishes that were inventive enough to wow the judges while still appealing to the Milestones diners. Gagnon served roasted sablefish with seaweed gnocchi in a mushroom and tamarind jus. DeSousa played it simple, with pork croquettes and a spicy aïoli that McEwan repeatedly said was great bar food (not usually a compliment on Top Chef Canada). But it was Gallagher’s sublime-looking Ontario strawberry shortcake on a buttermilk biscuit crust, all decked out with flowers, that took the win in the romantic dinner challenge—appropriately enough, since the recipe came his girlfriend, who also happens to be his pastry chef (cue some adorable photos of the two young chefs together and, strangely, of Gallagher with his dog).

The three chefs on the bottom all found their way there for different reasons. MacKay was accused of a kind of culinary hubris for his too-fancy pavlova: resident judge Shereen Arazm called it too precious, and McEwan, who seems to be improving his stock of zingers with each episode, likened it to bringing a 12-gauge shotgun to a quail hunt. As usual, MacKay looked offended that the judges couldn’t appreciate his creation. Nicholson, meanwhile, had a smart idea in her black garlic and goat cheese ravioli, but failed to execute it: the pasta was cold, and the filling was grainy and flavourless.  (We doubt she was sweating her time in front of the judges’ table too badly, however—earlier in the show, she boasted, “I’ve got balls the size of watermelons.”)

At the very bottom was Wiese’s pork tenderloin with sautéed leeks and mushrooms and about a dozen spices and sauces. Smith couldn’t get over the messiness of his plate and the unevenly cooked meat. McEwan confessed that he was “at a loss to describe” just how bad the dish was, and Arazm expressed distaste for Wiese’s entire style: “It’s like fusion confusion” (cut to a shot of Wiese’s Chinese-calligraphy tattoos). As the Toronto chef made his exit, his fellow cooks raised a heartfelt toast “to the bear.” We’ll miss his mighty beard.

Next time on Top Chef Canada

The chefs form two teams for the always-popular Restaurant Wars, where each side has one day to create and run both the kitchen and dining room of a restaurant—hosted this time at McEwan’s Bymark, it seems. If the previews are anything to go by, we’re looking forward to more egos, shouting and running around.

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