Top Chef Canada recap, episode 8: later, caterer
Last night’s episode started with some reflections from the chefs back at their, um, glamorous condo. Xavier Lacaze was amazed that he’d made it so far. Ryan Gallagher thought that Curtis Luk had been sent home too early. Carl Heinrich missed his girlfriend (it was her birthday). And Jimmy Stewart? He revealed that he still lived with his mom. “A lot of people might find that embarrassing,” he said. “Home will always be there. This will not.” Was that a sly forshadowing by the producers of things to come? Read on to find out.
The chefs entered the kitchen to find head judge Mark McEwan standing by a table heaped with shallots. This could only mean one thing: the always-entertaining chef skills challenge (like episode 4’s blind taste test, it’s one of the few unambiguous wheat-chaff separators on the show). Jonathan Korecki, he of the ninja-like bandanas and presumably ninja-like knife skills, was immediately pumped: “My chops are great. I can do whatever it is they ask me to do.” By the laws of reality TV, that hubris got him knocked out, along with Trista Sheen, in round one, during which the chefs had to dice as many shallots as they could in three minutes (Ryan won that one, with 877 grams of the stuff; Jonathan had only 785).
In round two, the chefs had to French (i.e. clean) a rack of lamb to McEwan’s exacting standards, with the first four to finish up moving on—which turned out to be Carl, Xavier, Trevor Bird and David Chrystian, whose hands had been shaking uncontrollably throughout most of the quickfire. Those hands didn’t let up on him for round three, where the final four had to do a bit of prep so laughably old-school that two of them had never attempted it: peeling grapes. After seven minutes in hell, Carl and Xavier were left standing, with 26 and 24 grapes peeled, respectively. The final challenge: create a dish out of the ingredients prepped in rounds one to three. With the eliminated chefs providing charmingly goofy colour commentary, the two slugged it out. In the end, Carl’s grilled lamb with shallot purée, Madeira and grape jus and potato rösti bested Xavier’s Mediterranean lamb and couscous dish. His prize? A $1,000, 12-piece set of knives from Wusthof, which unfortunately sounded more like a wedding registry special than something we’d expect to find in his new kitchen.
This week’s elimination challenge was all about catering—which meant that the food was bound to be a little boring. In a bit of standard Top Chef cross-promotion, the chefs were tasked with creating a lunch buffet for the cast and crew of Showcase’s succubus drama Lost Girl (yes, Showcase and Food Network Canada are both Shaw properties), while accommodating a variety of dietary restrictions and allergies. What could possibly be more exciting?
During the normally rote shopping scene at McEwan, we got a glimpse into David’s backstory; when he opened the restaurant at the Drake Hotel, we find out, he was pilloried by critics (the producers included a shot of a piece in Now titled “Chrystian Crucified”), which apparently led to something of a breakdown. Happily, he was in fine, if somewhat manic form during this challenge, alternately cursing and praising his grill as he readied his grilled polenta and grilled veggie platter (the rest of the chefs could barely keep from laughing, lovingly, as he shot his mouth off).
The judges were joined by Michael Blackie, executive chef at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre, and three stars of Lost Girl, Anna Silk, Richard Howland and K.C. Collins, who, it must be said, provided some fairly insightful commentary on the dishes (for laypeople). The best dishes were all smart bets for a catering service. David’s grilled polenta was a hit with the vegetarians. Trevor’s two salads (one Caprese and one quinoa) were both packed with flavour, and held well in the serving dishes. Carl’s chicken ratatouille was, as usual, beautifully executed, if suitably boring. But the winner was Jonathan, who redeemed himself from his quickfire embarrassment by serving pulled pork lettuce wraps with chorizo, pickled fennel and carrots. Though not the most creative dish served thus far, McEwan rightly praised it, saying it showed good judgment on Jonathan’s part. And McEwan should know—he does, after all, run his own successful catering business (as documented on The Heat with Mark McEwan).
If each of the winning dishes were wily catering choices, each of the losing dishes failed in its own way. Trista made a sad, grey-looking seafood salad, mostly undercooked, with insufficient acid. Ryan took a chance on arctic char that didn’t end up holding well in his chaffing dish (he also served it with a questionable Green Goddess sauce). Xavier undercooked his red wine–poached peaches, and, stupidly, decided in the last minute to whip up a chocolate mousse that somehow didn’t taste at all of chocolate (from a Frenchman, no less!). But Jimmy, the ultimate loser, failed on two counts. First, frustrated at the lack of love he was getting from the judges for his fancy-pants molecularly inclined dishes, he overcompensated with a green (i.e. vegan) minestrone soup and a “nice salad.” Even worse, when McEwan and Shereen Arazm started giving him guff for having too much truffle oil in his soup, he refused to back down, and there’s nothing the judges hate more than an unrepentant chef. On his way out (after asking host Lisa Ray out to coffee and getting a polite smile), he told the confession cam: “It’s a tasty dish. You’re saying that I don’t understand it? Maybe the four of you guys didn’t understand it, because everybody else does.” The moral of the story: the judges are always right.
Next time on Top Chef Canada
The chefs go camping, with many clueless attempts at lighting a fire and pitching a tent. Roger Mooking looks to be the guest judge, and Lisa Ray’s hair looks to be outrageously curly. Oh, and there’s a surprise thunder shower. Should be fun.
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