Top Chef Canada recap, episode 9: roughin’ it
Last night’s episode featured two guest judges (Spencer Rice, a.k.a. Spenny, and Roger Mooking, a.k.a. MC Mystic), one topless chef (David Chrystian) and a whack of inept camping from city folk stranded out in the country. In other words, it was one of the novelty episodes—and with only six chefs standing at the end, we hope it’s the last. Of course, it featured its share of hijinks, so we’re not complaining. A rundown of what happened, including the shocking revelation of which folksy instrument Mark McEwan plays in his spare time, below.
This week, the chefs entered the kitchen to find—wait for it—a big sheet, and excited host Lisa Ray just raring to pull it off and reveal what’s underneath. The surprise this time: a vending machine tricked out with cellophane bags of foods ranging from sheets of nori to marshmallows. The challenge, naturally, was to buy ingredients and make a nice snack of some kind given $10 in coins. Oh, and your guest judge? A certain Spenny. But as much as we enjoyed watching Kenny whoop Spenny’s ass week after week on their eponymous show, we didn’t see the point of his appearance on Top Chef Canada. Affecting a strange sombreness, he provided no comic relief and had no culinary cred to shore up Ray’s own shaky (if enthusiastic) handle on food. Maybe they should have gotten Kenny in on the action?
As for the actual challenge, we got the expected array of ground-up pretzels (Jonathan Korecki) and repurposed wasabi peas (Ryan Gallagher), along with the usual plot line of David choosing too many ingredients (nori, dried fruit, ramen noodles, ketchup chips, beef jerky) and making a mess out of them (“ramen-noodle tempura-fried beef jerky and papaya roll”). The winner was the chef who made what sounded like stereotypical Man Food: Trevor Bird, with pork rind–battered chicken wings with a pretzel-beer mayo. Spenny’s enlightened rationale for the win: “My God, those were good chicken wings.” Ladies and gentleman, Top Chef Canada!
The chefs piled into what looked like a mini–school bus, and set off, post-haste, for a camping challenge, where they would spend the night by the lake and then wake up to cook a “wild brunch” on an open flame. They arrived at the campsite to find a whole bunch of tents waiting to be assembled, and one already-built tent, labelled “Chez Trevor,” tricked out with IKEA’s best as a reward for his quickfire win (Trevor took to it like an undergrad on a Cribs shoot). By this point, we’d already learned that while Ryan and Xavier Lacaze have both been camping before, they’re also both decidedly “hotel people.” Some chefs built their tents lickety-split, and some took a while, but in the end, it didn’t really matter, since it ended up having no bearing at all on the actual competition (why mention it then? Because it took up a very, very long portion of the show).
The next morning, with everyone but Trevor complaining of mighty back aches (and David walking around shirtless), the chefs set off to find their fire pits and the coolers that held each of their secret proteins. Ryan got rabbit, David got quail, Xavier got partridge (“Do people have a lot of partridge for brunch here?”), Trevor got pheasant, Jonathan got guinea hens, Trista Sheen got squab (i.e. pigeon) and Carl Heinrich got mulard (i.e. foie gras–making) duck. Soon enough, the camping sages (Carl, Jonathan) emerged and helped the novice (Trevor) with his fire. The judges, meanwhile, entered in plaid (Ray and Mooking) and tight-fitting T-shirts (McEwan) to watch the proceedings.
Then fate smiled on the producers—clouds started to roll in over the lake and a distinct clap of thunder could be heard. Racing against the clock and the weather, the chefs got busy on their makeshift stoves and turned out what we must admit, given the circumstances, looked like some pretty impressive dishes. Trevor made a pheasant leg ragoût with corn and mushrooms, as well as a poached egg with crispy pheasant skin and tomato jam, but probably sacrificed the win by keeping the breast meat for himself, for lunch (as resident judge Shereen Arazm put it, “Boys miss their breasts”). Jonathan rigged up a pseudo-rotisserie for his guinea hens, which he roasted whole and served with a wild rice pancake, roasted heirloom tomato and fresh curry, about which McEwan noted, “This is perfect for me, very mild.” But in the end the win went to Trista, whose squab smorgasbord (seared breast, confit leg, pain perdu, berry jus, dandelion greens and a PIGEON CLAW) impressed everyone with its unexpected unity and, well, wildness (Arazm held a claw up to a grossed-out Ray and called out “Hi Lisa! Hi Lisa Ray!”).
The dishes at the bottom were fairly accomplished for being at the bottom. David used old-school techniques to prepare his quail (including making a crépinette), and even made some naan on the fly, but he flunked out with undercooked meat (he also wore a bizarre country-ish hat as he cooked, prompting McEwan to remark, “I didn’t know whether to pull my banjo out”—something we’d pay good money to see). Xavier made his bird two ways (roasted breast, stuffed leg) and served it on du Puy lentils, but the dish was criticized for being a massive dinner main masquerading as brunch. In the end, though, Ryan was sent packing for a rabbit ragoût and loin duo, which the judges felt was just too rich and salty. As McEwan put it, sealing Ryan’s fate, “There’s nowhere to go on the plate for relief.”
Next time on Top Chef Canada
After this week’s novelty, a return to hard-core judging, with New York’s Marcus Samuelsson surprising the chefs by dropping in. Also, at some point, Arazm asks one chef, cryptically, “Maybe you misunderstood the challenge, but how could you misunderstand your soul?” How indeed.
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