At last year’s Chef’s Challenge, the famously potty-mouthed Gordon Ramsay ended up throwing the chefs off the stage after a skillet caught fire. This year, the annual fundraiser for Mount Sinai’s breast and ovarian cancer research was led by grill master Bobby Flay, meaning there were no fires—although there was a good deal of impaired cooking by the end. Mark McEwan was swigging limoncello from the bottle, while Flay downed prosecco and Lynn Crawford tried to curry favour with the judges with some frozen mojitos. Who knew the night would end in such delightful debauchery?
Hundreds of altruistic foodies (everyone had to raise at least $2,500 to attend the event) donned their best cocktail attire for the second annual challenge, a sort of charitable Iron Chef–style cook-off. The top 60 fundraisers were divided into six groups, each led by a Canadian celebrity chef: Crawford, McEwan, Chuck Hughes, Nadia G., David Rocco and Massimo Capra. With the clock ticking, the teams were charged with executing a three-course menu designed by Flay: chili-crusted halibut wrapped in banana leaf, coffee and ancho chili–crusted filet of beef and coconut and mojito cheesecake. Although Flay was billed as the host, an effusive Lisa Ray, who was recently named the host of next season’s Top Chef Canada, took over the emceeing duties.
To kick off the event, Kate Daniels was awarded a trophy for raising the most money—a whopping $44,505—before an auction for a seat at the judge’s panel with Claire Tansey, food editor at Chatelaine, the Grid’s Karon Liu, Linda Barnard from the Star and Global TV’s Leslie Roberts (it went for $10,500). After that, it was time to start cooking. Here’s how the battles went down:
Round One: Battle Halibut
McEwan disappeared for almost the entirety of this round, prompting Flay to accuse him of stealing the rice (this course called for the banana leaf–wrapped halibut to be served with caramelized mango sticky rice). “Has anyone seen Mark McEwan? We’re going to put him on a milk carton in about 10 minutes,” said Flay. Turns out, McEwan had actually run to a nearby convenience store in search of rice. And while his team was the only one to serve the dish with all the required elements, round one ended up being a tie between Team McEwan and Team Hughes.
Round Two: Battle Beef
Lynn Crawford, last year’s overall victor, absolutely dominated this round. The judges all agreed without a doubt that Team Crawford seared the meanest beef filet.
Round Three: Battle Cheesecake
With no team in the lead, it was anybody’s game, which is perhaps why Hughes’ team disappeared from sight for much of this round (afraid, perhaps, that Team Rocco would copy their techniques). This was by far the most entertaining round, as the competition started descending into bacchanalia. “Lisa, step away from the limoncello,” said Flay, who then looked out into the audience imploringly. “We need to get Lisa out of the kitchen and away from the electronics.” Perhaps not coincidentally, no victor was announced for this round.
After much deliberation by the esteemed judges, the winners’ names were read off. In third place: Team Hughes. In second: Team Crawford. In first place, taking the title from Crawford: Team McEwan. And in the course of the sometimes delirious night, $1.2 million were raised for cancer research.