Top Chef Canada recap, episode 11: street meet
TOP CHEF CANADA
Season 1 | Episode 11
From the opening moments of last night’s Top Chef Canada, we learned the following: Dale MacKay, the supremely arrogant self-confident Vancouver chef, actually has a soft side (he was missing his young son); Montreal-by-way-of Vancouver chef François Gagnon sleeps without his shirt on; Mercatto executive chef Rob Rossi likes to sleep in; and Connie DeSousa is feeling the pressure to win the competition for all the female chefs out there (about Grace’s Dustin Gallagher, we learned nothing). None of these micro-developments gave away who the winner and loser might be. After the jump, the twists and turns that brought us down to the final four.
As the contestants piled into the GE Monogram kitchen (there, we finally said it), they were introduced to a familiar face for Canadian food TV fans: chef, restaurateur and restaurant consultant Rob Feenie, described—confusingly—by host Thea Andrews as Canada’s Iron Chef (turns out she meant he was the first Canadian to defeat an Iron Chef). The producers decided not to delve into the messy history between Feenie—once chef and co-owner of Vancouver’s Lumière—and MacKay, who succeeded him after his dramatic exit. Likewise, Gagnon’s decidedly tamer tenure under Feenie also went unmentioned (unlike “Dusty” Gallagher and Susur Lee’s back story, which the show played out back in episode 4.)
The challenge seemed strangely straightforward for Top Chef: pick three seafood items from the live, writhing spread on the table and create three memorable dishes to showcase them. Of course, there was a catch. After the chefs had made their selection, Andrews blithely informed them that they’d actually be cooking the seafood chosen by the chef to their right. Cue lots of good-natured grumbling from Rossi, who got stuck with Gallagher’s slimy, oozing and, frankly, phallic geoduck. Amazingly, Rossi, who’d never cooked with the giant clam before, managed to pull out the best trio of dishes: oyster with black pepper and apple, scallop ceviche and geoduck with wasabi, cucumber, ginger and jalapeño. Feenie was effusive in his praise, exclaiming, “Rob, by far what you did was brilliant!” Rossi replied with an impish kid-at-Christmas smile.
After a fairly elevated quickfire, the elimination challenge was down and dirty: the chefs were asked to create street food that melded two world cuisines and serve it from a hot dog cart in Nathan Phillips Square (once again, we’ll note the irony is hard to miss). The chefs drew knives for their two cuisines, with DeSousa drawing Thai and German, MacKay getting Trinidadian and Indian, Gagnon, Chinese and Spanish, Gallagher, French and Italian and Rossi, Canadian and Vietnamese. As winner of the quickfire, Rossi was given the option of swapping one of his cuisines, so he nabbed Gagnon’s Spanish and dumped his Vietnamese on the poor francophone chef, who confessed his experience with Asian cuisine was limited to the eating end of things, not the cooking.
During the manic shopping spree at Loblaws, we were treated to a panicked Gagnon running around searching for won ton wrappers, all set to the tune of accordion music that screamed, “I’m a hapless Frenchie” (never mind that he’s from La Belle Provence, not France). MacKay’s grumbles about the challenge, meanwhile, started early and continued right to the end—apparently he was unable to compromise his lofty dining standards for lowly street food, and he seemed particularly aggrieved that he might be sent home for Trinidadian food, a cuisine he’d never once tasted. Is it us, or has “aggrieved” become his default tone? (In a rare moment of cheffy insight, MacKay did acknowledge that “sometimes I’m a bit of a douchebag, and I just need a sleep and I’m usually better in the morning.”) DeSousa, for her part, confessed that she’d actually worked for a Thai chef in Germany, so she was perfectly suited to her challenge—a realization that gave her the confidence to once again make sausages, despite head judge Mark McEwan’s misgivings about her previous attempts.
At the top for this street food challenge were the two remaining Toronto chefs: Gallagher, who created a French take on pizza with duck confit, emmenthal and béchamel alongside a sort of niçoise salad on a bun with Italian ingredients; and Rossi, who made a grilled cheese sandwich with serrano ham and Canadian cheddar and a sloppy Joe with chorizo, manchego and green onions. Rossi’s down-home cooking netted him the win.
When the three chefs at the bottom faced the judges, McEwan explained they were all there because, “at the end of the day, flavour was lacking in your dishes.” MacKay’s two dishes, a curry soup with some bizarre roti stuffing and a jerk chicken salad, were all heat and no flavour (resident judge Shereen Arazm was appalled when MacKay confessed he’s never tasted roti). DeSousa’s dishes were also insipid, despite their colourful presentation (and her adorable ball cap): her traditional wurst was watery (turns out she’d boiled it), and her pad Thai prompted Andrews to exclaim, “All those Thai ingredients are there… there’s just no flavour!” (to which a thousand home cooks nodded in rueful recognition). Gagnon’s dishes—a lame-looking dumpling floating in a bland faux-pho broth and some allegedly Peking duck wrapped in a Vietnamese spring roll—were as misguided as they were boring. Arazm’s pithy condemnation: “François’s roll was a waste of time—it was like eating water.” Unsurprisingly, he was sent packing back to Vancouver, where he had quit his job to be part of the competition. He bid a fond adieu to his fellow competitors with a wistful “China and Vietnam took me down.”
Next time on Top Chef Canada
U.S. Top Chef resident judge (and former Toronto Life intern) Gail Simmons stops by to kick the remaining five chefs into shape (and show the judges how it’s done, too). Apparently the results are less than stunning—at the tasting, she exclaims, “I’m totally confounded. This is your last chance to wow us!” We can’t wait to see who’s on the receiving end of her smackdown.
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