Top Chef Canada recap, episode 13: the winner takes it all
TOP CHEF CANADASeason 1 | Episode 13
It’s been quite a ride. After 12 weeks of special guests, horsing around and glorious product placement, season one of Top Chef Canada has come to a close. And what better way to kick off the final episode than with a smart-alecky assessment of the final three contestants from Mercatto’s Rob Rossi? There’s Dale MacKay, with three wins to his name, who’s known, Rossi said, for “doing crazy high-end food” (translation: no soul). There’s Connie DeSousa, also with three wins, who does “sausages and home cooking” (translation: no sophistication). And then there’s Rossi, with four wins, who tries “to do a whole bunch of different things” (translation: has it going on). After the jump, the full rundown of the final face-off.
Rossi, MacKay and DeSousa strode out in their chef’s whites onto the battlefield, which turned out to be a busy set of volleyball courts at what we think was Diamond Beach. Since the episode was filmed last fall in Toronto, the skies were grey, a sniffling DeSousa complained of the freezing cold, and the athletes on the courts were wearing some of the least-revealing beach volleyball outfits in history. Regardless of the weather, the quickfire consisted of that most Canadian twosome: barbecue and beer (more specifically, the red, white and dark species of season sponsor Rickard’s). The chefs were given two hours to create a main and a side using copious amounts of the stuff.
Rossi got into the spirit of things right away, downing bottle after bottle of the white ale while saving the dark for his flatiron steak and citrus-spiked corn on the cob. He even joined the judges for a round (MacKay, observing the suck-uppery, dropped the episode’s first s-bomb: “Personally I think Rob could take a shit on the grill and put it up and they would applaud it”). Still, Rossi didn’t fare so well, probably because he was distracted by the “broads,” the beer and the incessant bees flying about. For his part, MacKay served up some surprisingly lowbrow (for him) fare: ribs and chicken wings with veggies on the side (the judges still chided him for being too fancy). Fittingly, the win went to the show’s butcher-in-chief, DeSousa, who served up some white ale chorizo burgers and dark ale ribs, with a little white ale coleslaw. As usual, she reacted with that trademark mix of quiet grace and deer-in-the-headlights shock that we’ll miss so: “I won a challenge…? Which is…which is awesome….”
After DeSousa’s win, who should appear but three recently eliminated contestants—Dustin Gallagher (Grace), Andrea Nicholson (Great Cooks on Eight) and Todd Perrin—scrubbed and ready to sous-chef for the final challenge. As quickfire winner, DeSousa got to select not only her own underling (“my girl Andrea”) but also those of the other two chefs. Unfortunately, she didn’t have a scheming bone in her body (“I don’t wanna be malicious and kinda screw them up”), so she paired MacKay with Gallagher, his roommate, and Rossi with Perrin. The final challenge? To prepare a three-course menu that, as Andrews put it, “shows us who you are as a chef.” Cue wild grinning from MacKay, who was clearly so over some of the season’s more gimmicky challenges. Of course, three courses would never be enough for MacKay to lay out his grand vision, so he plotted out an extra course or two from the get-go.
For the challenge itself, the cheftestants were whisked away to Peller Estates in Niagara’s wine country. As they stepped into the winery, Peller chef Jason Parsons delivered the Obligatory Last-Minute Twist: the chefs would have to create an amuse-bouche as well, using a cabernet franc icewine. MacKay opted for a Quebec brie with crushed frozen grapes and just-foraged greens from the Peller lands. The judges called it “pleasant” and ”safe.” DeSousa made a salt-cured albacore crudo and served it on a huge pink brick of Himalayan salt she’d brought with her (no, really). But Rossi really impressed with his Salt Spring Island chèvre with frisée, apple and icewine reduction. Round 0.5: Rossi.
For the first course, all three chefs played to type. Although she didn’t do a sausage, DeSousa stayed true to her meat-loving roots, with a smoked pork hock terrine and late-season rhubarb compote. MacKay presented an intricate raw fish trio that looked like three perfect jewels on the plate. Head judge Mark McEwan could barely conceal his disdain (“I find the plate really precious”), although the resident judge Shereen Arazm, an Angelino, stood up for the “airy” and “light” plating. For his part, Rossi snuck by with a simple foie gras boudin blanc with cauliflower purée and snap peas that the judges positively mooned over. Round 1: Rossi by a hair.
It was during the mains that MacKay decided to pull his surprise, extra-course trump card, bringing out a kind of surf (black cod with barbecue pork consommé poured tableside) and turf (roast lamb with onions four ways). His punishment for bending the rules? The word “perfect” uttered a half-dozen times, with McEwan averring that the fish was probably MacKay’s best dish in the whole competition. It didn’t really matter what DeSousa and Rossi served (lamb two ways and bone marrow with roasted oxtail, respectively). Round 2: All MacKay.
For the dessert course, Rossi continued his extreme comfort food bent, serving a trio of beignets with fruit compotes and cream, which the judges all wished had been stuffed with something—which just proves the enduring power of the Twinkie. DeSousa’s last course was an homage to her two favourite things in the world: peanut butter and chocolate. Her adorable plate consisted of a chocolate pot de crème with salted peanut butter (which the judges all agreed could be crèmier), a divine looking salted-peanut caramel ice cream and a peanut butter cupcake. MacKay, meanwhile, went the simplicity-in-complexity route, with a lemon custard and a half-dozen strawberry components. Round 3: Toss-up.
And the winner is…
The poor chefs found themselves spirited back to Toronto for their final appearance at the judges’ table. At this point, to be honest, we were having a hard time calling the winner. Would MacKay’s fussy appetizer hold him back? Was Rossi’s comfort food too rich and unsophisticated? Did DeSousa play it too safe? For what it’s worth, our viewing party was evenly split between Team Rossi and Team DeSousa.
Following the usual Top Chef finale script, Andrews stared DeSousa in the face and said, “Connie. [Pregnant pause.] You are not Canada’s next Top Chef.” DeSousa was sent back to the stew room, where she found her mother and husband, who awarded her the consolation prize of “our Top Chef anyway.” Next, Andrews fixed her gaze on MacKay like some ancient deity, and intoned the words that have no doubt reverberated in the Vancouver chef’s head every day since then: “Dale. [Pregnanter pause.] You are Canada’s Top Chef!” MacKay gasped, embraced a gracious Rossi, and turned around to discover his mom and adorable son Aidan (wearing a fetching cap)—all of which went a long way toward melting our hearts for the chef who’d been cast as the Cocky One all season. Kudos to him and good luck with his new Vancouver restaurant, Ensemble. As for hometown boy Rob Rossi, we have a feeling we’ll be hearing from him again soon.
Check back later today for our post-victory Q&A with MacKay.
The final Top Chef Canada leaderboard: