Top Chef Canada recap, episode 2: hokey doke
The original U.S. version of Top Chef tries to maintain a steely cool tone with the chefs run ragged and constantly at each other’s throats (witness the bullying of poor Beverly Kim this season). The Canadian version, however, has never been afraid of sustained periods of hokeyness—which might explain last night’s episode featuring celebrity tough-guy contractor Mike Holmes. We can’t say exactly what culinary expertise Holmes brought to bear on the competition. We can say, though, that Holmes’s wildly popular renovation shows all air on HGTV Canada, which is mostly owned by Shaw, which also owns most of Food Network Canada. So whatever else his appearance was, it was a fine display of brand convergence in the best Top Chef fashion.
As the chefs entered the GE Monogram kitchen (the camera panning to display an improbably placed roll from sponsor SpongeTowels), they were confronted with a large display covered by a sheet. “For this quickfire you’ll be using a whole new set of tools,” said host Lisa Ray before revealing—you guessed it—household tools like hammers, saws and set squares. On cue, in strolls Holmes in short sleeves, who quickly warns the chefs, “I’m not expecting to see any crap in here and I’m not gonna put up with it!” The challenge: using only the household tools, “construct” (get it?) a refined dish for a self-described “meatitarian.”
While some chefs, like Trevor “I’m not a handyman at all!” Bird and Sarah “Oh no!” Tsai expressed reservations, most quickly realized that saws and exacto knives do a decent job of cutting meat and veggies (Jimmy Stewart took a particularly mean-looking saw to some celeriac, although sadly we didn’t get to see what he created with it). At the bottom of the heap this time, Trevor, Ryan Gallagher and Elizabeth Rivasplata, three chefs who, foolishly, served fish to the meat-mad handyman. At the top, Carl Heinrich, with a massive pork chop and mashed potatoes, Trista Sheen, with a hefty chicken salad sandwich, and the winner, Gabriell Cruz of Quatrefoil, whose thick sausage and onion velouté with poached mussels wowed Holmes despite his initial reservations. For our part, we were wowed at all the f-bombs this usually mild-mannered chef dropped.
The chefs drew knives to form three teams of five, each charged with catering a lunch for 100 hungry construction workers, who turned out to be Habitat for Humanity volunteers. As the teammates sized each other up, Ray dropped the episode’s second big bit of brand convergence—this season, the chefs would be doing their frantic grocery shopping at head judge Mark McEwan’s Don Mills store, McEwan. Which meant that at least one chef—Jimmy, in this case—had to remark during the spree, “It’s shocking how good McEwan’s is!” (Your co-contestants thank you for taking one for the team, Jimmy.)
Unlike pretty much every previous episode of every season of every version of Top Chef, there was practically no drama or infighting on any of the teams. Of his yellow team, Victoria’s Kunal Ghose said, “I’m usually the leader, but working with these guys right now, I don’t really have to be” (setting up a classic directionless-crew plot line). At the construction site the next day, the teams stuck to business, saving the smack talk for the confessional cam. (Jonathan Korecki, who pressed 100-plus tortillas on-site for his green team, called out the yellow team for their store-bought version, a total chef burn.) Frenchman Xavier Lacaze said he hoped he hadn’t taken too big a risk in making a brownie for his yellow team, to which we say, it’s a friggin’ brownie, man! David Chrystian and Carl, meanwhile, worried their red teammate Elizabeth was overambitious with her three (yes, three) dishes: barbecued chicken, lemonade and apple slaw.
The tasting proved pretty entertaining, with Holmes playing the clueless clown and resident judge Shereen Arazm playing the gal who gets to sit besides Holmes’s huge biceps and their prominent “Make it right” tattoo. After all the “construction workers” had their fill and Habitat CEO Neil Hetherington put in his two cents, the judges awarded top place to the green team: Elizabeth, Carl, David, Jonathan and Gabriell. The individual win, despite David and Carl’s oh-so-Canadian reservations about ambition, went to Elizabeth, whose apple slaw, of all things, led him to exclaim, “I wanna hug Elizabeth!” (It seems like you can teach old carnivorous dogs new tricks.)
The worst team was the team which got along the best: the yellows. Trevor’s gazpacho blended to silkiness in a vitamix? Too homogenous and “amateur.” Joel Aubie’s barbecued salmon? Not exactly barbecue-appropriate food. Xavier’s “risky” brownie? More of a cake apparently, and not a particularly good one at that. But the big loser this week was Kunal, whose harissa yogurt–marinated grilled pork on a flat bread (which he insisted was *not* to be confused with a taco) was so bland that Arazm said it may as well have been turkey (the horror!).
Next time on Top Chef Canada
Last season’s host Thea Andrews is back, and she’s huge (as in super-pregnant, just like Arazm). The challenge: cater a baby shower for the two ladies. Expect more frantic running around and Trevor exclaiming “Why am I cleaning your fucking mess?” Sounds like a hoot.
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