Top Chef Canada recap, episode 4: something offal
Last night’s episode of Top Chef Canada seemed perfectly calibrated to appeal to the foodie audience, from the chef skills quickfire to the guest judge spot by San Francisco’s offal king Chris Cosentino (whose trip to Toronto was memorably recounted on Twitter last year). And we’ll be honest: we fell for every last bit of it (more like this, please). The episode started with Gabriell Cruz anointing Victor’s David Chrystian as the “sleeping giant” of the competition (presumably because he keeps ending up on the bottom, despite owning a stake in his restaurant). But would that sleeping giant rise to take his rightful place? Find out in this week’s recap.
This is the challenge that contestants dread but TV audiences relish: the blind taste test. Sure, it’s not in the least applicable to the day-to-day running of a kitchen, but it provides a primal baseline against which to judge a chef’s raw skill. And this time, it could hardly get more primal: with Lisa Ray by his side, head judge Mark McEwan walked the chefs through 14 different types of meat, each neatly skewered on a fork. There were some memorable flubs (Gabriell told the confessional cam, “If you get chicken wrong you’re a total douchebag,” before getting chicken wrong) and some impressive gets (Ryan Gallagher correctly identified boar after noting it was like “meat bubblegum”). After the first round, the two remaining women (Trista and Elizabeth Rivasplata) ended up on the bottom, with only two of the 14 meats correctly identified, and four chefs—Jonathan Korecki, Sergio Mattoscio, Ryan and Gabriell—tied for first place with five correct IDs.
Those four proceeded to a sudden death taste-off of non-meat ingredients, complete with appropriately dire suspense movie music. In the first round, Ryan and Gabriell were bested by a petri dish full of bee pollen, which the former identified as “gross powder” (he wasn’t wrong). Jonathan and Sergio were then presented with a dish of oil, which the two gamely swilled as the eliminated chefs looked on in wonder. Jonathan admitted that he’d never tasted it before, but his deep cheffy instincts taught him it could only be one thing—avocado oil! He was right, and he took the win from Sergio, whose guess was grapeseed oil. For shame.
Immediately following Jonathan’s win, Ray announced that the chefs would be preparing a 13-course offal tasting menu to be judged by Consentino, which elicited more than a few panicked faces (both Ryan and Sergio confessed they had basically no experience with the stuff). The chefs drew knives to determine which animal part they’d be rendering palatable, but before they could get comfortable with their fate, there was a twist—Jonathan, as the quickfire winner, got to swap (and thus swipe) meats with any chef. He wisely took the veal sweetbreads away from Trevor Bird. In a twist-the-knife bit of cruelty that only a TV producer could come up with, Jonathan then had to make two other competitors swap, which handed David some relatively easy-to-cook duck liver and gave Gabriell some downright nasty lamb tripe. All this caused Carl Heinrich, who looked pretty pleased with his beef heart, to quip that the swap was, ahem, “tough to swallow” (he was punning with abandon all episode).
As the chefs got to cooking, it was pretty obvious who was in big trouble. Sergio couldn’t decide between braised beef tongue and beef tongue poutine, so he started working on both (Top Chefs need to focus!), while Gabriell kept retching as he sniffed his vile-looking tripe stew concoction. At one point, Elizabeth told the confessional cam that tripe was perfectly lovely if only you knew how to prepare it—but that “it all depends on the chef.” Burn!
The final preparations and tasting took place at Parkdale’s Parts and Labour, with a hatted and well-tatted Matty Matheson joining Shereem Arazm, Ray, McEwan and Cosentino for the tasting. Watching Cosentino eat was like signing up for a master class in the finer points of tasting. He paid close attention to the knife skills of the contestants (Carl and Jonathan both got kudos for that) and took apart the flavour profiles of the various dishes with a keen analytical rigour. He also didn’t pull any punches: sure, Trista got props for making her own rye bread, but her Cosentino dismissed her pork tongue pastrami as overcooked and dry.
At the top of the pack this week were Elizabeth, who made pig’s ears two ways; Carl, who served his heart in a brunchy steak ’n’ eggs style; Jimmy, with the milky veal brains; and David, who made what McEwan called a “beautifully weird dish”: duck liver ice cream. Judging by the awed looks on the judge’s faces when they first tasted the perfectly textured dessert, this decision was a no-brainer. David, the season’s sleeping giant, strolled away from the judge’s table with the win and a prize of $2,500 in Le Creuset cookware (bonus tearjerker: “I’m ecstatic about that prize. I’ve lost a lot of Creuset cookware that I’ve had in the past, and that’s just simply through separation and divorce”).
The bottom chefs were a predictable bunch: Gabriell (smelly tripe), Trista (dry pork tongue pastrami), Curtis (too-lean sausages in lamb intestine) and Sergio, who decided late in the competition on the poutine and served it with last-minute shaved truffles and gravy that the judges thought tasted suspiciously like a bouillon cube dissolved in cream. In another no-brainer, Sergio had to suffer the indignity of being a Québécois chef sent home for poutine. “If I was doing poutine, it should have been the best poutine they’ve ever had,” he said, ruefully.
Next time on Top Chef Canada
The chefs are asked to “take a trip back in time,” which seems to involve time capsules, Walkmans, funny sunglasses and, well, Alan Thicke. Your guess is as good as ours.
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