Top Chef Canada recap, episode 5: the Thicke of it
The opening of last night’s episode of Top Chef Canada revived a time-honoured trope from season one: chefs in their skivvies. This time around, it was Victor’s David Chrystian (last episode’s victor, as it happens) who launched himself, shirtless, out of his top bunk to quell a screaming alarm clock. The episode was also a return to form for the show’s fabled product placement division, with an entire challenge focused around a sponsor’s product, and a nice showcase for some cheffy temper flare-ups. Oh, and it featured a guest judging spot by “Canadian icon” Dr. Jason Seaver Alan Thicke, for reasons we can’t quite fathom—not that we’re complaining.
Host Lisa Ray introduced the quickfire challenge with two big reveals: first, Toronto Maple Leafs alternate captain Colby Armstrong would be judging the challenge; and second, the chefs would have to incorporate (product placement drum roll) various flavours of Tostitos into snacks both appropriate for watching a hockey game and “worthy of a Top Chef.” Cue fallen faces from the two remaining contestants who weren’t born in the land of hockey and nachos: Frenchman Xavier Lacaze (whose perplexity was even accompanied by some “I’m-the-token-Frenchie” music) and Peruvian Elizabeth Rivasplata.
Near the end of the 45 minutes of cooking (which contained much pulverizing and battering of mass-market flavoured chips) came a preview of simmering tensions to come, as the chefs vied for the lone deep fryer. David got there first, with an insane-looking Double Down–like concoction (the bun was made of tempura-fried nachos), followed by Trevor Bird. But before he could get his jalapeño poppers into the hot oil, Elizabeth butted in line and dropped in her Tostito-crusted chicken nuggets, causing much harrumphing. Among the worst dishes were Joel Aubie’s onion rings, whose crust (guess what it was made out of) kept falling off, and Jonathan Korecki, whose jalapeño poppers, according to Armstrong, did not pop sufficiently (“I don’t think I would tell him how to skate,” the chef muttered to the confession cam). At the top were Elizabeth, Gabriell Cruz, who made an haute take on the Works, and the winner, Xavier, who made a chicken finger with candied tortilla and salsa.
Pivoting 180 degrees from the quickfire challenge, Ray proclaimed, rather gnomically, that “to know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve come from”—at which point, the camera pulled back to reveal a dozen faux time capsules wreathed in dry ice smoke. Each chef was assigned a decade, with the contents of the capsule designed to serve as an inspiration for a cocktail canapé that would represent that decade (no, this really didn’t make a whole lot more sense on screen). And who better to judge a survey of the past than, as Ray actually put it, “a fellow Canadian who’s been a pop culture icon for more than four decades: Alan Thicke!” (Various chefs then offered not-altogether-convincing avowals of how excited they were to see the icon in the flesh.)
As the cooking got underway, major sparks started emerging between Elizabeth and most of the rest of the kitchen. First, she grabbed an oven that Jimmy Stewart had reserved, to dehydrate some tomatoes. He challenged her on it, she refused to back down, and pretty soon, F-bombs were going off left and right—and not just on the confession cam. “Thanks for the help, Liz,” barked an exasperated Stewart sarcastically. “I’ll never fucking help you again!” Trevor, once bitten during the quickfire, opined that she was being “needlessly bitchy.” The whole sequence was reprised right before the cocktail party started at the Distillery District’s Fermenting Cellar, when Liz got in a tiff with Gabriell over the presentation table and prep space they were sharing. “Don’t touch my shit!” she called out. “Don’t ever do that again—’cause I’m going to embarrass you!”
When the tasting finally got underway, it soon became clear that Thicke was there to provide a little schticky comic relief (after eating Liz’s 1920s garlic butter escargot vol-au-vent with eggplant caponata, he quipped, “My breath feels fresh as a daisy”). Trista Sheen’s 1970s-inspired take on a fruit punch bowl, meanwhile, served as a reminder that that decade was when “people started smoking herbs, and I think there was a munchie factor here.” (Zing!) Munchie factor or not, Trista ended up at the top of this week’s heap. She was joined by Xavier, who made a chicken liver profiterole to evoke the hard times of the ’30s; Curtis Luk, who again showed off his dessert chops, this time with a cute little lemon meringue pie with ginger-spiced shortbread that somehow evoked the ’40s; and the winner, Carl Heinrich, who went the diner route for his ’50s-inspired dish—a homemade burger concealing a little piece of foie gras, served on a homemade bun with aged cheddar and Branston pickle. Adventurous? Probably not. But he did manage, as Thicke put it, to “take our taste buds back in time.”
Less successful were usually badass Gabriel, who served ’20-inspired tea sandwiches with a sad little fruit cup; Ryan Gallagher, whose 1970s olive oil poached salmon melt was judged worse than his mom’s tuna melt; Jimmy, who raised heady judge Mark McEwan’s ire by trying (and failing) to aerosolize camembert (had it worked, it would have been pretty awesome); and Joel Aubie, who served a perfectly nice-looking ’50s glazed ham with pineapple. Sadly for Joel, the judges all agreed that a bit of ham just wasn’t going to cut it for Top Chef Canada. As Thicke put it, “You’re not going to walk into a cocktail party and say, ‘Whoa, you got ham? Can I get that on a cracker? Is that a pineapple glaze? Let me at it!’”
Susur Lee presides over Restaurant Wars—wait, what? Doesn’t this usually take place when there are only eight chefs left, not 11? Also: how do you make two teams out of 11 chefs? And why would you want to? Find out, we suppose, next week.
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