Top Chef Canada recap, episode 9: the prez
TOP CHEF CANADA
Season 1 | Episode 9
For any viewers who found the Milestones sponsorship in episode seven of Top Chef Canada unbearable, it’s probably a good thing you were too busy watching the Canucks get trounced by the Bruins to witness last night’s episode, which sometimes felt a bit like a glorified, 42-minute President’s Choice ad. Still, seeing the contestants squirm around the constraints of the challenge made for far more entertaining viewing than watching the obliteration of Canada’s Stanley Cup hopefuls. Plus, the editing in the introductory scenes didn’t manage to give away who would be eliminated—a definite improvement over some previous episodes. After the jump, our recap of how it all went down.
The guest judge this time around was Roger Mooking—one-time chef and co-owner of Nyood and Kultura and host of Everyday Exotic, as well as a ’90s R&B heartthrob—who opened the episode with a mini-lecture on the virtues of knowing your ingredients (short version: sometimes you wanna highlight them, other times you wanna “mould” them, whatever that means). The chefs drew knives sporting a number from four to 16, which turned out to represent the number of ingredients they were allowed to use for the challenge (salt, pepper and olive oil conspicuously provided by sponsor Filippo Berio did not count toward that total).
After 45 minutes of the usual running around, Mooking presided over an unusually entertaining tasting. When he called out Dale MacKay’s 12-ingredient mussel velouté—inspired no doubt by this recipe from his boss Daniel Boulud—for having too much saffron, we got to see the west coast chef’s know-it-all temper flare as he coughed out, “I don’t think it’s overpowering!” (Word to MacKay: talking back to the judges is rarely worth it.) At the top of the heap were the contest’s two remaining women, Connie DeSousa, who somehow managed to make her own pasta (10 ingredients) in the 45 minutes allotted, and Andrea Nicholson (Great Cooks on Eight), who took home the win for, of all things, a basic butternut squash soup (six ingredients), which Mooking praised for its big, bold flavours. Instead of immunity from elimination, Nicholson was given an unlimited budget to shop for the elimination challenge.
With her usual showmanship, host Thea Andrews announced that for the elimination challenge, the chefs would be “working with Canada’s number one brand…President’s Choice!” The chefs stood there gawking, their faces stuck between disbelief (MacKay in particular) and glee (Crumb, who relished the chance to “interact with real people”). The challenge? Using up to five PC ingredients, create a dish that could be easily mastered by home cooks, and set up a demonstration and sampling station at a Loblaws store to show off the dish. Cue the frenzied dash for PC products and half-hearted endorsements by various chefs of their favourites. After inspecting the various “Memories of…” sauces, Nicholson announced, confusingly, “I wanna make a memory.” For his part, Dustin Gallagher of Grace pronounced himself a fan of PC’s ricotta. We should probably also note that, yes, each commercial break brought a grinning Galen Weston Jr. shilling Decadent chocolate chip ice cream sandwiches and reduced-sugar drinks.
The fairly silly challenge brought out some pretty decent cooking from the contestants. Mercatto’s Rob Rossi, atoning for his poop-on-a-plate chocolate mousse showing from last episode, made a fantastic-looking maple custard with sautéed bananas, of which Andrews exclaimed, “Everything about this is right!” Gallagher also redeemed himself after his gummy gnocchi from last week with a ricotta gnudi with mushrooms and sage brown butter (he serves something similar at Grace). Head judge Mark McEwan liked the dish enough to address the elephant in the room: Gallagher’s irrepressible puppy-dog cuteness. “I think the adorable factor is really ramping up,” he noted. “He’s a really cute kid.” The producers wisely accompanied this with a shot of the young chef’s giant grin.
Also noteworthy was François Gagnon’s magical ability to turn confit chicken thigh wrapped samosa-style in phyllo pastry into something the average Loblaws shopper would feel comfortable making at home. But the real success was MacKay, who showed for the first time that he could go beyond his complex, precision-executed fare and actually follow the rules of a challenge. His winning dish was pure home-cooking comfort: barbecue sauce–laden pulled pork braised in a slow cooker and served on a bun with a horseradish coleslaw. He used the same PC chipotle barbecue sauce as Gagnon, prompting Andrews to declare, “That product is a real winner!” Cringe. Before announcing the winner of the challenge, Mooking summed things up with a sentiment that seems to perfectly encapsulate the ethos of the Canadian edition of Top Chef: “At the end of the day, we really like really simple things that push our boundaries very slightly.”
The two dishes at the bottom ended up there for opposite reasons. DeSousa decided that home cooks needed to be taught how to make their own sausages, serving up chicken, foie gras and truffled (!) pigs in a blanket, which ended up tasting just like their frozen counterpart. If she was overambitious, Crumb was a tad too simple, putting out ricotta-stuffed manicotti with a red sauce and a Parmesan wafer. In the end, while the judges chided DeSousa for her unrealistic yet insipid creation, they couldn’t get over the awfulness of Crumb’s pasta dish (“He really disappoints with a thud,” McEwan remarked, wistfully). On his way out, Crumb, the baby of the group, couldn’t help but make a few hokey hockey references (“I guess the puck stops here”). We hope the fall of this former Vancouverite isn’t an omen.
Next time on Top Chef Canada
The chefs are asked to make three meals that represent a day in the life of Canadian food (whatever that means). DeSousa makes the often-fatal mistake of using store-bought puff pastry (again). MacKay speculates that she might be out of ideas, but Nicholson backs her up. And Lynn Crawford of Truffles and Ruby Watchco fame utters this doozy at the tasting table: “What was this gentleman thinking?” We’re not sure which gentleman she’s referring to, or what he was thinking, but we can’t wait to find out.
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