Q&A with Lisa Ray, the new host of Top Chef Canada, on the joys and perils of eating for a living

Q&A with Lisa Ray, the new host of Top Chef Canada, on the joys and perils of eating for a living

(Image: Top Chef Canada/Insight Productions)

Yesterday we told you that actress and former model Lisa Ray had been pegged to replace Thea Andrews as host of Top Chef Canada. We caught up today with the 39-year-old Torontonian to try to pry some secrets about the second season, which airs March 12 on Food Network Canada. For the most part, we failed. Still, Ray did tell us a bit about working with Mark McEwan, turning into a professional eater and learning about food on the job. Read our Q&A with her after the jump.

We’ve read that you’re a fan of the original Bravo series. What do you like about it?

For a reality TV show, it’s incredibly respectful to the craft of cooking and really shows off what it means to be a chef. And, of course, on top of that, there’s all the drama of the very strong, eccentric personalities and the crazy challenges. I think we’re bringing more of that excitement to this season of Top Chef Canada; we have some really creative challenges and some great chefs.

Did you take any notes from Padma Lakshmi, the host of the American version of the show?

I know Padma; she’s a great girl. But no, I didn’t take notes from her, or anyone else, per se. I just tried to be myself.

What is your role as the host? Do you get to take part in the judging?

I’m basically the air-traffic controller for the show—I lay out the quickfire and elimination challenges, explain each portion of the show and make sure the chefs know where they are supposed to be and what they should be doing. At the judges’ table, I get to be candid and contribute my opinions about the food, but obviously the final word is with Mark McEwan, the head judge.

When we spoke with Padma last month, she commented that it’s part of the job to be a little reserved on camera. Did you feel the same pressure?

There is a serious component to the job—we are, after all, giving away $100,000 and the title of Canada’s top chef, so I have to be very professional and maintain the integrity of the show. But there are moments when I try to be more conversational or where I can’t hide my emotions or my enthusiasm, especially at the judges’ table.

So do you try to come across as the all-knowing judge?

God, no. I have no pretenses about being a chef or a know-it-all foodie. I try to ask the chefs questions about things I don’t know, like “what does ‘confit’ mean?” I think the audience at home has similar questions, too.

What was it like working with Mark McEwan?

Phenomenal. He’s smart, witty and a hell of a lot of fun. It might not be his role on the show to fun, but he is in person.

Given your background, are you extra hard on competitors who make Indian or Polish food?

That would be so unfair of me. But I think that’s one of the great things about living in Toronto, where there’s so much mixing. It means we can all loosen up on what we think of as traditional cuisines.

You must have had to eat a lot of food as the host. Did you also have to seriously increase your yoga routine?

Ha! You know, I really had no tactics going into this because I didn’t know what to expect. I just got into and started eating the food (most of which was delicious, although sometimes… not so much). Over the season, I packed on the pounds, but I did it unapologetically (my dress size just went up). A lot of people think that being a model or an actress is all about denial, but as a cancer survivor, this is my second act, and for me, food is life.