Top Chef Canada recap, episode 1: playing with knives
TOP CHEF CANADA
Season 1 | Episode 1
Like most fans of the original, American Top Chef, we came to last night’s premiere of Top Chef Canada with some pretty serious expectations. Would the level of competition be as fierce? Would Thea Andrews be credible as the host? Could we blindly trust head judge Mark McEwan the way we do Tom Colicchio? Would the producers be able to cram in as many egregious product placements?
We needn’t have worried. Top Chef Canada is eerily similar to the original—same structure, same music, same sound effects, same stock phrases—but with an extra dash of Canadian hokeyness added in. Here, our recap of the best dishes, quips and insidious sponsorship.
After the obligatory shot of a Porter airplane soaring above Toronto’s skyline, the show opened with the usual introductions of the contestants and their respective story lines. Todd Perrin, the lone East Coaster, got to play the Old Guy (“It’s gonna be interesting for me to get next to the young bucks and see if I still got the chops”) while Origin’s Steve Gonzalez is this season’s resident Badass (“I’m gonna win this competition, and if you get in my way, I just might stab you”) and François Gagnon fulfills the French Guy quotient (first words: “Bon soir”). Our favourite moment came when Mercatto’s Rob Rossi delivered the obligatory “Oh my God!” after walking into what looked like a generic, barely-decorated Toronto condo.
The inaugural quickfire challenge consisted of four heats (but not before Rebekah Pearse took one for the team by marvelling over the Le Creuset cookware in the GE Monogram kitchen). First, the chefs were given a whole red snapper, and the first eight to fillet it without beating it up too badly (like Grace‘s Dustin Gallagher did) advanced to the next round. The remaining eight chefs were given a boatload of artichokes and told to peel as many as they could in five minutes (Gonzalez, whose reaction was “What the fuck, I don’t remember the last time I peeled an artichoke,” failed to move on). Round three challenged the final four make a perfect hollandaise, with Rossi and Gagnon both disqualified for inexplicably adding tarragon to the mix (didn’t your moms ever teach you the difference between a béarnaise and a hollandaise?). The final two, Connie DeSousa and Dale MacKay, were given 20 minutes to prepare a dish using the ingredients from the previous round. MacKay’s pan-roasted snapper with black garlic potatoes beat out DeSousa’s poached fish with parsley salad, netting him mad props all around and the coveted immunity from elimination. He also got to indulge in some Top Chef–standard hubris—“I’m gonna try to win every challenge. I’m not looking to sit back. There’s no way!”—proving that all reality television is actually based on Sophocles.
Top Chef Canada’s first elimination challenge asked the chefs to cook a dish that would show the judges just who they were. After 30 minutes at Loblaws (the Jarvis and Queen’s Quay location, we think), the 16 chefs got down to business. The most daring dish: Perrin’s braised seal flipper. The most perplexing: Clayton Beadle’s roasted lamb loin with a blueberry rub. In an ingenious bit of sponsorship, right before time ran out, Gonzalez cut himself and we were treated to a cutaway shot of a first-aid kit full of Band-Aids and Polysporin. Andrea Nicholson of Great Cooks on Eight wrapped up the challenge with a glorious F-bomb after she cut into her roast to discover undercooked, ruby-red lamb.
At the judging, we got the first real look at the hosts. Like Padma Lakshmi on the original show, Andrews joined in with the tasting and judging. Mercifully, she managed to tamp down her Entertainment Tonight bubbliness, although she didn’t quite manage Lakshmi’s breathy languor. Shereen Arazm was feisty like her Top Chef counterpart Gail Simmons (she even managed the immensely Simmons-like quip “I’m a chicken-and-waffles girl” in response to Derek Bocking’s homey maple-glazed salmon and buckwheat pancakes). Thank goodness head judge McEwan was in full-out crabby mode, serving as something of an antidote to all the cheerleading. This week’s guest judge was Vikram Vij of Vancouver’s celebrated Indian restaurant Vij’s, who won the “Did he just say that?” award when he likened Chris Kanka’s dish to “going on a date with a beautiful woman but not going anywhere further.”
At the top of this week’s heap: Gagnon, Bocking, Nicholson and Rossi, who ended up with the win for his seared B.C. halibut and butter-poached lobster with crème fraîche and tarragon foam (a sly nod to the tarragon-spiked hollandaise that got him booted from the quickfire round). In addition to earning the first win on Top Chef Canada, Rob took home $2,500 worth of Le Creuset loot. The four chefs with the worst dishes this time around were Michael Stauffer, Beadle, Jamie Hertz and an ashen-faced Kanka. Stauffer, who inexplicably served his roasted lamb on top of a congealed chèvre-infused consommé, suffered the indignity of being the first Canadian chef to be told, “Please pack your knives and go,” but not before McEwan described his dish as “well-intentioned, very confusing and really unappetizing.” Arazm noted that it “could be vomit.” Ouch.
At the beginning and end of the episode, we got some tantalizing hints about the what to expect for the rest of the season. Shouting! Running around! Guest spots by Simmons, Susur Lee and Daniel Boulud (whose two Vancouver restos both shuttered shortly after taping)! Oh, and it looks like next week’s challenge centres on Canadian cheeses and takes place at a cocktail party in some kind of art gallery. You better believe we’ll be watching.
Check out our recap of episode 2 »
24 thoughts on “Top Chef Canada recap, episode 1: playing with knives”
Top chef canada was terrible. First off, the spectrum of chefs is awfully white… I didn’t know that white is the only type of chef in this country. At least the Frenchies and gays are happy with their token representatives — it seems that is all that matters in this country and when they are not complaining about lack of visibility, the show can be accepted by the media.
Next, the show is forced and uninspired. If you are going to blatantly copy in all regards, at least have the same production quality. This looked low budget (whether it was or wasn’t) and can’t compare to the original show’s quality.
McEwan looks rather, um, constipated. He should have the contestants make him an exlax gelee sprinkled with spiced fibre and some prune foam. He is trying very hard… with his hideous open shirt/chest or his joan rivers face, he is not easy to watch. His opinions are not delivered well.
The host, whatever her name is, tried really hard to copy Padma. I am not a huge Padma fan, but am even less impressed with the contrived Padma copy cats…
The whole show lacks a confidence. Yes, it can be made and people will enjoy it, but that doesn’t mean that it is good – they don’t have a choice. If anyone has watched MasterChef Australia, it is enjoyable as the set up is unique to the personalities. They are comfortable with their own abilities to venture away from being an exact copy of the original offering. Even the American version, while watered down, catered to it’s strengths.
Original Canadian programming isn’t original if it is copied 100% from an american show. At least have personalities that are original. Everything is second rate.
A let down.
I am a huge Top Chef fan so was very excited to see a Canadian version of this great show. Mark McEwan is the perfect celebrity head judge. His co-host Thea however I am not sure of. It is too bad Dina from BT was not available as she would bring her spunky personality and style to this key role for the series.
Maybe in season 2????
Am I the only one who thinks that Rob Rossi’s Le Creuset prize is going to consist of the used pots & pans from the Top Chef kitchen? Or am I just being cynical? :)
An unimpressive start for Top Chef in our fine country. I’m sure the competition will be worth watching, although my first impression of the chefs was that there may be a small handful who are of the same calibre of their U.S. counterparts.
What was the bigger problem was the production. The video had A quality that made me wonder if I could match it with my decent HD camcorder and a little bit of studio lighting. The whole affair had that stench of mediocre Canadian TV and I found it kind of sad that such a big TV brand that has been done successfully in three different incarnations south of the border didn’t measure up as soon as it hit Canadian soil. I think the comment tha talks about a lack of confidence is bang on. Restaurant Makeover, for example, seems to have more personalty and it’s so by the numbers.
McEwan will likely grow on me. In fact, I was already warmer to him by the end of the first episode. The host? Just a crappy match for the show.
As I said earlier I’ll keep watching for the competition. I’m sure some of the chefs will pleasantly surprise me. I hope the production will too, but on that front I’m doubtful.
Great show – so glad I can view it online as I couldn’t get it last nite. Really looking forward to see what the cheese chalemges bring.
Can we please recast the host with someone a little (or a lot) less gameshowy and with actual culinary credentials?
What the hell was going on with the passing around of the plates? Would it be too much to ask for 4 portions?
Nice recap! I’m sorry now I missed the episode. I wouldn’t have expected such a weird quote from Vij. Glad they had him as a judge though, he’s very talented and brings some nice credibility. Not to mention that fact that he helps make the show less Toronto-centric.
Boring and awful. I won’t watch it again.
Agree with first post. How about representing Canada a little better with more than 2 cultures. Nice. Other than that and the sheer lack of creativity in the plates, the show is watchable.
I was very surprised by the very white group of chefs that were picked. Given that this is Canadian TV I was almost sure that we’d get a token chef from each “major” ethnicity and/or minority. But the fact that we didn’t doesn’t really bother me. The producers should pick those chefs with the most skill and the most entertainment value. Also, what was up with the passing of the plates. I don’t know why, but this really bothered me. Other than that, I thought show was almost on par as it’s American counter part.
What is with all the hate? Of course the show follows the format of the american version, it’s a part of the brand, and was produced in partnership with NBC! I am a long time fan of top chef in all of it’s incarnations and was happy to see the similarities. The judges are good and for the most part credible there will also be some big name guest judging; Vikrahm for one and with shots of Bolud and Susur to come… The cast looks strong Dale, Connie, Francois, Rob, and Steve are all major and relevant chefs in the country, and I’m sure theres a few more. The production looked good I was worried it would come off a little low budget I didn’t get that at all. Get on board Canada this is going to be a great season and a formidable competition!
I wholeheartedly agree with Lunchbag about the production quality. I really appreciate the non-originality that they have brought to TCC – look , you’re copying an already successful show – good on you for not changing it so much BUT live video? Really?!?! What annoys me more is that the previews showed it as film, not video. They really should fix this – because it makes the show seem off.
The food doesn’t look as good. This sounds weird – but I think film makes it look more pleasing than video.
I’m all for hi-def on these shows but the quality of the video really did it in for me.
That and while I can appreciate they are piggy-backing on the strengths of Top Chef USA, they really should try to get their hosts to be a little more original. As it played out, it looked like someone trying to mount their own “Top Chef” production with a camcorder and copying what Padma and Tom say.
Mark is a great judge – but the Quickfire walk through was just painful.
Totally agree. Even the original Top Chef had plenty of minority candidates – in fact, Hung and Kevin were Asian and Black respectively and both won. I think Top Chef Canada is indicative of Food Network Canada – a TV channel run by a bunch of pretentious white-bred bores.
Besides the lack of visible minorities, why does this show have so few females compared to Top Chef USA? I Googled the cast for the first season of Top Chef and there are 6 females out of 11 contestants.
Reading all the comments about Top Chef reminds me of listening to the government debate. Everyones more concerned about who’s representing who rather than who can cook. Sorry but I enjoyed the show just like it was, thanks to all the chefs for their efforts.
Since they copied the US version almost perfectly, could they not manage to produce an individual plate for each of the judges, like they do in the original. With all that’s wrong with this Canadian copy, this is what bothered me the most.
hey the Latino guy isn’t really white is he? ok it’s the first show, you really can’t judge too much until you are into the next one or two… give ’em a chance.. it’s a canadian thing to do !
From the results of the first show, I think the calibre of cooking is higher [so far] than in the American version.
I didn’t notice the lack of diversity when I watched the show, but I did seem to notice the lack of “wow” food. Normally I see a good number of dishes I want to try. The Canadian premier left me with “meh”. Really, steak and potatoes with bell peppers? I hope the chefs are just warming up.
Agree about passing the dishes. I’d have liked it if they all tried 1 dish at once.
I think that everyone needs to calm down about about the representation of different races or ethnic backgrounds. The picked the best out of the chefs that auditioned whether they be black, white, purple, yellow, male, female. I personally would hate to watch a show that was more concerned with what the show looked like, then the caliber of the cooking.
I agree also that everyone looked a little stiff, but it was their first episode ever taped. Colicchio and their crew have been at it for how many seasons? No wonder it is smoother with the kinks worked out.
I can’t wait to watch the show evolve! I am a big fan of the Top Chef and am glad to have it North of the border.,
What disappoints me the most, is the choice of grocery store. Loblaws???? REALLY??
Why not St. Lawrence Market or stick with Whole Foods (yes, I know it’s American) but one candidate couldn’t even find venison.
Now that I got that out of the way, I will still be watching. HA.
Just had to add my complaint like a true Canadian.
Here come the haters. I agree with TC Fan; you’d rather have a cast made up of 20% men, 20% women, 20% Asian, 20% Black and 20% White than choosing contestants based on their culinary expertise? That’s just nonsense.
Unfortunately also nonsensical is a Star TV personality as a host/judge paired with McEwan and his drab personality and chest hair as the faces of the show.
The final winner of Top Chef C anada was an insult to all chefs. Among the remarks on the last show criticing Dale’s food was “boring, stylized, needs more texture, borderline simple, overdone, over handled, missing an element, precious (whatever that means when describing food)”, and the most critical remark was made by Mark McEwan who called Dale’s cheating course…………..”showoff”. To me, these adjectives do not sound like the description of food made by a champion. Shame on you Food Network Canada and Mark McEwan. You rewarded a chef that cheated. The arrogant manner of Dale and his lack of good sportsmanship does not represent a winning Canadian chef. How very disappointing for the other two finalists who played by the rules and lost.
A simple solution would have been to make Dale choose only one of his entrees to be presented for judging just like the other finalists, but I guess that was too simple and fair.
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