We chat with Top Chef Canada contestants at Thursday’s mock quick-fire

We chat with Top Chef Canada contestants at Thursday’s mock quick-fire

The chefs scramble for produce (Image: Mishki Vaccaro)

Thursday afternoon, Top Chef Canada head judge Mark McEwan, alongside host Thea Andrews, held a mock quick-fire challenge at the Art Gallery of Ontario to promote the show’s April 11 debut. Top Chef fans that we are, we couldn’t resist. The six Toronto-based contestants gave it their best shot in the AGO’s catering kitchen and offered up a few sound bites about the competition. Considering the notorious secrecy surrounding the U.S. version of the show, we’ll probably have to wait until the season finale for any really juicy behind-the-scenes gossip, but we did chat with contestants Steve Gonzalez, Rob Rossi and Dustin Gallagher about their struggles in the Top Chef Canada kitchen. 

In his opening remarks, McEwan emphasized the high degree of pressure contestants are under during filming, and said the show was something of a platform for a healthy East vs. West Coast rivalry to play out. As if on cue, the mock quick-fire featured West Coast Kumamoto oysters, East Coast tuna and foie gras from Quebec. McEwan challenged the contestants to produce a minimum of 25 cocktail portions in one hour featuring the secret ingredients.

A friendly camaraderie among the chefs was evident from the get-go: “Do you even know how to use that?” asked one chef. “I don’t even know what I’m grabbing,” replied another, to which Grace’s Gallagher teased, “That’s a chive.” Laughs all around. While this mock challenge displayed a less-than-fiery competitive spirit, we got a glimpse of kitchen drama when Rossi and Gallagher cut themselves while prepping—at times like this, it’s a good thing Polysporin is one of the show’s sponsors. (No, seriously.) Unlike in a real quick-fire, the dishes weren’t judged and no winner was announced.

Gonzalez, the chef de cuisine at Origin, prepared a ceviche with tuna and oyster along with salt-cured foie gras. “It was a good group of people; we were all just doing our thing,” he said of the competition. So did all the chefs get along? “Some of us a little better than others,” Gonzalez admitted. “But that’s given when you get a bunch of professionals in a room.” It seems like nothing fazes Gonzalez, who cooked for McEwan prior to being on Top Chef Canada: “I like to think that I’m going to make the same food for everybody every time. I don’t change anything about me, my food, for nobody,” he said. (There’s that tough-guy image Gonzalez introduced in his audition video.)

Mercatto’s Rossi, on the other hand, was excited to cook for McEwan and the other judges: “Any criticism they give you, it’s well constructed….it feels the right way. And honestly, it was really cool to cook for [McEwan]. I would do it any time.” For the mock quick-fire, he prepared a tuna crudo with cucumber, kumamoto oyster, black pepper-rhubarb reduction and foie gras oil.

Gallagher—the show’s resident adorable chef—was reluctant to even audition in the first place: “I was like, is this going to be another production of an American show? And is it going to get the same point across? And am I up to the challenge of it, am I ready for this?” He must have been, since he made three dishes for his mock quick-fire: whole roasted foie gras with spiced cider glaze; kumamoto oyster with rhubarb and pink peppercorn mignonette; and tuna with papaya and avocado salsa and a lotus chip.

So what was the best part of this reunion for the Toronto Top Chef Canada contestants? “No dishes!” Gallagher joked to his fellow chefs, high-fiving Andrea Nicholson of Great Cooks. All this esprit de corps was fun to watch, but we’re hoping that a few more sparks fly in the actual competition.

Top Chef Canada debuts tonight at 9 p.m. on Food Network Canada. Check back on Tuesday for a recap of the episode.