Top Chef Canada: Taking The Challenge Home: Week 7

I do understand that I’m supposed to be ‘taking the challenge home’ weekly with this online endeavor, but I had a bit of a nag in my cooking plans this time around; I was spending the week in Vancouver, on, more or less, a ‘working’ vacation. Which begged the question: Where was I going to cook?

I debated trying to find out where one of the Real Housewives of Vancouver lived and sneaking into their kitchen, but was unsure as to whether or not I’d be arrested.

 

Finally, I decided it would be best safer to reach out to a Top Chef Canada alumni instead.

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If anyone could help me make this week’s assigned dish, David’s Chicken Noodle Soup Terrine, it would probably be Chef Dale Mackay. Does that name sound familiar? It should. Dale took home the title of Canada’s ‘Top Chef’ in last year’s inaugural season of Top Chef Canada.

Since the season ended last summer, he has opened up two popular establishments, Ensemble and Ensemble Tap, in downtown Vancouver.

 

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Luckily for me, Dale was able to take some time out of his busy schedule to help me tackle this terrine. We met up Thursday morning at the Granville Island Market to pick up some ingredients for the challenge. This public market is always one of my favourite places to stop by while visiting Vancouver. With tons of fresh produce, seafood and specialty items as far as the eye can see; it’s pretty easy to spend a lot of money here. Quickly.
After stocking up on the necessary items, and sampling some fresh apples, we headed back to Ensemble to start prepping the dish in the kitchen. It was only midday, but the Ensemble kitchen team was in full swing prepping for their evening service. Being behind the scenes, so to speak, at a restaurant like this always reminds me how much work goes into the dishes that are served to us as diners in an establishment.
I had never made terrine before, but knew it involved gelatin, meat and shoving things into a mould. What better way to learn than working with a Top Chef Canada winner, right?

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We started off by roasting the chicken thighs, and cooking off some chopped onions and garlic. While all of that was in the works, Dale had me soak the sheets of gelatin in cold water to reconstitute them. We then whisked the sheets into some hot chicken stock until they fully dissolved. Part of the gelatin mixture was put in the fridge to cool and set and the rest we kept warm to combine with rest of the ‘soup’ components.

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David’s original terrine listed ‘pearl pasta’ as a dish component. The most comparable item I could find at the market was Israeli couscous, which is, essentially, just jumbo-sized couscous. After boiling it, we tossed it in some herb oil and spinach puree. It became a vibrant green and, voila, a pearl pasta was born.

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The assembly was relatively simple. After the terrine had chilled and set, we sliced a nice round piece off, topped with the chicken broth jelly, a spoonful of the green couscous mixture, carrots, celery and a crispy piece of chicken skin. It did embody the essence of chicken noodle soup and came out surprisingly tasty. I could never see it being a hit on a regular restaurant menu, but you never know!

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I can’t thank Dale enough for helping me sort this dish out. Maybe I’ll start turning all kinds of things into terrines! The sky’s the limit folks! Also, just to address it…I suppose it may have technically been ‘cheating’ in my challenge to enlist Dale Mackay’s help and utilise his restaurant kitchen, but let’s just chalk this one up to me being out of town and resourceful, ok?

This coming week I’ll be in Ottawa, so who knows where I’ll be…

 

Chicken Noodle Soup Terrine

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What you’ll need…

• 8 chicken thighs (bone-in, skin on)
• 1 yellow onion (finely chopped)
• 2 cloves garlic (minced)
• 2 cups chicken broth
• 8 gelatin sheets
• ½ cup parsley (loosely chopped)
• 1 cup Israeli couscous (cooked)
• ¼ cup cooked spinach (pureed)
• 1 carrot (cut into matchsticks, blanched)
• 1 celery stalk (cut into matchsticks, blanched)
• salt and pepper
• olive oil
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Season the chicken thighs liberally with salt, pepper and olive oil. Roast in the oven until completely cooked through and skin is starting to crisp up, about 40 minutes. In a medium-sized pan, sautee the onion and garlic until softened, about 5-6 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside for now.

Next, bring the chicken stock to a simmer in a small pot on the stove. Soak the gelatin sheets in a ice water bath for a few minutes until they become reconstituted. Remove from water and squeeze out any excess liquid. Remove the broth from heat and whisk in the gelatin until fully dissolved. Pour approximately one cup of the broth into a small baking dish and place into the refrigerator to cool and set. Keep the remaining broth warm on the stove.

Once the chicken is cooked and has cooled slightly, take off the skin. Place the skin back onto a roasting pan and cook until dark brown and extra crispy, another 15 minutes or so. Remove the chicken meat from the bones and finely chop. Place into a large bowl with the cooked onion, garlic and parsley. Get a second bowl and fill with approximately 1” of water and some ice cubes and place the bowl with the chicken mixture on top. While mixing with a spoon or spatula, Slowly pour in the warm chicken broth/gelatin mixture into the bowl until it everything starts to thicken up.

Press mixture into a mould (a small loaf pan will do) or form into a cylinder-esque shape and roll tightly in plastic wrap. (Note: Using a mould is much easier!). Let the terrine cool in the fridge for at least 3 hours. Terrine should be cold and firm to the touch before being ready to cut into.

While you’re waiting, season the couscous with some salt and pepper and toss in the spinach puree. Set aside until you’re ready to plate.

Assembly
Cut a slice of terrine, top with a thin layer of the chicken broth jelly, followed by some of the couscous mixture, a few pieces of the blanched vegetables and, lasty, some crispy chicken skin…Enjoy…?

Serves 3-4

Total prep time…4 hours

 

Dan Clapson is a food writer and culinary instructor based out of Calgary. He is constantly creating new recipes and striving to expand his culinary horizons. He thinks yam fries are overrated.  

 

Related:

Macarons from Eat Live Travel Write

Adventures in macarons…  I swear, these will be the death of me. Each time I make them, they turn out differently. As I try to stress to my students, making macarons is all about practice. And whilst I am starting to understand a little more how they work, and there is a certain comfort in knowing they will always be slightly different, despite the fact that I follow pretty much the same recipe every time, the Taurus in me hates this.

 

Macarons_EatLiveTravelWrite_Main

 

This month, I am still working to battle hollow shells with my French meringue macarons and have changed up my recipe a little to lower the temperature and extend the baking time (300°F for 16 minutes). This month, the raspberry shells were amongst my best shells ever. Perfect-looking and perfect consistency. I used a little freeze-dried raspberry powder in these to give them a wonderfully tart raspberry flavour…

 

Macarons_EatLiveTravelWrite_1

Encouraged by the success of these, I felt like I should try the Italian meringue method again. Last time I tried this, I had fabulous results, so was keen to try again.  I imagined I might make “Cookies and Cream” macarons to incorporate a little colour for some visual appeal. Alas, it was not meant to be and my macaron shells ended up looking rather tipsy. Not sure what happened, except that my trays might be a little warped – this happened before but not to this extent. I mean, really – this is scary!

 

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Whoah, right? (and this is nothing fancy – it’s simply a tiny dob of different-coloured macaron mixture piped into the shell…)

 

In any case, the texture of these was pretty good – not hollow and nice and chewy inside so despite their weird appearance, I filled a few of them…

 

Macarons_EatLiveTravelWrite_3

 

These *tasted* great. I used chocolate ganache and a cream cheese frosting and put a little bit of both in. Weird looking, yet tasty. And certainly presentable. Right???

 

Not happy with these (yes, my name is Mardi and I am obsessed with macarons) I decided to go back to the French meringue method and just do some simple macarons with two different shell colours (white, plain shells and raspberry shells) filled with two different-coloured cream cheese frosting. The raspberry shells I made were perfect. Not hollow at all. The white shells were not completely hollow but were, in fact, very different than the raspberry shells – much more brittle and less chewy. Sigh. To add to my perplexed woes, the cream cheese frosting, normally so creamy and smooth, just didn’t work like it should. I mean, I make this multiple times a month and it NEVER looks like this (below).  It was more like a cream cheese spread than a frosting – sort of whipped butter crossed with cream cheese.  In any case, even if it wasn’t smooth and creamy, it tasted great – especially after a day in the fridge and brought to room temperature…

 

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But I am NOT a happy camper this month. Despite three very successful classes at le Dolci in the past four weeks, as well as a “girls’ night out macaron party” at a friend’s house all with pretty great results, of course it turns out that the ones I make to post on my blog are sub-par. Oh well, I need to believe what I tell my students, which is that one must make mistakes in order to learn, and always know that making macarons is like that elusive box of chocolates – “You never know what you’re going to get.” Onwards and upwards. There’s always next month!

 

This post participates in Mactweets. This month’s theme was “Colour my World”.

 

Stand up for REAL FOOD with me on May 19th. Find out how here.

 

Mardi_Michels Mardi Michels is a full-time French teacher and part-time food blogger based in Toronto. Her blog, eat.live.travel.write focuses on culinary adventures both near and far because she travels as often as she can!

Todd Perrin: The Making of Mallard Cottage

Some of you may know me from Top Chef Canada
where I competed on the very first season of the show. It was an
amazing experience and one that helped motivate me to take on my latest
project: opening my new restaurant, Mallard Cottage.

 

 Todd Perrin

 

Mallard Cottage is a 200-plus-year-old
piece of Newfoundland history, located right in the heart of Quidi Vidi
Village
on the eastern edge of downtown St. John’s. An important piece
of Irish Vernacular architecture, a provincial heritage icon, a national
historic site and hopefully soon home to our new restaurant! We have purchased this important site
with plans to save it, restore it and transform it into one of the
coolest places to eat in the entire country and we want you guys to come
along for the ride. Learn more about the restaurant in my first video blog below:

 

 

Follow our progress at www.foodnetwork.ca/toddperrin and on our twitter @mallard_cottage

You can also follow me @toddperrin
and get the inside scoop on our journey as we try+ to build one Canada’s
most interesting and fun places to enjoy great food, drink and friends.
Photo credit: Brian Ricks, www.brianricks.com 
Related:

Why San Francisco’s ‘Straw’ Restaurant Is A Needle In A Haystack

 

You’re never too old to enjoy the carnival.
That’s the concept behind Straw, a San Francisco hotspot specializing in
carnival-inspired comfort food.Opened in January, 2011, this playful eatery serves
up surprisingly sophisticated dishes with names like the Contortionist, the
Ringmaster and the Bearded Lady. We recently sat down with Straw co-owner Ari Feingold to learn more
about his unique restaurant.

BobBlumer_Straw
Q. What inspired
you to open a carnival-themed restaurant?

A. When I was young, a carnival came to my town every year and set up
at the Greek church three blocks away from my house. That was the one weekend
of the year that I was allowed to stay out all night. I’d stay until the
carnival was closed and then walk home. That was my first exposure to people
from outside my town as well as a great chance to stay out late, be with
friends and have a lot of fun.

Q. What did you
like most about the carnival: the games or the food?

A. I was particularly attracted to the games. It wasn’t until I got
older that I started to really appreciate the food. As I grew up I went to more
outdoor events like concerts and carnivals and I started to realize that when
you talk to anybody about these events they always talk about how much they
love the food and it’s s shame they can only get it once every so often. So I
decided to open a restaurant where you can get it all year round.

Q. One of your
dishes that really stands out from the pack is the Ringmaster. Where did you
come up with the idea of putting a cheeseburger between a pair of sugary
doughnuts?

A. The ringmaster was actually inspired by the Oklahoma State Fair. I
was originally planning on having food like corndogs and turkey legs, but in
doing my research I discovered that the Oklahoma State Fair was serving
hamburgers on Krispy Kreme donuts. So I found an amazing local doughnut place
in San Francisco and we added their doughnuts to our patties, which we make in
house. The Ringmaster has since become a very famous dish for us.

Q. What kind of
games can diners look forward to playing at Straw?

A. We incorporate a lot of different games. In the beginning we let
people throw balls and knock over bottles, but we had to scale back because of
the size of the space. We still bring them out for special occasions, but now
we have these plates with a blank face on them and every day we encourage our
diners to literally play with their food and make the coolest face.

Q. Speaking of
games, you are a self-proclaimed “Skeeball King.” Can you share a couple of
your tips with us?

A. The people that go for the 100’s on the top side of the machine are
the ones you want to play against. Those are the suckers, for lack of a better
word. The trick is to go for the 50’s and get nine 50’s which is the elusive
perfect skeeball score.

Q. If you didn’t own a restaurant, which carnival
job would you want to perform?

A. I’d want to run the Gravatron. I used to love it as a kid and, you
know, it gives you a chance to eat again.

Visit Straw online at
www.strawsf.com

Related:

Mint Julep from The Hot Plate

While bourbon may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it is near to impossible to deny how delicious a well-made Mint Julep is. The key to a successful cocktail is the quality of the liquor. In a cocktail like the Julep where bourbon is the star ingredient, using anything but quality will seriously jeopardize the end result. You don’t need to go out and drop $70 on a bottle of bourbon, but pick a notable small batch brand. I like using Maker’s Mark, which retails around $45/bottle. Plus, this delicious bourbon doubles as a key ingredient in my famous Bourbon Sour!

 

MintJulep_TheHotlate

 

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Total Time: 5 minutes

Serves: 1

 

Ingredients:

8 mint leaves plus additional sprig for garnish

2 ounces Maker’s Mark or other high-quality bourbon

1 teaspoon brown sugar, dissolved in 1 teaspoon of water

crushed ice

 

Instructions:

1. In a sturdy glass or cocktail shaker, muddle 8 mint leaves and a teaspoon of brown sugar.

2. Add 2 ounces of bourbon and stir.

3. Pack a cocktails glass or julep cup (if using) with ice until overflowing. Strain bourbon mixture into cup.

4. Stir drink until the outside of the cup frosts. Top with more ice, garnish with a fresh mint spring, and serve.

 

 Amanda_Garbutt Amanda Garbutt is the host of The Hot Plate a free online cooking show dedicated to inspiring culinary confidence in new cooks. The Hot Plate also offers regular cooking tips and advice, how-tos, and information on seasonal ingredients.

 

 

Top Chef Canada Live Blog Season 2, Episode 8

TCCLiveBlogTop Chef Canada episode eight (watch the preview) premieres Monday at 10pm ET/PT! In this episode, Chef McEwan puts the chefs’ skills to the test in the culinary skills Quickfire Challenge. For the Elimination Challenge, Top Chef Canada goes on location to feed the cast and crew of the hit Showcase series Lost Girl. The chefs must work as a team to create a Top Chef-worthy menu that follows the strict dietary needs for a hard working cast and crew. Executive Chef Michael Blackie from the National Arts Centre in Ottawa acts as guest judge.

 

Join us here Monday night and share your thoughts on the competition during the broadcast of the show via the live blog widget below. Pay close attention to the action in the Top Chef Canada kitchen during this episode and look out for our Live Blog giveaway! We’ll also be pulling in Top Chef Canada related tweets from the Twitterverse, so make sure you include the hashtag #topchefcanada in any tweets you send about the show.

Finally, make sure to check-in to the Top Chef Canada GetGlue page to collect exclusive stickers of all of this season’s chefs and more. Looking forward to chatting with you as we watch the Top Chef Canada competition unfold–speak to you soon!

Related

Bob’s Blog: Noshin’ at Bom-Bane’s

One of the joys of hosting World’s Weirdest Restaurants is that I
have the pleasure of meeting a variety of weird, wacky and wonderful
characters. Without question, one of my favorite people from Season One was Jane
Bom-Bane. As eccentrics go, Jane is in a league of her own. The indefatigable
singer/songwriter/actress/host/restaurateur is the heart and soul of her
eponymously named café in the charming seaside town of Brighton.

Bob Blumer Headshot2
On the day that we taped our segment, I
met Jane early in the afternoon, a few hours before the doors of her restaurant
opened for the night. Unlike some people who turn it on for the camera, Jane is
truly the same person off-camera as she is when the cameras are rolling: a
quirky punster who sees the world through rose-coloured glasses. When she
showed me the trick tables and built-in practical jokes, her face lit up with
excitement as if it was the first time she had ever revealed the secrets to how
they work. But the true piece de
resistance
of Bom-Bane’s is Jane’s hat collection—which is part genius and
part outsider art. What I love about the hats is that they are not highly
polished, finely tuned specimens. They are more like little kinetic high school
art projects that sit on your head. It’s easy to see the love and passion that
went into making them. The hats we saw her wear on the show were only part of
her collection. At any given time, she told me she has another half dozen in
various states of disrepair in her “workshop.” When she shared that with me, I
could detect a bit of sadness, because each hat represents a period of her
life. And when a hat is out of service, it takes part of her life story with
it.

As I type this, it occurs to me that
Jane shares the same sense of wonderment and enthusiasm for all things silly as
Pee Wee Herman.  Not surprisingly, both
are equally at home entertaining adults as they are entertaining
children—largely because of their child-like spirit. And kids latch onto them
because they treat kids as if they are adults. On the evening that we taped our
segment, most of the restaurant was taken over by a 12-year-old girl’s birthday
party. I’ve never seen bigger smiles.

If
you scratch below the surface, you discover that Jane is a serious artist. Her
lyrics are clever, her melodies are sweet, and her choruses are as catchy as a
top 40 radio hit. In fact, six months after hearing her perform her brilliant
opus “I’ve got a goldfish bowl on my head”, I
can still sing the refrain.

Related:

Pompano à la Nage from Derek’s Kitchen

One of my favourite ways to serve fish is “à la nage.” It’s a classic French dish whose name simply means “swimming.” In this recipe, fillets of pompano are swimming in a clam broth. A nage is a good dish for the spring and summer because it’s nice and light. Almost any fish can be served this way. Black cod and salmon are two good choices. I originally planned on making this with striped bass, but they didn’t have any at the market when I went to go get some. Instead I found pompano. It’s a white-fleshed fish from Florida that has a similar flavour to red snapper, but the flesh is even firmer and meatier. Whatever fish you do choose, make sure you get the bones too for flavoring the broth. I like to start with chicken stock for a deeper flavour, but you can make the fish stock using only water.

 

PompanoalaNage_DereksKitchen_Main

 

I pan-seared the fillets so that the skin would get nice and crispy, but alternately, you can poach the fish in the broth. The skin obviously wont crisp up when poached, so it’s better to remove the skin first if you are going to poach the fish. The fish sits atop a mound of carrot and leek “tagliatelle.” This is simply carrots and leeks that have been cut into ribbons and then poached in the broth until they have the texture of al-dente pasta. The dish is then garnished with a handful of crispy fried leeks to give it a bit of crunch.

 

If you are looking for a quick and easy solution for dinner, you can make a simplified version of this dish. You can skip making the clam broth and simply poach some vegetables and fish in chicken stock. It won’t have the full flavour of the long version, but it will still make a great dinner if you start with good fresh fish and vegetables.

 

PompanoalaNage_DereksKitchen_1

 

Cooking time: 1 hour

Prep time 20 minutes

Serves 2.

 

Ingredients:

400g pompano filets + bones

12 littleneck clams

1 leek

1 lbs carrots

1 small onion

1 head garlic

600 ml low-sodium chicken broth

200 ml dry white wine

1/4 bunch fresh thyme, 1 bay leaf (optional)

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup flour

1 cup vegetable oil

salt & fresh ground pepper

 

1. Peel the carrots and then, using the vegetable peeler, cut the carrots into long thin strips. Set the strips aside and place the cores of the carrots in a large pot. Cut the bottom part of the leek where the roots are and discard. Cut the white part of the leek into two 5cm (2 inch) pieces and set aside. Place the remaining green top in the stock pot with the carrots. Cut the onion and garlic in half (skin on) and add them to the pot. Add the chicken stock and half (100ml) of the white wine. If desired, add a few sprigs of thyme and one bay leaf. Add water if necessary to make sure the fish and vegetables are covered. Bring to a gentle boil and then let simmer for 45 minutes.

 

PompanoalaNage_DereksKitchen_2

 

2. Take one of two 5cm pieces of leek and cut it down the middle. Finely julienne the leek and then rinse in cold water. Heat one cup of oil in a small pot. Toss the julienned leeks in flour and then fry until just starting to brown, about 45 seconds. Transfer to paper towel.

 

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3. Cut the remaining leek into quarters lengthwise and then rinse in cold water. Put the clams in a pot with 100ml white wine. Let simmer with a lid on until all the clams are open, about 5-8 minutes. Remove the clams and then add the strained stock. Let simmer until reduced by half. Add the carrots and leeks to the broth then simmer until the vegetables are al-dente, about 3 minutes. Return the clams to the broth, stir in the butter and keep warm.

 

PompanoalaNage_DereksKitchen_4

 

4. Cut the fish into 2cm cubes. Heat a small amount of oil in a non-stick pan. Sear the fish skin-side down for four minutes. Turn the fish and cook the other side for two more minutes.

 

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To serve: Place a small pile of carrots and leeks in the center of two shallow bowls. Place six clams in each bowl. Place the fish over the vegetables and then pour in one cup of broth. Garnish the fish with crispy leeks.

 

DerekBockingDerek Bocking is a professional chef with over 15 years culinary experience. On his blog Derek’s Kitchen, he shares restaurant-style recipes for amateur gourmets to try at home, from quick and easy meals to more elaborate showstoppers.

 

 

Bob’s Blog: Chowing Down at Chodovar

If you have ever had a Czech beer, you
know that it’s as good as beer gets. So you can imagine my excitement when we
checked into our hotel in Chodova Plana, a tiny town two hours by car from
Prague, and discovered a mini bar full of 16-ounce beers—all for $1.10 each. I
thought that life couldn’t get any better. That was until I took a beer bath.
I’m not really a spa-going kinda guy, but if one is going to fork out for a
soak, I’ll take beer over epsom salts any time. Soaking in a four-legged tub
full of foamy bath-temperature beer—while drinking a chilled draft—is the male
equivalent of a free shopping spree at the Chanel outlet. At the end of the
day, I am not sure that my skin felt any softer, but it definitely had a good
time.

BobBlumer_Chodovar

During the segment I had a brief
discussion with the owner of the brewery. He was an unassuming, stoutly man in
his mid sixties who looked like he definitely enjoyed his own products. When I
asked him if he partook in the beer baths, he told me that he stopped going
because they were making him look too young! My natural instinct was to
challenge him to an arm wrestle. He gamely rose to the occasion and did himself
proud. Maybe there is something special in that beer after all!

After the shoot, on a night
off in Prague, we discovered a great fusion restaurant called Sansho. Paul Day,
the well-traveled British-born chef makes it his mission to apply his
international experiences (in particular, Asian influences) to Czech
ingredients. In a country known for its weighty dumplings and meaty goulash,
his small plates of brightly seasoned seafood, meats and vegetables are a
welcome surprise. We were lucky to get a last minute reservation.

Related:

Top Chef Canada: Season 2, Episode 7 Recap

It was all about old school on the latest episode of Top Chef Canada, with our nine remaining competitors cooking up canned goods (I don’t know… canned food always makes me think of the 1950s) and deconstructing a classic dish for modern times.

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Quickfire
With Elizabeth recently departed, it seemed as though the temperature in the kitchen was a little lower as this episode began. It helped, too, that big-time chef Richard Blais was introduced as today’s judge. I’m not super-familiar with him (he won Top Chef: All Stars a while back), but our contestants (especially Jimmy) clearly reveled in his presence.

And then the challenge began, and somehow the mood got even lighter. Essentially, the chefs had to make a gourmet dish using at least three mystery ingredients from unmarked cans. That meant a lot of surprised looks and suppressed gags as the chefs opened up everything from curried coconut to brined quail eggs.
ttc7challenge
Viewing at home, we can’t really know how good the results tasted, but at least they all managed to transcend their goopy origins to ultimately look appealing. With the exception of canned tomatoes, it’s the visual that always turned me off of any ingredient that had been stored in a little aluminum cylinder—the greyish colour, and the general sloppy constitution.

Fortunately, when my parents used pre-fab ingredients, they were generally frozen rather than canned. I’ll take slightly frosty peas over the slimy canned variety any day.

Writing this, I’m rather glad that I can’t think of any personal canned-food horror stories to share. Maybe you have some to spark our collective imagination?

Speaking of presentation, I thought it was rather enterprising of Carl to actually cook his egg-based dish in a can. Too bad it was our guest judge’s least favourite dish. His preferred plate? Ryan’s grilled mackerel with romesco sauce. It was also served in a can, though not cooked in it.

 

Elimination
From cans, we moved on to a wheel. (OK, not the smoothest of transitions, but whatever.) The chefs each spun a wheel featuring all sorts of timeless dishes; whatever they landed on, they had to deconstruct then reconstitute as something even more amazing than the original.

Creativity, of course, was key; retaining the essence and flavours of the classic dish, however, was also paramount. Our chefs definitely had a lot to think about, and the complexity of the challenge appeared to weigh heavily on them. Trevor was dropping things all over the place during prep, while Curtis was all over the place when it came time for cooking.

And then there was Jimmy, who was very concerned with impressing his kitchen crush, Richard Blais.

ttc7xavier

Poor, poor Jimmy. Mark called him out almost immediately for an unfocused, multi-element chicken pot pie. There were a lot of different little things on the plate and the judges just could figure out how everything fit together. The least appealing element? Wasabi pea ice cream. As Richard noted, it was a major failure of self-editing.

Also missing the mark was Jonathan’s strawberry cheesecake, as well as Curtis’s schizophrenic take on tuna casserole. The latter featured some subpar fish and captured neither the “comfort” nor the richness of a traditional casserole. For those perceived sins, Curtis was sent home.

On the plus side: Trevor’s slightly understated play on spaghetti and meatballs; Carl’s homey pork chili terrine, which looked like it would be quite at home on the best charcuterie platter; and David’s exceedingly clever deconstruction of chicken noodle soup—also, coincidentally, in terrine form! Good for David. He flopped last week with a terrine, and redeemed himself the second time around.

And yet, none of these offerings got the judges’ salivating as much as the one presented by Xavier. The contest’s sole Francophone chef did well by his heritage to earn the victory with some beautiful little pastry tubes filled with egg mousse, cheese and ham. That’s right! Quiche Lorraine!
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Heat Meter
Who was hot (and who was not) in episode seven?

Hot: Xavier. It took him a few weeks, but the Alberta-based chef has lately built up a good head of steam. We’ll see if he can carry that momentum through to the later rounds!

Not: Curtis. Let’s face it. You’re always going to appear in the cold column when you get booted from the competition. Curtis made a pretty reasonable showing to this point in the series. His cooking skills were evident; he just seemed to have trouble pulling things off conceptually.

Not: Jimmy. I actually thought he was going to be the one to get the old heave-ho. His elimination dish represented some of the worst tendencies of modern cooking—it was unfocused, overbearing and pretentious. If we see him struggle again next week, I predict we won’t see him at all after that.

Craig Moy is an editor at a Toronto-based city magazine. He also writes about all manner of cultural topics, including food culture.

 

Related:

Bob’s Blog: Plates at Palazzo

Dining at Amsterdam’s Palazzo is like
eating a finely prepared meal on stage with all of the acrobats, clowns and
contortionists at the Cirque de Soleil. With no barrier between you and the
acts, you are more than an observer—you feel like you are part of the
performance itself. That sensation was heightened when I was dragged on stage
by the roller skating duo. This Italian brother and sister act do a
mind-blowing, lightning-fast skating routine on a raised stage that is only 8
feet in diameter. As the sister is spun airborne, her skates wiz by within one
meter of the diners. One false move and the carnage they would create at the
surrounding tables is unthinkable.

Bob Blumer Headshot2

Without any notice, I was hoisted up on
their shoulders and spun around for a minute like I was on an out-of-control
amusement park ride. It was good thing that the first course hadn’t been served
because after the first few rotations I began to feel a mixture of nausea, fear
and helplessness. And by the time we reached warp speed, I was hanging on for
dear life. When it mercifully ended, I was so dizzy that I couldn’t walk down
the six steps without being supported from both sides. It took me a half hour
to fully regain my composure. So much for being Mr. Tough Guy.

When I go out to any form of dinner
theater, I usually hope for great entertainment and prepare myself for an
average meal. At Palazzo, the dishes rise to the occasion and are just as good
as you would expect from a restaurant that is solely dedicated to food. I was
particularly impressed with the “premium” wine pairing—not cheap at 55 euro,
but well worth it. The selections were bold, intriguing varietals, and every
one was perfectly matched with its dish. My favourite pairing was an aged Moscatel
Anejo from Spain that was served with the chocolate and coconut crumble dessert.

The
night after we taped the segment, we met up with three of the acrobats in a
local bar for a few beers. It was really interesting to hear about their
lifestyle, which is basically the modern day circus life. Most of them are
second and third generation performers who have crafted their own unique
routines. Those who work as duos often find each other via the Net, on the
performance equivalent of dating sites. It’s food for thought that there are so
many different ways to make a living and see the world.

Related:

Cuisine and Compassion: Bob Blumer and Roger Mooking to Host Toronto Taste Fundraiser

It’s one of the most anticipated culinary events of the year. I’m talking about the annual Toronto Taste fundraiser  for Second Harvest taking place at the Royal Ontario Museum on Sunday, May 27th.

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Food Network Canada’s Bob Blumer and Roger Mooking will be hosting the event, now in its 22nd year, so you know good times are guaranteed.  And it’s all for a great cause — one ticket ($250) provides 250 meals to Torontonians in need. (Get your tickets here)

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Your ticket is your pass to a smorgasbord of incredible offerings  from 60 of the city’s top chefs and 30 outstanding beverage purveyors.  What makes this event so fun is that you’ll be able to get up close and personal some of Canada’s incredibly talented chefs including our very own Mark McEwan, Michael Smith and Lynn Crawford to name a few. See the complete culinary lineup here.
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We’ll be there to bring you all the mouth-watering coverage.  In the meanwhile check out last year’s photos for a sampling of what to expect. My taste buds are tingling in anticipation.

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(Photos: Clive Champion and Toronto Taste)


Related:

Soft Pretzel Twists from Duhlicious

I am a HUGE Seinfeld fan—the show is a true staple of my 90s sitcom line up. I don’t think a day goes by where I don’t quote an episode, so naturally, I made pretzels in homage of one of my favourite episodes. If you don’t watch Seinfeld, the “pretzel” episode centers around Kramer landing a line in a Woody Allen film. In true Kramer style, he over-thinks things and over-rehearses the line. Anywhoooo, enough context… onto the recipe.

 

SoftTwistyPretzels_Duhlicious_main

 

Soft Pretzels (makes 12 XL pretzels)

 

Ingredients:

– 1 1/2 cups warm (110-115F) water

– 1 tablespoon sugar

– 2 teaspoons kosher salt

– 1 package active dry yeast

– 4 ½ cups flour

– ¼ cup unsalted butter, melted

– Vegetable oil, for pan

– 10 cups water

– 2/3 cup baking soda

– 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water

– Pretzel salt, or other toppings (sesame seeds, poppy seeds, etc.)

 

Directions:

 

Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to turn foamy (as pictured). If your yeast hasn’t turned foamy at this point, do not proceed. This may be an indication that your yeast cells are no longer alive, and your dough will not rise.

 

SoftTwistyPretzels_Duhlicious_1

 

Carefully add the flour to the yeast slurry. Using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until combined. Add butter. Change to medium speed and allow the dough to knead until it is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl (approximately 4-5 minutes). The dough should be smooth and elastic—this is an indication of gluten development and ideal for this type of dough. Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.

 

SoftTwistyPretzels_Duhlicious_2

 

I use a marker to draw circles outlining the size of the dough. I only do this because I can never tell if my dough has actually doubled in size. Preheat the oven to 450F. Line two half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside. In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a rope—the length will depend on how large you want to make the pretzels. Make a “U” shape out of the rope, and holding the ends of the rope, cross the ends of the rope over each other. Cross them again, and press the ends onto the bottom of the “U”. Follow the pictures below. Once your pretzels are done, place them onto the parchment-line sheet and set aside. Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.

 

SoftTwistyPretzels_Duhlicious_3

 

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 by 1, for 30 seconds. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with salt or other toppings.

 

SoftTwistyPretzels_Duhlicious_4
Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes for large pretzels and 8 minutes for small pretzels. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

 

SoftTwistyPretzels_Duhlicious_5

 

If you can’t get the pretzel shape down, you can always make pretzel twists. They’re much easier and faster to make; all you have to do is take two dough ropes and twist them together, and firmly pinch them at the ends.

 

MadalinePaul Madalina Paul is the blogger behind Duhlicious, a food blog dedicated to creating and sharing unique and original recipes for great tasting food and featuring tutorials, food news, and culinary adventures.

 

Top Chef Canada: Season 2, Episode 7 – Which Dish Should Dan Recreate?

We’ve challenged Calgary-based blogger, Dan Clapson, to recreate a dish from each episode of this season’s Top Chef Canada. This week Dan will be recreating a dish from episode seven, but which one? Vote Now!

 Top Chef Canada: Season 2, Episode 7 - Which Dish Should Dan Recreate?

Top to bottom:
Curried Fish with Noodles and Black Garlic Stuffed Quail Eggs
Duck Meatball Stuffed with Tomato Sauce, Tagliatelle and Parmesan Foam
Vegetable and Confit Chicken Terrine with Crispy Chicken Skin and Pear Pasta

 

Related:

Where Are They Now: Andrea Nicholson, Top Chef Canada Season 1

We’re fully into Top Chef Canada season two right now, but we’ve all been wondering what the competitors from season one have been up to lately.
First, we caught up with Andrea Nicholson who was the 10th chef to be eliminated last year. The Toronto-based mother-to-be (congrats are in order!) is now focusing on her line of artisanal condiments (get more info on her website) as well as working on a new show: she’ll be back on the network for a brand new season of Restaurant Makeover. Learn more about her life after the competition in our video below.

 

Related:

Coming Soon: The Newly Updated Eat St. App

Let’s say you’re strolling around town and hunger strikes—you’re not really in the mood for a sit down, fancy smancy meal, but you’ve gotta answer the rumbling in your tummy. What do you do, what DO YOU DO?
If you had the newly updated Eat St. app—coming soon to a smart phone near you—you’d simply locate the nearest food truck. How does it work? Magic. No, of course not, we’re joking. It works with GPS technology… which is kind of like magic! The discover option allows you to search based on your location or the best dishes as recommended by fellow Eat St. app users.

 

Eat St. App

 

You can also create a profile and link it up to your Facebook and Twitter accounts so everyone can see your double down hot dog or monster burger lunch. Plus, gain points by taking photos, adding tips, rating dishes, and reviewing vendors. These are all things foodies do anyway, so why not make it easier and web-friendly? The vendors can also get in the act by creating a profile for their truck or cart, posting recipes and offering special deals or discounts. Brilliant.
The iPhone App has been downloaded over 300,000 times and is available on iTunes. Check out www.EatStApp.com for more details.
Oh! And, don’t forget to catch the season three premiere of Eat St. Wednesday, May 9th with a double helping of episodes at 10pm et/pt and 10:30pm et/pt on Food Network Canada.

 

Related:

 

Baking Club Challenge Mid-Month Results

So far the results for our first ever Baking Club Challenge are doing quite well, I mean how can you go wrong with Anna Olson’s Flourless Chocolate Orange Cake and Baked Apple Almond Cakes? I can try to encourage you to make these goodies, but I think I’ll let the photos and comments do all the talking. Remember a KitchenAid Classic Stand Mixer is up for grabs so keep your entries coming!

Adam and Beata H.

Chef Adam & Beata H: “This turned out fabulous! Next time we’re trying it with Lindt Chili Chocolate. Who could resist a spicy chocolate cake!”

 Audrey S.

Chef Audrey S: “We really enjoyed them straight from the oven, and they were even better for breakfast the next morning! It’s as if the almond extract taste was stronger.”

Clarice M

Chef Clarice M: “I had never seen baked apple almond cakes before this competition so I was very intrigued to see the final result! I added some cinnamon to the apples before baking which made them nice and fragrant in the oven. I also decided to use some mini-eggs as part of the presentation since I made them on Easter Sunday. Very yummy!”

Clarice M. 

Chef Clarice M: “Flourless chocolate cake
has been on my list of ‘to makes’ for a while so this competition gave me an
excuse to try it. It exceeded my expectations. I stuck fairly closely to
the recipe, however instead of orange liquor I decided to
use Irish cream, but I did add the orange rind which gave the cake a
wonderful orange flavour. I also added some vanilla and almond extract to the
mixture which I think helped add depth to the flavour of the cake. Of
course, being Easter, I gave the cake a spring theme with my decoration in the
presentation. I added the “almond” flower to compliment the almond in
the cake, and the raspberry added a punch of colour.”

Cynthia G.

Chef Cynthia G: “I was very happy how it turned out. Although the top of the cake cracked off a bit, the taste was tremendous and the cake was quite light and fluffy.”

Darlene D.

Chef Darlene D: “Love the ‘little’ cake formation inside. Nice little desert with ice cream. I did add
one touch to it, since the apples turned brown quickly, I made a brown sugar
glaze and spooned it over the apples and added a marchino cherry to the top to
give it some colour.”

Gabriele

Chef Gabriele: “The cake turned out delicious!!!”

Gabriele L.

Chef Gabriele L: “Thanks Anna for yet
another great recipe! The only changes I made: I replaced the
sugar with 1 tbsp of agave syrup, and drizzled a bit of Amaretto
on top of each cooked cake. Simply delicious!”

Isabella D.

Chef Isabella D: “I used brown sugar instead of regular sugar and maple syrup instead almond extract and they were SO YUMMY! Love, love, love baked apples.”

Isabella D 

Chef Isabella D: “I started with the Flourless Chocolate Orange Cake and I was sure that I had all the ingredients at home, but I didn’t so I had to improvise. I did not have orange liqueur but I did have Kahlua so I used it and I also added 2 tablespoons of espresso instead of orange zest. It was delicious!”

Kelly C.

Chef Kelly C: “I decided to add a few twists to the given recipe of the flourless chocolate orange cake. I substituted toffee pieces for the ground almonds and made a blood orange sauce and orange buttermilk ice to use as additions to it. They went with the cake perfectly and helped to cut the richness of the chocolate. Everyone who tasted it absolutely loved it!”

Laurel L.

Chef Laurel L: “Sometimes you forget about recipes like baked apples. They can be made at the last minute for unexpected company and topped with anything you may have in your pantry. I took Anna’s baked apple recipe and put a spin on it with apples and pears and went to town  Having made Anna’s flourless cake recipe I had left over chocolate and pecans and added in a little Brie I created this ooey, gooey and simply yummy dessert.” 

Laurel

Chef Laurel L: “What a lovely recipe! This gateau was a refreshing change to the everyday variety of chocolate cake. The orange essence was just perfect.  Elegant choice for a fancy dinner or a sit down with friends sharing a spot of tea.”

Leah L.

Chef Leah L: I was excited to try my first flourless chocolate cake, so much so that I reversed some of the steps but in the end (and with a few prayers) all went well. Didn’t have orange liquor but substituted with a fruit liquor made by a friend. I even got creative and included the Food Network logo! Can’t wait to try it. Thanks for the challenge.”

Lisa C.

Chef Lisa C: “The orange and chocolate flavours of this cake reminded me of Christmas. The rich chocolate flavour was so good in fact, I think I am going to make this cake a Christmas tradition. I didn’t have any orange liqueur, so I substituted fresh orange juice. I also had leftover ground almonds that I sprinkled on top of the cake and then added mandarin orange sections. It was simply delicious!”

Marisa R.

Chef Marisa R: “I drizzled the top with Dolce De Leche and Devonshire cream in the centre. The surprise inside is a kick of cayenne pepper in the recipe to give it a zing!”

Sandra G.

Chef Sandra G: “Like most people, I love chocolate so this was the perfect cake for me to try. I think it came out pretty delicious and my husband and kids agree. Attached is my photo that I took before we all devoured the cake.”

Shantel P.

Chef Shantel P: “I was hesitant at first to make this cake since I have never made a cake without flour before, but the combination of both chocolate and orange, I mean really WHO could resist!”

How the Baking Club Challenge works:

  • Make either recipe (or both!)
  • Follow the recipe, or add your creative flair
  • Email us (giveaways@foodnetwork.ca) a picture and short descriptive blurb before month’s end for your chance to win!

Related:

Mr Neil’s Roast Chicken from Eat.Live.Travel.Write

This month’s Kitchen Bootcamp challenge was Chapter 20 of The Professional Chef “Grilling and Broiling, Roasting and Baking”. I simply could not NOT post the recipe (well, it’s more a method than a recipe per se) for Mr Neil’s famous roast chicken. For us, roast chicken is a simple staple meal. We have it a couple of times a month and friends are always clamouring for an invite for Mr Neil’s chicken. A few months ago, for French Fridays with Dorie, when I hosted a dinner party and served M Jacques’ Armagnac chicken, the comment most guests had was that “this is nice but I prefer Mr Neil’s version.” Okay then. So here we go. As I said, it’s not really a recipe, it’s more learning what makes a good roast chicken. For us, that means crispy skin and juicy on the inside.

 

RoastChicken_EatLiveTravelWrite_Main

 

You start with a lovely bed of whatever vegetables you like (sturdy ones like carrots, turnips, parsnips, potatoes and thick-cut onions), tossed in a little olive oil with some lemon zest, salt, pepper and herbs. We like thyme with our roast chicken. Then you clean out the cavity of the bird and stuff it with a couple of lemons, some garlic and more herbs and spices (preferably the same ones you used on the vegetable bed).

 

RoastChicken_EatLiveTravelWrite_1

 

Next, you’re going to shove some butter under the skin of the chicken. Yes, it looks weird but it will make for a tasty bird. Rub some more butter over the outside of the bird, season with salt and pepper.

 

RoastChicken_EatLiveTravelWrite_2

 

Now, place the pan in a pre-heated oven at 450°F for about 15-20 minutes until the top starts to brown nicely. It should look something like this:

 

RoastChicken_EatLiveTravelWrite_3

Then you will lower the heat to about 380°F and continue to roast the bird for between 60-90 minutes or until the a meat thermometer inserted into the high part of the thigh registers 180°F. You’ll baste the bird with either the pan juices (this is difficult if the bird is sitting on the vegetable bed) or some melted butter (because butter really does make everything better). Once it’s cooked, remove from the oven, cover with foil and allow to rest for about 10 minutes before you carve it. It will be the best roast chicken you’ve tasted.

 

RoastChicken_EatLiveTravelWrite_4

 

So that’s it. So easy.

 

But definitely not the best version of this recipe, not by a long shot. Our good friend, Charlotte, who was visiting us from Michigan a few summers ago had the privilege of helping Mr Neil make dinner one night. This dinner:

 

RoastChicken_EatLiveTravelWrite_5

 

Later she wrote up her version of the recipe for us. And her mum, Cathy, has been very generous in allowing me to share it with you today.

 

“On Saturday night, I ate a chicken that I made, well, sort of. Mr. Neil and I took two chickens and we sliced up lots of potatoes and onions and we set them on the bottom of the pan and set the chickens on top of the vegetables. Then we took fairly large amounts of butter and stuffed it in the breasts. We put the butter under the skin but not in the chicken cavity. We put a lot of butter in because Mr. Neil said that everything tastes better with butter (and because it makes the skin crispy and the meat moist). Next we stuffed a lime and a lemon in the cavity of the chicken, and then we put lots of garlic in the cavity, too. We put some spices – some pepper and salt – in and on the chicken. At some point, we also grabbed chunks of butter and spread it all over the chicken. Then we put it in the oven and let the skin get crispy for fifteen or twenty minutes and then we put it in the oven for its real time, about an hour and a half. Every maybe twenty to twenty-five minutes or so, we spread some warmed up butter (that we melted in a pot) on the outside of the chicken. After it was done, Mr. Neil cut it up and put it on a plate and then we ate it and lots of people enjoyed it. I liked it; it was a little bit spicy to me because I had added a teeny bit too much pepper. (Typist’s note: It was delicious!)”

– Charlotte, aged 7 (at the time).

 

I don’t know about you but I personally would LOVE a recipe book written like that. I mean, it’s how most of us cook, right?

 

Speaking of cookbooks, Kitchen Bootcamp is moving onto a new book in May: The New Best Recipe (from the editors of Cook’s Illustrated). Want to join us working through this fabulous book? Check out the Kitchen Bootcamp page here and buy The New Best Recipe on Amazon.ca or Amazon.com.

 

Stand up for REAL FOOD with me on May 19th. Find out how here.

 

Mardi_MichelsMardi Michels is a full-time French teacher and part-time food blogger based in Toronto. Her blog, eat.live.travel.write focuses on culinary adventures both near and far because she travels as often as she can!

 

Top Chef Canada: Mark’s Episode 7 Blog

markDeconstructed food is a challenge to make because it’s about a unique aesthetic, unusual presentation, and unexpected taste, temperature and texture. This Elimination challenge, focusing on deconstructed food, is especially hard because the competitors are taking an existing dish that’s considered a time honoured comfort food, and deconstructing it on the plate into something new. So the dish needs to be both unusual, and familiar! This requires a lot of creative skill from a chef.

 

Joining us for this challenge is guest judge and Top Chef All-Stars winner, Richard Blais, Chef Tom Brodi of the Ritz-Carleton’s TOCA, and multiplatinum Canadian country singer, Johnny Reid. There are a lot of tasters at the table, so there’s room for a lot of opinions, but there’s one thing we can all agree on: when this kind of cooking goes off the rails, it’s a real disaster.

 

For starters, take Jimmy’s really ambitious, and amateurishly executed, deconstructed chicken pot pie. In his effort to create an artistic presentation on the plate, precise cooking and flavour went to the wayside; his chicken was dry and the vegetables were undercooked. In his effort to be inventive and combine hot and cold temperatures, he made a wasabi pea ice cream that just wasn’t true to the essence of chicken pot pie.

 

Jonathan also failed with his take on strawberry cheesecake. His cream cheese and goat cheese ice cream missed the flavour mark, and the texture of his reconstructed graham cracker crust was so rigid it was distracting. It didn’t allude to the original dish, and it certainly was not an improvement on it.

 

Curtis really flubbed what was supposed to be a deconstructed tuna casserole. There was cannelloni with tuna on one side of the plate and sautéed vegetables on the other. It didn’t conjure the idea of tuna casserole, and far more seriously, it didn’t arouse my taste buds one bit. There was absolutely no flavour on the plate anywhere. That was Curtis’ biggest oversight and I hope that he will always put flavour first, now that he’s off the show but continues in his journey as a chef.

 

There were also some great plates as a result of this challenge. Trevor, David and Xavier got deconstruction right. Trevor’s comfort food classic was spaghetti and meatballs, and what came out on his plate was a perfectly proportioned duck meatball over a swirl of tagliatelle. Trevor knew how far to take the reinvention. It was definitely a new take on the original; the meatball was stuffed with tomato and mushroom sauce, and yet, the flavours and ingredients were so satisfying that it stood up to the classic that inspired it.

 

David was on a mission to make a terrine since his last attempt was unsuccessful, and it really worked out for him despite the unlikely inspiration: chicken noodle soup. The colour and texture of his vegetable and confit chicken terrine with crispy chicken skin and pearl pasta were incredibly pleasing to the eye. His pulverized saltine crackers were a playful addition. And most importantly, it was like I was eating a delicious chicken noodle soup, even though I wasn’t!

 

Xavier won the challenge with a stunning version of quiche Lorraine. I admired the workmanship in his cylinders of shortbread and bacon. His scrambled egg mousse and caramelized onions tasted sublime and overall, he invoked all the components of the original dish, only in a new and beautifully architected creation. He very much deserved the win and I can’t wait to see more from him!

 

Top Chef Canada: Lisa’s Episode 7 Blog

TCC_LisaComfort in a can? I can’t say I’ve found solace there myself. I know Chef Martin Picard’s made eating from a can trendy in recent years with his Canard en Conserve, a duck and foie gras mélange the waiters open up at your table, but I haven’t been to Au Pied de Cochon yet.

My most memorable canned meals have been a sickly sweet tomato spaghetti lunch that was wildly popular with my classmates when I was a kid, and cassoulet in a can that I braved in Paris once. Wholly unappetizing!

Well all that’s changed since Richard Blais joined us as a guest judge and the competitors came up with some canned concoctions that were actually tempting. They each chose at least 3 cans and composed a meal out of that.

The winner by far was Ryan, who went Picard style and served his grilled mackerel wth Romesco sauce out of big oval tins. The canned coconut milk he picked up was cleverly used as a marinade for the fish. The saucy dish was excellent on toast, and Chef Blais praised him on his combination of canned and fresh ingredients.

Also tasty was Curtis’ crunchy carrot pakora with salmon. I never imagined he could make something so good out of cranberry jelly, tomato paste and canned hummus. Mixing the cranberry and tomato together in a foam actually worked, and was a great compliment to the poached salmon he added.

Trevor also made salmon, this time as a Thai salad in a coconut curry. It was well spiced and he did justice to his cans of tomato paste, sardines and tomato sauce.

Of course this Quickfire challenge was very much about the luck of the draw, because the cans were unlabelled. Some combinations really didn’t work, and were made worse by the competitor’s choice to add even more ingredients.

David went hog wild, choosing 5 cans instead of 3, and the results were muddled. Beef bouillon, clams, peas, sauerkraut and broad beans turned into a Philly-style clam chowder with rib eye steak. His attempt to wow us by picking more cans didn’t work out for him.

Jonathan also had a lot going on that wasn’t working. But the contents of one of his cans really did smell like farts, so kudos to him for pulling something Top Cheffy together with his curried fish, noodles and black garlic stuffed quail eggs. It smelled pretty good when he was done with it, but it was still over produced.

Carl inadvertently chose canned hot dogs. I don’t get why hot dogs would be canned but nonetheless he made something out of them: eggs en cocotte with mystery sauce, also served in a can. It really didn’t taste great, and Carl’s the one who got metaphorically canned in this challenged. (I doubt he wanted to keep his job as a canned food gourmet anyway.)

Chef Blais, winner of Top Chef All-Stars, had some of the competitors -especially Jimmy – starstruck in this challenge. And poor Curtis cut his finger under the pressure. The truth is Richard Blais is a remarkably humble, gracious and warm person- and I love how he thoughtfully and democratically sought my opinion after tasting each dish. But the competitors were still seriously intimidated. Hey, no one said being on Top Chef Canada would be fun and games.

Except for the next Elimination challenge that is, which involved spinning an amusement park style wheel. The chefs randomly selected comfort food dishes that they would have to deconstruct for, yes, once again, Chef Richard Blais, and another celebrity guest judge: country singer Johnny Reid. So the pressure on the chefs was multiplied, as Johnny Reid looked for down home comfort in his food, while Chef Blais sought a modern recreation of a classic.

Jimmy was up first but he bombed under the pressure. His plate actually looked like an explosion had gone off on it, with bits of carrot, celery and mushroom all over. He was trying to recreate chicken pot pie but the flavours didn’t come together. There were too many elements on the plate, including ingredients that didn’t have anything to do with chicken pot pie, like wasabi ice cream. This challenge is artistic, but a deconstructed dish still needs to be cohesive.

At the other end of the spectrum, Trevor’s play on spaghetti and meatballs – tagliatelle and duck meatballs stuffed with mushroom sauce – was also explosive. This time there was a burst of amazing flavour in a few neat bites. The meatballs oozed deliciousness, and Trevor was praised by Mark and Chef Blais for his restraint and creativity. Other winners were David’s chicken noodle soup, remade as vegetable and confit chicken terrine (it looked gelatinous and strange, but tasted great) and Xavier’s stellar version of quiche Lorraine. The flavour and smell were exactly accurate, but it looked like something else altogether on the plate. Xavier really understood the challenge, and he won it.

Curtis struggled the most with the concept. Unfortunately he got a dish that wasn’t familiar to him – tuna casserole – and it’s hard to remake something you don’t understand in the first place. Yes, he deconstructed the elements of a tuna casserole, but he lost an essential component: the flavour. So in the end, Curtis lost the entire challenge. He was ‘behind’ the others…  and had to be sent a-packing…

I’m sad to see him go. He’s a talented and creative chef with an original, eccentric presence, and I wish him well.