5 Delicious New Ways to Use Nutritional Yeast (And Why it Belongs in Your Pantry)

Nutritional yeast is something of a miracle ingredient: Not only is it jam-packed with savoury flavour, often described as nutty, cheesy and umami – it’s also rich in nutrients. Nutritional yeast is loaded with B-complex vitamins, which help our bodies make energy from the food we eat. The vegan-friendly cheese alternative is also a complete protein and is low in sodium. It can be added to soups and stews, sprinkled on vegetables and stirred into sauces. There’s really no limit to how you use this pantry staple, but here are five delicious places to start.

“Cheesy” White Bean and Cashew Dip

Chips and dip is the essential party snack. But instead of reaching for calorie-laden dips like mayonnaise and cheese-based spreads, opt for this nutritious alternative. Made with white beans, cashews and nutritional yeast, this recipe has a beautiful smooth texture and rich flavour.

In a food processor, blend 1/3 cup roasted, salted cashews. Add in 1 cup canned white beans (drained and rinsed), 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast, 2 Tbsp olive oil, and 1/2 tsp salt. Process until smooth. Serve with fresh vegetables or pita bread.

Vegan Cacio e Pepe

One of Italy’s most delicious and simple pastas is Cacio e Pepe. It’s loaded with butter, parmesan and freshly cracked pepper. For this recipe, we swapped the parmesan for dairy-free nutritional yeast, and you’d never know!

Soak 1/2 cup raw cashews and 1/2 cup blanched almonds in water for 30 minutes. Blend with 3 Tbsp nutritional yeast and 1 Tbsp olive oil. Melt 2 Tbsp vegan butter in a pan. Whisk in cashew mixture. Add in 250 grams of cooked pasta and toss. Add in pasta water to loosen as necessary (about 1/4 – 1/2 cup). Crack fresh pepper and garnish with more nutritional yeast. Here, we used rigatoni instead of the classic spaghetti, so choose the pasta noodle you prefer.

Zucchini Fries

This recipe is an amazing way to spruce up standard veggies. The zucchini is breaded in an almond flour and nutritional yeast combo, then baked to resemble French fries. They are jam-packed with flavour, and taste extra delicious dipped in ketchup.

Combine 1/2 cup almond flour with 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast, 1/2 tsp onion powder, 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, and 1/2 tsp salt. Cut 2 zucchinis into 1/4 -inch thick “fries”. Toss them in 2 Tbsp of Dijon mustard, then bread them in almond flour mixture. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes at 425ºF.

Scrambled Eggs

Scrambled eggs are so fluffy and creamy, but they desperately lack salt and umami. Nutritional yeast is all you need to add a savoury (and healthy) kick to this go-to breakfast. Just whisk in 1 Tbsp with two eggs, 1/4 tsp salt and 1 Tbsp of milk (dairy or plant-based). Cook slowly in a non-stick pan over medium heat.

Salad Dressing

Nutritional yeast gives salad dressing an incredible flavour boost. This simple dressing can be used on absolutely anything! Mix together 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup lemon juice, 3 Tbsp nutritional yeast, 2 minced garlic cloves and 1/2 tsp salt. Pour over any salad for a deliciously rich and nutty flavour.

Looking for more delicious health-boosting dishes? Here are the 30 Best Dairy-Free Recipes You’ll Cook on Repeat.

Top Chef Canada Season 6 Episode 4 Recap

They say those who can’t do, teach. But obviously whoever “they” are, have never met this season’s remaining Top Chef Canada competitors. Because sometimes, teachers are actually the masters of their craft, and any student would be kinda psyched to have them.

Learning is Not a Spectator Sport

The latest episode of the culinary competition kicks off with the remaining eight chefs apprehensively stepping back into the Monogram kitchen, where mysterious dividers had sprung up at the cooking stations. The crew immediately knew something was up, and sure enough, Eden Grinshpan reveals that it is up to them to teach a culinary student a signature dish of their creation. The catch? They have to do so without actually seeing the chef or what he or she is doing. Talk about a blindside.


Jinhee teaches her culinary student how to make her dish

Obviously, communication was as much a factor in this challenge as the dish itself, which is why JP wanted to “get jiggy with it.” The trick seemed to be picking a dish that wasn’t too hard to make, but that also tasted great and could be easily described through a wall. Of course, the actual cooking wasn’t the only challenge; there were other factors, like the language barriers for some, and then also the noise. The noise… the noise, noise, noise. As someone who can’t stand numerous conversations going on around me, having people frantically shouting instructions is basically my worst nightmare. I would have been hightailing it out of that kitchen.


Elia can’t quite connect with her student

None of the chefs had the same inclination to bolt, but Elia certainly felt the pressure. While she tried to teach her student the ways of Mexican cuisine, the poor guy really had no clue what was going on. At one point she was trying to pass him a bowl of ingredients and he wasn’t even at his station, making for one of the most comedic moments of the series to-date. Jinhee had a tough time with her student as well, but rather than getting flustered she calmly talked it out and forgave the kid when she accidentally marinated her fish in the sauce rather than the juice, and in the end, the pair had one of the best—not to mention prettiest—dishes.


Jinhee’s dish is on the left; her student’s is on the right

But no one could compare to Matt, whose experience training staff and running kitchens through MLSE gave him a huge leg-up in the challenge. His Gochujang-Marinated Ribeye with Burnt Cauliflower and Mint Puree showcased enough technique to be of Top Chef Canada quality (unlike what I thought was an overly simple tomato salad from Ross,  which the student still under-seasoned), but he was also a pretty great coach to his student. If you think about it, his win (as determined by Mark McEwan and guest judge Rob Gentile of Buca in Toronto), basically foreshadowed what came next.


Matt’s dish is on the left; his student’s on the right

By the way, if you followed any of the previews leading up to the episode, you already know what came next: Restaurant Wars. Obviously, this particular Elimination Challenge is a favourite of all the participating chefs, because it’s a chance for them to showcase their own menu and create a restaurant of their choosing. It’s the “Big Enchilada,” as Mark explained to the cameras.

Picking Sides

Matt’s advantage for winning the Quickfire Challenge was being named the captain of the first team, and having the power to choose who would be his opposing captain. Once again, Matt gave Ross all the credit in the world and picked him, saying that Ross was his biggest competition. And once again, I’m going to point to Jinhee and Mark as two other competitors to watch in the coming weeks.

Speaking of Mark, the dude was the last one picked, which for the life of me I couldn’t understand. The chef has been impressing since he arrived in the kitchen, which makes me think the others are underestimating him. That schoolyard pick twist wasn’t the biggest twist though, as Eden made one more announcement: Felix, Nathan and Ivana all had the chance to return and get themselves back in the game. The captains were to pick one extra player, and if their team won the challenge then that player would re-enter the kitchen as though he or she never left.


To add more stakes to this challenge, culinary legend Ruth Reichl (pictured right) is the guest judge for Restaurant Wars

Holy high stakes, Batman. And because that wasn’t enough motivation, the chef who created the best dish of the night would also take home $10,000 from Interac. If I were Ross and Matt at that point, I’d be pretty smart about who I picked to round out my team. Matt immediately asked Nathan to join his team of JP, Jinhee and Darren, while Ross asked Felix to join his roster of Elia, Mark and Jesse. That meant poor Ivana was left in the dust again, without even the chance to cook her way back into the competition. I guess they figured they already had desserts covered?

There is No ‘I’ in Team

With that business out of the way, it was time to get into it. Right away you could see the difference in leadership styles between Matt and Ross. Matt solicited opinions from his team (like their name, Alloy), whereas Ross told everyone they were going with “Henry’s” as a team name because it was his grandfather’s. Matt wanted to put together a cohesive menu that featured Canadian ingredients with a slight Asian flair, whereas Ross told everyone to make whatever Canadian food meant to them. Not to be negative, but it was pretty obvious that Team Henry was the one that was going to go down.


Team Henry’s on the line

And go down they did. At resident judge Janet Zuccarini’s Gusto 101 restaurant, for judges Zuccarini, McEwan, Grinshpan, Mijune Pak and guest-judge Ruth Reichl, Ross opted to let Felix do the front of the house gig while naming Jesse as his executive chef. In turn, Ross opted to do two dishes, but they kind of flamed out. To be fair, his main course of seared lamb was decent, but the judges were completely hung up on how salty his Cod Sound and Pil Pil amuse bouche was. (Who knew you could eat fish bladders anyway?) It was like they didn’t have enough water at the table to go around, judging by some of the salty comments they shared.


Team Alloy leader Matt prepping his dish in the kitchen before heading to  front of house duties

Meanwhile, Elia decided to pair tuna with blueberries and passion fruit for some strange reason (never would I order that combo on a menu… ever), and Felix dished up a savoury broth that somehow ended up tasting sweet. Seriously, I have no idea why these guys couldn’t get it together because it seemed like bad piled on top of more bad. To make matters worse, Elia also served up a green mango ice cream with chocolate that no one at the table wanted to eat, making her 0 for 2 for the evening. If it weren’t for Jesse’s panna cotta and “underdog” Mark’s sablefish, I believe the judges might have just gotten up and left.

The Dream Team

That meant Team Alloy (or Team #BringBackNate) didn’t have to do much better, but it seems like their cohesive menu was in fact much, much better suited to these judges’ taste buds. Jinhee created this tapioca squid ink cracker that Ruth Reichl adored, while McEwan was completely raving over Darren’s fried chicken and caviar amuse bouche (and here I thought McEwan was just a burger guy).


Jinhee’s beet and beef tartare with squid ink tapioca crisp

Mijune was tickled pink at Matt’s “smart” red fife noodles with lobster and bacon and kimchi (obviously Matt used his favourite ingredient, kimchi), while McEwan admitted that he ate the entire short rib Nathan served him. That latter dish was my favourite, because it finally showed what Nathan can do when he isn’t up in his own head.


Nathan’s ginger and soy-braised short rib with butternut squash puree and kimchi

In fact, the best part about Alloy winning the Elimination Challenge was the fact that Nathan gets to return to the show, and hopefully this time around his nerves won’t get the best of him.


What redemption looks like

As for the winning dish? Well, that went to Matt, despite the fact that he kind of falsely advertised his pasta as a surf and turf. Hey—the buds want what they want and that was one tasty dish, said the judges, proving the theory that bacon makes everything better. And because Matt’s that great of a guy, he gave each of his other four team members a thousand bucks for all of their hard work and commitment. “I wouldn’t be here without them,” he explained. Now that’s what leadership looks like, y’all. Let’s just give the competition to this guy right now.


Matt’s red fife noodles with lobster dashi, bacon and salmon roe

In Poor Taste

Unfortunately, Alloy’s win left Ross, Jesse, Elia and Mark on the chopping block, and Felix’s shot at re-entering the competition was toast. He was sent knives packing before the judges had mercy on Jesse and Mark for serving up the best of the worst. That left Ross and Elia in the bottom two, with Ross’s immunity becoming the elephant in the room. Eden asked him if he wanted to use it, and although you could see the wheels turning as to whether or not he should, Ross opted to go down with the ship if need be. Honourable, but a bit mental to me. He had a 50 per cent chance of going home and he opted not to use his get-out-of-jail-free card? You can’t help but shake your head at that decision. Even Elia asked him why he didn’t use it as they left the room to let the judges decide their fates.


Ross taking a moment on the line

In the end, what the judges decided was that it came down to taste versus leadership. While Ross really messed up as the captain and didn’t procure a cohesive menu, Elia served not one but two inedible dishes. And that’s why they had to send her home, eliminating the second female chef in a row. For those keeping track, that leaves Jinhee as the last female competitor in this thing.


Team Henry’s face the judges’ verdict

“I like to learn and put myself in situations that I have no control of. That’s what life is about,” Elia said upon her elimination. “I learned a lot and am grateful. The time I’ve been here was a beautiful opportunity to show people who I am, to share my roots and for people to know more about my culture. That’s what I’m taking with me.”

“She needs to come into her own a bit, to work on her craft,” Chris Nuttall-Smith said of Elia’s performance in the competition. “You don’t step out of culinary school or step out after three years in a restaurant and [become] this fully formed person. You’re always learning food. So I want to see her define her style a little more and to act with a little more confidence. She’s doing well, but she has so much to offer. I’d like to see her even more confident in who she is and to get out there and show that.”

Agreed. And in the meantime, if Elia ever wants to make me some of those poblanos, I definitely wouldn’t say’ no.’ There aren’t enough genuine Mexican chefs in Canada these days.

Back at you all next week, when this group of chefs faces a harsh, double elimination. Bring snacks guys, because I have a feeling we’re going to need it.

Watch Elia Herrara’s exit video where she shares where she thought she failed in Restaurant Wars:

 

Fiddlehead-tart-slided

Savour Spring With This Fresh Fiddlehead Tart

The first signs of bring a sigh of relief into the kitchen. No more cold cellar scrounging or heavy stews filled with root vegetables. The thawing earth brings the first bounty of fresh, wild food: maple syrup, wild leeks and fiddleheads. The fiddlehead is the small curled frond of a young fern with a delicious earthy flavour, similar to a green bean. Despite their relatively short growing and harvesting season, the possibilities with these green tendrils are nearly endless. They are delicious when simply steamed, or pan-fried in butter. In this recipe, we bake them into a delicious cheesy tart, perfect for your spring brunch.

Fiddlehead-tart-slice

Gruyere Fiddlehead Tart Recipe

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Ingredients:

Pastry
1 cup flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into chunks
1 Tbsp white vinegar
2 tsp or more cold water

Filling
2 Tbsp butter
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 cup fiddleheads, washed and trimmed
3 eggs
3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

full-Fiddlehead-tart-on-plate

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Grease a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.
2. In a food processor mix flours, salt and sugar. Add in butter and pulse until butter is evenly dispersed into pea-size pieces. Add vinegar and pulse. Run the food processor as you add water a teaspoon at a time, through the spout on the top until dough comes together into a smooth ball.
3. On a floured surface, roll dough in a circle until about 12 inches in diameter and 1/4 inch thick.
4. Place rolled out dough into the tart pan and gently press into and up sides. Discard excess dough. Poke the surface of the dough with a fork. Place a piece of parchment over dough and place baking weights on top. Bake until edges of crust begin to turn golden, about 12 minutes.
5. Remove from oven and remove baking weights and parchment. Let cool. Reduce oven temperature to 400°F.
6. Heat butter on a non-stick pan over medium. Sweat shallots until translucent and fragrant.
7. In a medium pot, bring water to boil. Using a steamer basket, steam fiddleheads for 10 minutes until bright green and tender.
8. In a large bowl beat eggs with milk. Add in cheeses, fiddleheads, shallots, salt and pepper. Pour mixture into tart shell.
9. Bake until mixture is set and turning golden, about 25 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Top Chef Canada’s Janet Zuccarini Up for Best New Restaurant Award

Top Chef Canada resident judge and über-successful restaurateur Janet Zuccarini’s L.A. hot spot, Felix Trattoria, is one of five finalists for The James Beard Foundation’s Best New Restaurant Award, one of the most important culinary awards in America. Janet partnered with Chef Evan Funke to create a restaurant centered around authentic regional Italian cuisine, warm Italian hospitality and most importantly, exceptional handmade pasta. It’s been a success since it opened in April 2017 garnering accolades like “Restaurant of the Year” by Eater LA,  “#1 Best New Restaurant in America” by Esquire magazine, and one of Los Angeles Magazine’s 10 Best New Restaurants of 2017.


photo credit: Alan Gastelum

Who is Chef Evan Funke?

Chef Evan Funke’s passion is handmade pasta, having studied in Bologna, Italy at the La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese. Before opening Felix with Janet Zuccarini, he helmed L.A.’s Bucato, an Italian restaurant (now closed) that also received culinary kudos for its authentic Italian cuisine and handmade pasta. His big culinary break came when he worked for six years for celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck at his legendary L.A. restaurant, Spago.

Evan Funke will be a guest judge in an upcoming episode of Top Chef Canada, when the competing chefs will have to impress him and Janet, two experts in Italian cuisine, with a quintessential Italian dish. The episode was filmed late last year when this behind-the-scenes photo was taken; Evan is pictured with host Eden Grinshpan, Janet and resident judge Mijune Pak.


L-R: Eden Grinshpan, Evan Funke, Janet Zuccarini and Mijune Pak

Felix Trattoria, a Taste of Italy in L.A.


photo credit: Frank Wonho Lee

Felix Trattoria is located in L.A.’s Venice Beach neighbourhood on Abbot-Kinney Boulevard, a trendy hub in this thriving artistic community.  The dinner menu, written in Italian, features a wide range of antipasti, traditional pizze,  meaty secondi and their famous handmade pastas reflecting the different regions of Italy. Chef Evan Funke sources his ingredients from family farms throughout California.

Here’s a mouthwatering shot of the restaurant’s handmade pasta with a meaty ragu:

SMOKE SHOW ????

A post shared by FELIX Trattoria (@felixlosangeles) on

And here’s a glimpse of the gorgeous handmade pasta produced in-house:

ART ???? #pastafattaamano #felixtrattoria

A post shared by FELIX Trattoria (@felixlosangeles) on

2018 James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant

The long list of 28 original nominees for this highly coveted award was first announced back in February and in March, the list was culled down to just five finalists, with Felix Trattoria making the final cut. This was Janet Zuccarini’s response when she found out her restaurant made it:

Winners will be announced on May 7, 2018 at The James Beard Awards Gala in Chicago.

Janet Zuccarini on Top Chef Canada


The judges for this season’s Restaurant Wars! episode: Mark McEwan, Mijune Pak, guest Ruth Reichl, Eden Grinshpan and Janet Zuccarini

This is Janet Zuccarini‘s second season as a resident judge on Top Chef Canada; she joined the series in its fifth season, Top Chef Canada: All-Stars.  Catch her next Sunday (April 29) at 10 E/P when she showcases her excellence as a restaurateur when she judges the chefs’ restaurant concepts and menus in this season’s Restaurant Wars! episode. The episode was filmed at Gusto 101, Janet’s acclaimed Italian restaurant in Toronto.

Related: New Season of Top Chef Canada Introduces Next Generation of Canada’s Culinary Elite

The Secret History of Wedding Cakes

When the wedding cake is unveiled for the nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, we can expect a grand confection, modernized, calling back to the elaborate official royal cake created for the wedding of Harry’s mother and father, Princess Diana and Prince Charles. Diana and Charles’ was a fruitcake over five feet tall, adorned with both Charles’ coat of arms and Diana’s family crest, all topped with a spray of blooms.

We can thank Harry’s great-great-great grandmother Queen Victoria for the appearance of modern, and extravagant, wedding cakes. Hers, a large tiered cake with white icing, was crafted for her wedding to Prince Albert in 1840, which measured nine feet in circumference and weighed nearly 300 pounds. But the history of wedding cakes transcends the royal family.

Wedding Cake Origins

The origins of the wedding cake dates back to ancient Rome, when weddings concluded with the groom breaking a loaf of barley bread over the bride’s head, symbolizing fertility. Guests would scramble to pick up the crumbs in order to take home some of that good luck.

In medieval England, small spiced buns were organized into a huge pile, with the bride and groom expected to share a kiss over the towering bread pile. If they could kiss without knocking the tower over, the belief was that they’d enjoy a lifetime of prosperity together.

Wedding Pies and Dessert Superstitions

Interestingly enough, it was pies, not cakes, that were typically associated with weddings. The earliest recorded recipe created specifically for a wedding is for Bride’s Pye, detailed in the 1685 edition of The Accomplisht Cook, which describes a large, elaborately decorated pie filled with an array of savoury meats, offal and spices. Sometimes rings would be hidden inside these wedding pies, superstition holding that the woman who found it would be the next to marry.

Other wedding confection superstitions include: the belief that sharing the cake with wedding guests will lead to increased prosperity and fruitfulness; fear that bad luck will befall a bride who bakes her own wedding cake; a bride who tastes the wedding cake ahead of the wedding will lose her husband’s love; and every guest must eat a bit of the cake to ensure the couple will be blessed with children.

Cakes and Royal Icing Come Into Fashion

Eventually, wedding cakes outpaced wedding pies in popularity. By the middle of the 16th century, sugar had become widely available throughout Britain, with white sugar seen as the most prestigious, as it underwent more refinement. Pure white icing on a wedding cake was seen as a status symbol and a nod to purity. Queen Victoria’s wedding continued this tradition, which led to white icing being called Royal Icing, a term that’s still used today. 

Queen Elizabeth II’s Wedding Cake

Royal wedding cakes have long set the standard by which all others are measured, and that certainly held true of the magnificent cake created for Harry’s grandmother. For the Queen’s wedding to Prince Philip, Scottish biscuit-maker McVitie & Price baked a four-tiered, nine-foot-tall, 500-pound cake using ingredients provided as wedding gifts from overseas, as wartime rationing in the UK was still in place. The couple cut the first slice using Prince Philip’s sword.

Record-Breaking Wedding Cakes

  • The most expensive wedding cake was valued at $52 million, adorned with 4,000 diamonds.
  • The world’s largest wedding cake stood 17 feet tall and weighed in at 15,032 pounds. It was created for the Mohegan Sun Hotel and Casino for a 2004 bridal showcase.
  • The most expensive slice of wedding cake was taken from the 1937 wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, which sold at auction in 1998 for $29,900 (USD).

If you’re ambitious (and not superstitious), try making your own contemporary “Naked” Wedding Cake with our step-by-step guide.

Top Chef Canada Season 6 Episode 3 Recap

Rainbow kimchi, matcha cones and frozen acai berries… So many food trends and not enough time to try them all. Or at least that’s the way I imagine the remaining nine chefs felt heading into the third episode of Top Chef Canada, when Eden Grinshpan enlisted them with their trendiest task to-date: create a brand new food trend by mashing up two other food trends, with Cuisinart doling out a trendy $5,000 cash prize to the winner. Did I mention it was all very trendy?


Peter Meehan joins Eden Grinshpan for the Quickfire Challenge

The Next Big Thing?

Luckily the gang had a little inspiration from Peter Meehan, former restaurant critic for The New York Times and the co-founder of food journal Lucky Peach, and a fun plinko-inspired board to see which ingredient and method they’d be utilizing. Think ingredients like coffee, coconut, matcha, kimchi, coffee and acai berries mashed up into things like cones, bite-sized bits, frozen or made into rainbows. Basically, anything that people will stand in a long lineup for these days made it onto the list, which meant that the chefs had to toss some of their classic training aside—at least for the trend part of it all. I mean, obviously the dish still had to be of Top Chef Canada caliber, otherwise what are we even here for?

Assignments in hand, it didn’t take long for the chefs to run into the Monogram kitchen and pantry, practically falling over one another to get their concoctions going. You’d think that by season six someone would have implemented traffic cones or florescent aprons to avoid such potential injuries.


The look you get when you ask a chef to create a trendy, mash-up dish but make it Top Chef Canada

Potential head-on collisions aside, the chefs came up with their ideas pretty quickly, as one must when cooking in a Quickfire. Personally, I get nervous cooking for my family—people that know and love me—so I can only imagine how scary it would be to create food for someone like Meehan. Certainly, some of the chefs let those nerves show, including “coconutty” Jinhee, who totally got flustered when Meehan and Eden came by to taste. She shouldn’t have been nervous because her traditional sorbet with tapioca pudding was deemed tasty, even if it wasn’t exactly trendsetting. I imagine she didn’t have expectations of winning the challenge anyhow, given her comments about wanting to be lasting, not trendy.

Meanwhile Ross, who also pulled coconut but had to create his in a cone, certainly tried to give it his all with a cream cone in a wonton wrapper (he even plated early), but unlike Jinhee he just wasn’t “sweet enough” with his plate and Meehan docked him points as a result. And was it just me or did Eden look utterly disappointed when taking her first bite? That woman has a sweet tooth, mark my words.


And here’s the proof. Eden definitely has a sweet tooth

Other dishes, like Darren’s “stupid berry,” a.k.a. acai berry dish fell flat when all of that mad science liquid nitrogen stuff he was going for didn’t work out, despite fogging up Jesse’s station, and he served up something that looked like an oil painting on a plate. Yeah, thanks… but no thanks.

On Trend: Chefs Mark and Matt

In terms of innovation, I give full points to Mark, who ran through the kitchen like it was nobody’s business in order to create a rainbow of kimchi flavours. The chef used zero actual kimchi on his plate, yet he achieved the full kimchi experience, which is kind of the epitome of trendy these days, no? I did find it a little weird that his dish looked like a flat painting of a rainbow instead of something you’d actually order and eat, but again, it was a really cool concept.


Mark’s seared strip loin steak, cabbage and red bean purée, onion purée, spiced purée and scallion purée

But not even a cool rainbow of kimchi could beat Matt’s love affair with the ingredient. When you claim to put kimchi in your breakfast cereal, wear it as hair gel and use it as cologne, you’ve automatically got a leg up. Also, you probably don’t smell the greatest, but luckily for Mark, personal hygiene didn’t factor into the challenge.  The fact that Matt pulled bite-sized in terms of a vessel meant that he could create Kimchi Foie Gras Dumpling in Kimchi Broth With Grated Shitake Mushroom that even Meehan said he’d line up for.


Matt’s winning dish: kimchi foie gras dumpling in kimchi broth with grated shiitake mushroom

Once again I’d like it reiterate how unfair it is that we don’t get to taste these dishes at home. Obviously, the dumplings landed Matt the five thousand dollar cash prize from Cuisinart, along with an advantage in the Elimination Challenge. Considering he’s got a pregnant wife at home it was hard not to be happy for the guy. That money will indeed go a long way, as he predicted. Cribs and diapers and clothes add up, y’all.

Hola, Chefs!

With fads out of the way, it was time to turn to a classic, favourite cuisine for the Elimination Challenge: create a three-course Mexican feast to be served at Toronto’s Baro restaurant. You could see Elia’s eyes light up at the prospect of using her background to fully showcase what she can do, but at the same time, that’s got to be a lot of pressure. After all, if you mess up your own cuisine, the judges definitely won’t be as forgiving. Assuming the judges are ever actually forgiving…


The exact moment Elia heard she’ll be cooking Mexican for the elimination challenge

We’re not talking burritos and tacos and other cliché Mexican dishes here either—save that kind of food for after the bars. To get inspiration for what kind of food they would be cooking, the chefs were asked to pull little succulents to see which region of the country they’d draw inspiration from. Meanwhile, guest-judge (and the very first Michelin starred Mexican chef) Carlos Gaytan advised them on various flavour profiles and doled out tips. Hey, if you’ve got the source at your fingertips, why not take advantage?


Carlos Gaytan at the tasting table

Speaking of, Matt’s advantage was that he could pick any of the regions, so he strategically picked Baja California to directly compete with Ross, whom he feels is his biggest competition. Interesting choice, if you ask me. Just because the chef won the immunity challenge the week before doesn’t necessarily make him the top competitor—in fact, he’s spent some time in the bottom and right now my money is on other competitors like Jinhee and Mark making it far.

Related: Go behind the scenes and find out how challenges are created by the show’s producers.

Regardless, the nacho-less chefs got busy planning their menus straightaway, with the classic, “who will get stuck with dessert” discussion taking centre stage. Ivana, whose meal-ender landed her in the bottom last week, wanted to redeem herself by tackling something sweet again, while Darren took one for the team and volunteered to cobble together a dessert in hopes of not having to do so again in the future. Seriously, I always love watching these amazing chefs, who can emulsify and press and plate like it’s nobody’s business, squirm whenever sugar is involved, don’t you?


Funniest moment of the night: Mark literally can’t handle the heat 

With the menus sorted out, it was off to Toronto’s Kensington Market with a hundred bucks to spend on ingredients. Poor Jinhee, who has never been there, was completely lost. Half the time I want to give that girl a hug, the rest of the time I want to split a bottle of wine with her and pick her brain. It may be biased, but I’d love to see her make it far in this thing.


Elia was the one to beat in this challenge

JP and Ivana Get Their Just Desserts

For Elia, the challenge quickly became personal when she decided to cook her grandmother’s dish, Chiles en Nogada—Stuffed Poblano Pepper with Walnut Sauce, Pomegranate & Goat Cheese Tuile. I was seriously worried the judges might dock her points because she had served a version of a stuffed pepper back in the premiere (it was her take on tourtière), but they positively ate this dish up. Literally. Everyone said the flavours were spot-on, and the poblanos landed Elia in the top three of the night. It was like everything was right in the world.


Elia’s Chiles en Nogada: stuffed poblano pepper with walnut sauce, pomegranate and goat cheese tuille

Matt and JP, who was determined to fight back from the bottom, rounded out the best dishes of the night. Eden described the seasoning on Matt’s lamb tartare as “ridiculous,” while JP’s Mango Custard proved that desserts can actually be done well on this show. In fact, even though Carlos said he’d putt Matt’s dish on his menu, it was JP who took home the night’s trophy. Fancy that—it seems like a well-done dessert goes a long way with the judges, too.

Matt’s lamb tartare with fig and black olive jam, corn chipotle crema and jicama chips


JP’s reaction to not only beating a celebrated Mexican chef in the Elimination Challenge but winning the night with a dessert

Of course, that also means that a poorly executed dessert will be very harshly judged. Ivana knew this from last week, but she experienced it all over again when her chocolate mash-up of ingredients (including a random fried cricket) left all of the judges uber confused. (Is saying uber still trendy? Wait, wrong challenge.) Personally, I wanted to gag. Bugs are my limit, thank you very much.

It was Mark McEwan who seemed to be the most disappointed of all (Ivana did work under him, once upon a time), but he was equally disappointed in Darren’s riff on Capirotada, a bread pudding of sorts that he himself said was a dish “a home ec high school student could do.” Ross, with an immunity in his back pocket, rounded out the bottom three with his seared scallops. His dish was tasty and all, but it really wasn’t in line with the Mexican part of the challenge itself to be deemed a winner.

Surprisingly, Ross’s confidence in his flavours was enough for the chef not to use his immunity just yet, something that sparked a huge debate among the others who weren’t up for elimination. While I certainly would have used the immunity just in case (who wants to go home with an immunity in their pocket?!), Ross proved he’s a gambling man and opted to save it for any of the next three challenges just in case. Hey—pride can go a long way, and I suppose if he can hypothetically win this thing without ever having to use an immunity, then that just makes the win that much sweeter.


The bottom three chefs have their reckoning at judges’ table

Luckily for him the gamble paid off, and it was Ivana who was sent home for her cricket-chocolate concoction. After she proved twice that desserts are not her forte, the judges seemed to have no other choice. It was a real shame given her credentials; we didn’t really get to see much actual cooking from the contestant. Had she had the opportunity to set the sweets aside, maybe her own ending would have been sweeter.

“She’s a trench fighter… [but Ivana] didn’t have any positive moments, unfortunately,” McEwan said later. “She underestimated what it is to be on Top Chef Canada a little bit and I think she kind of psyched herself out. We didn’t see her best cooking; her nerves got the best of her. She’s got a very, very good base knowledge and very good sense of flavour, but we unfortunately didn’t see it.”

Sadly, those are the breaks on Top Chef Canada. Until next week, when Restaurant Wars make a grand return. Who’s hungry?

Watch Ivana Raca’s exit video where she shares the toughest feedback she received from the judges’, including her mentor Mark McEwan:

 

This Loaded Hummus is Changing the Dip Game for Good

Carrots and hummus are a classic snack, but why not turn everyone’s favourite Middle Eastern dip into a meal!  We’ve loaded up our creamy hummus with the works to bring you an inspired meal that is visually stunning and devour-worthy.  This is a party and crowd-pleasing kind of dish, but it can also double as a simple weeknight dinner.  We’ve kept it vegetarian, but feel free to get creative and top it with homemade chicken shawarma, if you fancy.  Serve with warmed pita and thoroughly enjoy every bite.

Loaded Hummus Recipe

Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 90 minutes
Servings: 4-6

Ingredients:

Hummus:
3 cups cooked chickpeas
3/4 cup tahini
2 garlic cloves
1/3 cup lemon juice
3/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup cold water

Hard Boiled Eggs:
4 eggs
Water

Tabouli Salad:
2 cups loosely packed parsley leaves, chopped finely
1 cup quartered cherry tomatoes
1 1/2 cups diced cucumber
2 stalks of green onions, sliced finely
1/2 lemon, juiced
Pinch of sea salt and pepper

Roasted Veggies:
1/2 cauliflower head, chopped into large florets
2 carrots, peeled and sliced in thick matchsticks, about 2 inches in length
2-3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp granulated garlic powder
1/4 tsp sea salt and pinch of pepper

Steamy Beets:
3 beets, peeled and sliced into wedges
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp sea salt and pinch of pepper

Additional Toppings:
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1/4 cup feta, crumbled
2 Tbsp pine nuts, toasted
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, drizzled on top
1/2 tsp za’atar, sprinkled on top

Pita of choice to serve, warmed or toasted

Directions:

Hummus:
1. Place chickpeas, tahini, garlic, lemon juice, sea salt in the food processor and blitz until pureed.
2. While the food processor is still running, gradually add water, about 2 Tbsp at a time, until a really creamy consistency starts to form.
3. If you would like your hummus to be even creamier, add more water.

Hard Boiled Eggs:
1. Place the eggs in a small pot and cover them fully with water, bring to a boil and continue the rolling boil for 1 minute.
2. Remove from the heat, cover the pot and let sit for 12 minutes.
3. Run the eggs under cold water and let cool completely before peeling.
4. Once peeled, slice two eggs into wedges and the other two into thick one-inch circles.

Tabouli Salad:
1. Prep all of the veggies and mix together in a bowl, pour lemon juice over and season with sea salt and pepper. Stir to fully combine.

Roasted Veggies:
1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF . Prep the veggies, place them in a bowl, add in olive oil, granulated garlic powder, sea salt and pepper. Mix to combine.
2. Arrange the veggies on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Don’t overcrowd the sheets, to ensure the veggies get nice and crisp.
3. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes until the veggies brown slightly.

*The world is your oyster here, so feel free to also roast up eggplant, zucchini, red pepper and mushrooms, if you desire.

Steamy Beets:
1. Prep the beets and place them into a pot, add enough water so the beets are slightly covered but not submerged, turn the heat to medium-low. Cover the pot and allow to steam for 15 minutes, until tender.
2. Pour apple cider vinegar over the beets and season with sea salt and pepper.

Assembly:
1. Once the hummus is ready, spoon it onto a platter or in a large bowl.
2. You can get as creative as you like here. You can assemble the toppings in layers, first with the roasted veggies, then the steamy beets, the tabouli on top of that, the hard-boiled eggs and then the additional toppings. You can also place each topping in little piles, rather than mixed together. We personally love getting a bite of all the ingredients, so we prefer to assemble in layers.
3. Serve with warmed pita and enjoy!

Craving more delicious good-for-you recipes? Here are 25 Healthy Weeknight Meals When You Have No Time.

Chef Michael Smith’s Pro Tips for Perfect Rice, Every Time

It’s often the simplest foods that can be the most challenging to make. Take rice, for instance. The grain is common on dinner tables around the world but often turns out too mushy, underdone or just plain boring. To help, Food Network Canada Chef School’s Michael Smith makes nice with rice as he walks you through how to cook a perfect pot of rice to accompany any meal, plus shows us how it can star as the main course, with his best rice tips, preparation techniques, ratios and recipes.

How to Cook Rice

We asked Michael how long to cook white rice and how much water to use, and he gave us an easy to remember rice cooking rule.

“[The] simplest possible way to cook rice is: to measure out, one cup of rice to two cups of water. Put that in a small pot, bring it to a simmer.  [Add a] touch of salt, bring it to the simmer, turn down the heat to maintain the barest of simmers. Put a lid on it and walk away for 20 minutes.”

Before serving up your perfect rice, Michael offers this rice-cooking trick only chefs know.

“Just let it rest before you take the lid off. Ideally a 10 minute rest before you remove the lid. Then you’re ready to serve. You don’t need to fluff it.”

Varieties of rice, like short-grain brown rice and black rice can take upwards of 50 minutes to 1 hour to cook, but the ratio of water to rice stays the same.

For extra-fluffy, quick-cooking rice varieties that take just 15 minutes to cook up, you can lower the quantity of water to 1½ cups of water to 1 cup of rice, as shown in Michael’s recipe for perfect basmati rice. 


Get the recipe for Michael Smith’s Basmati Rice here.

Rice Cookers vs. Stovetop

You can use a rice cooker or pot on the stovetop to make great rice. Michael adds, “Anything that gets you in the kitchen and cooking real food is fine by me.”

So, whether you love the old-fashioned method or the high-tech approach, fluffy and tender rice is within reach. Michael thinks the Instant Pot (a pressure cooker) for rice is an awesome timesaver. These pressure cookers allow wholegrain rice, like brown rice, red rice and black rice cook faster, making them weeknight-friendly.

Washing Rice vs. Not Washing Rice

Rinsing or washing rice a few times in cold water for varieties like basmati, jasmine and other medium- to long-grain rice helps keep the grains individualized, which leads to a fluffy pot.

Starchier rice, like arborio, most commonly used in risotto and rice pudding, doesn’t need to be rinsed or washed, as the outer starches are important for a creamy dish; the exception to this is short-grain sushi rice and sticky rice, which should be washed before cooking.

Michael Smith’s Top Rice Tips

Overall, the best rice comes with patience. Being sure to properly measure at the beginning with a 2:1 water to rice ratio, no peeking under the lid when it’s cooking and letting the rice rest for 10 minutes before serving, are the top takeaways here.

How to Add Flavour to Plain Rice

Rice is a blank canvas, ready for any flavour you add to it. Whether used as a base for a richly spiced curry or as a standalone fried rice supper, rice can handle spices, seasonings and sauces like a champ.


Get the recipe for Michael Smith’s Golden Rice Pilaf here.

To flavour plain (but perfect) white rice, try cooking it with coconut milk in place of some of the water, along with slivered ginger and garlic. In the same vein, vegetable or chicken stock can be used in place of water to boost flavour. Upon serving, a drizzle of herb-infused butter or chili oil will make your rice really pop. Soy sauce or tamari add an Asian flair to white or brown rice, along with a splash of rice vinegar and sesame oil. While saffron threads, as featured in this recipe from Michael Smith, add earthiness and a beautiful yellow hue. Other ideas to bedazzle your rice include curry powder, Tex-Mex spices, garam masala, Italian seasoning or try cinnamon, cumin and raisins for a Moroccan twist.


Get the recipe for Michael Smith’s Saffron Almond Rice here.


Get the recipe for Michael Smith’s Southwestern Rice here.

You can even turn last night’s risotto into a crispy rice cake or deep-fried delight known as arancini. Risotto itself takes to creamy, bold add-ins well, as showcased in Michael’s bacon and blue cheese risotto recipe.


Get the recipe for Michael Smith’s Apple Pie Brown Rice here.

And don’t be afraid to bulk up your rice with vegetables, fruits (apple pie brown rice, anyone?), beans, cooked proteins, toasted nuts and more. When it comes to rice, how you make it, serve it and dress it up is up to you.

Give your fluffy rice something to hold onto, and serve it up underneath Michael Smith’s recipe for curried, vegetable-filled Golden Aloo Gobi.

Top Chef Canada Season 6 Episode 2 Recap

The saying may be “waste not, want not” but it was clear from the opening moments of Top Chef Canada’s second episode that despite a no-waste challenge, these chefs want it, and they want bad. The episode opened with the surviving crew lamenting about their mistakes (or smiling to themselves over their victories) from the Elimination Challenge the night before. Darren likened his experiences with the judges to a mind game, saying that it was like they were looking into his soul and saying, “We know what you did and we hated it.”

Well yeah, pretty much. This is Top Chef Canada, after all.


That look Darren describes also awaits the bottom three chefs of this episode.

Don’t Waste This Quickfire Challenge

At least the coffee was hot as the blurry eyed Top 10 geared up for one of the coolest Quickfire Challenges in the series’ history—a high-stakes food waste challenge in which every chef got the same arsenal of ingredients, and were tasked with making something delicious with as little waste as possible. To inspire them was guest-judge Danny Bowien, James Beard Award-winning chef, champion of minimal food waste in the restaurant industry, and starring in the film, Wasted! The Story of Food Waste. This wasn’t just any old Quickfire though, this was a challenge as high-stakes as they come since the winner would get this season’s sole immunity—one that he or she could use in any of the next four episodes. Winning the challenge would be the second-best thing to winning the entire season at this point, and the chefs knew it.


Danny Bowien judges the food waste Quickfire Challenge

So they acted appropriately by running into each other and sliding all over the floor trying to get to their stations to maximize that 40 minutes on the clock. So you know, just another typical day in the Monogram Kitchen. Seriously though, you could see the beads of sweat already starting to form on their brows, they all wanted that immunity so badly.


Mark plates his dish in the Quickfire Challenge

Of all the chefs, it looked like Nathan felt the pressure the most. He changed his dish not once, not twice, but three times within the already measly time frame, and wound up serving… well, I’m not sure what he served. There appeared to be a carrot on one plate and that was about all I could make out. In fact, there wasn’t anything to sample for the judges, he just mustered up some apologies and promises that he’d get it together ASAP.


Nathan should’ve taken his own advice from the first episode.

He wasn’t the only one feeling the heat though; Jinhee mucked up her plan, too. Although her Fish Ragoût with Tomato & Red Pepper Emulsion was killer in the taste and looks department, her waste bin was heads and fishtails higher than all of the other competitors. She knew it too and was kicking herself because she meant to do something with those scraps and then completely forgot.

And the Immunity Goes To…


Ross is an island of focused calm in the midst of the Quickfire Challenge

Things were looking up for Mark, Ross and JP, though. The latter’s bin consisted of basically an artichoke that fell on the floor, while Mark only tossed an orange rind (which he was still criticized for not zesting). But it was Ross’s Pan-Seared Branzino in a Pesto Puree with Compressed Radish & Artichoke Vinegar and his very minimal bin that landed him the night’s big win, or a “Get Out Of Jail Free Card,” as he happily dubbed it.

“That’s pow-ah,” Eden joked in her adork-able foodie way, reminding us all why she’s the perfect person to host this thing.


Guest judge Danny Bowien said Ross’s winning dish was clean yet complex and showcased his skills as a chef.

Down on the Farm: The Elimination Challenge

With immunity and food scraps out of the way, it was time for the chefs to turn to the Elimination Challenge, the next hurdle between them and the title of Canada’s Top Chef.  Eden welcomed celebrity chef Lynn Crawford, the ultimate farm-to-table chef in my books, to be the challenge’s guest judge and help decide just how well the chefs could whip up a dish inspired by one of five types of Canadian farms: dairy, egg, vegetable, fruit or grain.  Lynn Crawford wasn’t the only guest at the table; five farmers, each one representing the farmed ingredients the chefs were cooking with, were also invited to taste the chefs’ plates.

With the task set and the challenge knives drawn from nifty little wheelbarrows, the chefs visited the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair for inspiration and ingredients. There, the gang checked out massive gourds that would probably squash them in a Quickfire (see what I did there?) and Jesse and Darren, who both picked dairy, attempted to milk a poor cow who seemed “udder”ly unimpressed with Jesse.

With their ingredients in hand, the chefs headed back to the kitchen for a little prep, and then onto the restaurant for the main service, where Eden, the judges and Lynn Crawford were eager and ready to taste and rate the fare.

Related: Go behind the scenes of the Top Chef Canada kitchen with the series’ Culinary Producer.

Winning the Farm

Darren was intent on bringing his A-game after falling in the bottom last week, so he switched tactics and cooked something for himself rather than serving up a dish he thought the judges might like. That meant going old school with a Poached Sablefish with Potato Pavé, Milk Crackers & Lemon Cream Sauce. The madness certainly worked—not only did Darren wind up in the night’s Top 3, but everyone agreed the dish showcased a high degree of skill.


Mark’s Stages of Tomatoes with Strawberries, Soft Tofu and Chilled Tomato Consommé

The judges also loved Mark’s vegan take on his fruit dish. In fact, McEwan admitted it’s hard to “get that excited about a bowl of tomato water,” but Mark’s Stages of Tomatoes with Strawberries, Tofu & Chilled Tomato Consommé was an immediate hit. And yes, tomatoes are still a fruit in case you were wondering.


Matt’s Beer-Braised Savoury Grain Stew with Rye-Marinated Duck

But the night’s overall success story was Matt, with his suds-soaked riff on grains that had Janet admitting she wanted to lick her plate clean. The chef was awarded the night’s big win for his Beer-Braised Savoury Grain Stew with Rye-Marinated Duck, proving that beer and grains really do make for a winning combo. Who knew frat boys everywhere were on to something?


There’s no higher praise for a chef.

And Losing the Farm

McEwan’s protégé, Ivana, was definitely not pumped about picking fruit because she felt that meant she had to go the dessert route, and few non-pastry chefs in the history of cooking have ever loved making desserts. So it wasn’t really a surprise when her Apple Clafoutis with Maple Apple Sabayon & Almond Apple Jam fell flat and landed her in the bottom three, with disappointed tears quickly following. The judges picked her apart not just for the type of dessert she made but how she presented, too. Mijune was being really nice when she described the dusting of icing sugar as ‘old-fashioned.’


JP, Ivana and Nathan await the judges’ reckoning.

And while it looked as though Ross—who has some liberty to play around thanks to the immunity in his pocket—might also land in the bottom three after his dessert riff on grains went to mush, it was JP and Nathan who rounded out the worst of the night’s worst.

JP took me by surprise because if I were to judge purely from what I saw on TV, his “what came first, the chicken or the egg” approach to picking eggs was genius. How do you go wrong with crispy chicken skin and egg pasta? Well, by delivering thick pasta and a thin broth, apparently. The judges were not fans, and they were not afraid to say so.

And the Elimination Goes to…

But no one did worse than poor Nathan, who clearly couldn’t shake his competition nerves. We had such high hopes for season one winner Dale Mackay’s partner—he was an easy frontrunner to win the title. But when he served up Poached Egg with Hollandaise, Trout Eggs & Cured Salmon on Roasted Cabbage, that was the final straw for the judges. While the eggs themselves were dandy, they were a little too simple for this crew. Then there was the matter of the thick slab of cabbage (and cabbage core) at the bottom that turned everyone off, making the dish completely inedible. In the end, it was as though the judges were forced to send Nathan home since he never really wrapped his head around this thing in the first place.

“I didn’t do what I came here to do,” Nathan told the cameras afterwards. “I wish I could be different and not so anxious and nervous.”

Me too, Nathan. Me, too. Somehow I feel like we didn’t even see a fraction of what this guy is capable of. But, those are the breaks when you do a show like this.

“I’d want to see what his actual cooking is because on the show he really did struggle by second-guessing [himself]. The challenges really threw him off,” Mijune Pak said afterwards.

Her advice for Nathan would be to work on ‘less, is more.’ Mijune adds, “On the show, he had this habit of putting a lot of elements on the dish. You end up just getting something that’s confusing…and not what you wanted to present.”

“I’m sure what he cooks at his restaurant is probably very different,” Mijune continues. And she’s right, Nathan’s Saskatoon restaurant Sticks and Stones was named to Canada’s Best 100 Restaurant List for 2018. So, we know he’s more than capable as a chef. Maybe Mijune sums it up best with this thought about Nathan: “I’m not sure if he is a competition chef.”

Another chef fails tonight because of a lack of confidence. There’s a reason the judges love certain plates; it’s because they ‘taste like confidence’. (Thanks to Chris Nuttall-Smith for the perfect quote from the premiere episode.)


Case in point: Matt Sullivan, the evening’s winner, confidently stands next to a massive flame with a bottle of open whiskey.

Nine remaining chefs continue on next week, as the kitchen becomes infused with Mexican flavours and hopefully, more confidence. Personally, I can’t wait for that fiesta.

Watch Nathan Guggenheimer come to terms about what got him sent home in his post-elimination exit interview:

Top Chef Canada Season 6 Episode 1 Recap

Welcome to 2018, the year of plant-based diets, Instant Pot recipes and another delicious season of Top Chef Canada! Everyone knows it’s hard to follow-up an All-Stars edition, but judging from the way the first episode of season six went down there’s going to be some stiff competition in store from this next generation of culinary superstars.


This season’s 11 hopefuls await instructions for their first challenge from Host Eden Grinshpan.

It all kicked-off with the 11 hopefuls sauntering all slow-motion-like into the Monogram Kitchen (framed by some cool backlighting and with their knives in tow, of course), where they met returning host Eden Grinshpan and had a chance to size one another up. Some, like Saskatoon chefs Nathan Guggenheimer and Jesse Zuber, were already familiar with each other thanks to their partnerships alongside season one winner Dale Mackay (pressure, much?) while others, like Calgary chef Jinhee Lee seemed slightly intimidated—but not deterred—by the competition.

Related: Watch a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Eden Grinshpan’s day in the life of being Top Chef Canada’s host.

There was no time for actual formalities and introductions though; this is a competition, people. So Eden dove right into the night’s initial Quickfire Challenge: a four-part culinary skills race led by head judge Mark McEwan himself. The legendary chef and restaurateur reminded the chefs that no matter how high you’ve climbed the culinary ladder, your skills need to remain as sharp as your knives; Mark blanched and peeled 31 pearl onions in a mere three minutes, setting the bar for the first round of the challenge. Then in round two, he showcased his standards for a perfectly peeled and diced butternut squash, before diving back in during round three to prepare a duck like it’s nobody’s business. (And here I am, still trying to figure out how to quarter a chicken.)


In this mad dash Quickfire Challenge, counting the pearl onions was almost as tough as peeling them.

So what was the point of prepping all those ingredients? Other than to remind everyone why McEwan is the head judge, I mean? It certainly wasn’t to feed the production crew. Nope, by the time Jesse and Vancouver’s Mark Singson beat out the others to compete in the final round, they were given 25 mere minutes to prepare a dish with the food they’d just prepped. While it would probably take me 25 minutes just to cook up some rice and throw a chicken breast in the oven, these guys set the bar incredibly high with what McEwen admitted were easily two Top Chef quality dishes. That’s always a good start to the season, no?


Jesse’s Pan-Roasted Duck With Poached Pearl Onions and Squash Three Ways

Jesse’s Pan-Roasted Duck with Poached Pearl Onions & Squash Three-Ways was pure confidence, for one. The guy even cook-splained how important it was to properly render the duck fat to McEwan before he tasted it, proving to everyone that he knows his fowl. But it was the smoked canola oil in Mark’s Pan-Roasted Duck with Charred Onions and Squash Purée that put his dish over the top and landed Mark a cool $3,000 from Monogram, setting the bar for the season, if you ask me. And judging by Mark’s self-professed current financial status with his catering business, it was three grand he’s certainly pumped to have.


Mark’s Pan-Roasted Ducks with Charred Onions, Squash Purée and Smoked Canola Oil

Not that there was any time to really celebrate, mind you. Sure, it was obvious everyone’s nerves were tingling from the pressure of actually competing in this thing, and that they could all use a good night’s rest and a cocktail or two. Heck, I could use a stiff one after seeing how much work went into a ‘mere’ Quickfire Challenge. But that kind of repose is for other culinary competitions; in Top Chef Canada we head right into the Elimination Challenge, where what you put on the plate is always a do-or-die situation.


From L-R: Chefs Ivana Raca, Matt Sullivan, Jinhee Lee, JP Miron

Given the high expectations from this year’s crew and their next-gen style of cooking, it was only fitting that Eden bring out four chefs whose own culinary creations have helped shape the Canadian food landscape over the past few years. Obviously, that included McEwan, but in a star-studded move fit for a foodie premiere, Eden also introduced Susur Lee, Rob Feenie and Anne Yarymowich—three culinary masterminds whose dishes have inspired hoards of hopeful chefs. So basically, all of my own culinary heroes straight-up in one kitchen.

The task at hand? Each chef was supposed to put their own stamp on one of the four chefs’ signature creations that put them on the culinary map. Mark, who had the advantage of picking which chef he’d use for inspiration thanks to his Quickfire Challenge win, immediately selected Rob Feenie and his mouthwatering Sake & Maple-Cured Sablefish, Braised Oxtail, Ginger and Soy Cream. You know, just your basic fish and chips.


Ross Larkin prepares his take on the Bymark burger: manchego truffle powder dusted on top of his PEI Grass-fed beef tartare on squid ink crostini.

Meanwhile, the rest of the chefs drew knives to see which dish they’d be recreating: McEwan’s Bymark Burger with “high performance cheese” (I’m still not sure what that is but I want some); Susur’s Curry Roasted Chicken with Italian influences like polenta croutons; or Anne’s Montreal classic Tourtière, a golden-crusted meat pie filled with bison, venison, pork and duck confit. (A comfort food that could comfort even the most comfortable.)

No one ever wants to be the first chef to go home in a competition like this, so with $100 on their Interac cards and 25 minutes to shop at McEwan Foods, the competitors set about creating deconstructed, re-imagined and gussied-up versions of the four dishes, which they were to then piece together at McEwan’s Bymark restaurant.


Jesse prepares his take on the Bymark burger: trio of tartare “sliders” on three-cheese gougères.

As Jesse pointed out, it was basically “Top Chef Suicide” for those who drew McEwan’s name. I can’t even imagine the coronary-inducing levels of stress caused by whipping up a Bymark burger, at Bymark, for Mark. But that didn’t mean we should count Jesse, Montreal’s Darren Rogers, or St. John’s Ross Larkin, who all drew the Bymark burger, down and out just yet. Felix Zhou admitted he couldn’t even pronounce “tourtière,” for one. And the other chefs were also sweating up a storm back in that cramped kitchen. Not that I blame them; it wasn’t just the four powerhouse chefs who were going to be judging their plates; resident judges Mijune Pak, Chris Nuttall-Smith and Janet Zuccarini were also back to lend their tasting expertise. That’s a dinner party you want to break bread with, not cook for.


Jinhee’s Maple Lime-Glazed Chicken Thigh With Lemongrass Curry

In the end it was female power that led the way this week, as Jinhee’s Maple Lime-Glazed Chicken Thigh with Lemongrass Curry completely captured all of the judges’ imaginations (especially Susur Lee’s), and Elia Herrera’s Mexican take on a tourtière (a Stuffed Chipotle Pepper in a Pastry with Date & Tamarind Purée), blew everyone away. I would have jumped through the TV screen just to take one little bite of either of those dishes.


Elia’s Mexican Tourtière, a Stuffed Chipotle Pepper in a Pastry with Date and Tamarind Purée

Meanwhile, it was Montreal’s JP Miron, a guy obviously in this thing to represent his hometown, who rounded out the top three with his Maple Soy-Glazed Sablefish with Potato Pavé and Sake Soy Jus. Fish and chips indeed — this guy basically created “fish skin” out of shaved potatoes, making the 80’s cool again.


JP’s Maple Soy-Blazed Sablefish with Potato Pavé and Sake Soy Jus

While all three dishes were impressive, there was no beating Jinhee’s chicken, which Chris said “blew” his mind and Janet called “flawless.” That’s pretty high praise for the first winning Elimination Dish of the season, which means the pressure is on for Jinhee to keep bringing it week after week now. Good luck, I say.


Nathan should have kept rolling that pasta! Janet Zuccarini thought Nathan’s too thick pasta was “the beginning of the end” for her.

So with the winner determined, that left the unfortunate task of naming the night’s loser. And while Nathan’s bland curry and too thick pasta and Darren’s “elevator music” riff of strip loin were certainly bad enough to land them in the bottom three, it was poor Felix who became the first chef eliminated after he forgot his puff pastry and tried to solve the problem by making crispy sheet potatoes instead.

To be fair, I’m not sure it was completely the dish that made the judges decide to send him home; when McEwan asked Felix if he could make a standard pie dough that could have been used instead of the purchased puff pastry, he simply said, “no.” Apparently he didn’t get the memo that a judge does not want to hear something like that in a competition like this. Confidence goes a long way in this kitchen, and sadly Felix didn’t seem to have it this time around.


“No” is definitely not something the judges want to hear from a competitor.

With one chef down that leaves 10 to go, as next week the competition heats up again. After seeing the creations coming off the hot plate this week, I’ll definitely be bringing my appetite.

Related: Watch Felix Zhou reveal what he thought were his mistakes that led to his elimination in this exit interview.

Guide to Building a Chef-Worthy Pantry of Dried Herbs and Spices

The tools of the trade for this season’s Top Chef Canada chefs go beyond sharp knives and moxie. The Top Chef Canada kitchen pantry is well stocked, beautifully organized and slightly envy-inducing. It’s brimming with spices, herbs and spice mixes with a spectrum of tastes, tangs and temperatures from extra-mild to ferociously hot, giving the chefs just what they need to create a winning dish.

These herbs and spices are mixed, matched and layered for bold, attention-grabbing flavour that makes their dishes stand out from the crowd. And taking these tastes from a professional kitchen to home base is easier than you’d think. All you need is a seasoning collection built for contemporary palates.

How to Build a Contemporary Spice Pantry

Map out your spice cupboard like you’re planning a trip. Is there a destination you’re aching to go to? A dish you’d love to try there? From Indian to Moroccan to French and beyond, herbs and spices are a passport to an untapped world of tastes awaiting exploration.


Spices at a Moroccan Market

To begin, bring one new spice or herb per week into your kitchen and before you know it, you’ll have a library of tastes waiting for you, inspiring you and helping you along, every time you cook.

How to Store Spices and Herbs

Treat your herbs and spices like gold and they’ll return the favour, staying fresh longer. Store spices in the jar they came in or transfer to your own airtight jar, well-sealed and away from direct light or high temperatures, which can cause oxidation, leading to flat, not fresh, spices and herbs. A kitchen cupboard is the perfect place.

How to Tell if Spices and Herbs are Still Good to Use

Aroma: Strong, prominent and striking.
Colour: Vibrant, rich and natural.
Taste: Discernable and fresh tasting, not flat, unnoticeable or papery.

The Shelf Life of Spices and Herbs

Dried herbs: 1 to 2 years
Ground spices: 2 to 3 years
Spice mixes and seasonings: 1 to 2 years
Whole dried spices: 3 to 4 years

Bold Spices and Herbs to Explore

We’re pulling inspiration from the Top Chef Canada kitchen to help you build the ultimate culinary spice pantry. Here are some gourmet options to consider adding to your new spice pantry along with recipes to try to bring the flavour home.

Ancho Chili Pepper: With a mild heat and sweet, fruity flavour, ancho chili pepper is the dried version of a poblano pepper. Try it in this epic recipe for a Mexican Puebla Hot Pot Broth with Avocado Crema from McCormick’s Helloflavour.ca.


Mexican Puebla Hot Pot Broth With Avocado Crema

Saffron: Earthy, sweet, ever so slightly bitter and remarkable, saffron is used in Scandinavian, Middle Eastern, Spanish, Indian and Italian cuisines, adding not only a distinctive flavour but glowing yellow colour, too. Try saffron in this Whole-Roasted Cauliflower recipe.


Whole-Roasted Cauliflower With Hazlenut, Orange and Saffron

Garam Masala: With a warmth akin to holiday baking spices but with a savoury, spicy edge, this Indian spice blend is usually a mix of cardamom, cinnamon, chili, curry leaves, coriander seeds, cumin seeds and peppercorns. Cull inspiration from India with this recipe for garam masala Sweet Potato Cakes.


Sweet Potato Cakes

Harissa: This North African spice blend comes dried or in paste form, often containing hot peppers, garlic, coriander, rose and caraway. It can be used in Moroccan tagines and stews, in spreads, dips or as a rub for meat. Give it a try at dinner tonight with this recipe for Chicken and Chickpea Tagine with Apricots and Harissa Sauce.


Chicken and Chickpea Tagine With Apricots and Harissa Sauce

Za’atar: Fragrant, slightly sour, nutty and herbaceous, this spice mix is common in Middle Eastern cuisine. A mix of thyme, sumac and toasted sesame seeds, it brings depth to grilled flatbreads, fish, meat, hummus and more. It plays off of creamy chickpeas like a champ in this recipe for a Middle Eastern take of beans on toast.


Smoky Chickpeas on Grilled Toast With Poached Eggs and Za’atar

Lavender: Floral, soothing and delicate, culinary lavender adds a touch of Southern France to savoury dishes, and is a traditional component in herbes de Provence, a French spice mix containing thyme, oregano, marjoram, savory and rosemary. Lavender also shines in baked goods, sweets and cocktails. Bring a little bit of Southern French flair to your tea time with this recipe for Coconut Lavender Macaroons.    

Essential Herbs and Spices Every Kitchen Needs

The building blocks of everyday meals, these spices and herbs have your back, soothe your soul and bolster your mood with their familiar flavour. See our collection of 16 dried herbs and spices every home cook should have in their pantry. 

Sponsored by McCormick. For more great recipes using herbs and spices go to helloflavour.ca.

Cast Iron Skillet Cookie

How to Season Your Cast Iron Pans

Cast iron pans are a game-changing addition to any kitchen. In my opinion, there’s no better way to cook crispy hash browns, fry an egg or sear a burger than by using a cast iron pan. Cast iron Dutch ovens are essential for braising, stewing and even making bread. While there are many myths about cleaning and seasoning cast iron cookware, it is actually simple and easy to care for. Follow these tips that will help your cast iron last forever.

Cast Iron Skillet Cornbread

How to Season a Cast Iron Pan

When we say season, we’re not talking salt and pepper. Seasoning a cast iron pan means treating it with oil. A brand new cast iron pan might say “pre-seasoned” on it and but it’s best to season it yourself before using it. Start by preheating the oven to 325°F. Pour a few tablespoons of oil in the pan, and spread in and around the edge of the pan. Place a sheet of aluminum foil over the center rack in the oven. Place the cast iron pan upside down on the foil. It will catch any oil drips. Bake for 1 hour. Remove from oven and let cool.

How to Wash a Cast Iron Pan

Many people that will tell you that soap and water will destroy a cast iron pan. This isn’t true. Cast iron pans can get grimy just like other cookware and it’s okay to scrub your pan. Use the abrasive side of a sponge, and rinse your soap off with plenty of water. Dry your cast iron right away and re-season it to get back that beautiful oily lustre.

cast-iron-skillet-cookie

How to Care for a Cast Iron Pan

The best way to care for your cast iron cookware is by using it. The more you cook, sear and fry in it, the better seasoned it becomes. Cast iron is great for cornbread, brownies, fried chicken and steaks. The more use a cast iron pan gets, the more non-stick it becomes.

What to do About Rusty Cast Iron 

When cast iron is left wet or stored in a humid environment, it can start to get rusty. This is an easy problem to fix and even easier to prevent. Ensure that your cast iron cookware is completely dry after using it and store it in a dry place. Do not let it soak in the sink before you clean it or re-season it. It’s best to minimize the time between when you begin cleaning it and when you re-season it. If your pan does get a bit rusty or cruddy, scrub it away with dish soap and an abrasive sponge. Steel wool is also a good option. Once the rust is removed, dry your cookware and re-season it.

Seasoned and ready to get cooking?  Try one of these 14 Incredible Cast-Iron Skillet Recipes.

This Healthy Israeli Stuffed Pita is a Sandwich Lover’s Dream

Israel is known for their delicious falafel sandwiches, hummus, tabbouleh and baba ganouj. But somehow, one of their staple street foods never made it big outside of Israel. The sabich is a sandwich layered with fried eggplant, hard-boiled eggs, Israeli salad, hummus and pickles, then drizzled with tahini. It’s a vegetarian’s dream! The sabich sandwich is usually eaten for breakfast, but makes a delicious lunch or dinner, too.

Israeli Sabich Sandwich 


Prep Time
: 10 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
Serves: 2

Ingredients:

Sandwich
1/2 eggplant, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
2 pitas
2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
1 cup shredded cabbage
1/2 cup prepared hummus
1 1/2 cups Israeli salad* (see recipe below)
2 Tbsp tahini
Pickled turnip

Israeli Salad
1 small tomato, finely diced
2 baby cucumbers, finely diced
1/2 small onion, finely diced
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Toss eggplant with olive oil and salt, then place as a single layer on prepared baking sheet.
3. Bake eggplant until tender and golden brown, about 40 minutes, flipping the slices halfway through cook time.
4. Mix all Israeli salad ingredients together in a bowl.
5. Divide hummus between pitas. Layer eggplant, hard-boiled egg, cabbage and Israeli salad over hummus. Drizzle with tahini.
6. Fold pita and enjoy as a sandwich. Serve with pickled turnip.

Craving more Middle Eastern cuisine? Here are 12 Incredible Foods You Need to Try in Israel.