All posts by Amber Dowling

Amber Dowling is a freelance lifestyle writer, TV critic and mom. She's a wine enthusiast, yoga lover and all-around player of sports with a penchant for travel, animals and stinky cheese.
Anna Olson Halloween Hacks

Anna Olson’s Spooktacular Halloween Hacks

If you ask us, the best food-based Halloween offerings combine a little trick and a whole lot of treat. In fact, one of the best parts about the ghoulish holiday is invoking some kitchen creativity and concocting amazing offerings that look as though they belong at a feast table in the great hall at Hogwarts.

Anna Olson may not have the magic spell that brings chocolate frogs to life, but she certainly has oodles of creativity up her flour-dusted sleeves. Check out these four spooktacular Halloween hacks that not only elevate party-friendly treats but are guaranteed to impress kids and adults alike.

Spiderweb Donuts

Scare up some of these elevated jelly donuts for your next Halloween party or office get-together. All you need is a standard sugar glaze, some jelly donuts, a makeshift piping bag and a toothpick. Easy, peasy. (Spiders not included.)


Witch’s Cauldron Instant Ice Cream

Source some dry ice and watch guests’ faces positively light up when you whip up some instant, smoky ice cream in a matter of seconds. Extra points for a colourful spread of gummy worms, crushed Oreo cookie “dirt” crumbs and other sugary toppings to pour over top.


Slimiest Green Slime

It only takes three simple ingredients to simmer up some kid-friendly slime that’s not only chemical-free but edible, too. Decorate cakes, cupcakes or other concoctions with “green slime,” or just give it to the kiddies to play with as they see fit for some real Halloween fun.


Spooky Kitchen Fun: Halloween Treats

Get the kiddies involved in some good old-fashioned Halloween fun with these simple hacks that won’t just transform snacks into adorable creations, but you’ll craft some life-long memories while you’re at it. From witches hats and pretzel ghosties to blondie Frankensteins and fanged pumpkins, these treats are surprisingly easy to assemble.


Looking for more spooktacular inspiration? Try our 18 Orange and Black Halloween Treats.

The Baker Sisters’ Piping Hot Tips for Running a Truly Great Bakery

Bakeries may be a dime a dozen (every neighbourhood seems to have one, after all), but that doesn’t mean they’re all successful. In fact, we’ve been to our fair share of dives and hidden gems over the years, experiencing everything from so-so bread and non-existent customer service to desserts from the nicest bakers we’ve ever met that basically knocked our knickers off.

Jean Parker and Rachel Smith enjoy coffee and dessert at Proof Bakeshop in Atlanta.

Odds are that if a bakery exists, it’s there for good reason: the bakers involved know their way around a confection oven. But skills are just the first building block to a successful storefront. Here, Canada’s own The Baker Sisters, Jean Parker and Rachel Smith, divulge their top 5 tips that any bakery owner simply kneads to know.

Nail the Environment

Some bakeries are sit-down affairs while others are more about the counter service. Whatever type of establishment you’re running, you want to do it with a warm and friendly face because that’s what’s going to keep people coming back for more.

Just look at those smiles behind the counter at Vancouver’s Purebread bakery:

“(Have) a warm smile right off the bat,” Jean says. “Be really welcoming, because people will want to stay. There should be no rush.”

While you’re at it, it might not be a bad idea to offer a good cup of coffee or a strong pot of tea. Complete with a freshly baked scone or biscotti, of course.

Display Your Goods

Everyone knows that you eat with your eyes first, so that makes playing up the visual aspects of a bakery an important pillar of success. According to the sisters, it’s not just important to display your goods for customers as soon as they walk in, but you also want to share a variety of goods that showcase your awesome selection.

“One of our first trips away, we went to the West Coast in Canada, to Purebread in Vancouver, and this bakery was amazing. You walked in and it was like a bounty of desserts,” Rachel recalls. “Your eyes bugged out from how much of a selection they had, and they were all on different plate sizes. They weren’t hidden under a counter. They were just like, ‘Look at this bounty.’”

Purebread’s bakery display is a sweet sight to behold.
Photo Credit: Rachel Smith and Jean Parker

Foster Your Clientele

We’ve all heard how the customer is always right, but customer service should go beyond that approach. Making your clients feel welcomed and appreciated will only keep them coming back for more, and in the end, isn’t that the goal? That’s why the sisters feel it’s important to not only get to know the people who frequent your shop on a personal level, but to go that extra mile for them too. Rachel goes back to Purebread as another example of exemplary customer care following a day they happened to be closed to the public.

“Purebread stood at their front door and gave people sweeties for free to say, ‘I’m so sorry we’re closed today,’” she recalls. “At one point, they were giving gift cards.”

One more delicious shot of Purebread’s deliciously over-the-top display.

Be a Community Cornerstone

If you want to become a community staple, giving back to that community is probably a good start. Attend community events and get to know the residents, but also donate to local charities and organizations to really stand apart from the other establishments in town.

“Give day-olds to the community, like shelters. That stands out to me,” Jean says. “There were a handful of bakeries that I knew, maybe a lot of them did that, and they become a community cornerstone.”

Sugar in Charleston, South Carolina donates its day-old baked goods to community shelters.

Go for Gold

If you’ve nailed the other pillars of bakery excellence, there’s still one pretty big step to keep in mind—making sure you stand out from other bakeries with unique ingredients customers just can’t get elsewhere.

Toronto’s Nugateau prides itself on using high quality products and no artificial flavourings.
Photo Credit: Rachel Smith and Jean Parker

Have fresh, quality ingredients like chocolate and vanilla,” Jean says. “A lot of the bakers were using Kentucky bourbon vanilla, Madagascar vanilla came up a lot. Himalayan salt.”

“New Zealand butter,” Rachel raves. “It’s like using these ingredients that are really rich and special and luxurious. New Zealand butter has more fat content than regular butter, so it really lends to a buttery sweetie.”

Now that’s a pastry we can get behind.

Beginning October 20th, watch Rachel and Jean indulge in some of North America’s most delicious baked goods every Friday at 10 E/P in back-to-back episodes of The Baker Sisters. Visit to get the recipes and find all the bakeries Rachel and Jean visit in the series.

For ‘The Baker Sisters,’ Baking Is In Their DNA

Whipping up delectable desserts isn’t just a passion for Canada’s baking duo, sisters Rachel Smith and Jean Parker; it’s basically in their DNA. They were helping their mom whip up butter tarts, cookies and a “green pie” they still rave about to this day, since before they could even stand at the counter, inherently fostering their love of all things sweet and sugary. It’s a love that launched the sisters on a pretty sweet career path, and now, an exciting new TV series The Baker Sisters, premiering October 20th at 10 E/P.

Rachel reaching for her first birthday cake, made by her mom Heather.

“Our mom, even from the very beginning, really tried to get us to help,” Rachel remembers. “We would make cookies on the floor. She started doing it on the floor because when I was a baby, I fell off the counter. She was like, ‘I’ll put you on the counter in one of those seats,’ and unfortunately I fell off while helping her make cookies.”

Jean on her first birthday, getting her own from-scratch birthday cake from mom Heather.

Jean jokes that Rachel has never been the same, but it’s obvious that their mother’s love of baking and their fond memories of her concoctions still resonate with their palates to this day.

“The one thing I remember asking for a lot was this cinnamon coffee cake. It was marbled, it was beautiful, it was moist,” Rachel raves, recalling how her mom was always covered with flour and that the house usually smelled like baking, attracting the neighbourhood children. “The cinnamon and butter throughout the cake was thick, so you’d get that buttery piece of cinnamon. We’d always eat it with crunchy peanut butter. Whenever she said she was going to make a coffee cake, I was like, ‘Is it that one?’”

TheBakerSisters11On Rachel’s third birthday from left to right: older sister Brittany, Jean, mom Heather and Rachel.

“My mom would have her bake days and then freeze everything,” Jean chimes in. “The problem is things just taste really good in the freezer. Frozen chocolate chip cookies are up there as one of my favourite things… I remember being a kid, watching the cookies rise was like TV. Sitting in front of the oven with the light on watching the cookies rise. ”

To be fair, there was a period when these sisters thought they were over baked goods… well, for good. They refer to themselves as “broody teenagers” who had little interest in butter tarts and the butter tart business their mom ran at the time, complaining that they’d smell like their mom’s signature treat.  And while they have early memories of whipping up brownies, chocolate chip muffins and snickerdoodles out of spare tart dough (they were given free reign to shape those scraps the way they wanted), they also yearned for regular kid treats like Flakies, Twinkies and Jos Louis.

Jean and Rachel shared a family photo from when their mom started her own butter tart business:

Where it all started.. The original photo from 90's #familyofwomen #maplekeytartco #canadianbakers #canadiantarts

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“I never wanted to eat another butter tart again. And now here we are,” Jean shrugs.

Here we are indeed. It’s memories like those that have made the sisters closer and perhaps even unified them over the years as they’ve expanded their own baking skills and launched their own butter tart empire, Maple Key Tart Co.

While some siblings in that situation would inherently bust out the rivalry when asked who was better at the craft, these sisters are nothing but complimentary, pointing out their strengths with affection. Rachel is quick to reveal that Jean is better at nailing the precise measurements and recipes needed to be a successful baker, but Jean says that when it comes to kitchen efficiency Rachel reigns supreme.

“I’m staying at her house right now and at dinner last night she was making four separate meals at one time. It’s (her) speed and (her) confidence in the kitchen,” she explains.


Today, Rachel and Jean both try to continue the baking tradition with their own kids. At Jean’s house, cookies are always a safe bet (the kids love anything with chocolate while she likes rolling peanut butter cookies in sugar), but Rachel takes a slightly different approach by sneaking extra vegetables into muffins.

“Muffins, like a carrot cake muffin, because I love jamming vegetables in it. With a carrot cake muffin, I’m grating a whole zucchini in there. Vegetables are tricky. Also, scones or biscuits. You can put broccoli in there and totally trick your kids.”

The kids may be tricked into eating veggies or baked goods for now, but if they’re anything like their moms, baking will eventually hold a strong, familial place in their hearts too.

It is, after all, in their DNA.


Food Network Canada Stars’ Favourite Vacation Eats

Sure, sure—it may be summer and some of our favourite chefs are taking a bit of a breather during these supposed “dog days.” But that doesn’t mean these foodies aren’t whipping up inspiring dishes and eating at some pretty incredible places during their hiatuses. In fact, summer seems to be a time for food creativity to develop and palates to blossom.

From Ree Drummond and Eden Grinshpan to Michael Smith and Alton Brown, here’s what our culinary superstars have been enjoying this summer. Bon appetit!

Anna Olson
When in Montreal, Anna Olson tends to stop by Patrice Patissier for some mouthwatering (and eye-catching) desserts. Just check out this rhubarb concoction she enjoyed recently. This artful offering might actually be the definition of summer on a plate.

Eden Grinshpan
While travelling in Tel Aviv this summer with her family, Eden Grinshpan seemed to be all about the Mediterranean food. And why not? Between the pitas, hummus, fresh veggies, fish and garlicky dips, it’s nice, light and perfect for summer. Mmm, pita.

Alton Brown
Who says you can’t have rice for breakfast? When one is searching for a hearty meal in Los Angeles to kick off the day, Sqirlla seems to be a top choice for Alton Brown. We wonder how long it took him to polish off this crispy rice with the works… Probably not long at all.

Giada DeLaurentiis
Speaking of hearty breakfasts, it looks like Giada is getting her energy this summer from this riff on eggs Benedict–which is also a riff on classic crab cakes. Introducing Salmon Cake Benedict, a brunch item at DeLaurentiis’s Nevada eatery, Vegas. The salmon cakes are elevated with wilted spinach, piquillo peppers and prosecco hollandaise sauce, and are served with some classic toast and poached eggs. Sign us up.

Salmon cake benny! @giadavegas #vegasuncorkd

A post shared by Giada DeLaurentiis (@giadadelaurentiis) on

Michael Smith
Some people stop and smell the summer flowers, other people devour them as culinary masterpieces. Michael Smith definitely falls into the latter category if this beautiful skillet he recently enjoyed is any indication. These mulled strawberries in haskap berry syrup with nutmeg biscuits and flower petal confetti are basically summer in a pan, and we just want to dive right in.

Ree Drummond
Ree Drummond has been busy pioneering her new cookbook this summer, and judging by some of the recipes she’s sharing it’s going to be epic. Fall, winter, spring or summer, we’re always down for bread and cheese. And when you pack melty cheese into a wheel of bread and serve it with some marinara sauce for dipping? Well that’s a recipe that just inspired us to host an end-of-summer potluck.

Mark McEwan
Sure, you could go for a pint and a platter of nachos after work, but that seems a little heavy on the tummy during these warmer summer months. That’s why we want to go the Mark McEwan route, and munch on these crispy rice cup crackers topped with tuna tartare, yuzu kosho and lime coconut instead. This Bymark appie isn’t just light and summery, but you also feel super artsy just eating it.

Chuck Hughes
There are rice bowls, and then there are rice bowls a la Chuck Hughes. We knew the chef was obsessed with fresh seafood, but this dish he showcased recently at his Le Bremner restaurant in Montreal is basically any lobster-lover’s dream. Huge chunks of lobster, fresh pops of peas and a buttery sauce on rice? Um, yes please.


A post shared by Chuck Hughes (@chefchuckhughes) on

Bobby Flay
Speaking of lobster, the delicacy may just be the seafood of the summer. Bobby Flay also enjoyed it recently at his Bobby Flay Steak restaurant in Atlantic City, via this elevated take on surf-and-turf. Grilled to perfection and topped with honey mustard horseradish and mint, these skewers make barbecues everywhere jealous.

Nigella Lawson
Simpler is always better, at least when it comes to wholesome cooking. Nigella Lawson continually proves this, especially with this summery take on old-fashioned tomato salad with homemade dressing. Now how refreshing does this look?

Geoffrey Zakarian
What do Chopped judges do for lunch when they have a break from filming during the lazy summer months? If they’re Geoffrey Zakarian they go for a chopped salad, of course. This one comes loaded with all of our faves, from blanched green beans to avocado, and it’s making our veggie-loving tummies grumble. Please excuse us while we go and chop one up ourselves.

Lunchtime. A different meaning for #chopped @foodnetwork

A post shared by Geoffrey Zakarian (@gzchef) on

Top Chef Canada: All-Stars Finale Episode Recap

It’s been a delicious ride, but all epic battles must come to an end—no matter how savoury they are. And so Dustin, Trevor and Nicole entered the Monogram Kitchen one last time on Sunday night as the first ever trio of Top Chef Canada: All-Stars finalists, where they faced off against each other in a crazy culinary showdown.

Nicole, Dusty and Trevor arrive in the Monogram Kitchen for the very high stakes Quickfire Challenge.

Of course this wouldn’t be a finale without a bit of a look down memory lane. Before we got down to business each chef opened up about what being in the finals meant to them and why they started cooking in the first place. It was a sweet and touching moment before the gas grills turned to high, and these guys (and gal) knew it. We didn’t buy their grins walking into the Quickfire Challenge as anything other than nerves, especially because they had to have known what was coming next: One. Last. Elimination.

Can you imagine being the chef to be booted from the competition right before the final stretch? To say it would suck would be a complete understatement. That’s like being told you’re going to the World Series only to find out you’ve been booted because they invited too many teams. So yeah, this was pressure at its absolute finest.

Fittingly, the dish the chefs had to create was the dish they’d want to eat before the day of battle, so it wasn’t just fancy schmanzy comfort food here: it was actually a bit of these chefs on a plate. And each chef had a fairly different strategy to deal.

Dustin proved he’s the most adorable family man ever when he created a Fennel-Poached Salmon with Fingerling Potatoes, because that’s a meal he and his wife enjoy eating together. Okay so perhaps it wasn’t comfort food in the traditional sense of the term, but it certainly had an elevated, spa-like quality that definitely impressed. Meanwhile, Trevor threw his efforts into a Handmade Tagliatelle (such a risky move given the time crunch everyone was under), and Nicole doubled down with a Spaghetti Puttanesca and a Grilled NY Striploin. Because if it’s your last meal, why shouldn’t you have two? Now that’s a girl after our own heart.

So whose dish did Mark McEwan, Mijune Pak and Eden Grinsphan positively devour? Dustin’s, naturally, and that win earned him the honour of becoming the first of the two official official finalists of the night. The guy knows how to cook fish, what can we say.

Dusty’s Fennel-Poached Salmon with Fingerling Potatoes, Braised Carrot and Fennel.

That meant it was down to Nicole and hot-streak Trevor. But while the judges were impressed with Trevor’s overall ability to make pasta in such a short time span, it was one crucial thing that did him in, in the end: salt. That’s right, the one ingredient that every chef can never seem to get enough of was what ruined Trevor in the end, and he was instantly eliminated in a heartbreaking twist.

Part I of Nicole’s Meal: Grilled NY Strip Steak with Salsa Verde

Part II: Spaghetti Puttanesca

Mark told us later on: “With Trevor, it was all or nothing. He would come out and he would wow you and he would take the day or he would falter. As it went on and the competition wore on him, his bag of tricks was just not there.”

“It’s a shame that I got eliminated… I would have liked to have cooked a final meal, for sure because I spent all of last night planning it and that just got cut short,” Trevor said post-elimination. “So I could have been sleeping for four hours instead of planning menus but no regrets. That’s what you’re here for. It was fun while it lasted.”

And then there were two.

If we’re being honest, we always knew it would come down to Dusty and Nicole. Every week if felt like one or both of them were in the top, and while they had their stumbles along the way they were few and far between. So we would have given anything to have had a place at the judge’s table for the All-Stars feast they were tasked with creating. That must have been the best meal of these judges’ lives.

Of course you can’t create a gigantic five-course feast for a group of judges (Chris Nuttall-Smith and Janet Zuccarini joined Eden, Mark and Mijune) without a little help from your friends. So back to join in on the party were Dennis and Andrea, two of our favourite local Toronto chefs. Dustin immediately picked his boy Dennis to serve as his sous-chef for the evening, while Andrea and Nicole rose above their past annoyances to create a female powerhouse on the flip side of the competition. And that’s when the real battle began.

Dennis helps Dusty in plating his Japanese Rib Eye Steak entree course.

Andrea helping Nicole make the pasta for the Goat Cheese Tortellini.

From the first bite, which was literally one single bite as it was the Amuse Bouche, you could tell this was going to be one stiff competition. Nicole finally decided to bust out her signature Italian flavours, while Dusty opted to showcase his worldly Asian experience with different cuisines. Both had their merits. Dusty’s Braised Winter Melon was a mini flavour bomb, but so was Nicole’s Lemon Arancini with Truffle Fonduta. The pair also pulled in neck-and-neck with their apps (Dustin earned tons of praise for the Iced Ginger Dressing in his Thai Mango Salad, while Nicole’s Beef Carpaccio melted in the judges’ mouths), and seemed pretty tied up in the rankings following their first main, too. We mean, really: how do you judge between a perfect Olive Oil-Poached Cod and a perfect Goat Cheese Tortellini anyhow?

Chris on Dusty’s Thai Mango Salad: “This is a masterpiece of seasoning.”

TCC-All-Stars-Nicole-Finale-Carpaccio Janet on Nicole’s Carpaccio: “This is a brilliant dish.”

Mijune on Dusty’s Olive Oil-Poached Cod: “The cod is so buttery, so silky smooth.”

Mark on Nicole’s Tortellini: “That dish is magic. This is the best tortellini I’ve ever eaten.”

But by the time we got to the second entrees things definitely began to fall apart. Dustin totally overshot his mark by trying to recreate a Japanese style platter that included soggy tempura, while Nicole forgot to think about the overall flow of her plates by serving a sea bream with a second butter sauce. With such a disastrous showing, we knew it could only come down to every chef’s most loathed dish of all: dessert. Because doesn’t it always come down to dessert?

Nicole’s Sea Bream with Fingerling Potatoes, Crispy Capers, and Beurre Blanc Sauce

Dusty’s Japanese Rib Eye Steak with Miso Eggplant, Vegetable Tempura and Nori Squid Ink Butter

From where we were watching, it could have been either Dustin’s vanilla ice cream or Nicole’s panna cotta that were the winning elements on their plates. It was impossible to tell, and the conflicting judges’ opinions weren’t super helpful either: one minute they seemed to be in favour of Dusty’s overall dishes and the next they were Team Nicole.

Janet on Nicole’s Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta: “One of my favourite panna cottas that I’ve ever had.”

Eden on Dusty’s Apple Tarte Tatin with Vanilla Ice Cream: “The star of this plate is the ice cream. The texture’s gorgeous.”

So whose name was it that was called out in the end? Let’s just say that she not only became the very first All-Stars winner, but she also became the first female chef to ever win a season of this show. That’s right, in the end it was Nicole who stole the competition and our hearts with her hilarious one-liners. The second she heard her name announced you could see just how much this competition truly meant to her, and that made her win oh-so-much sweeter.

From Episode 9: Nicole declares her intentions.

Chris told us afterwards: “Nicole’s specialty is Italian food, it’s what she loves, it’s what she’s great at. She didn’t even go into her comfort zone until she’d made it to the very end. You get to the finale and she pulls out this skill, this expertise that we didn’t even know she had and it was mind-blowing. I cannot say enough about what a great chef she is and what a smart human being she is.”

“Being Italian, you can really know if just one nuance is off because Italian food has very, very strict rules. She really stuck to the nuances,” Janet agreed. “One thing I really remember about her food is being incredibly fresh tasting and she really cooked with a light hand and that’s what Italian food is. You’re just bringing out the inherent goodness of really good product.”

No nerves here while preparing her finale dinner – just some smooth dance moves.

“Nicole just kept getting better and better and better. She kind of rose to the occasion,” Mark chimed in. “I remember her from the first time I met her and she’d have flour all over herself, her station would be a mess. Completely lovable. But at the base of it, a good cook: knows how to season, knows how to combine things. This is her catering background. So, she excelled because her food tasted good. And only got better. That’s what it takes to win. You’ve got to have that consistency and you’ve got to generate momentum and she did that all the way through. And how adorable was that that she won? That was incredible.”

So well deserved. Nicole raising a glass with her mom and sister to her right and boyfriend to her left.

“I’m still on cloud nine, I can’t believe this. This is incredible. Winning this is crazy—winning this against Dustin is crazy. I’m still in shock,” she said afterwards. “There were some great competitors. I know I’m good at what I do but winning this is over the top. First woman, Top Chef Canada and then All-Stars? It’s unbelievable.”

Of course it was also bittersweet because we loved Dustin equally, and he wanted to win so much for his family. He should at least rest assured that he more than proved his salt in the kitchen, and showed everyone just how grown up and capable he is as a chef. Obviously great things are in store for him, and we’re not the only ones who know it.

“Dustin’s amuse bouche was just astonishing. It was so delicious, so impressive. It was so simple, but not simple. It was one of these things that just it looked so innocent in that glass bowl and you taste it and your mind just goes to a thousand beautiful places,” Chris reflected. “It had everything. It was such a masterpiece of judgment, of seasoning. It was fresh, it was savoury. Every bit of that amuse bouche suggested we were about to have the meal of a lifetime. And then he comes out with this Japanese course that was just an unmitigated disaster. Nothing about it was good. It was so disappointing because he worked so hard and I think this was one of those instances where he thought what he served was good and it just wasn’t. God, it’s heartbreaking. I’ll never forget the look on his face when he didn’t win. Your heart just went out for him.”

“It was for Dustin to lose and, unfortunately, he did lose it. I know he thought he won and I felt terrible about it, but he had an amazing showing,” Mark said. “The whole Japanese thing, I didn’t get it. To me, that’s where he gave it away. You have to be very careful with Japanese food. It’s all about extreme precision and when it doesn’t land, it doesn’t land. He put a lot of gas in that category and he spent a lot of energy there and it just didn’t resonate, whereas Nicole did simpler dishes, but you wanted more.”

“I’m bummed out. I know where I fell short today but I wouldn’t change anything, I’d just make it better,” Dustin said. “I was really hoping to win this so even though I made it far and it was a good run, it’s going to take some time to decompress… It’s one thing in the first season to get kicked off on a random episode but to be so close and to almost have it is a little trying.”

Even as she wins the title, Nicole acknowledges Dusty’s amazing work. 

And that brings us to the end of another season of Top Chef Canada. It’s been a slice, but now we’ve got to get back to our regularly scheduled weeknight meal planning. At least now we’ll have a little inspiration from some of the best in the business… and now we’ll probably always remember to hold back on the extra salt.

But wait…there’s more!
Read our exclusive interview with Canada’s Top Chef Nicole Gomes

Watch these bonus scenes and bloopers:

The Final Two’s Hotel Bar Chat

Fun With Eden

All-Stars Bloopers


12 Times The All-Stars Chefs Were Just Like Us!

If you’ve been tuning into Top Chef Canada: All-Stars then you’re well aware that these chefs are like culinary super heroes. There’s no onion they can’t slay without shedding a single tear. No hunk of meat they can’t butcher to the most precise cut. No flavour profile they can’t deconstruct and build back up quicker than The Flash.

That’s why when we look back over the course of the season we’re reminded that, while these guys and gals killed it in the kitchen, they’re prone to all those real life foibles and emotions regular folks deal with all the time. Whether it was a hair-pulling mishap, an eye-rolling rivalry or over-the-top excitement, here are 12 times the All-Stars showed us they’re just like us.

1. How Does This Thing Work?!Having access to all of the latest and greatest kitchen tools and appliances is pretty gravy… if only one can figure out how to use them. Heads up Nicole, that mixer only works if you actually plug it in.

2. Slaying the Budget in the Grocery Check Out Line

Sure, sure… any of these guys could create a wonderful meal in the kitchen if they had unlimited access to amazing ingredients. But doing that while coming in under budget? Well that’s priceless.

3. Actually Admitting You’re ScaredBut really, how do you react when a panel of culinary experts that scares the crap out of you tastes your food at a world market? Do you cry? Puke? Huddle down under the table and bawl your eyes out?

4. High-Five Freeze OutAndrea, we know you didn’t mean to freeze Curtis out over that conciliatory handshake when he beat your mother sauce in front your mentor John Higgins, but um, #AwkwardTurtle much?

5. Hating the Idea of Facing Your PastWe mean… would you want to cook for Lynn Crawford again after she previously called your Italian Wedding Soup a divorce before the wedding?

6. When You’re Too Excited to See That Not Everyone is Feeling You

A quick lesson in how to (not) make friends and influence people: Win a string of immunities and then have THE BEST TIME prepping your dish in front of the other chefs competing for their lives.

7. Being a Fanboy

We totally get it: Daniel Boulud is the real deal, and cooking for him is stomach-dropping scary. To be honest, we’re actually kind of proud of Dennis for not fainting when he heard that he’d have to whip up a fancy French dish for one of his idols.

8.  When Someone Mentions Snacks

This is the only appropriate reaction when someone tells you that you have to create a Top Chef Canada-caliber dish using good old-fashioned beef jerky.

9. Needing to Smash Something. Now.

Sometimes when you’re under an insane time crunch and your regular old knife just isn’t smashing garlic the way you need it to, you have to resort to other measures. Like cathartic bottle smashing, for example.

10. I’ll Have One of Each, Please.

What would you want to eat the night before a big battle? Not one, but two dishes: Spaghetti Puttanesca and Grilled Steak with Salsa Verde. Heck, why not make it three? We’re not driving. Now that’s a girl after our own heart.

11. When You Make Something DE-LI-CIOUS.

It’s okay Nicole, if we made tortellini that good we’d probably be licking the spatula clean, too.

12. It’s All About Family.

As Mark McEwan told us, this thing was Dusty’s to lose. And while the disappointment of actually losing it was obviously in every inch of his body language, there was one pretty nifty thing in store: hugs from his wife and baby girl, whom he missed so much this season. And in the end, isn’t that the best prize of all? All together now: Awwwww.

Top Chef Canada: All-Stars Episode 9 Recap

The Fab Four. The Fantastic Four. The Ghostbusters. And now, the Top Chef Canada: All-Stars Top Four. Dustin, Nicole, Trevor and Dennis may be our new favourite squad in the kitchen. Now if only they were all on the same team to fight hunger and squash appetites across our great land, rather than competing against one another for the title of Top Chef Canada.

For now we’ll have to be content with these finalists fighting the good fight solo… or at least with a little help from some other notable all-stars. That’s because no penultimate episode of a reality series is complete without looking back at the past, and in the case of this culinary contest that meant bringing in the past four winners for some help in the Monogram Kitchen during the Quickfire Challenge.

L-R: Dale McKay, Carl Heinrich, Matthew Stowe, and Rene Rodriguez with Eden and Mark.

The task at hand? Create as many All-Stars caliber dishes as possible in a mere 35 minutes. Our former winners went back to their roots and served as sous-chefs for the top four in the glutinous battle, which seemed destined to-be, despite the random drawing to determine the pairings. Luscious-locked Rene Rodriguez was back and a perfect match with Dennis’s independent style; the pair banged out three presentable dishes together. Season 3 winner Matthew Stowe was finally able to return a favour and help Nicole present three entrees after she helped him with his path to the championship back in the day. Meanwhile Trevor was reunited with second-season winner Carl Heinrich where they worked better than Batman and Robin to pump out six passable dishes that were “perfectly seasoned” according to Mark McEwan. That left Dusty and Dale McKay, our #BeardedBros to cobble together seven dishes—six of which were deemed All-Star worthy.

Dusty and Dale with their beards.

It’s a good thing these guys don’t have to do their own dishes because everything in our “clean-as-you-go” fibers was screaming at the… well, the screaming and general running around that was happening. Appliances were flying, chefs were sprinting and chaos ensued. Nicole was screaming nonsense and the contestants may have forgotten to scream “behind” more than once. (We miss you, Curtis.) Forget whichever poor sap has to do all of those dishes at the end of the day; we’re surprised no one lost a limb.

Classic Nicole.

Anyhow with a tie in place the challenge came down to what it should always come down to: flavour. And with his tastebuds still singing, Mark easily awarded the winning title (and $3,000 from the Monogram Kitchen) to Trevor, who is quickly gaining momentum heading into the finale. Obviously, Nicole and Dennis were pretty angry at themselves for not doing more while Dustin was probably wishing he stroked Dale’s “old-timey moustache” a little for good luck.

One of Trevor’s Six Top Chef Canada-caliber dishes: Slow Cooked Salmon, Hollandaise and Roasted Asparagus.

With their duties officially out of the way the four winners bid the chefs adieu for now, switching from kitchen elves to tasters for the Elimination Challenge. It was a contest more weighted than most, since this was the last hurdle before the finale; whoever went home was probably going to be kicking themselves for the foreseeable future. No one wants to be the guy who went home before the end, especially when you’ve been concocting dishes for the finale in your head for the past few weeks. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.

For this week’s Elimination Challenge, the final four went back to the classic drawing of the knives to determine which game meat they’d have to prepare and serve family style for a group of 10. (And yes, we could feel Jesse face-palming from the sidelines over the fact that he was eliminated right before a game challenge.) The catch? The dish needed to be prepared on a grill, by the lake of all places at Toronto’s Palais Royale. How very Canadian. Ah yes, and because grilling venison, bison, duck and boar through the Canadian winds and uneven heat wasn’t challenging enough, the chefs had $150 and 30 minutes to frantically run through Kensington Market and find their ingredients. It was like watching the Tough Mudder of grocery shopping—who knew you had to have a certain level of physicality in order to cook?

Oh, and because the pressure of cooking to get into the finale wasn’t enough on the line, there was also a huge trip to Beringer Vineyards in California at stake for the winner. That’s right, not only would he or she get to participate in the finale, but they’d be able to relax afterwards by sipping wine overlooking a Napa Valley sunset with a loved one. Heck we’d sign up for that any day of the week.

Knowing all of that, the chefs got to grilling for their table of 10: judges Mark, Mijune Pak and Chris Nuttall-Smith, along with host Eden, guest judge and James Beard Award-winner Normand Laprise, and guest-tasters Steffan Howard, Dale, Carl, Matt and Rene. Now that’s a dinner party!

So with the wine flowing and the plating precariously presented, everyone dug into the “wild dinner.” Oh Eden, don’t ever change.

Dustin’s Grilled Venison with Birch-Glazed Apples, Mustard and Apple Jus

Dustin’s Grilled Venison with Apples was deemed classic, delicious and “safe,” while his pretty Potato Pave was a showstopper with all of its impressive potato layers. As for his Sweet and Sour Squash with Endive Salad, Brown-Butter Hazelnuts and Pickled Onions? The judges all agreed that it was a gamey dish they’d be happy to find on any menu.

Dennis’s Whole Roasted Juniper and Cedar Bison Striploin

Next up was Dennis and his Whole Roasted Juniper and Cedar Bison Striploin. You could tell he was fighting hard to come back from the last hunk of meat he served tableside in this competition, which almost sent him home. Unfortunately he overcompensated and served meat that was too rare for some, although others at the table defended its cut. (Later, Mark would say Dennis got “lucky” with his piece of meat and that this wasn’t necessarily a result of skill.) As for his sides? His grilled cabbage and creamed leeks didn’t feel like a cohesive offering, and only served to confuse the judges in the end.

Trevor’s Wild Boar Country Sausage with Brined and Smoked Boar Loin

As for Trevor, well he went into the challenge more confident than most, having just won last week’s challenge as well as this week’s Quickfire. He wanted to recreate a version of a pork dish he serves at his restaurant and so he went with boar several ways, including a Kale Salad with Grilled Boar Belly, Wild Boar Country Sausage and Brined and Smoked Boar Loin. Oh yes, and he had a Wild Mushroom Polenta to top it all off. Unfortunately his cutting board presentation—a self-professed “gamble”—really didn’t strike the judge’s fancy. Both Mark and Mijune were visibly disappointed there wasn’t more on the plate, and no one was completely sure how to eat it or what went with what. From our couches it was hard to see the problem (we were eating the heck out of those sausage patties with our eyes), but then again we also think store-bought potato chips are the food of gods. Wait… or is that those little black salty olives from the olive bar?

Nicole’s Brined and Smoked Cinnamon Duck Breast, Confit Duck Legs and Cherry Jus

Anyhow last but not least was Nicole, who had the difficult challenge of grilling duck—apparently that’s the last way anyone wants to cook the bird, since the fat is kind of a huge fire hazard. (Perhaps the show should have come with a “don’t grill this at home” disclaimer?) So Nicole showed some smarts and came up with a workaround instead: she smoked her duck breast on the grill with some cinnamon and paired it with confit duck legs. She then served the dish with a Cherry Jus,  Creamed Savoy Cabbage with Braised Chestnuts and Bacon, for an overall offering that was largely applauded at the table, despite the flabby duck skin.

When Normand Laprise drinks your Cherry Jus straight from the pitcher, it’s safe to say you’re not going home.

Heading into Judge’s Table it was pretty obvious which direction things would go. It turns out playing things safe was a good bet in this case, because Dustin was the night’s overall winner. Unsurprisingly Nicole also joined him for a secure spot in the finale, meaning it all came down to Trevor and Dennis.

Mark and Chris can’t believe what they’re hearing from Trevor.

As the judges explained their reasoning and critiques, Trevor was all-around defensive, proving that even nice guys get snippy when they’re tired and missing their family. This competition grills on you, guys. (Pun intended.) But while Mark didn’t really like Trevor’s “posture,” he was quick to point out it wasn’t a popularity contest and that this decision came down to the food itself. Sadly, that meant Dennis would not get his chance to cook a Filipino feast for the crowd in the finale, as his convoluted side dishes cost him the competition in the end.

“What a cool guy,” Mark said as Dennis walked out to go and pack his knives. We thought so too, Mark. We thought so too.

“I’m pretty disappointed… The worst part is not executing under these circumstances. This was the biggest day and I just didn’t produce. Being so close is a tough pill to swallow,” Dennis said afterwards. “I hope people look at food a little differently after experiencing what I have to offer. I approach food to broaden people’s minds. There’s a big world out there with a lot of opinions and different ways to eat and enjoy. I hope people get that from me and what I’m trying to do.”

Dennis’s final judges table.

“Dennis is one of the most likable young chefs you’ll ever meet. He’s always got this big smile on his face. He’s incredibly modest. He’s helpful with the other chefs, very genuine,” Mark told us later on. “He’s competitive by nature, otherwise he wouldn’t be on Top Chef Canada, but he doesn’t show that. We had some good moments with him and he leaves you with this feeling where you want to give him a big hug.”

“Oh, my god, Dennis has such a fantastic perspective. He brings such incredible and really rare influences into his food, influences that you often don’t find in kind of downtown Toronto fine cooking,” Chris added. “That’s one of the things that makes him such an exciting and interesting chef. He wanted so badly to do a Filipino feast for the finale and I would give just about anything to eat that food. He brings such a smart touch to just about everything he does… he’s an artist who has been painting other artists’ canvases throughout his career and I think as soon as he gets his own canvas, he’s going to do something impeccable.”

Until then we’ll always have those crispy prawns. Good luck Dennis—we want to give you a hug, too.

Next week? The finale. Hard to believe we’re here already, isn’t it? Will it be Tasmanian Devil Nicole, Defensive Nice Guy Trevor or Smiles-For-Days Dusty? The countdown to the big reveal is on.

Want more Top Chef Canada?
Watch this bonus scene from Episode 9.

Top Chef Canada: All-Stars Episode 8 Recap

Oprah and Maya Angelou. Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. Harry Potter and Professor Dumbledore. Those mentor relationships have nothing on the mentors we saw this week on Top Chef Canada: All-Stars, as the Top 5 received an inspirational video from those “who shall always be named” heading into their next Quickfire challenge.


For Dusty, Trevor and Dennis they drew inspiration from their professional relationships. That meant messages from Susur Lee, Ron MacGillivray (the owner of Fable) and Nick Liu (the chef and owner of Dailo), respectively, to pump the chefs up and remind them of how far they’ve come. It was a little more personal for Nicole and Jesse though, who received messages from their mom and step-dad mentors back home. Cue the collective “awwwws.”


It was a nice Survivor-esque locker room moment that even had us a little teary eyed, so naturally it was immediately trumped by the challenge itself. The chefs dried their eyes pretty quickly when they learned that even their mentors may actually be out to get them, in the form of a personalized box of mentor-approved ingredients. Eden and guest judge Antonio Park then took off while the chefs sweated out dishes from their random boxes and the clock ticked down, forcing the likes of Nicole to figure out how to quick-cook pork belly and Dustin to make due with a haphazard box that included quail, miso, shallots, fingerling potatoes and… whiskey. Maybe the whiskey was for the nerves?

“White boy meets Asian,” Dusty told to the cameras while flashing that million-dollar smile and telling Antonio that after today he was no longer so sure who his mentor is.

“Don’t be a psycho in the kitchen,” was what Trevor took away from Ron MacGillivray’s video. Apparently our cool, calm and collected nice-guy Trevor lets the pressure get to him every once in a while too… who knew?

Apparently Trevor should have been slightly crazier with his dish though, since his halibut landed him at the bottom of the pack alongside Nicole’s pork belly. But we mean… how do you compare those two meats in terms of cooking time? One takes minutes while the other takes hours. Luckily for both the chefs it was just the Quickfire, and the only thing on the line was their pride.

Dennis’s Annatto-Crusted Pork Tenderloin with Coconut Caramel Dressing and Fennel Slaw.

As for Dustin and his quail? Well it was hailed as one of the best dishes alongside Jesse’s venison. But it was Dennis’s Asian-inspired pork tenderloin that finally landed him a win following a few weeks of stumbles, and it seriously looked like the beginning of a massive comeback for the chef.

And then the Elimination Challenge was announced and everything Dennis thought he knew was a lie.

You want us to do what?!?

Want to know how to seriously trip a chef up? Ask him or her to create food that looks like one thing and tastes like another. And do it twice, times 75, for a cocktail party. We can just imagine the curse words that were going through these guys’ heads when they heard about that one.

But, that’s why this battle is called Top Chef Canada: All-Stars. The whole point of doing the show is to make the possible out of the impossible, and to make sure it tastes delicious along the way.

Montreal restaurateur Derek Dammann 

And in this case that meant watermelon. Glorious, juicy, red watermelon. Three out of five Top Chef Canada chefs recommend it when it comes to tricking the taste buds and deceiving the eye. It’s no wonder guest judge Derek Dammann asked Mark McEwan if his store had any watermelon left; it popped up on more than one plate. But only Dustin executed it well enough with his Tuna Poke, which was actually compressed watermelon with wasabi avocado, nori and coconut cream. That, along with his Tomato Salad (tomato foam and confit with balsamic and basil) landed him on the top. And here we were worried that his shaky-handed server would launch watermelon and tomato foam all over those precarious stairs.

Dustin’s Tuna Poke (front) and Tomato Salad

Top-Chef-Canada-Episode-8-Trevor-Elimination-ChallengeTrevor’s Scallops and Orange (front) and Spaghetti Bolognese

Also on top? Our calm, cool and collected Trevor, who killed the night with two vegetarian dishes that were supposed to taste like meat. We weren’t sure about his tactics at first, but as it turns out his mushroom-based Spaghetti Bolognese and his white beet Scallops and Orange completely wowed the judges, and landed him five grand as the night’s big winner. Enjoy that family vacay, Trevor. Way to not be a psycho in the kitchen and finally — finally, win an Elimination Challenge after all of these episodes of Top Chef Canada.

With Trevor and Dustin on top that left a pretty upset Dennis, Nicole and Jesse on the bottom. Dennis was so sure that his “Pistachio Bonbon” (which was basically steelhead trout) and his “Moss on a Shell” (Tom Yum Mussels) were gambles that would pay off; nobody else took the extra step of making two hot dishes. But while the taste may have been there neither dish really deceived the eye, and the judges were just confused.

The bottom three face the judges.

Then there was Nicole, whose Cherry Tomato (feta-stuffed watermelon) wasn’t just boring to judge Janet Zuccarini, but the entire table felt that it was an awkward and slimy presentation — no one wants watermelon fingers at party, Nicole. Geesh. The judges didn’t exactly dig her Garden Carrot (duck confit with sous-vide carrot puree) either, despite the pretty presentation.

But in the end it was poor Jesse, whose inedible Carrot (chicken with buffalo sauce) and Beet Negroni (compressed watermelon with negroni and beet juice) that really missed the mark. While the latter dish may have been passable, it was the carrot that really threw the judges and put Jesse in hot water. Eden admitted she didn’t like eating it in the slightest. So it seemed obvious when Jesse was unceremoniously sent home, knocking the fun facial expression factor on this show down several notches.

“What hurts the most is not making it to that finale. I had it in my head that I wanted to be there so there’s a bit of pain, but in the long run I had a good run. I slipped up a couple of times, I was trying to do a dish that I’d never done before and I missed a couple of steps. There was no going back,” Jesse said afterwards. “A chef is not just a cook, a chef is a leader of cooks and a lot of times when you’re a leader you have to be positive. That’s something I excel in. I’m a leader in my field and I’m proud of that. I can roll with the punches, I can take punches and I can keep f—ing fighting. I want to be remembered as the guy from New Brunswick who came and kicked ass.”

“Jesse is Mr. Smile. He’s a great guy. He sort of has that real outdoorsy, let’s go forage for berries and we’ll cook a duck [vibe],” Mark McEwan told us. “His food is very much from that category and I like his style. If Jesse could be a little more refined around the edges, he would have had better success. At the heart of it, he’s a good, straight-ahead cook.”

And now excuse us while we look straight-ahead to next week’s second-to-last episode. How are we here already? Who will go home next? And what kind of crazy challenge will the powers that be dole out this time? Until then, these are the questions that will keep us up at night.

Watch a bonus scene from Episode 8:
The Trouble with Watermelon


Top Chef Canada: All-Stars Episode 7 Recap

Women have come a long way, but when it comes to Top Chef Canada, we’re still waiting for a female chef to be crowned Queen of the Monogram Kitchen. A pretty peeved-off Nicole reminded us of that fact as we geared up for another balls to the wall episode of the All-Stars season on Sunday night, pointing out that it was up to her and Connie, now that the other women have packed their knives and left.

Apparently Nicole has every intention of making sure she’s the first female to the top, because now that she’s had a taste of the bottom, she’s adamant about not landing back there anytime soon. Her terrible dessert last week basically brûléed a fire under her butt, and the Tasmanian Devil was back in full force, guys. She’s all about winning the Quickfire prize money AND the show itself, thank you very much.


Speaking of Quickfires and prize money, this week it was three grand on the line when Eden asked the Top 6 to approach a lavish spread of  ingredients, and pick three they wanted to use most for their next dish. Obviously this was a trap, because it’s never as simple as just picking yummy food and creating an awesome dish. Not on this show, anyhow. So sure enough as soon as the ingredients had been selected, guest judge Doug Quint, more famously known as the owner of Big Gay Ice Cream, stepped into the kitchen and revealed to the chefs what they were really up to: ice cream.

Seriously, will the dessert torture never end for these guys? Could Eden have pulled out a more diabolical laugh? With ingredients like garlic, cauliflower, beer and foie gras in hand, this may have been the first challenge where we would have rather dove into a bag of chips (more on those chips later) than tasted what the chefs came up with.

But that’s why these guys are All-Stars, lest we forget. Naturally, they took lemons and made…limoncello ice cream. Okay, so not quite, but Dustin completely froze out the competition with his “Foie-Rero Rocher” ice cream of foie gras and hazelnut with honey roasted plums and balsamic. Taking some CO2 to his concoction before freezing it was genius, as Nicole pointed out. If he could make fatty liver taste like a delicious ice cream, well, maybe we should just give him this competition now.

Dusty’s “Foie-Rero Rocher” Ice Cream: Foie Gras and Hazlenut Ice Cream, Honey Roasted Plums and Balsamic

He was Quint’s clear favourite at any rate, and his win finally ended Nicole’s prize money streak. Mind you she came pretty close to first with her garlic and coppa ice cream, with candied coppa and salted caramel. Heck, transforming garlic and meat into a yummy frozen treat sounds pretty impressive too. Way to nail that meaty consistency, Nicole.

It makes perfect sense that Dusty (and his smile) would win the prize money from Sensodyne.

What didn’t impress Eden and Quint was Jesse’s cheesy ice cream with strawberries and Parmesan tuile; watching Eden’s face while tasting that dish made up for her evil laughter from earlier. Connie’s “Corn Surprise” that came with candied bacon and a cheese tuile wasn’t the most delicious offering either according to Quint, and we think the criticism really threw her off her game heading into the Elimination Challenge. You could say she went into it with a chip on her shoulder.


But before we get there, we need to point out that of all the Elimination Challenges so far, this one may be our absolute favourite. Why? Well, the chefs were told to create a late-night eat. You know, the thing they wanted to most mow down on after a long shift late at night. It’s like the challenge makers wanted to make us all a little extra hungry this week as we imagined what the over-the-top calorie-laden offerings would taste like. Hosting the entire thing in Toronto’s secret subway station and having chef Grant van Gameren – a guy known for his late night tasty snacks – stop by to sample the fare was just icing on the dessert-free challenge’s metaphorical cake.

Grant van Gameren (left) with Mark McEwan

Our inner gluttons were salivating the entire time these chefs were prepping. With $400 in the bank and their creativity set free, these guys and gals definitely had fun with their dishes. Well except for Trevor, who initially drew a huge blank because all he eats late at night is salad (yawn). Thankfully, he then remembered that he makes a kick-ass steamed bun with pork belly and so he saved himself by impressing the judges with his bun-steaming skills. Equally impressive were Dennis’s shrimps, which had the judges raving and Mijune dancing. (Yep, she was actually dancing in the subway.)

“It was just like a flavour bomb there was so much going on. It was like umami, like he really knocked that out of the ballpark,” she told us later.

Dennis’s Fried Shrimp with Singapore Chili Sauce and Green Garlic Butter Rice Noodles

Dusty’s Eggplant Double Down: Eggplant Parmesan, Buffalo Mozzarella, Tomato Sauce and Roasted Piquillo Pepper 

Nicole’s Shrimp Cake with Ginger Scallion Pistou, Rice and Coleslaw

Had the rice noodles underneath been just as impressive, Dennis probably would’ve won. As it stood, we figured it came down to Dustin’s meaty vegetarian eggplant dish that had Chris Nuttall-Smith grinning and raving at the Judges Table like we’ve never seen him light up before (he called it a “disgustingly delicious dish” and compared it to mad scientists trying to trick people into eating all of the eggplant).

When you know your sandwich is damn good…

Nicole’s smoky and flavourful Prawn Cakes proved to be one step better though – just like that she was back at the top of her game as she was announced as the night’s big champion. What a comeback kid. Can we all just please break out a slow clap? From last to first is pretty damned impressive.

When your dinner guests arrive and you’re trying to act like you’re ready…

Anyhow, with those four at the top that left Connie and Jesse by their lonesome selves at the bottom. For Jesse, the judges hated his moose poutine and pretty much called it inedible, but for them what was even worse than a poorly executed dish was one that looked as though the chef just didn’t try. And this finally brings us to those aforementioned chips. Sadly, by creating a dill “chips and dip” dish as her late night eat, Connie definitely left the impression that she could have done more. Mark McEwan said it best when he explained that the chips were great, but that they were something he’d expect to eat for free while waiting for his actual late night eat. That put the judges in a bit of a (dill) pickle when it came to deciding who went home: the chef that made a too rich gravy with too strong cheese and drowned his fries, or the chef who delivered… well, chips?

Connie and Jesse hug it out when finding themselves facing elimination.

Turns out the latter was a bigger sin and poor Connie, who obviously had a lot on her mind this season with her sick mom, was sent home.

“I know Connie wanted it so bad and she’s a fierce player and she’s super talented and so I was hoping more from her as well,” Pak said afterwards. “But I know that she was going through a lot of personal stuff at that time and it was maybe distracting her a little bit. Her heart wasn’t fully there, perhaps.”


“The worst part is just feeling like I disappointed a bunch of people,” Connie revealed afterwards, noting that she was originally going to do a poutine but then changed her mind when she found out Jesse was doing one. “Today it’s what I didn’t do, because I didn’t make a dish that was substantial enough and I think the judges felt like I wasted my time in the kitchen. It sucks because I just took a risk with this dish. I never cook dishes that I’m not comfortable with so I took a risk and it wasn’t a good decision. There’s a lot going on at home and I’m just not in a good place.”

Connie’s face showed the doubt she felt during the Elimination Challenge.

“I think Connie didn’t necessarily perform to the level she could have performed at through the competition,” Nuttall-Smith said. “She had some bad luck, you know, she had some stuff going on that I think made it hard. I would have loved to see her do better.”

“She was the one I thought was going to take it. It just goes to show you, where your frame of mind is at any point in time is either your friend or not,” McEwan also revealed later on. “Connie was there, but she really wasn’t there with us, unfortunately. I think it was just bad timing for her in a bunch of ways and she really didn’t show her true potential there.”

You didn’t disappoint us, girl. We’re with you 100 percent.

For now though, the competition is getting stiffer than a bowl of overbeaten egg whites. We’re down to the Top 5 heading into next week, and who might go home next is anyone’s guess.

Want more from Episode 7?
Watch these bonus scenes:

Dustin’s Family Call

Connie’s Family Call

Jesse and Morimoto Making Ice Cream


Top Chef Canada: All-Stars Episode 6 Recap

You know who else was shocked by Andrea’s elimination last week? Every. Other. Chef. Yup, Top Chef Canada: All-Stars was back with a new episode on Sunday night and the remaining competitors were pretty freaked out that an early front-runner had left the competition so soon. Connie even had a bad dream about Judges’ Table as an indirect result of it. But let’s be honest: the chefs were freaked out but also probably slightly relieved. Because we all know that the master plan in doing this show is to eliminate the competition, one by one. Mr. Burns, rubbing his fingers together muttering “excellent,” styles.

Josh Elkin (left) with Eden Grinshpan

But on Sunday night there was other business to attend to first: namely the chefs had to jerk around. That’s right, the night’s Quickfire Challenge revolved around everyone’s favourite road trip snack: jerky. Guest judge Josh Elkin, A.K.A. the Sugar Showdown host who’s known for being creative with his culinary quests, joined Eden Grinsphan in a Krave Jerky cook-off in which the chefs had to incorporate the beefy snack into an appetizer. Cue the awesome train of facial reactions, ranging anywhere from utter disgust (oh, hey Dennis) to delight (what up, Jesse?). Oh, and did we mention there was a $5,000 prize on the table? We could practically see Nicole’s eyes light up.

So what did cooking with flavoured jerky entail, exactly? While we probably would have hid in the corner and stuffed our faces with the stuff, rugged outdoorsman Jesse opted to rehydrate a pot of jerky in order to wrap it around some scallops and white asparagus. (Side note: we don’t care how great white asparagus tastes; it does not photograph well. Can we all just please agree on that?) Unfortunately, his plan didn’t exactly pan out when the jerky became gross and soggy, and he had to go with a backup Jerky Coated Scallops with his poached asparagus instead.

Sadly the dish failed to impress Josh, as did Connie’s Vietnamese salad and Dennis’ Jerky Pork Dumplings, which he meticulously crafted. We actually felt kind of bad for the guy; he worked so hard on that dish and was clearly upset to fall into the bottom (especially for something small like using too much soy). Dennis has got to be in for a revival in the near future, we can feel it in our jerky-loving bones.

Nicole’s Arancini with Sticky Rice and Jerky 4 Ways

On the other end of the spectrum Trevor knew how to play to his audience and created a riff of a Jalapeño Popper that we would totally order in a bar. His strategy of a swank-free plate earned him a spot in the Top 3, but it wasn’t enough to edge him into a win. Dustin seemed to take the opposite strategy and transformed a Beef Tartare via pickled jerky, but while that also impressed Josh it was Nicole’s “balls, balls, balls,” or what was more properly known as Arancini with Sticky Rice and Jerky 4 Ways, that impressed the guest judge most.

So Nicole walked away with yet another cash prize. Shocker, right? At this point she’s won so much money she almost doesn’t even need to win the show. We wonder if she did end up giving Trevor his requested thousand bucks. Are sharesies even allowed on this show?

Anyhow, you can’t really blame Nicole for feeling on top of the world, or assuming that she had this thing in the bag. After all, as she pointed out to the cameras at one point she’s never actually been on the bottom. Which meant that the tide was about to turn, or the sauce was about to thicken… or whatever the culinary equivalent of that expression would be.


So with the Quickfire behind them and immunity no longer on the table the chefs were asked to get patriotically creative with Canada’s 150th birthday for the Elimination Challenge. The show, in turn, got creative too and swapped out the traditional drawing of the knives for a drawing of the history books. Each chef had to pick a book that represented an important piece of Canadian history and then create a dish (an appetizer, entrée or a dessert) assigned to that moment.

We’re not surprised this was Curtis’s reaction when Eden mentioned book reports.

Obviously the chefs who drew desserts—Nicole and Connie—were less than impressed. “Chefs don’t want to do desserts, that’s why there’s pastry chefs,” Nicole lamented over her selection. Um, to be fair, didn’t Nicole just wow the judges with her riff on a carrot cake that she made of her own volition in the last episode? Yeah, we thought so.

When mere mortals are feeling stumped in front of the fridge they just end up ordering a pizza.

Either way, with the tasks assigned and the 15-minute shopping frenzy at McEwan foods done, the chefs had the prerequisite two hours to prep in the Monogram Kitchen before heading to this week’s hot spot, the ROM. There, guest judge Jeremy Charles and guest taster Ken Lister joined Mark McEwan, Mijune Pak, Janet Zuccarini and Eden at the table for an all-around Canadian feast.

Jeremy Charles ready to taste Canadian History.

Dustin, who grinningly pulled the Gold Rush and had no idea what to do (“Do I look like a history buff?”) impressed the entire country yet again with his Cod Fritter Stuffed with Quail Egg. Between the flecks of gold on his plate and the golden hue of the runny yolk the judges definitely awarded the plate a gold star. Meanwhile Dennis’s comeback and Trevor’s resurgence were also present-day themes of historic proportions when the latter’s Red Fife Fry Bread impressed a raving Mijune and the latter’s Striploin was perfectly executed in puff pastry with a “150” carved into the side. Oh Curtis. And here you thought it was going to be cheesy.

Dustin’s Cod Fritter Stuffed with Quail Egg, Baked Cod and Sea Buckthorn Vinaigrette

Trevor’s Roasted Striploin with Mushrooms, Pearl Onions and Porcini Foam in Puff Pastry

Dennis’s Birch Syrup Bison Carpaccio, Sea Asparagus, Pickled Ramps and Red Fife Fry Bread

In the end it was Dustin’s dish that won again, leading to another megawatt smile from the fan favourite. (Seriously, that guy could power his own kitchen.) And with Connie’s Apple Crisp with Candied Bacon landing in the middle of the pack, that left Jesse’s (Not-So) Braised Short Rib, Curtis’s Roasted Cod and Nicole’s Apple Rhubarb Compote as the worst dishes of the night. And here Nicole thought she was “killing it.” Whoops.

Never say never, Nicole.

As conflicted as the judges were at all of the dishes, it was Curtis’s over-thought plate that stood out as the worst. He obviously had a feeling he would be sent packing, which is maybe why he told his fellow chefs that “feeling good is for stupid people” during the challenge. His confidence just never got there and he kept over-thinking all of his plates.

“If we’re going to go by my feelings, I knew there were certain issues I wish I could have solved,” Curtis said following his exit. “I was certainly disappointed that I didn’t execute every aspect as I exactly wanted to. You almost always mentally prepare yourself to be sent home. Now that I’ve been through Top Chef Canada twice, it’s perhaps not my greatest strength in terms of the environment or the context of how we compete. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to win more than anyone else.”

“What I love so much about Curtis is he’s not your typical chef… He never went down the normal route,” Eden revealed to us afterwards. “He gave us something that was always unique and calculated in his own way. Sometimes it really worked out. Sometimes it didn’t, but sometimes it really did.”

“I always call Curtis the mad professor,” Mark told us later. “He really has a process that he goes through mentally when he does a dish. I don’t always get it, but the stories are good. Oftentimes, they work, but I think Curtis would do better if he just had a slightly less complicated theory, in terms of how he lands on the plate. He really tries to have a lot of different formulas going in one game and sometimes it gets to be a bit much. Oftentimes, his textures were just not there.”

Textures or not, it was another rough exit for everyone involved. We’ll miss Curtis, his bromance with Trevor and that wicked slick ponytail. But as they say the show must go on.

Watch Episode 6 Bonus Scene:


Top Chef Canada: All-Stars Episode 5 Recap

When you’re a chef who has spent your entire life perfecting the food you present and your dishes are essentially your soul on a plate, it’s easy to question your own value or worth when you do a competition like Top Chef Canada: All-Stars. How could you not — given the constant critiques and top-notch competitors that constantly force you to up your game. At some point, you may or may not want to curl up into a ball with a bottle of wine or the biggest pint of ice cream you’ve ever seen in your life. Rocky Road might be an appropriate flavour, judging by this week’s episode.

Head judge Mark McEwan seemed to realize this at the beginning of the episode, because with just eight competitors left and heavyweight Trista sent packing, he stepped into the locker room to have a little heart-to-heart with the finalists. “There’s no knives, right?” he joked before sitting down and telling everyone to try and pick themselves up. Easier said than done, Mark. Easier said than done.

Daniel Boulud, left, with Mark McEwan.

Of course it’s hard to feel too sorry for yourself when you get the chance to cook for a world-renowned chef as a little pick-me-up. And that’s exactly what happened when Daniel Boulud stopped by the Monogram Kitchen to help Mark execute the Quickfire Challenge, when pretty much everyone geeked out over his appearance. The French chef (who just so happens to have more than a dozen restaurants around the world), stopped by to make his favourite dishes for the contestants, who were then paired off and tasked with recreating them. The catch? (Isn’t there always a catch?) They had just 60 seconds to taste Boulud’s dishes… and they were blindfolded. It was a crime, to be honest, watching these guys manhandle the beautifully presented plates and not be able to actually enjoy the elegant food. Man, competition is fierce.

Seeing a dish treated like this just hurts.

For their part, Trevor and Dennis drew Steak Tartare, garnished with some lattice-cut potato chips that we’re still dreaming about. While Dennis’ first instinct was to do an Asian riff on the classic, he got in his own head and opted for a rustic take instead — a move he fully regretted when Boulud revealed he had been hoping for an Asian influence. And so the mini-victory was handed to Trevor and his more refined version instead.

Nicole might be having the most fun this season.

Meanwhile, Dustin triumphed over Curtis with his take on a Mussel and Cauliflower Velouté (Mother sauce alert!), Jesse took down Connie with his riff on a Poulet Chasseur, and Andrea squared off against Nicole in a battle of Cod Basquaise. Speaking of, apparently Boulud makes such a perfectly cooked cod that it actually tastes like sablefish, because that’s the protein both ladies chose for their dishes.

Go ahead, Andrea. You totally deserve that smug feeling after beating Nicole.

In the end, it was Andrea who edged out Nicole when the latter missed the peppers in the dish, but she also wound up winning the overall Quickfire — her second win so far this season. Given the building tension between Andrea and Nicole, which started last week when Nicole won back-to-back Quickfires and then basically couldn’t stop talking about it, it seemed like a pretty personal win for Andrea. But you know, receiving the praise of a world-renowned chef will do that do a gal.

Andrea’s winning dish based on Daniel Boulud’s Cod Basquaise.

However, there was another twist this week: with the competition narrowing down, this was the first time winning the Quickfire didn’t come with immunity. Instead, Andrea became a team captain for the Elimination Challenge, and her advantage was to pick her opposing captain. This was our first clue that the rest of the night wouldn’t necessarily go so well for our girl crush. But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves here.

Andrea automatically picked Curtis to head up the other team, explaining to the cameras that she didn’t want to work with him in the upcoming challenge: Retail Wars. That’s right, Restaurant Wars are out this time around, and a new challenge, in which the chefs were asked to prepare on-the-go products, is in. Sorry Dusty, we would have loved to have seen those menus you’ve been dreaming up.


Regardless, in the end, Andrea selected Dustin, Connie and Dennis to be on her team, Global Goods, while Curtis chose Nicole, Trevor and Jesse on his team, Nosh Urban Eatery. Mark announced that this week’s special guest judge would be non other than Italian retail queen of Eataly, Lidia Bastianich, and with that the chefs were off to McEwan Foods where they had 15 minutes to shop and $150 each in their Interac accounts. We don’t know about you, but it takes us 15 minutes to find parking when we go grocery shopping — grabbing all of your ingredients in that kind of a time frame has got to be stressful.

All the judges were besotted with Lidia Bastianich, even tough-guy-but-he’s-really-a-softie Mark McEwan.

Not as stressful as working on a team that doesn’t gel, mind you, and it certainly looked as though the Nosh folks weren’t exactly having a cohesive night. Between Curtis’s mess of a mise en place and Nicole’s Tasmanian Devil coming out in full force, there was a lot of yelling and near-accidents to be concerned about. Meanwhile, it was The Get Along Gang over at Global Goods, where it looked like Andrea’s background in retail with her Killer Condiments line and marketing experience would all but ensure a win.

Lidia Bastianich with Eden Grinshpan and Janet Zuccarini judging the chefs’ Retail Wars to-go offerings.

Andrea’s seafood salad looked elegant and creative, while her giant Mozzarella-Stuffed Veal Meatballs had us salivating (how do you pronounce “mozzarella” anyhow? The judges had us second guessing ourselves). Meanwhile Dennis’ Compressed Watermelon Salad was gorgeous, Dustin’s Black Currant Pate as the impulse buy was fancy-schmancy, and Connie’s Garlic Dressing for her Tuna Conserva looked like something we’d slurp up with a spoon. As it turns out, there’s a reason we eat with our eyes first, because while all of those dishes looked killer, they were all among the judge’s least favourite offerings of the night. That’s right, those dishes were the worst and everything we thought we knew is a lie.

That exact moment you find out the other team won…

Further proving that fact was the praise that Nicole’s impulse buy, A.K.A. the heavy-looking Pineapple Carrot Cake with Brown Butter Frosting, received from the judges. While we would probably never impulsively buy that cake ourselves going on looks alone, we totally underestimated the power of brown butter. In a frosting, no less. Judge Janet Zuccarini called it the best carrot cake she’d ever had.

“It’s such a simple and ubiquitous dessert that I almost feel slightly embarrassed at my reaction,” Zuccarini told us later. “I still think about it today. In fact, I’m going to see if I can buy that recipe off her to use in my Jamaican restaurant. It’s such a simple, almost pedestrian dessert, yet I just can’t believe how delicious [it was]. At the end of the day, delicious is delicious. And that was delicious.”

Meanwhile Nicole’s Panang Curry was equally praised, which meant that she wasn’t just the night’s overall winner — she also got to walk away with the $10,000 prize. Add that into her $2,000 winnings from last week and this Tasmanian Devil has a nice little nest egg going on. She should really be buying everyone drinks.

With Nicole on top that could only mean Andrea was on the bottom. Those two are kind of like the kitchen equivalent of Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, only they’re way nicer to each other. (They are Canadian, after all.) Anyhow, it brought us back full cycle to the second episode, when Andrea revealed that even though she had immunity, she wouldn’t be surprised if a bad dish sent her packing. Well, with no immunity to protect her and two dishes that failed to impress, the judges had no choice but to send her home in a shocking turn of events. It really was (meat) balls. Especially since Andrea — who used to work at Zuccarini’s Trattoria Nervosa — is so renowned for her delicious pockets of meat.

We’re just going to leave this here. 

“I still use her recipe for meatballs at my restaurant, she’s almost known for her meatballs,” Zuccarini said later on. “And she lost on making meatballs. There was some kind of complication with timing on that dish, but I could not believe she lost on meatballs.”

Us, either. And for those keeping track, that makes two early front-runners gone faster than we can say “a la cuisine!”

“I’m devastated and shocked… I mean I’ve been doing really well. So to be kicked off on a retail challenge is super brutal; it’s what I built my business on so it sucks,” Andrea said afterwards. “I’m not happy with it because I’ve been on the top so long. To come to the bottom and just be kicked off, it really hurts. It’s a really hard pill to swallow.”

We so feel this.

“Andrea had amazing days, like she was blowing my mind with what she was cooking and then in retail wars she made a soggy seafood salad” Mark told us. “I felt bad the way she left… it was tough. It just wasn’t her day and someone had to go. Those decisions are never clear and they never sit very well. I’ve felt bad about that.”

Andrea’s red team Global Foods at their reckoning in front of the judges.

“A lot of criticisms were pretty hard… Chefs have bad days and today was a bad day for me. I still really stand behind the food I produced today and I’m proud of that,” Andrea, who just opened Butchie’s restaurant in Whitby, Ont. added. “I’ve shown some really amazing dishes, I’ve been on top for 90 per cent of the challenges. So I’m proud of what I’ve done but I would be much prouder if I was in the finale. I’m a fierce competitor and I want to win. Not winning hurts to my core.”

As for us, we knew all bets were off the table heading into this thing, but Andrea leaving on the heels of Trista’s exit was another blow. We’re almost too scared to watch next week and see who goes home, but at the same time we’re just oh-so-hungry for more.

Top Chef Canada: All-Stars Episode 4 Recap

There have been more than few epic bromances in our time. Brad Pitt and George Clooney. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Chuck Hughes and Danny Smiles. But after watching the most recent edition of Top Chef Canada: All-Stars, we’d like to add Curtis Luk and Trevor Bird to that list.

Because this is a competition and all, it’s easy to forget that many of these contestants are actually friends in real life. So it escaped our memories that Curtis and Trevor not only both competed in the second season of Top Chef Canada, but that they also worked together afterwards to open Trevor’s Fable restaurant in Vancouver.

Season 2, Episode 6: No one looks this happy at judges table unless they had the best dishes.

So when the pair found themselves on the bottom of the competition after last week’s Middle Eastern Feast, they took their “Walk of Shame” back into the Monogram Kitchen in a friendly fashion. So naturally we felt torn as to whether we should hug them or fist bump them; either way watching the chefs band together like that made us really, really want them to do well in this week’s Quickfire Challenge.

Luckily, the duo proved the culinary powers of bromances are actually a real thing, and they did exactly that. Tired of being on the bottom, the guys buckled in and sucked up the night’s Quickfire challenge better than most: create a memorable brunch.

You see, as anyone who knows a chef in their life can attest, chefs hate (or in Trista’s words “f—ing hates”) the brunch shift. It can be repetitive, stressful and involves getting up at a ridiculous hour like 4:30 a.m. in order to serve it. It’s basically the hell of all shifts for chefs, and so when host Eden Grinshpan announced that she and Brunch Queen, guest judge Maneet Chauhan, wanted the contestants to create an ultimate brunch dish utilizing a Braun multiquick hand blender… well let’s just say it looked like a few of them wanted to knock back a few non-celebratory mimosas first.

Maneet Chauhan advising the chefs of the theme of the Quickfire Challenge.

Trista, who went into the whole thing with a self-professed negative attitude, attempted an updated Croque Monsieur with smoked salmon and béchamel that Chauhan thought tasted gummy, and it landed her at the bottom of the pack. Dennis, meanwhile, fulfilled the creative part of the challenge with his Filipino brunch of European bass and garlic rice, but an overly grilled fish was less than desirable to the judges. As for Jesse’s potato pancakes? Well there was just way too much going on with that plate, which meant he rounded out the bottom three.

Be careful not to get a contact buzz, Trevor.

And that brings us back to our boys of the kitchen, Trevor and Curtis. The former really impressed us by smoking his own salmon on the coolest looking hot-box inspired smoker we’ve ever seen. His resulting Salmon Pancakes were a true highlight, elevated even further by the picked shallots and horseradish crème fraîche. Meanwhile Curtis made the most mouthwatering-sounding Shrimp and Grits, which were topped with a perfectly poached egg crusted in cornmeal. Please. Get. In. Our. Bellies.

Unfortunately for the guys but fortunately for Nicole, it was her riff on Pain Perdu with decadent almond croissants and cheesy duck eggs that made her the ultimate winner for a second week in a row. That meant she not only lucked out with immunity in the Elimination Challenge, but she also nabbed $2,000 from Braun and a De’Longhi Automatic Espresso Machine. Maybe Nicole can use it the next time she’s got to get up early for brunch.

For now she’s pumped up enough, it seems. Heading into the Elimination Challenge, the chefs were asked to create dishes inspired by some of Canada’s great cities. And Nicole was obviously feeling pretty giddy since she had immunity and would automatically make the Top 8 next week. You know what they say about the view from the top though; it can be pretty lonely—especially when you keep reminding everyone else facing potential elimination that you have immunity. So you could forgive Andrea for not having any of Nicole’s friendly banter while they were prepping their dishes, explaining to the cameras that she just wanted Nicole to shush and do her work already so that the rest of them could cook in peace.

You can almost hear giddy Nicole’s cackle…

Maybe Andrea was a little crankier than she let on earlier in the episode, when she said the real Quickfire was having kids? Or maybe she just felt extra stressed out about Lynn Crawford being the guest judge of the night. The last time Andrea cooked for her in season one, she made an Italian Wedding Soup and Crawford said it tasted like a divorce before the wedding. Ouch.

Andrea’s feeling about the Elimination Challenge are a bit different than Nicole’s.

It wasn’t all animosity though; in fact it was pretty cool watching the chefs collaborate on their dishes despite only having 15 minutes to shop at McEwan Foods. With so many different palates from so many different regions, everyone was giving each other tips about their respective cities and flavour profiles… it was such a Canadian thing to do.

Connie, whose mom was diagnosed with stomach cancer and was given eight months to live, has understandably been off her game so far this season. But she too was in the “Walk of Shame Club” and also tired of being on the bottom, so she went into this thing intent on getting her groove back. When she drew St. John’s as her inspiration city, she was determined to prove her worth and create a dish that would blow the socks off of Eden, judges Crawford, Mark McEwan, Mijune Pak and Chris Nuttall-Smith, along with guest taster Victor Barry who was hosting everyone at his swanky Toronto spot, Piano Piano.

Blow their socks off she did, with a beautifully crafted marrow chimney on top of her St. John’s-inspired Hunter’s Pie. That plate could have been straight from a Tim Burton movie and made us just as giddy about the food as Eden. (Side note: Eden’s sheer joy and excitement at sitting down to these dishes is infectious, even if we ourselves get to taste none of it.)

Obviously the concoction landed Connie in the Top 3, alongside Dustin for his Ottawa-inspired smoked duck and maple-glazed apple, and Nicole for her gluttonous Montreal meat pie consisting of bacon, duck and veal (Crawford confidently deemed it the best meat pie she’s ever had, it was that good). At the end of the day the theme seemed to be repeat winners though, and so it was Dustin’s dish—complete with that hot-box smoker contraption that Trevor used earlier in the Quickfire —that landed him the big win for the second week in a row. Maybe Dustin should thank Trevor for the inspiration in his Academy speech.

Eden on Connie’s dish: “That marrow chimney! Can that happen every day, please?”

Chris on Nicole’s dish: “An absolute French-Canadian fever dream.”

Chris on Dustin’s dish: ‘I’ve come to your restaurants as a critic… this is the best thing I’ve ever had of yours.’

As for Trevor and Curtis? Well they found themselves in the middle of the pack with their respective Toronto Prawn Mousse-Stuffed Halibut and Saskatoon Braised Short Ribs. Since Trista’s Vancouver-inspired dish made Mijune want to “cry for her city,” and Jesse’s Winnipeg pierogis were likened to cardboard, those two were easily placed at the bottom of the night. Dennis had a tough go of it as well when his Calgary inspired, tableside-carved Tomahawk Steak went beyond medium rare, giving him that (dis)honour as well.

There was just no saving Trista though. Between the terrible squid ink presentation on her BC Salmon and Dungeness Crab and the Asian components that the judges said lacked any actual Asian flavours, Mark declared, “this dish would close your restaurant. It’s that bad.” That meant Trista’s time was glaringly up in this contest, and all for over thinking it. Well, at least she wasn’t sent home for serving up plastic wrap this time.

Trista should have listened to Professor Curtis.

“She made such a confused, weird, frankly not-really-edible dish and when she was describing to us what she’d done, she just said, ‘I kept going and going and going and I didn’t know when to stop,’” Nuttall-Smith said. “It’s not ever a happy moment when you see a chef kind of fall on their face.”

“Trista has such heart, such soul. Her cooking is often really personal and really smart and at its best it’s really breathtaking stuff. I think the piece that she’s not missing but could use more of in her career is confidence,” Nuttall-Smith told us. “Trista second guesses her cooking, she second guesses her flavours. The thing that would help her the most is to get out to do some exploring and then to come back and confidently cook her food. When she cooked her food, I think she was brilliant. If she can do that, I think she’s going to be unstoppable.”

“Of course it sucks. I said to myself when I came onto All-Stars that I’m not going to get as upset as I did last time and I’m not going to let a technical thing come in the way,” Trista said later on. “I had a bad day. I sh*t the bed on a plate. It didn’t make sense and I have every right to go home.”

Not as delicious looking as the top 3 dishes: Trista’s Vancouver-inspired Salmon and Dungeness Crab with Squid Ink.

And here we really, really thought she was a frontrunner. It just goes to show you that no matter how great you’ve done in the past, you’re only as good as your last dish on this show. It seems like these judges know it, too.

“Trista came a long way. She understood what it was to win, which was fabulous because she’s always buckling at the knees at Judges Table.” McEwan recalled. “And it was so much fun to see her have those great successes. There’s a young chef that brings her all, every time she comes. She doesn’t always hit it, she can really miss, but when she swings for the fences, once in a while, she hits it and it was fun to watch.”

Enjoy that bottle of wine you took with you, Trista. We’re certainly raising a glass to you.

Remaining chefs take note: ride your highs as they come because you never, ever know when one small misstep will send you packing. And someone will definitely be sent packing next week.

Top Chef Canada: All-Stars Episode 3 Recap

It must be hard work sampling all of that Top Chef Canada: All-Stars cuisine every week. We imagine that for every ridiculously rich sauce and succulent, saliva-inducing bite that the judges take, their tummies would need a little alka seltzer or Tums to balance it all out. So we can forgive head judge Mark McEwan for taking a break during this week’s Quickfire Challenge, especially since it meant we got guest judge Chef John Higgins (who also happens to be the director of the George Brown Chef School, a Chopped Canada judge and Andrea’s mentor) as his stand-in instead.

Higgins (and host Eden Grinshpan) certainly hit the mother lode in terms of flavour profiles when he tasked the 10 remaining chefs with creating one of Auguste Escoffier’s five “mother” French sauces, pitting the chefs against each other as they drew for their respective saucy fates. The theory goes that if a chef can nail the base sauces, he or she could go on to do anything in the kitchen, from mac ‘n’ cheese to chicken pot pie and every comfort food in between. So naturally all of the All-Stars should be able to nail these sauces, because otherwise they may as well be the Swedish Chef. That’s how important this Quickfire was, people.


Andrea, who was so sure she could kick Curtis’s butt in the béchamel category didn’t exactly earn an ‘A’ when her sauce proved thicker than her challenger’s. Maybe she didn’t get the memo that slow and steady wins the béchamel race? Either way she shouldn’t feel too bad; Dusty similarly failed to “wow” in front of his mentor, Susur Lee in Episode 2.

These two…amiright???

Speaking of Dustin, it was mano versus mano when he and Dennis—who has a thing for clothes pins on his apron — both drew Hollandaise sauce. Their ensuing showdown proved that a D & D spin-off series is the show none of us knew we needed. We’d watch the heck out of those two cooking together or travelling around Toronto, sampling food from other chefs’ kitchens.

Meanwhile it was Trevor versus Nicole in a sauce tomate battle royale, Connie versus Trista in a scrimmage of that traditional brown sauce known as espagnole, and Jesse versus Jonathan in a very velouté showdown. In the end it was Dennis, Nicole, Trista and Jesse (with his luxurious sounding lobster velouté ) who moved on and were then tasked with creating a dish in just half an hour that showcased their winning sauce. Although we really, really wanted to just take a bath in Jesse’s Seafood Casserole, it was Nicole’s Lamb Provencal, a.k.a. Seared Lamb Chops, Eggplant, Nicoise Olives and Almond Gremolata that won over Chef Higgins and Eden’s stomachs. It was enough to land her the coveted immunity and a huge advantage in the Elimination Challenge: she got to assemble her own Top Chef Canada team in the first group face-off.

Nicole’s Lamb Provencal with eggplant, nicoise olives and almond gremolata.

Nicole did what any sensible chef would do in that moment, and picked the team that she felt she’d have more fun competing with. That included Dustin and Dennis (naturally), Andrea (because, girl crush) and the wise-cracking Jesse. You know, all the chefs we’d want to knock back beers with.

Squad Goals.

Meanwhile, Trista and Connie were teamed up with Curtis, Jonathan and Trevor, who has kind of pitted himself as the underdog so far this season. The night’s task? To create a Middle Eastern feast of five mezze (appetizers), three mains and two desserts for the judges, guest judge Sabrina Ghayour and guest taster Suresh Doss at Mark McEwan’s Aga Khan Museum restaurant.

Sabrina Ghayour at the tasting table.

Right away it was obvious that Nicole’s chosen ones were jiving together, whereas the other team seemed to lack the same cohesion. From the time they set foot in specialty grocery store Adonis (with a trusty 100 bucks in their Interac accounts), it was utter mayhem—as tends to happen when you’ve only got 20 minutes to shop for a feast. Obviously, some handled it better than others. While Trista looked lost without her pomegranate molasses, Jesse managed to collect his head in order to purchase actual lamb heads for his tagine when he couldn’t find goat. Hey, when in Morocco you’ve simply got to go(at) with the flow…

Back in the Monogram Kitchen the chefs had two hours to prepare for service, which meant even more running around for the chefs like they were lambs with their heads chopped off (#SorryNotSorry). There were so many delicious ingredients flying around, like halloumi and orange roughy and pomegranates and pine nuts… we’ve never longed to smell a show before but this week we came pretty close as the hunger pangs set in. And no, the stale almonds in the cupboard certainly did not satisfy from our couches.

Andrea’s kibbeh nayyeh – lamb tartare with harrisa labneh and za’atar crisps

Nicole’s shish tawook fritter – walnut fritter stuffed with garlic chicken, served with pickled turnip.

At judges’ table, the theory behind Nicole’s teammate choices rang true when Team One nailed their mezze. Mark McEwan, Mijune Pak and Janet Zuccarini dug in alongside Sabrina, Suresh and Eden, as they all practically licked Andrea’s Lamb Tartare plate clean. Meanwhile Jesse’s take on a saffron-infused Fish Dolma was unconventional but completely celebrated by the judges, Nicole’s Walnut Fritters were devoured, Dennis’s Tabbouleh Salad hit all the right notes and Dustin’s Hummus-Baba Ganoush hybrid was a genius flavour combination that had everyone gushing.

Team Two didn’t fair nearly as well with their mezze, which the judges said lacked overall flavour. For starters the dishes were all pretty much all vegetarian, which would be fine in a vegetarian restaurant but not so much on Top Chef Canada. But more importantly the presentation felt like five separate dishes with no cohesiveness; a big no-no when it comes to a progressive feast.
Unfortunately the mezze was more than a stumble for Team Two. When it came to the main event, Connie’s Preserved Lemon Chicken and Trista’s Almond Cake dessert couldn’t save the guys on the team, whose dishes ranged from “incredibly bitter” (Trevor) and “lost in translation” (Jonathan) to “medicinal” (Curtis). In fact we’re still waiting to see if Janet’s unwelcome high from Curtis’s Saffron Ice Cream has come down a little. When compared to Jesse’s Lamb Head Tagine (yes, it turned out to be delicious), Nicole’s old-school Poached Trout and Dustin’s winning dish of the night, deboned, Honey-Glazed Quail fried à la Susur Lee, well it was obvious that Team Two was going to send someone packing.

 Dusty’s honey glazed quail was stuffed with chicken farce and served with roasted dates, pearl onions and figs. Sabrina Ghayour exclaimed, ‘This dish hits all the bells of what the Middle East is about.’

And again…Squad Goals.

In the end there were no heated words exchanged about the quality of the food or defiant defenses about how a dish would have held up in a real restaurant, as Jonathan packed his knives without any pushback.
“Right now I’m feeling disappointed that I wasn’t able to really focus… not just on my dish but to help my team put together a stronger menu,” he said afterwards. “It’s a relief not to have to continue to compete. It’s not easy cooking with such a strong troop of people, but they are awesome.”

“I remember his food from the first time we met him and it was far more entertaining and robust and flavourful and full of coconut milk and chili and pizzazz,” McEwan said later on. “He’s kind of gone to a very healthy, vegan-ish focus, but I thought he lost a lot of his thunder in doing that. I didn’t see the Jonathan that I remember… so I was disappointed.”


We expected the second-season finalist to go a little further in the competition, too. Like Eden pointed out at judges’ table, throwing a twist into something you’ve made many times before just doesn’t cut it on Top Chef Canada: All-Stars. “I don’t know what’s next for me yet, I’m at a serious crossroads in my life,” Jonathan revealed in his exit interview. “I’m trying to digest all of the emotions of going through this competition myself and I hope once that comes through I’m able to show my passion for food adequately. It may be humble and it may be simple, but it will be delicious.”

Get More Top Chef Canada!
Bonus Scene: Trista and Connie discuss team blunders after finding out their safe from elimination.
Bonus Scene: Nicole can’t find her cart during Elimination Challenge grocery shop.

Top Chef Canada: All-Stars Episode 2 Recap

It’s a good thing our returning chefs were able to scrape the rust off their knives during last week’s inaugural episode of the All-Stars edition (we’ll remember you fondly, Elizabeth). Because if the red eyes and requests for coffee on Sunday night’s follow-up installment were any indication, this competition is going to be a little more grueling than these guys remember.

Trevor’s last name is actually Gazelle, not Bird.

The eleven remaining chefs seemed to take it all in stride at least, diving (or in some cases Top Chef parkour-ing) right into the night’s opening Quickfire Challenge with plenty of gusto. Which is actually saying something considering the entire mise en place, “Chef Nerd Olympics” challenge basically consisted of grunt-work that chefs of this caliber can now hire minions to do for them. There’s a reason executive chefs usually have fancier jackets than the rest of the kitchen staff, you know.

Still, we got a real sense that for these guys it was fun to filet fish under head judge Mark McEwan’s “laser beam” glare, dice up shallots into perfect brunoise cuts without shedding a single tear, and stop “shucking around” with some juicy oysters. Hey, host and punmaster Eden Grinshpan isn’t the only one who can have fun with wordplay here.

Connie, who was pretty confident in her ability to whiz past the competition since she excelled at this challenge in the first season, fell short when she failed to remove all of the bones from her bass in the first round. It was the start of an off night for the chef, who eventually revealed why to the cameras. Turns out she’s been carrying around a pretty big burden: her mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 stomach cancer and was given roughly eight months to live. Obviously Connie was feeling pretty guilty about leaving for a month to do the show, but her mom told her that if she didn’t win, not to come home. Talk about extreme pressure – we’d probably have a few off nights too.

What’s that you say, Dennis? It’s not enough time?

Anyhow, in the end it came down to Andrea and oyster-shucking king Dennis, who both proved they could be the best sous-chefs anywhere with their chop-chop abilities. But the real question was who could make the best dish out of those ingredients in 15 short minutes? Geesh. We mean, sure—seafood doesn’t take as long to cook as other proteins, but we can barely get water to boil in that time, let alone prepare an elegant dish for a hungry host and head judge. Who, by the way, were salivating so hard at what we can only imagine were amazing smells wafting up from the Monogram Kitchen that we got super hungry at home. So much for watching this show on an empty stomach.

That’s real nice, guys. Laugh at how frantic Dennis is during the Quickfire challenge.

It was Andrea’s Oysters Poached in Crème Fraîche with White Wine Butter Sauce and Seared Sea Bass that won her immunity in the Elimination Challenge though, even though Dennis’s Canh Chua, a Vietnamese Sweet & Sour Soup with Tamarind Broth, Poached Sea Bass and Poached Oysters looked equally appetizing. Now those are two dishes you can’t get at Red Lobster.

Andrea’s Seared Sea Bass With Oysters Poached in a Crème Fraîche White Wine Butter Sauce

Dennis’ Sweet and Sour Vietnamese Soup With Tamarind Broth-Poached Sea Bass and Poached Oysters

After all that hard work, we’d say the chefs earned themselves a nice little repose. Maybe a cold cocktail with an umbrella while they put those steel-toed boots up for a bit and maybe even sucked back some of those shucked oysters, right? Wrong. Those remaining oysters must have gone to the production crew because the Elimination Challenge was up next and one of Toronto’s hottest chefs, Susur Lee, was coming in to guest judge. Again, no pressure or anything.

The task itself was pretty simple: create a dish inspired by a world-famous food market. The catch? This Top Chef Canada caliber dish would then be served to 75 very hungry foodies. Obviously, our invites were lost in the mail. Dennis and Jonathan pulled Mexico City postcards from the giant mailbox that was wheeled into the Monogram Kitchen, meaning they got to cook up some Mexican fare. Connie and Trevor got Vietnam’s Bac Ha, Trista and Todd pulled Rio De Janeiro, Jesse and Dennis were all about Madrid, and Curtis and Nicole pulled Brussels postcards from the box. Actually, Nicole could barely reach her card thanks to her short arms, proving that sometimes the struggle is real for the vertically challenged folk out there. As for Andrea, well she got to pick from any of the markets as part of her reward for winning the Quickfire, and so she picked Brussels as an homage to her Brussels-born mum.

Here’s the thing about making a dish for 75 people: even though the chefs had a decent budget ($350 to spend at McEwan Foods) and two hours to prep in the Monogram Kitchen, they were only given 10 minutes to actually plot out their menus. If that were us, we’d spend roughly seven of those minutes staring blankly at our cards before scribbling something illegible in our remaining time.

Nicole is totally handling the pressure well. 

Obviously these guys had more ideas than we would, but they ran into some problems too. Nicole’s waffle batter didn’t turn out the way she’d wanted, forcing her to re-imagine her Morocco Dog with spiralized, crispy potatoes. (Viewers take note—you can spiralize something other than a zucchini.) Meanwhile Dennis’s empanada batter was actual garbage; we know this because he dumped it angrily into the trash when he realized he didn’t have time to start over. So he did a toast of sorts instead and presented the judges with what became the winning dish of the night: ‘Nduja Prawn Toast a.k.a. a fancy-schmancy open-faced sandwich consisting of shrimp, quail egg and salsa. For the record, we would totally travel to Madrid to eat that.

Dennis-Tay-Nduja-Prawn-Quail-Egg-on-toastDennis’ ‘Nduja, Prawn and Quail Egg on Toast with Romesco and Salsa Verde

Oh and as for Andrea? Well she certainly didn’t take her immunity for granted, and pumped out a Salt and Sugar-Cured Salmon with Apple Fennel Slaw & Bacon Beer Aioli. She didn’t make it to the top three though (Trista and Nicole were the ones to stand alongside the Dennis for that honour), but that could have also been because judge Chris Nutall-Smith was jealous of Andrea’s glasses. (Twinning!)

Apparently one market we’ll be staying away from in the near future is Bac Ha; at least we will be if Connie and Trevor are making the morsels. Even though their respective salads looked pretty they were underdressed and in Trevor’s case, topped with overcooked meat.

Chefs: when Chris makes this face, be very afraid.

Luckily these guys were both saved by a worse dish in the end: Todd’s Cod Salad with Fresh & Salt Cod, Capelin & Tomato Salsa. The offering was supposed to be inspired by Rio De Janeiro, but it was obvious that Todd didn’t know what that meant. He basically told the cameras as much. So the Newfoundland chef fell back on flavours he knew instead and then got a little defensive with judges Mark McEwan, Mijune Pak and Nutall-Smith when they said it was a fail. Trevor, standing next to Todd at judges’ table, wasn’t the only one shaking his head in the tense situation; we get Todd wanting to defend his dish (that was his province on a plate, after all), but sometimes you’ve just got to pick your battles. And telling the judges they’re not used to your kind of food might not be the best way to convince them to keep you around.

In the end it was obvious that Todd just didn’t care to stick around as much as Trevor or a tearful Connie, who told the other chefs that the judges “broke” her with their criticisms. And so the judges sent Todd packing—cod and all.

“Being back on Top Chef Canada was a chance for me to continue to spread the world about Newfoundland and Newfoundland ingredients; that’s one of the big reasons I came back,” Todd said in an interview later.

“The thing for me in a competition like this is I might not be prepared to do All-Star food. I do what I do and I might not be what the judges are looking for. I’m okay with that. The dish tonight, I was happy with it. I’ve served it lots of times and this was one of the better versions that I’ve made. But it just didn’t stack up to everybody else’s; that’s the way it works.”


“Todd just failed to deliver. These were all flavours—the capelin, the cod—these are all flavours that he knows; they’re all products that he knows how to work with,” Nutall-Smith told us later on. “He was 100 per cent in his comfort zone and the dish just failed. This was a point where I really started wondering, ‘What’s happening with this guy? He knows better than this. He is a much better chef than this dish would suggest.’ I think he also lost some confidence, some conviction in that competition. I think when we didn’t appreciate his dish, I think that probably shook him a little bit.”

Those are the breaks.

Well we appreciate your time, but that’s a wrap on another week of the culinary competition, folks. We can’t wait to see what worldly dishes the remaining chefs will pull out of their knife-blocks next week.

Extra Top Chef Canada: Watch this week’s bonus scene featuring Andrea.

Top Chef Canada: All-Stars Episode 1 Recap

There have been quite a few foodie trends we’ve desperately wanted to forget about lately: pumpkin spice in everything from doughnuts to dog food. Rainbow-hued foods that look like a leprechaun threw them up. Slurping up smoothie bowls with a spoon rather than enjoying the perfectly respectable breakfast drink with a nice, tall straw.


So the return of Top Chef Canada and its top-notch contestants that showcase what real culinary innovation looks like couldn’t have come at a better time. Twelve of the most memorable chefs from the past four seasons walked through the Toronto Monogram Kitchen doors on Sunday night to prove their knives are sharper than ever, leading us to believe that Top Chef Canada: Retribution would have been an equally memorable title for this balls-to-the-wall, All-Stars season.

There are the former finalists, like Jonathan Korecki, Trevor Bird and Connie De Sousa, who were so close to victory the first time around that they could taste it. Then there are underdogs, like Dennis Tay, who competed the entire third season with a broken arm, Dustin Gallagher, whose goofy kitchen antics had us all affectionately calling him Dusty, and Trista Sheen, who was sent home mortified for having plastic wrap in a dish served to the judges. And we can’t forget about the rest of the gang, from Tasmanian devil Nicole Gomes and our outspoken girl-crush Andrea Nicholson, to Roger Centre’s executive chef Elizabeth Rivasplata, Atlantic sauce-king Jesse Vergen, the opinionated, reformed chef Todd Perrin and of course, one Curtis Luk whose dishes are as refined as his newly sported ponytail.

Season 1 Class Clown Dusty

Of course the most familiar face of all came in the form of returning head judge Mark McEwan, who welcomed the chefs back with his scruffy smile before introducing incoming host Eden Grinshpan. She takes the reins from Lisa Ray and original host Thea Andrews, who were obviously talented, but the fact that Eden is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu gives her some serious cred; especially with this group of chefs. We all love to eat but being able to make food of the same caliber as the food you’re judging? Now that just makes you a super host. (No offense, Padma.)

But we digress. This ragtag group didn’t come together to mingle over some wine and appies, they came to restore their good names. So with the formalities out of the way, it was right down to business with the Quickfire Challenge: create a dish that represents either spring, summer, fall or winter, depending on which knife they drew. How very Canadian.

Because nothing screams pressure like a gigantic wall clock counting down your time, the chefs had exactly 25 minutes to showcase their respective seasons while refining a dish that would blow Mark and Eden’s minds… er, tastebuds. As ovens were snipped and contestants figured out how to plug in the appliances, a “duck-off” between Jesse and Dennis ensued while Curtis screamed “behind” every 30 seconds. Hey, we all kind of lose it under pressure. Anyhow, it was as frantic and chaotic as the chefs remembered, only with “awesome-er competitors.” (Don’t ever change, Trista.)

Dusty’s Moroccan-style salad with roasted eggplant, chermoula, quinoa, black currants and olives

We aren’t sure what Curtis was thinking with his Grilled Asparagus and Zucchini dish, but a few bacon bits weren’t exactly what we’d call protein. Meanwhile, Dennis’ Honey-Glazed Duck and Bread Pudding presentation was clearly whack (or is that quack?), landing both of them at the bottom of the pack. They should have just tossed together salads, since that was clearly what Mark and Eden were in the mood for: both Connie’s Wintery Charred Kale salad and Dusty’s summery Moroccan-inspired Roasted Eggplant salad were the winning dishes, with Dustin edging out Connie for immunity.

In related news if the lights had bombed at that exact moment, Dustin’s pearly whites would have kept the entire kitchen extremely well-lit. To be honest, we’re surprised it didn’t automatically power up Nicole’s appliances.

This is Top Chef Canada, so there’s no time for celebration — not when the Elimination Challenge still has to be sorted out. And because fate is a cruel mistress, the challenge taskmasters thought it would be a fun twist to have these returning chefs redeem themselves using the same ingredients that sent them home the first time around. A.K.A. one chef would be sent home twice using the same ingredients. Cue the Dr. Evil laugh track, guys. But on the plus side, the winner would score an extra $5,000.

Curtis says what all the chefs are thinking.

Luckily, the contestants had tons of time to figure out exactly what they were going to do in order to impress Mark, Eden and the three new resident judges, former Toronto Life and Globe and Mail food critic Chris Nuttall-Smith, Follow Me Foodie blogger Mijune Pak, and restaurant owner and entrepreneur, Janet Zuccarini. That meant two-and-a-half hours of prep in the Monogram kitchen before trekking over to Toronto’s gorgeous French rooftop eatery Lavelle, where Chef Romain Avril lent out his kitchen for another hour. You’d think that would be plenty of time to create an All-Stars caliber dish, right? We know we’d be able to make at least two boxes of macaroni and cheese in that time.

Trista’s “Scarborough” pot-au-feu with jerk chicken, potato, carrot and fennel with a carrot, chard and corn pistou.

It was certainly enough time for Trista, whose Scarborough-representing Jerk Chicken Pot-Au-Feu (French beef stew) wasn’t just free and clear of plastic wrap, but it was pretty darned, well, pretty! We were equally impressed with Andrea’s juice-dripping bison, Connie’s chocolate soufflé with peanut butter ganache, and Curtis’s gussied up tuna casserole,  but in the end the judges decided Trista’s dish was the one worth five grand.

“She used jerk chicken, there was amazing spicing,” the hard-to-please Nuttall-Smith recalled to us later on. “The flavours were fantastic, I loved the ideas behind it. I loved the soul and the personality behind that dish. That really stuck with me.”

Unfortunately, some of the other chefs just didn’t get the memo that they’re competing in an All-Stars edition this time around. Dusty, who was pretty lucky he had immunity, cobbled together a fruit plate on top of a blueberry olive-oil cake. Meanwhile, the bottom three consisted of Todd and his mushy cobbler, Jonathan’s tasteless curry and Elizabeth’s overly crispy pig ears. While we were pretty sure Todd’s flare up towards Mijune’s comments about his dish not working within the context of the competition were going to land him on his keister, it was Elizabeth who was sent packing first. Turns out people just don’t like gnawing on pig ears.

“I’m exactly in the place where I didn’t want to be,” the executive chef of the Rogers Centre said in her exit interview. “It sucks. I left during a really busy time of the year and to leave in the first episode wasn’t even in my mind. I over-thought the dish. That was my mistake and I own that. I thought it was going to be Todd. But anybody can go home. I’m going home because of pig ears… what can I do?”

Ultimately, Elizabeth just didn’t bring her A-Game. At least not according to Mark McEwan.

“She showed more the first time I saw her,” he said after the competition. “She certainly showed less this time and I think her nerves got the best of her; that can happen. It’s easily done. And I think she fell victim to that.”

And now that those kitchen knifes have been sharpened, let’s see who falls victim next week, shall we?

Want more Top Chef Canada? Watch bonus scenes not included in the premiere episode.