Category Archives: Food Network Insider

All New This Spring: Cooks vs. Cons, Spring Baking Championship and More

The spring forecast calls for nothing but sun as we premiere some bright new shows and bring back some of your favourites. It may be getting warmer outside, but it’s the kitchen where things are really heating up!

In Cook vs. Cons, industry experts face off against amateur cooks in a blind completion where no one — not even the judges — will know the culinary skill level of the contestants. The new series, hosted by Geoffrey Zakarian, offers unexpected twists throughout the season. Kardea Brown, Josh Elkin, Daphne Oz and Graham Elliot round out the judges panel. If a professional’s dish is best, they’ll take home a prize of $10,000, but if an amateur beats the odds, they’re rewarded with an even bigger prize of $15,000!

Cooks vs. Cons premieres Monday, April 4 at 10 E/P.  Click here for schedule information.

The adventurous Noah Cappe is back on the road travelling coast to coast in search of the best and boldest carnival eats. The journey begins at Toronto’s Royal Winter Fair for a veritable feast before venturing to America, with stops in Florida and Denver. The third season of Carnival Eats promises to be the most decadent season yet.

Catch an all new season of Carnival Eats Saturday, April 9 at 8 E/P.  Click here for schedule information.

Spring Baking Championship returns with a new season that is bound to satisfy your sweet tooth! Eight of the best bakers will compete to create impressive springtime treats for the approval of judges Duff Goldman, Nancy Fuller and Lorraine Pascale. And it’s good news for Bobby Deen fans, as he returns to host the confectionery competition. Only one baker will rise and take home the $50,000 prize plus the title of Spring Baking Champion.

Spring Baking Championship returns Sunday, April 10 at 9 E/P.  Click here for schedule information.

Guy Fieri welcomes back former Triple G competitors for a chance to redeem themselves and prove their culinary skills. The five-part Grocery Games special begins with chefs trying their luck at bowling in hopes of making a hometown favourite to win them a spot in the Redemption Tournament finale. Strap yourself in for a wild ride through Flavourtown!

Guy’s Grocery Games: Redemption Tournament premieres Saturday, April 9 at 10 E/P.  Click here for schedule information.

In this wildly popular series, 12 passionate Food Network Star hopefuls compete for the chance to have their very own Food Network show. Culinary stars Giada De Laurentiis and Bobby Flay return to judge the fierce challenges in order to discover the best and brightest new face in food television. And of course, your favourite Food Network stars will make appearances.

Food Network Star premieres Sunday, May 22 at 9 E/P. 

Roger Mooking’s Rock Star Menu for the JUNO Awards

Whether you’re cooking by yourself in the kitchen, dining at a restaurant or listening to music around a campfire; where there’s food, there’s (usually) music! Which is why we’re so excited to see great Canadian food showcased alongside great Canadian music as part of this year’s JUNO Awards celebrations, taking place on Sunday, April 3, 2016.

Hosted in Calgary, Alta., . this is the first time that a celebrity chef has been brought in to curate the gala dinner, held the night before the awards show. Roger Mooking, a JUNO Award-winning artist himself in 1990s R&B group Bass is Base, has created a delicious multi-course meal that is set to be enjoyed by 1,500 award nominees and industry friends.

We caught up with Mooking to chat about the challenges of cooking for hundreds of people and the Alberta ingredients he’s excited to showcase.

Courtesy of Nikolai Cuthill

Cracked Caramel & Brownies: Chocolate Brownie Chunks, Phil & Sebastian Espresso Mousse, Sautéed Banana, Cracked Caramel

You’re cooking the JUNO Awards gala dinner on April 2. How did that come to be?

I had made a joke to [JUNO Awards president] Allan Reid  as he was going through Toronto Pearson [Airport]. I ran into him at my restaurant, Twist, and I made a joke that, you know, maybe I should cook at the JUNOS, and we laughed about it and then he got on his plane. Later, he was thinking about it and said, “Wow, this is actually a good idea, so let’s do it!”

This is the first time in the history of The JUNO Awards they’ve had a celebrity chef create the dinner menu. Are you feeling any pressure?

Well, I’ve been cooking and serving people for 20 years, but the pressure that is somewhat unique [with this gala dinner] is that a lot of my friends are in this crowd. Industry people, artists, producers . . . people I know are present at this dinner en masse. So that’s unique, for sure!

Courtesy of Nikolai Cuthill

Alberta Love: Blackened Canadian Rangeland Bison Tenderloin & Chimichurri with Parmesan Crushed Fingerlings, Grilled Lemon & Chili Oil Baby Bok Choy

You’ve incorporated a lot of Alberta-made products into your menu. Bison, local artisan bread, Phil and Sebastian coffee  . . . . how did you discover them?

I did grow up in Alberta, so I grew up eating bison and moose, boar and all of that stuff. I knew bison was a very available commodity there, so I wanted to make sure that I could use that. I also wanted to stay away from the beef, chicken and fish that all of these major events always do.

I discovered Phil and Sebastian and Sidewalk Citizen Bakery through Connie Desousa of Charcut and Charbar. I knew I wanted some bread and I knew I wanted some coffee in the dessert, so I went to those guys.

Cooking for over 1,000 people is a lot different than cooking for 10. What are some of the hurdles?

Every step, I really wanted to make sure that [the kitchen] did a lot of hand preparation. So we’re tearing basil, tearing butter lettuce, picking thyme fresh from the stalks; and for 1,500 people, it becomes a major thing. Although there are a lot of hand preparations, the menu is designed in a way so that we can scale.

The way that we do the salad, for instance, is that we aren’t dressing the salad beforehand, or else it will wilt. The dressing is on the plate and mixes when you burst open the slow-roasted tomatoes, so it becomes an interactive experience. All of my menu choices were driven by cold, creative inspiration, as well as the capacity to execute.

How do you want the guests to feel when they walk away from your dinner?

I want them to walk away saying that they had amazing flavour. Just bold, dynamic flavour. I wanted to feature Calgary ingredients because I think that’s a big part of the story, but also to show the diversity of what I believe the Calgary of today is. The Calgary of today is not the Calgary of 20 years ago when I was growing up in Alberta!

Courtesy of Nikolai Cuthill

Tomato Surprise: Baby Greens & Sunset Campari Bomb with Boston Lettuce, Basil, Kale, Arugula, Sidewalk Citizen Spiced Croutes, Roasted Garlic Nuh Gana Dressing, Extra Virgin Olive Oil

This is a major awards event. Did you consider portion sizes or using pungent ingredients like garlic, so people wouldn’t have bad breath talking with their fellow nominees?

Yeah, it is a factor to some degree! For example, that’s why I roasted the garlic in the Nuh Gana dressing [for the tomato salad]. It cuts the edge off of it, but I still get the robust flavour that I’m looking for. I was mindful of that kind of stuff.

How does music fit in to your at-home cooking?

Well, right next to my kitchen I have a speaker, so I plug in an iPod that goes on shuffle and music is playing while we’re cooking. It’s a wild, crazy, busy household!

Images courtesy of Nikolai Cuthill.

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Sink Your Teeth Into Padma Lakshmi’s New Memoir

For the past 12 seasons of Top Chef, host Padma Lakshmi has continued to be stylish and sophisticated, without any pretension. Each week we’ve seen her introduce challenges, judge dishes and politely demand contestants to “please pack your knives and go.” But there’s much more to this woman when the cameras stop rolling. From comfort foods to stormy relationships and chronic illnesses, Padma reveals it all with gusto in her new memoir, Love, Loss and What We Ate.

Released on International Women’s Day, Padma’s book offers readers an honest memoir of her life, using food to frame her story.

Padma’s Favourite Foods

Padma’s memories of growing up in India are interspersed with some of her favourite recipes; yogurt rice, kumquat and ginger chutney, and kichidi, a rice and lentil porridge. All these and more are sprinkled throughout her memoir.

Padma explains she was on a lacto-vegetarian Hindu Brahmin diet in her teens, so she found it hard to eat American foods at first, sticking only to rice. At one point, Padma even dubbed herself the “most practiced rice aficionado.”

As an adult, cooking became the best way to mask her insecurities. At dinner parties with former husband Salman Rushdie and his intellectual friends, Padma writes she was nervous to speak freely and instead spent time in the kitchen keeping her hands busy. She would often get lost in cooking, making three times the amount of food, without having any room to store leftovers.

Padma’s Personal Struggles

Growing up in America, you’re exposed to a lot of different cultures, and unfortunately, Padma struggled with her identity at a young age. She even went so far as to change her name to Angelique to Americanize herself. She writes candidly about getting egged and being called names by other girls in school because of her ethnicity. As Padma got older, she felt like less of an outsider and eventually became comfortable in her own skin.

Padma also reveals her experience with endometriosis, a painful uterine disorder in which tissue grows outside the organ. For years she hid this condition from her family, still in denial even after being rushed to the hospital due to chronic pain. Padma writes that she did not want to be defined by her condition, one that 10 percent of women have. Endometriosis is one of three major causes of infertility, so in 2009, Padma launched The Endometriosis Foundation of America, an organization focused on increasing awareness and education of the disorder.

Padma’s On-Set Concoctions

With Top Chef being the sister show to Project Runway, it made sense for a model to host the show — but Padma always strives to be more than just a pretty face. In her memoir, she cites instances where she felt inferior to the accomplished chefs who appear as judges. But lucky for her, it didn’t take long to make her mark in the culinary world.

Shooting a television show is a lot of ‘hurry up and wait,’ and during that waiting, Padma would eat. She eventually taught many colleagues how to make her childhood classic: chili cheese toast. And because she constantly tastes food on the show, Padma created a special drink to cleanse her digestive pipes. She calls it the Cranberry Drano. It includes cranberry juice, clear fiber powder and one pack of Emergen-C with hot green tea and honey. We’ll cheers to that!

Love, Loss and What We Ate is available in bookstores now.

The Women Who Inspire Our Stars

To celebrate International Women’s Day today, the stars of Food Network Canada are eager to tip their chef’s hat off to the women who have inspired them the most. From long time family friends to up-and-comers, these women have made a lasting impression in and outside the kitchen.

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Anne Yarymowich’s Local Influence

“The most influential woman in the trajectory of my career as a chef has to be hands down Donna Dooher; local talent, entrepreneur, chef, restaurant proprietor and current president of Restaurants Canada,” says the Chopped Canada judge.

Donna Dooher

“Donna, chef and owner of Mildred’s Temple Kitchen (the reincarnation of Mildred Pierce Restaurant), took me on and gave me a chance at my first position as Chef de Cuisine.  The restaurant, named after the film noir Mildred Pierce, featuring Joan Crawford as a gutsy female restaurant entrepreneur, opened its doors for its first brunch on International Women’s Day, March 8, 1990.

I cut my teeth and built my reputation as a chef as the restaurant gained success and acclaim with the support, guidance and mentorship of Donna Dooher. Throughout my career, I have done my best to pay it forward to as many women chefs as I could.  A shout out has to go to my Mom who taught me not only how to cook, but how to be a decent human being.”

Devin Connell

Devin Connell’s Family Friend

This Chef in Your Ear star says Mary Risley from Tante Marie Cooking School in San Francisco made the biggest impact on her career. “Mary started one of North America’s most respected cooking schools, is an award winning cookbook author, the founder of Food Runners (The American Second Harvest) and was at the forefront of the slow food movement in California, along with Alice Waters. She has been a long time family friend who allowed me to stay with her in San Francisco before I started Delica,” she says.

“Being with Mary was always an adventure, whether it was having lunch with Chuck Williams (founder of Williams-Sonoma), taking daily visits to the best local farmers markets, or preparing grand feasts in her cooking studio with her foodie friends. She taught me that the best food starts with the best quality ingredients. She also taught me to go with my gut, and not to get too precious about process. She has a famous YouTube video called Just Put the $%&!ing Turkey in the Oven. That pretty much sums her up. She’s brutally honest, for better or worse, which is what you need from a mentor.”

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Eden Grinshpan’s Fellow Food Mates

This Chopped Canada judge fell in love with cooking when she discovered Food Network Canada in grade 10.

Food Network Canada

“Some of my favorite shows were hosted by women. Nigella Lawson, Rachel Ray and Ina Garten were my top faves, and they always made food seem so effortless, fun and exciting! It was definitely a huge inspiration for me to get into the kitchen and eventually apply to culinary school,” she says.

Elizabeth Falkner

Elizabeth Faulkner’s Protégé

“I had a protégé years ago, a pastry chef named Maya Erikson and she just did one of those Munchies videos,” explains the judge of Donut Showdown.  “[Maya is] super cute, super talented and dedicated. She’s really young too — she started with me when she was like 16 and stuck around, becoming one of the pastry chefs at my restaurant. Later, [at the age of 23] she went on to work at a restaurant called Lazy Bear in San Francisco.”

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Anna Olson’s Grandmother

“I think about mentorship more and more as I progress through my career and life,” says the Bake With Anna Olson star.  “I think this is because I have transitioned from the apprentice to the teacher, and with that comes an appreciation for those who have guided me personally and professionally throughout my life, many of them women. I’d like to share my very first and most impactful mentor in my life: my grandmother.

Grandma took care of her family but took the most pleasure in cooking and baking for them.  As a child, I quickly came to appreciate that if I wanted to spend time with Grandma, then I had to spend time in the kitchen.  At an early age she would set me to task on easy things — learning how to break eggs easily or whisk up a pancake batter and as I grew, she would challenge me with greater responsibility. We connected over cookies, cakes and doughnuts, and in her later years, when her memory would betray her, I could see the sparkle come back in her eye when we started talking about cabbage rolls and perogies.  Her name was Julia, and even though I would fondly watch Julia Child flambée and sautée her way around the kitchen on TV, it was my own Grandma Julia that was my personal mentor.”