Category Archives: Iron Chef Canada

Host Gail Simmons on the set of Iron Chef Canada

Gail Simmons Answers Your Most Burning Question About Iron Chef Canada

Chefs stepping into the Iron Chef Canada Kitchen Stadium, as well as home viewers, will be familiar with Gail Simmons — as the all-knowing host, she’s the first voice you hear on each episode and the one who provides background information on chef and ingredient pedigrees.

Gail’s also made her bones in the kitchen, as a culinary-school trained expert, food writer for Food & Wine magazine and judge on Top Chef. Although she currently lives in Brooklyn, Gail is Canadian through and through — born and bred on Toronto’s food scene. “Part of the reason I was so excited to do this show was that it gave me an opportunity to work on not only a brand I love, with a network I’ve always wanted to work with, but to have a project that brought me home,” she says. “And the bonus is that the work I’m doing is with the best chefs in Canada and I also get to see how far the culinary world has come since I left twenty years ago.”


Host Gail Simmons on the set of Iron Chef Canada

One thing that Gail is especially excited about this season is the focus on Indigenous cuisine, especially in Battle Trout between Iron Chef Lynn Crawford and Chef Shane Chartrand of the Maskekosak from Enoch Cree Nation. “I have to say I cannot wait to watch this episode because, to me, it just epitomized true Canadian cooking,” she says. “Chef Shane is cooking food that opened my eyes to the bounty of Canada.

As the show’s knowledgeable host, Gail doesn’t get to taste the finished dishes, but she does get to see what competitors do successfully, and what causes panic on the kitchen line. “The simple ingredients can be just as challenging as, let’s say, offal (watch the full episode of Battle Offal here) where you need to understand how to cook with the internal organs of different animals. That is incredibly difficult in a lot of ways, but it also focuses what you can make,” she says.

Keeping it simple can be a real challenge for chefs wanting to demonstrate technique and skills in a competitive environment, especially with more familiar ingredients. “An ingredient that we all cook with all the time is so open to possibilities and vagaries that the challenge becomes cooking on the fly and keeping your focus, and doing something that is interesting, but is still all about that ingredient,” she says. 


Chef Shane Chartrand takes on Iron Chef Lynn Crawford in Battle Trout

Similar issues arise when chefs heed the siren song of the ice cream machine. “I’m all for ice cream, don’t get me wrong, but there are a couple [of] flavours where I’m just like ‘that should never be made into ice cream’,” Gail laughs. “For some reason, I guess because it’s there, and you can do it relatively quickly, almost every chef can’t resist the temptation.”

Given the time restrictions, Gail sees the pressure cooker and deep fryer used to get ingredients cooked quickly, especially proteins. When it comes to equipment that could be used more, however, Gail pines for use of the wood smoker. “It would take more time, so I understand why they don’t, but I love seeing them pull out a smoker.  It adds a lot of nuanced flavour,” she says. “I also love the dehydrator, but you need a lot more time with that.”

Due to the prowess of the Iron Chefs, Gail is adamant that she doesn’t desire to set foot in Kitchen Stadium as a competitor, although she has written about chefs (she counts many of the Iron Chefs as friends and colleagues who she’s known for years) and cooking techniques for decades. “I have culinary training, but I don’t work in a restaurant every day,” she says. “I would love to cook against all of them, really, but I could never claim to do what they do.”

For those brave souls who are entering Kitchen Stadium for the first time, Gail has this piece of advice: remember the clock. “Chefs who fail to think in advance about time management and really pay attention to the ticking of the clock are the ones that aren’t able to follow through,” she says. Taking the time to scope out the space is also essential, she says. “You spend a lot of time racing around looking for things, racing around to get from the fridge to the fryer.”


Host Gail Simmons on set for Battle Trout of Iron Chef Canada

Chefs do get some help from the culinary team, who stock the kitchen with ingredients and also prepare equipment so that competitors aren’t waiting to preheat an oven or bring water up to temperature. Lest viewers at home think there’s any creative stretching of time in production, Gail makes it clear that the competitors have to adhere to strict time limits. “The one question I get the most from viewers is ‘Is that hour really an hour?’ she says. “When we say go, that clock is in real-time. And most people can’t cook a two-course dinner in an hour for their family, let alone what these chefs do. It is extraordinary.”

Watch Iron Chef Canada on Wednesdays this fall, starting at 10 PM E/T. 

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Iron Chef Canada’s Hugh Acheson Dishes on the First Season

Hugh Acheson may have been born and raised in Ottawa, but over the years he’s become known for his unique flavours that turn traditional Southern food into something unique and unexpected. As the owner of five restaurants in Georgia (including the critically acclaimed Five & Ten), Acheson proves you don’t need formal training in order to create and inspire — a lesson he continues dishing out as a guest judge on Top Chef.

In anticipation of the creative concoctions Acheson will conceptualize as an Iron Chef in the Iron Chef Canada Kitchen Stadium, we caught up with the chef to get his take on the self-taught scene, judging versus competing, and his laid-back approach on the road to reigning supreme.

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Did you always want to be a chef? How did you go about teaching yourself?

I’m kind of the black sheep of an academic family. I didn’t do well in school — I went to Concordia University for a couple of years and dropped out. But since the age of 15, I’d always been cooking in restaurants and it just seemed like a good skill set to have. And as a sort of journeyman task, it just ended up being the thing I had the most interest in.

Eventually, I started working in really good restaurants and I got taught by a number of amazing chefs along the way. And maybe you learn in some places that are not so good as well, right?

Where does your love of food stem from?

I had a very mixed upbringing when it came to school. It wasn’t really a culinary-driven household. I was mostly raised by a single father with three older sisters and he’s an economist so we ate a lot of fish sticks and burnt rice. But there was also a later reverence for food, simple stuff. Local Portuguese bread and really good grilled steaks. The one thing you realized with food and finding a career in food is that if you’re enamoured with it and it becomes your endless topic then it’s always going to be a constantly good thing.

What has been your proudest accomplishment in your career to date?

It’s probably the fact that I lead and employ hundreds of people and I try to do it with empathy and compassion and good leadership.

In your book A New Turn in the South, you talk about moving from Ottawa to Georgia and embracing Southern food. Have you re-embraced Canadian food or ingredients at all during this experience?

I don’t think I ever abandoned the idea of Canadian ingredients or Canadian food. Obviously, I cook from the community in which I live primarily and I just now happen to live in Georgia. There’s an overflowing bounty of ingredients here but I still have a real reverence for the products I grew up with in Canada, whether it be local lamb from the Gatineau or cheeses or fiddleheads. All sorts of local produce in the Montreal and Ottawa area.

Can you name a Canadian chef who inspires or excites you?

David McMillan at Joe Beef and all the Joe Beef restaurants, and Marc-Olivier Frappier who works with him at Le Vin Papillon. The way they run restaurants and the idea and philosophy behind their food is such an epitome of Quebec and Montreal and punk rocky method of getting it done themselves, but authentically enjoying every movement of it.

How did you prepare for the competition?

I think a lot of other people we came up against did a lot more preparation than we did. We mapped out some possible ideas of menu structures and skillsets and styles that we’d be doing and quickly tried to plug the ingredient into that format. But some people really prepare a lot for it and time themselves… and that ain’t me.

Iron Chef Hugh Acheson with judges

Can you walk us through what happens when you find out the secret ingredient and your process for creating an Iron Chef Canada menu?

We always have a couple of basic dishes we can play on and then include the ingredient in. There are three of us and we all know our fortes and our strengths. It’s a little challenging, but we work together a lot and we talk about process and flavour affinities and styles and they all are fully versed in that. It seems like a trial to get a menu together really quickly, but it’s actually pretty easy. We always have a plan for everything.

Did any of the secret ingredients or curveballs throw you for a loop?

It was hard to figure out whether you wanted to get that curveball ingredient in everything or just in one dish where it made sense. I don’t know if I ever quite figured that out. I was really proud of all the food we prepared. We did technically-driven food. Sometimes you look at everything and say, ‘Wow—we did all that in an hour? That’s crazy.’

If you could pick one secret ingredient for your fellow Iron Chefs, what would you choose?

Cabbage. To most people, it’s very limiting, what they would be able to process, and I have a lot of ideas. I feel really good about my cabbage skills. So like a charred cabbage soup, or simple cabbage rolls with finely minced salmon and caviar in them and served with a little vermouth cream. Or cabbage turned into crackers with a quick dehydration and then filled with beef tartare. Oh, there are a lot of cabbage ideas — I can’t give them all away!

What can we expect from the competitors this season?

It just shows the amazing strength of the Canadian chef community. There were some really amazing skillsets shown. You can expect to see a lot of really good food. Even though it’s an hour some amazing food is prepared given the time construct.

As a seasoned chef, were you able to learn anything from the competitors?

Afterwards, it was always a good indication if I looked over at their station at the end, how clean and organized they were. I remember one battle, the other person’s station was impeccably clean and organized, and that kind of guts you. I was like, ‘Oh no. I’m such a mess over here.’ But during it, it’s really hard not to just stare at your own cutting board and run around the kitchen. You’re pretty much naval-gazing and focused on your own product and communicating with your own team.

You competed on Top Chef Masters back in 2010, and we’ve seen you as a guest judge on Top Chef. How did it feel to be competing rather than being behind the judging table?

Iron Chef is kind of like a really long Quickfire in terms of assembling ingredients and getting things together and planning your mode of attack and what you’re going to do and lining things up. Meanwhile, you have to get one dish out really quickly… there’s definitely a comparison but it’s more about the pureness of cooking and getting it done and sweating over a stove. It’s definitely pressure-filled but there’s no drama. It’s all about the food.

Judging is really easy — we’re all judges now in some way, shape or form. We criticize everything around us and everybody does that so it’s kind of nice to just cook.

Is there a chef, living or past who you would love to take on in the Iron Chef Canada Kitchen Stadium?

I have a lot of respect for people like David Chang in New York. David McMillan from Joe Beef would be fun. But I’m into the camaraderie and the challenge of being in the kitchen as opposed to, do I really want to feud with someone over cooking?

Watch Iron Chef Canada Wednesdays at 10 PM E/P

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Why Iron Chef Canada’s Susur Lee Loves a Little Friendly Competition

Iron Chef Susur Lee has long been an icon in the culinary world, helming Lee, Luckee, Lee Kitchen and Kid Lee in Toronto and TungLok in Singapore.  That’s on top of serving as a celebrity judge on Chopped Canada and Masterchef Asia. With 45 years of culinary experience under his belt,  a healthy love of competition, combined with his obvious passion for food, Lee is a perfect choice to step into Kitchen Stadium as an Iron Chef.

We caught up with Iron Chef Susur Lee to chat about falling in love with food as a young boy in Hong Kong, cooking with family and the surprising secret ingredient he wants to see in Kitchen Stadium next season.

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Did you always want to be a chef?

No, actually as a kid I wanted to be a Kung Fu master! I studied with a Kung Fu master for years from the time I was a small boy until a teenager. Cooking and kung fu have similar philosophies about mentality and discipline. Being a chef is kind of like being a kung fu master though, it requires agility and thinking on your feet!

Where does your love of food stem from?

I fell in love with food as a young kid, when I’d walk through the markets of Hong Kong.  Hong Kong is a food city, and southern Cantonese is one of the most important cuisines in the southern part of China. I was really intrigued by all of the smells. My mum wasn’t a great cook so she’d give me a little bit of money and I’d buy myself little bites of food on my way home from school. From the open windows of our home, we could smell the street vendors down on the street, I think this is where I fell in love with food but also developed a deep interest in learning more about food.

How did you realize that cooking could be your career?

I really started in the kitchen as a way to make some money. Hong Kong has always had more restaurants than any city in the world. I started washing woks because I enjoyed the liveliness of the kitchen. I had the drive to move up and I had a deep desire to learn. The hotel kitchens of Hong Kong were very intense. To learn, you had to be observant. No one was taking you under their wing so-to-speak. That’s why I really value my young cooks who want to learn—it’s important to be a strong leader.

How did coming to Canada influence your culinary career?

Canada is such a multicultural place. I felt at home almost immediately. Back home I was exposed to classic French cooking but as a young cook, I didn’t get to travel much. Before coming to Canada my wife at the time and I took a year to travel. We went to France, Italy,  the Middle East, and India. When we arrived in Toronto, it was so multicultural, I almost didn’t need to travel. I worked in kitchens with Jamaicans, Trinidadians, Thai, Irish. I really got a global education here. It gave me a hunger to travel even more and really immerse myself in other cultures.

What was it like opening your first restaurant?

Exhausting! I really did everything. I was going to the market every day and I had a new baby. My family and I lived above the restaurant so it was really, truly a 24/7 job. But at the end of the day, it gave me joy and I knew I was building a life for my family.

What’s your favourite dish to make? 

Honestly, I love cooking Asian food. It really brings me home. That said, whatever my kids ask me to make I always love, usually because we’ll work together in the kitchen to make it. It means the dish is all that more pleasurable to eat.

Do you have a favourite local ingredient?

I always say garlic is my favorite, but really anything grown in Ontario during its peak season. We grow such great produce here.

You were the second Canadian to enter Kitchen Stadium in 2006, and now you’re breaking ground as one of the Canadian Iron Chefs. Is it a full circle moment for you?

It kind of is, but I don’t really think of it that way. Every day I feel honoured to be able to do what I love and sometimes I get to do that on national TV! I was grateful to be asked as one of the Canadian Iron Chefs. Iit validates how hard I’ve worked.

How does Iron Chef Canada showcase uniquely Canadian cuisine?

I think Canada deserves it’s own food shows, we are a unique country with so many talented people cooking in so many different ways. The secret ingredients and the curve balls are what make it Canadian but you really see it in the dishes that are produced as well. They’re not distinctly Canadian but they have flavours from all around the world… which I think is very Canadian in itself.

How did you prepare for the competition?

I basically lived in the kitchen for a few weeks and cooked with my sous chefs. We’ve worked together for over 10 years but we haven’t cooked together in a while. Jonas (Lee) and Bryan (Kid Lee) and I just experimented, tested and got comfortable with each other again. We brought Kitchen Stadium to us!

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What can we expect from the competitors this season?

I am sure they are all accomplished in their own way and they all love to cook. The competition will be tough—I’m really eager to see all of them compete!

 How did it feel to be competing again rather than being behind the judging table?

Well, I did compete in the Chopped judges’ episode, where the judges had a choice to judge their peers or compete and I chose to compete. That really gave me that rush again and I loved it! I love being in the heat of the kitchen so I was thrilled when I was approached to be an Iron Chef. I still work in my restaurant kitchen but it just doesn’t compare to the pressure of a competition like Iron Chef Canada. I’ve worked as a chef for 45 years now and I’m still learning and getting opportunities to put my knowledge to use. It’s such a rush!

You’re known for your fusion food. Do you think your culinary style gave you an advantage over the competition?

Perhaps because I am very versatile. I have always felt that  “fusion” is a name given to me by others that I didn’t really even like at first, but I accept it now. I am a chef first and my style is just me. I am extremely technical and that’s very French, I am extremely creative and that is Chinese.

How do you create an Iron Chef Canada menu once you’ve found out the secret ingredient?

You have to think very quickly. Having cooked for 45 years myself and 15 with my two sous chefs, we have a lot of tricks in our bag. We began by discussing how the ingredients can fit into what we know. You can’t “re-invent” the wheel on live TV.

Did any of the secret ingredients throw you for a loop?

The curve balls were actually what threw me for a loop the most. With the time constraints, the menu already planned out and the unfamiliarity of the kitchen, it’s a challenge, that’s for sure!

If you could pick one secret ingredient for your fellow iron chefs, what would you choose?

I was recently in Thailand and ate quite a few insects—so maybe insects! They say it’s the food of the future so why not introduce it to the world on the big stage!

Iron Chef Anna Olson

Meet Canada’s Newest Iron Chef, Anna Olson and Enter to Win Her New Cookbook

A brand new Iron Chef has been announced for the holidays and it’s Canada’s baking sweetheart, Anna Olson. We sat down with Anna to talk everything from how she felt about competing for the first time to her favourite cookie this holiday season.

Iron Chef Anna Olson

Read on for the full interview with Iron Chef Anna Olson and don’t forget to enter our draw to win one of five signed copies of Anna’s new holiday cookbook, Set for the Holidays. It’s chock-full of delicious recipes that will have your holiday entertaining sorted, from delicious comforting appetizers like Lobster Mac ‘n’ Cheese Squares, to sweet Canadian classics like Signature Butter Tart Squares. And of course, don’t forget the cookies for Santa, like Breton Sea Salt Shortbreads and Carrot Cake Sandwich Cookies,

Can you tell us about how you fell in love with food?

My love of food happened gradually out of love for spending time with my grandmother in the kitchen. She was the avid baker. For her, it was the passion for cooking, but most especially baking to share.  I think over the years when I look at what I love about baking most is that sense of sharing that comes with it. So it all started there, even though it took me a while to come about it professionally.

How did you begin to transition that into your career?

For a lot of people, baking is a stress reliever. When I was in university and early in my career in banking, it was my way to relieve stress at the end of the day. And I really did have what I call my ‘muffin epiphany’ where after a very stressful day I found myself up at two in the morning making banana muffins just to relax. And it was at that moment the light went off and I said, “Okay, I need to cook”.

Within three months I quit and went to cooking school. It was a need. I needed to make cooking and baking my full-time occupation. Originally, I didn’t plan on working in restaurants. I thought that recipe development for a company would be the way I went. But I actually got hooked on the adrenaline of working in restaurants.

How do you feel Canadian cuisine has influenced you— because you have a very strong identity as a Canadian chef and baker.

When I found myself living in the Niagara Region, I was drawn to the type of cuisine with four distinct menus based on four distinct seasons with produce that came from close by. In Canada, we embrace that, whether it’s cooking with the seafood of the East Coast, the produce and dairy we have in Ontario, Quebec beef, or the fish on the West Coast. That is Canadian cuisine and we don’t need to rely on a dish or a specific menu to call it Canadian. You can cook globally so long as you shop locally. And that too, I think is very Canadian, bringing the global influence.

How did it feel to compete on Iron Chef Canada?

When the opportunity came to be an Iron Chef, I thought long and hard about it. I was petrified. Can I do this? Can I stand up against a challenger and can I deliver a five-course menu [that is] all baking in an hour? And even though this is an all baking episode, the rules are still exactly the same as if it was a traditional Iron Chef [challenge].

I decided one of my life philosophies is you never regret the things you try and fail. And I thought if I say no to this, I’ll always wonder ‘what if?’ So I just jumped right in.

Anna Olson Battle Nuts

So once you did decide you were going for it, how did you start to prepare?

There is really only so much you can do because you have to wait until the [secret] ingredient is revealed. But knowing that you have to prepare a certain amount of dishes, I had to look at techniques. People know me from Bake where I really focus on the technique behind something. So I knew I needed to find recipes that could draw on that and [we] could mix, bake, set, and cook within an hour, which can be a challenge.

What I didn’t want the judges to do was walk away with sugar shock, [that] they didn’t have a great experience because I didn’t give them a balanced menu. That was already in my head. So when the ingredients [are] revealed, you simply apply it.

How did you go about showcasing Canadian flavours in your Iron Chef Canada menu?

I feel showcasing Canadian flavours and preparations is just inherent to my style, so I didn’t feel like I had to reach or be something different than [what] I was. I think that would have created a challenge that I didn’t need. We do what we know and we do what we love. Just like a home cook preparing Christmas dinner, if you make something you’ve never made, it’s going to go sideways. The home cook at holiday time is kind of their own Iron Chef!

What’s your favourite holiday food event—from cookie swaps to brunch to the big Christmas dinner?

The Christmas Day brunch is my favourite meal. I love how it’s relaxed and casual, but still elegant. We do the big ham and lots of side salads.  I’ll do things like a raspberry Danish pastry wreath and scones with fruit to start the meal, but then you still get to have dessert. Brunch is done is [by] 2 or 3 p.m. and the kitchen is cleaned up and you still have the rest of the day to snack. And the best is that little leftover ham sandwich or turkey sandwich later on in the evening.

Anna Olson's Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

What’s your ‘it’ cookie of the season?

I do have a collection of three cookies from my latest cookbook called Crinkles and Twinkles. So I do a Chocolate Crinkle,  a Gingerbread Crinkle, and a Lemon Twinkle. They’re rolled in granulated sugar and sparkles. Those, together on a plate, look lovely because they all relate, but they each have their own flavour.

The other cookie that I like to make every year is a Vinarterta Linzer cookie.  It’s a mix of tradition and reinvention. I’ve adopted what is a really quite difficult and time intensive [recipe] to make into a simpler cookie. It’s very much a Canadian prairie recipe. When Icelanders emigrated [to Canada]  they treasured and kept onto these heritage recipes. That’s a big part of Canadian cooking too. We cherish our cultural heritage and hold onto these recipes, but also share them with each other.

That is, to me, what a cookie exchange should be. You can always assign people to make you make the shortbread or make the chocolate cookie, but everyone should be invited to make one that’s part of their family tradition.

*This interview has been edited and condensed.

Watch Anna Olson on Iron Chef Canada: Battle Nutcracker ‘Sweet’ on December 12 at 10 p.m. ET/PT

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Why Iron Chef Canada’s Lynn Crawford Was Destined for Kitchen Stadium

Canada boasts a wide variety of chefs from coast-to-coast, but one name that always reigns supreme is chef Lynn Crawford. From her early days on Restaurant Makeover to her food travel series Pitchin’ In, (not to mention a plethora of guest-starring gigs on shows like Top Chef Canada in between), Crawford has become synonymous with showcasing Canadian cuisine, cultures, and ingredients.

Now the former Four Seasons chef and current Ruby Watchco owner is poised to continue that mission on Iron Chef Canada. We caught up with Crawford—who also happens to be the first Canadian female chef to have participated in the American series—to get her take on Canada’s tastiest ingredients, her inherent love of food, and what it takes to make it in Kitchen Stadium.

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Where does your love of food stem from and did you always want to be a chef?

Oh, absolutely. I’ve always enjoyed cooking. Fond family memories have always been about everyone preparing our family supper and sharing our day with one another—that was really important. I just had a passion for food, I love it. I loved everything about it. Helping mom and dad in the kitchen and exploring. Each time we went out on a little adventure, a road trip, different restaurants that we’d go to, farmers markets, all that—I loved it.

When did you realize cooking could be your career?

Not until my university days when I handled a part-time job and I was surrounded by people that were attending the HAFA program at the University of Guelph and they were really shining a spotlight that there is a profession out there in cooking.

As a champion for locally-raised food, do you have a favourite ingredient right now?

Right now there are too many to talk about! Right now is all about the fall squash, pumpkin, pears, apples, sweet corn. The  most exciting time for any chef to be cooking is during the fall harvest.

Which Canadian chef is inspiring or exciting you right now?

There are so many incredibly talented chefs out there. Can you just pick some for me? There are just so many. That’s what’s so incredible about Canada, from coast-to-coast and in the middle we’re just surrounded by so many talented chefs. I’m inspired by so many. My dear friend Lisa Ahier from Tofino is landing here in Toronto to do an event with Michael Blackie who is another dear friend up in Ottawa. And then I’ve got Wayne Martin up in Winnipeg who is absolutely incredible. Ned Bell, his advocacy for sustainable seafood, what he does. Connie [DeSousa] and John [Jackson] at Charbar and Charcut. Dale McKay and what he’s doing. There are so many, it’s a long list. I’m just so grateful to have met so many and had so many opportunities to cook alongside [these chefs].

How did it feel to bring Iron Chef to Canada?

It was just a matter of time for the competition to come to Canada. The Iron Chef franchise, to be included in that is exceptionally special for all of us who are participating, both the iron chefs and the competitors. And to have Kitchen Stadium here in Canada, that’s brilliant. The high level of expertise and talent and commitment that goes into participating in a battle is unlike any competition that you’ll ever participate in or experience. For me, personally, the Canadian twist in it is how we are showcasing the Canadian talent, the Canadian ingredients, and the Canadian passion for excellence.

What was your preparation like for the competition?

I’ll never do it again! No, I’m kidding. It was hard. It was war. Lora [Lora Kirk], my wife was six months pregnant [at the time]. Michael Blackie flew in from Ottawa. We did all of our practice at home.

What did you learn from the Iron Chef America Stadium that you brought to Iron Chef Canada?

The kitchens are quite similar and just having had that opportunity to go down and battle in New York was surely beneficial. But that was a long time ago. And of course, every battle that you’re preparing for is very different. You don’t know who your competitor is, you don’t know what the secret ingredient is, and is your team ready for that day and for that battle? But I know more now than I did back then. That was many, many years ago.

What can we expect from the competition this season?

It’s going to be exceptionally entertaining and it’s going to really showcase Canada’s finest. It’s going to be really intense, it’s going to be absolutely incredible. A lot of creativity, a lot of talent, a lot of passion. It’s the original food competition show that really showcasing excellence. It was a thrill to participate now on both sides.

What did your time in Kitchen Stadium teach you?

You’re only as good as your last dish. I was striving for excellence. My excellence or my philosophy of what I do each and every day. I just want to give the very, very best to my guests. I’m lucky that I get to do what I do.

Are there any chefs—living or dead—that you would love to take on in Kitchen Stadium?

I kind of like the surprise element. Is there somebody that I would like to have a battle with? To cook with? You have the opportunity to cook with so many different chefs, but one-on-one? Wow. That’s a good question.

What’s your go-to staple tool in the Iron Chef Canada kitchen?

Nothing was really out of the ordinary. Your basic chef kit is really all you really need. You don’t have time for the gadgets. All a chef needs is a great peeler, a good set of chef knives, and away you go.

How did you feel about the secret ingredients?

There were no ingredients where I wondered how I would make five wonderful dishes. I was very happy with what was revealed on each day that I cooked.

What goes through your head when you hear the secret ingredient and how do you put your menu together?

It’s really spontaneous. When the ingredient is revealed, there are five dishes that you think about and there’s not a lot of time to think about what you want. So it’s really honouring the ingredient and making that the star of the dish. You have to be very quick about what it is that you’re going to prepare and if I were asked to do something with the ingredient again, I’m sure it would be really different.

If you could pick a secret ingredient, what would you choose?

It could really be anything. Right now looking around the kitchen, I’ve got lovely Cortland apples. We’ve got butternut squash we’ve got a lovely artisanal cheese. There’s a pumpkin. Beef tenderloin. Lobster. A beautiful chanterelle? Why not? Can we have all of them?

Did you have a dish that you cooked in the Kitchen Stadium that you’re most proud of?

How can I say it without giving away with giving it away? Listen, I would cook them all again—they were all delicious!

 

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Cauliflower May Just Be the Most Versatile Iron Chef Canada Ingredient To Date

Food fads come and go, but cauliflower and its magical powers seem to be one trendy ingredient that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. And with good reason—it’s a low-calorie, high-vitamin veggie, one that can be transformed into a variety of mouth-watering dishes.

Look no further than Iron Chef Canada‘s Battle Cauliflower for proof. The Chairman tasked challenger (and former Top Chef Canada winner) René Rodriguez and Iron Chef Amanda Cohen with concocting five dishes featuring the cruciferous veggie, and boy, did they deliver. From cauliflower dumplings and arancino to a cauliflower “Funfetti” cake and pannacotta, these chefs proved that cauli-“power” is a very real thing.

In honour of the versatile ingredient, here’s everything you ever wanted to know about it.

Iron Chef Canada cauliflower reveal

When is cauliflower in season in Canada?

Luckily, cauliflower is available year-round, but it’s always at its best (and most inexpensive) come fall. That’s when you’ll see larger heads pop up on store shelves or lining the stalls at local farmer’s markets, where it’s just waiting to be transformed into a hearty soup, mash or roasted dish.

What does cauliflower taste like?

Cauliflower is one of those vegetables that just goes well with everything thanks to its mild flavour, as it tends to absorb the herbs and spices it’s seasoned with. But overall it’s slightly nutty with a bit of a bitter undertone, which means that while you can swap it in for a variety of carbs, you’ll usually still get a hint of cauliflower taste in your finished dish.

What do you eat cauliflower with?

This veggie is great as a snack, side dish, or main, and it can be paired with a variety of spices and ingredients that enhance its natural flavour. We’d say anything goes, but we’re particularly fond of pairing cauliflower with other fall ingredients like venison or pumpkin, as well as salty, savoury cheese.

What are the health benefits of eating cauliflower?

Cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower (and broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale), are basically a superfood. Cauliflower is low in calories and fat-free, and contains an abundance of vitamins, from folate and Vitamin C, to Vitamins E and K. It also contains omega-3 fatty acids, which help to regulate cholesterol and heart disease; it’s high in fibre; and it also contains sulforaphane, a compound that may be key to preventing cancer.

Need more reasons to munch on cauliflower? It’s also said to boost brain function, balance hormones, improve the appearance of skin and hair, and help your vision. All that on top of it being a great tool for weight loss. No wonder more and more people are cooking the veggie up.

The great cauliflower debate: cooked or raw?

It’s no secret that people can be pretty particular about how they consume their cauliflower. While some prefer the raw crunch that comes with biting into a floret (accompanying a cheesy dip or guacamole, maybe?) others prefer the milder flavour of it cooked.

While it’s always a good idea to incorporate more veggies into your diet no matter how they’re prepared, the hard-to-digest sugars in raw cruciferous vegetables can lead to gas and bloating for some folks. Meanwhile, people with a thyroid condition might want to heat up their cauliflower too, given that raw cruciferous veggies contain thyroid inhibitors, which may worsen the condition.

raw cauliflower

How to make cauliflower rice

Ricing cauliflower is super quick and easy—all you need is a food processor. Separate the florets and give them a quick wash, then pop them into the processor and pulsate until you achieve the texture of rice. Easy, peasy.

Don’t have a food processor? You can also grate the florets using a cheese grater.

Once you’ve got your “rice,” (which is about 25 calories per cup compared to 205 calories per cup for white rice), you can use it in a variety of dishes that call for regular rice, from cauliflower fried rice to sushi. Just keep an eye on your cooking time: in a hot dish cauliflower rice only needs five-to-eight minutes on the stovetop.

You can also freeze cauliflower rice once it’s been pulsated down, simply throw it into labelled freezer-safe bags and then pull it out when you’re in need of a quick, low-carb side dish.

cauliflower-fried-rice

Cauliflower pizza

Rice isn’t the only magical thing to come out of a head of cauliflower—you can make cauliflower-based pizza crust too. The trick to a successful crust is to ring out all of the water from the veggie as you go, but be warned that it’s not pizza crust. This is a thinner, healthier version, albeit one that’s improved with the addition of life’s two secret ingredients: tomato sauce and cheese.

 

Watch Iron Chef Canada Wednesdays at 10 PM E/P

Iron Chef Amanda Cohen

Iron Chef Canada’s Amanda Cohen on Being the First Vegetable Chef to Enter Kitchen Stadium

Long before plant-based eating was trendy, chef and restauranteur Amanda Cohen made a name for herself by celebrating her love of vegetables on a variety of beautiful, rainbow-coloured plates. As the owner of New York City’s Dirt Candy, the Canadian is a James Beard-nominee, has been recognized by the Michelin Guide for five years in a row, and was the first vegetarian chef to ever compete on Iron Chef America.

In anticipation of the drool-worthy dishes Cohen will concoct on Iron Chef Canada, we sat down with the ground-breaking chef to find out what inspires her, learn about her journey to the kitchen, and get a taste of what she’ll bring to Kitchen Stadium.

Where does your love of food stem from?

I mean, I just love food. I love to eat and I love flavour and… I love to eat! But I think mostly I really like sitting down to dinner and I like conversations with people and the celebratory parts of food more than anything.

What was your journey been like as a plant-based or “vegetable” chef?

Well, it definitely hasn’t been easy. I’m a pioneer in this world and it took a long time for people to accept that what I’m doing has value. It’s really only in the last couple of years that people have started to embrace… I don’t say “plant-based,” I’m a vegetable chef more than anything.

Could you describe the difference?

I celebrate vegetables. Plant-based celebrates a kind of lifestyle. I really don’t care what you eat on a daily basis. My food isn’t about health or politics, or the environment. It’s really about celebrating an under-celebrated food, which is vegetables.

Do you have a proudest moment in your career so far?

I run a restaurant in New York City, one of the hardest cities to run a restaurant in. Every day I’m pretty amazed and excited that I have the opportunity to still be open.

You released the very first graphic novel cookbook, Dirt Candy: A Cookbook. Can you tell us what inspired that?

When we decided we wanted to write a cookbook for the restaurant I realized I wanted to do something really unique and different. I don’t think most people cook from cookbooks anymore. They cook from the Internet and they read cookbooks more for the story of the restaurant. I wanted to do something that really represented the energy of the restaurant and the graphic novel is like the perfect pairing for that.

What’s your favourite dish to make and why?

My favourite dish is really whatever new dish we’re making at the restaurant. We’re always testing new dishes and seeing what we can put on the menu. Right now we’ve been working on a celery spaghetti and we’re pretty excited about it.

How do you do a celery spaghetti?

We dehydrate Chinese celery leaves and fold them into a regular pasta dough, so it’s a little bit green and it has a nice, bright, celery flavour. And then we have some very long, thin strips of celery that get tangled in that, so you’re eating celery and celery noodles. And then we have a celery pesto to go with it and a little bit of a cream cheese broth and some grilled grapes.

 

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New dish on the way! Fennel Tagine. Thanks @anitalonyc and @sillymonkeyface for the tiny appropriate dishes to serve it in.

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Can you name a Canadian chef who inspires or excites you?

I love Lynn Crawford, a fellow Iron Chef. Her career has been amazing and everything she does is really inspiring.

What did your time in the Iron Chef America Kitchen Stadium teach you that you brought to the show?

Once you do it once, you learn a lot more about how to be in that kitchen. The thing no one told us is that we were really only making five portions. We cooked like we were making food for the restaurant and in the end, we had way too much food. There were little things like that that we walked away with.

How did you prepare for the competition this time around, now as an Iron Chef?

We did a lot of similar things as we did the first time around. We practised a lot, especially trying to become a team. Between my two sous-chefs and I, we wanted to be one unit. It was incredibly important to us that we always knew what we were doing and when. You really have to practice. You have one hour to get it right.

What can we expect from the competition this season?

You should expect a lot of excitement. Every day something surprising happened, on both sides. People really brought a level of food to the table that was astonishing. One of the hard things is that you don’t really get to taste the competitor’s food, but boy did I want to taste some of their dishes. They looked amazing and they sounded amazing.

Were you able to learn anything from the competitors?

It was really interesting because I have a very different style than most chefs, so I sort of work in a bubble. Watching what they came up with—with the same ingredients—was really interesting. It was nothing I would have ever come up with. I can’t wait to learn more about what they did because in the moment you don’t really pay that much attention. I’m fascinated to see what they managed to do with the ingredients. I know for sure there are techniques that are going to blow my mind.

What challenges or opportunities did you face as a plant-based chef?

It was all opportunities. The funny thing about this show is that it’s geared a little bit more towards what I do, which is to take one ingredient and celebrate it. That’s what we do in the restaurant, so for us let’s say we had carrots: we’re pretty used to taking a carrot and figuring out 25 things we can do with it. So the show is actually a perfect setup for me.

Iron Chef Amanda Cohen on Iron Chef Canada

Was there a mandate that you wouldn’t have to work with meat?

I said I wouldn’t work with meat, but certainly, the competitor could. I’m not afraid to go up against a challenger who uses meat, but that’s not my speciality, I’m not going to do that. I would lose. I wouldn’t know what to do!

Can you walk us through your process for creating an Iron Chef Canada menu?

As soon as we find out [the secret indredient] we try to figure out things we’ve done before or ideas that can be applied to it. We have a database of recipes that can be applied to all kinds of ingredients, and then we choose the recipes we think will work best and go from there.

If you could pick one secret ingredient for your fellow Iron Chefs, what would you choose?

That’s a tough one because it feels pretty cruel. Probably something like onions would be really hard. That’s what I’d give them because I’d like to see them make five different dishes with onions as a centrepiece but not overwhelm the judges with the taste of onion. It gets tricky.

What would you make with onions?

We have an onion pasta stuffed with grilled onions, we have onion salad. A chocolate onion tart. I’ve got a lot of onion ideas!

Watch Iron Chef Canada Wednesdays at 10 PM E/P

Weird-Ingredients-on-Iron-Chef

The 10 Weirdest Secret Ingredients to Appear on Iron Chef So Far

We’ll admit it: sometimes it’s hard to tune into an episode of Iron Chef America without salivating all over ourselves. Watching masterful chefs whip up signature dishes that the judges then get to dig into… well, it’s jealousy-invoking, to say the least.

But then there are those times the Chairman reveals an ingredient so strange, unique, or downright weird that we’re almost afraid to hear him yell the words, “Allez cuisine!” On the heels of Iron Chef Canada heating up our TV screens, these are 10 of the weirdest ingredients that have ever appeared on the show.

Ostrich

When Angus Barn challenged Cat Cora to a good old-fashioned southern cook-off, little did he know he’d be serving up the exotic bird to the judges. In the end, he treated it like any other red meat to win over the panel’s hearts and taste buds.

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Snails

There’s escargot and then there’s the task of creating five snail-friendly dishes that aren’t trailing under slabs of melted butter and garlic. Sadly, the ingredient probably wasn’t what challenger Floyd Cardoz signed up for when he took on Bobby Flay and he couldn’t quite slug it out to beat the Iron Chef.

Offal

Chris Cosentino is known as a “nose-to-tail” Italian chef, which is why we can’t see him being too surprised at his secret ingredient being offal (the internal organs and entrails of a butchered animal). But as it turns out Iron Chef Michael Symon knows his way around a strange ingredient too, and he wound up besting Cosentino in the end.

Barracuda

Most of us expect our barracuda with gnarly teeth or in a song—not on a dinner plate. That’s why Spanish chef Seamus Mullen was probably thrown when he learned he’d be taking a bite out of the fish while going up against Cat Cora, which could explain his eventual defeat.

Tongue and Cheek

The powers that be must have been playing on the old “tongue in cheek” saying when they gave challenger Edward Lee and Iron Chef Jose Garces the task of creating dishes out of… well, tongue and cheek. It was Lee who had the last laugh when he walked away with the big W.

Hot Dogs

Roger Mooking is a dad with a pretty big creative flair in the kitchen. So we fully expected him to whop Michael Symon’s butt after the secret ingredient turned out to be hot dogs—a kids’ classic. Sadly, that was not the case for our crafty Canadian friend and Symon sent him packing.

Fruitcake

Most people can barely stomach the taste of fruitcake when it comes around on the holidays, let alone on five different dishes in the Kitchen Stadium. Yet concocting plates involving the festive fare was exactly what then-challenger Michael Symon signed up for when he took on Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto… and lost.

Canned Tuna

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Getty Images

Canned Tuna

Don’t get us wrong, we love a good old-fashioned tuna melt or tuna salad sandwich. But gourmet dishes made with the canned stuff? That’s a whole other story. Yet it’s a story French challenger Alain Allegretti and Bobby Flay attempted to tell in season 10, with Flay proving to be the winning narrator in the end.

Mortadella

We’d never thought of mortadella as anything other than a sandwich meat before it mysteriously showed up as a secret ingredient on the show. French challenger Judy Joo was probably expecting something a little classier when she took on Alex Guarnaschelli, which could explain her eventual loss.

Jerky

Dehydrated meat: great for long hikes, road trips… and as a secret ingredient in the Iron Chef kitchen? Apparently, challenger Stephen Kalt thought so, because when he took on Alex Guarnaschelli in a battle featuring jerky, he trekked off as the ultimate winner.

Watch Iron Chef Canada Wednesdays at 10 PM E/P

How to Bring an Iron Chef Canada Curveball Ingredient Into Your Kitchen

Canadian cuisine is always at its best in fall thanks to the bountiful autumn harvest, but it isn’t really fall until pumpkins start popping up everywhere—from our lattes and doorsteps to our pies, soups, and table décor. The versatile orange vegetable is one popular gourd.

And as Iron Chef Susur Lee and challenger Nick Liu proved on the latest episode of Iron Chef Canada, pumpkin doesn’t have to be fresh in order to be delicious. The chefs were challenged with incorporating canned pumpkin into at least one of their dishes when The Chairman threw it at them as the week’s curveball ingredient, adding a bit of colour to the bitter greens battle.

Want to incorporate more pumpkin into your home dishes? Here’s everything you need to know about the canned stuff.

What is canned pumpkin?

Come fall, store shelves everywhere are lined with colourful cans of pumpkin. Basically, it’s a can of pumpkin that’s been roasted and pureed and is ready to throw into all of your favourite pumpkin recipes. The good news is that while fresh pumpkin comes and goes, the canned stuff is typically available year-round—it just happens to be more readily available and less expensive come autumn.

Is canned pumpkin and pumpkin puree the same thing?

Not always. When you think of pumpkin, it’s highly likely you conjure up images of the big old gourds we carve come Halloween. In reality, those carving pumpkins are edible, but they’re stringy and watery. Your best bet when it comes to cooking are “sugar pumpkins” or “pie pumpkins,” which have the meatier, sweeter flesh.

Given that intel, you’d think canned pumpkin would be canned sugar or pie pumpkins, but that’s not the case. Many manufacturers use something called a “Dickinson pumpkin,” which looks like a large, paler butternut squash. Food regulators define pumpkin as any veggie “prepared from golden-fleshed, sweet squash or mixtures of such squash and field pumpkin,” which means your can of pumpkin could actually contain a colourful variety of gourds within.

Can you eat canned pumpkin without cooking it?

Sure. Since canned pumpkin has been cooked and pureed before being canned, it’s technically fine to consume straight up with a spoon if that’s how you want to eat it. But with so many other great ways to use canned pumpkin, why would you want to?

What is the difference between canned pumpkin and pumpkin pie filling?

Canned pumpkin is exactly what it sounds like: pureed pumpkin squeezed into a can. Pumpkin pie filling, meanwhile, is pumpkin puree that has been seasoned with traditional pie flavours like cinnamon, cloves and ginger, and is sweetened to achieve that perfect pumpkin-pie taste. The former is good for all kinds of recipes and baking, while the latter is basically best for pumpkin pie and pumpkin-pie inspired treats.

What is the nutritional value of canned pumpkin?

Pure canned pumpkin is actually an excellent source of nutrients, including Vitamin E, Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Vitamin K. It’s also high in manganese and iron, and makes a terrific source of dietary fibre. Add in that it’s low in cholesterol, sodium and saturated fat, and canned pumpkin is the perfect thing to keep in your cupboard year-round.

Can I make my own canned pumpkin?

Although pressure cookers and tools like the InstantPot make home canning increasingly popular, it’s still not recommended to can your own pumpkin puree. Pumpkins are a low-acid food, which enables easy growth of the Clostridium botulinum bacteria—the bacteria that causes botulism. If you want to can pumpkin it’s better to can it cubed, or better yet simply freeze your puree in a freezer-safe bag for up to a year.

What are some canned pumpkin recipes?

When it comes to vegetables most of us agree that fresh is better. And if you’re planning on eating savoury, roasted squash with your meal, a freshly roasted pumpkin is certainly the way to go. If you’re using pumpkin puree in a recipe though, this gourd is a rare exception where it’s perfectly okay to use the canned variety instead and no one would know the difference. From pumpkin spice pancakes and pumpkin scones to curry pumpkin soup and pumpkin pasta, there is so, so much to do with one little can of pumpkin puree.

Happy harvesting!

Watch Iron Chef Canada Wednesdays at 10 PM E/P

Why Maple Syrup is the Perfect Secret Ingredient to Kick Off Iron Chef Canada

What better way to kick off the inaugural season of Iron Chef Canada than with the most Canadian secret ingredient of all: maple syrup? Considering the sweet, sticky stuff is one of our country’s biggest exports (more than 40 million maple products left our borders in 2015), it was the perfect ingredient to showcase in the Canadian Kitchen Stadium during the premiere episode.

Ever since indigenous populations taught European settlers how to harvest maple trees, most of us have been saps for the golden stuff on a fresh stack of pancakes or woven into the fabric of our favourite breakfast meats like ham, sausage and bacon. But as Iron Chef Lynn Crawford and challenger Chef Marc Lepine proved, it’s also a great ingredient to smoke with, glaze with, marinade with, and even poach with.

In celebration of this sweet secret ingredient, here’s everything you ever wanted to know about maple syrup.

 

What is maple syrup?

This perfectly vegan sweetener is derived from the sap of maple trees and comes in two grades: Grade A and Processing Grade. The former is the stuff that winds up in our pantries, and it comes in four colour classes: golden, amber, dark and very dark. The earlier the sap is harvested the lighter the resulting syrup’s colour will be, but they’re all delicious—it’s really just a matter of personal preference.

When is maple syrup season?

In Canada, sap is gathered between March and April depending on the region. The best time to collect it is when the nights are still cold but the days warm up, creating pressure in the trees that push water down.

The maple syrup process

Each spring maple farmers tap trees with traditional buckets or more modern tubing, collecting usually no more than 1.5 litres from each tree (roughly one-tenth of the overall sugar) in order to sustain production and the tree’s overall health.

The sap is then sent to a storage tank before moving along to the sugar house, where it’s boiled down in order to evaporate the water content and reach a sugar concentration of 66 per cent. Traditionally, 40 litres of sap produces one litre of actual syrup.

What is maple sugar?

When the sap is further boiled down and almost all of its water content is evaporated, the result is crystallized, maple sugar. Producers sell maple sugar in large blocks, or it can be moulded into shapes for candy or even granulated and used in place of regular sugar for an extra maple kick.

If you’re subbing maple sugar into a recipe, use it the same way you would cane sugar. It’s sweeter than white sugar, so reduce your measurements accordingly. Meanwhile, maple sugar is also great when creamed with butter for cookies and cakes, as a topping on oatmeal, or as a hit of sweetness in a rub for meats.

What are some other maple products?

Maple butter, maple candy and maple cream are all popular sellers.

Where can you buy maple syrup?

Luckily in Canada, maple syrup is readily available: stock at grocery stores, farmers’ markets, speciality shops and even airports always lines the shelves. No wonder it’s such a popular item for Canadian politicians and diplomats to gift while abroad.

Maple syrup production in Canada and Quebec

In 2015 Canada produced 8,908 gallons of maple syrup from more than 10,000 maple farmers and more than 44 million taps, with exports estimated to be worth $360 million. In fact, we export nearly 80 per cent of the world’s total maple supply, with countries like Japan, Germany, France and the U.S. being our biggest customers. While Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are all big maple syrup players, 90 per cent of our syrup comes from Quebec alone.

Does maple syrup have health benefits?

Maple syrup is certainly high in sugar, but it’s also better for you than refined sugar because it contains key nutrients like manganese, calcium and zinc. Overall 100 per cent natural maple syrup also contains fewer calories and a higher concentration of minerals than honey, and it has a glycemic index of 54 (sugar is 58 and honey weighs in at 57). It’s no wonder health products like maple water have been springing up on store shelves.

What is the Global Strategic Reserve?

Maple syrup is such a hot Canadian commodity that more than $100 million worth of the liquid gold currently sits in what some refer to as the “Fort Knox of maple syrup,” a.k.a. the Global Strategic Reserve. Three separate sites located in Quebec house the sweet, sweet, nectar. The supply is meant to help stabilize overall price and to build a stock that allows marketers to sell the product as an everyday alternative to sugar. Considering the global demand has been increasing five-to-six per cent per year since 2010, it’s a good backup to have.

A sticky, maple heist

A barrel of maple syrup can be worth more than 13 times the price of crude oil, which makes it a hot commodity for sticky-fingered bandits. One of the biggest incidents on record was in 2012 when workers at a holding warehouse in Quebec turned up an empty barrel during a routine inventory check. Further investigation uncovered dozens of barrels that had been secretly filled with water. In total, six million pounds (a whopping $18.7 million worth) of maple syrup was missing.

An official investigation launched by the Quebec Provincial Police uncovered a heist involving more than 25 people. Eventually, the leader, Richard Vallières, was found guilty of theft, fraud and trafficking of stolen goods after it was discovered he had been selling the syrup to a buyer from New Brunswick. Vallières was sentenced to eight years in prison and fined $9.4 million.

A Canadian hobby

While the production of maple syrup is certainly a hot industry, anyone with maple trees in their backyard can produce the stuff if they really want. Indeed, harvesting maple syrup has become something of a hobby for many outdoorsy Canadians. Where things get sticky is when small-batch producers and local farms attempt to sell the stuff on a higher level. Thanks to strict regulations involving wholesale markets and exports, some would-be sellers face specific maple syrup taxes and commissions.

Visiting the old maple sugar bush

If you were a kid growing up in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick or Nova Scotia, chances are you’ve headed out to a maple sugar shack to witness the production of Canada’s liquid gold. It’s a quintessential Canadian outing (and a popular school field trip!)  in which visitors can learn about the overall production process, take wagon rides, eat some syrup-laden pancakes and sausages and of course, mow down on some sweet maple candy.

Cooking with maple syrup

Maple adds a distinct layer of flavour to many sweet and savoury dishes. If you’re subbing it in for white sugar, use 2/3 of a cup of maple for every cup of sugar and reduce the quantity of overall liquid in the recipe by one-fourth. Maple can also be used in place of other liquid sweeteners like honey, corn syrup and molasses in a one-to-one ratio, giving you a perfectly maple-inspired treat.

Watch Iron Chef Canada Wednesdays at 10 PM E/P

Gail Simmons and Chris Nuttall-Smith On Stepping into Kitchen Stadium and the Uniquely Canadian Vibes of Iron Chef Canada

Iron Chef Canada is all about spectacular Canadian food and host Gail Simmons and floor reporter Chris Nuttall-Smith bring the viewers that much closer to the incredible dishes created in Kitchen Stadium. As respective Top Chef and Top Chef Canada judges, the duo has plenty of experience tasting, critiquing and pontificating on plates from a wide array of culinary experts across the country.

They also happen to love their jobs, which is obvious when you sit down to chat with them about all things food. Here they break down what it’s really like entering Kitchen Stadium for the first time, how the Iron Chefs handled the intense pressure, and which Canadian restaurants they’re really digging right now.

How did it feel walking into the Kitchen Stadium for the first time?

Simmons: Awe-inspiring. I wasn’t mentally prepared for the grandeur of it. I’d never been in one otherwise, and it was beautiful. The lights are so dramatic.

Nuttall-Smith: There are huge spotlights coming down from everywhere!

Simmons: And it’s dark and moody…

Nuttall-Smith: The altars. The altars are where the secret ingredients are showcased in all their glory. They were amazing things to see and behold. These incredible ingredients everywhere. Spotlights. Smoke.

Simmons: Yeah it just feels so dramatic and magical.

Nuttall-Smith: It intimidates chefs, I think. Everyone that walks in is a little intimidated by it.

Simmons: If they’re not intimidated by us, they’re intimidated by Kitchen Stadium. [Laughs.] Your heart beats a little bit faster and that’s the beauty of it.

What was the energy like? Was there any trash-talking going on?

Simmons: There wasn’t trash-talking but there was definitely a lot of egging on, pun intended. This is the highest mountain of culinary accomplishments. You can’t help but get really pumped up and nervous—I mean we were nervous and we weren’t even competing. It’s great to see these incredible chefs just doing what they do best as they spur each other on. They actually sort of take the energy from the Stadium and it just lent itself to amazing work. You get really inspired by where you are.

Nuttall-Smith: It’s a high-wire act with knives and smoke and fire. That gets to the chefs and yeah there’s a little bit of trash-talking for sure but ultimately it doesn’t come down to you, it comes down to what you put on the plate. Every week the best food wins.

Simmons: The laser focus was unbelievable. We tried to rattle them—Chris is down there sticking his hands in things, The Chairman is giving them culinary curveballs.  Some of them are so focused on their craft and are so completely in this tunnel of what they have to do, and it is kind of a revelatory thing that they get it done after an hour. What they accomplish is unbelievable.

Nuttall-Smith: It’s amazing what they’re able to do. They will do a five-course meal and a cocktail.

Simmons: They know we’re booze hounds!

Who had the best trash-talk?

Nuttall-Smith: Let’s just say there was trash-talk from some of the chefs you might not expect at first, which was the best part. One chef, in particular, was asked about her craft and she was quite pointed about the advantages of what she does. It was a lot of fun.

What can Canadians expect from Iron Chef Canada?

Simmons: It’s the highest level of cooking from chefs in this country. Not only are Iron Chefs obviously accomplished, but the chefs that come here to challenge them every week are the best chefs running restaurants. I was just so amazed at the quality of their cooking and their innovation and the breadth of what they’re doing. I live in New York so I can’t help but think that I’ve kind of seen it all, but you come to Canada and you forget that the products here are so interesting and that there is a distinctly Canadian feel to the food. It’s intangible sometimes but it is so beautiful to see. The connection to nature and the connection to the outdoors, to the game meat, to the beautiful produce. For me, that was really interesting to watch.

Nuttall-Smith: I’m with Gail. She is so right.

Simmons: We almost take it for granted in Canada; you don’t see the difference until you leave. I grew up in Canada and I have now lived in the States almost as long as I’ve lived in Canada and it just made me really excited to be home.

What made the show uniquely Canadian to you?

Simmons: There are some chefs here that do things you just can’t do anywhere else in the world. Obviously, there are the products they have access to, but it’s the cooking traditions.

Nuttall-Smith: The cooking traditions—you see chefs make food that no one else is going to make anywhere else on the planet.

Simmons: Using meat, and protein, and vegetables, and wild berries, and leaves, and things that I had never seen before so that was a really unique experience and an amazing experience. I love how much I learned in the process and it definitely made me realize that I just can’t afford to be jaded.

Nuttall-Smith: It’s a constant debate, ‘What is Canadian food?’ that drives me a little bit crazy, but the answer is it’s all the food. In Canada if you’re a chef you cannot afford to just keep your head down and do your thing. You’re always looking around to see what these great chefs [are doing]. Like Susur Lee—he’s not just cooking the Asian food I think people expect of him, he is bringing in so many influences. You see Lynn Crawford, Hugh Acheson, Rob Feenie, Amanda Cohen, their competitors… they have super wide frames of reference and that is what makes it so Canadian. They are dipping into so many different ideas, and traditions, and ingredients, and cultures.

Simmons: The diversity is incredible. The diversity of our challengers’ backgrounds was so interesting. They’re all Canadian, they’re all proud to be Canadian, but their ancestry is from all over the world. So there’s everything from every corner of Asia to the indigenous people of this country and everything in between. References from Latin America and from Europe… you really get a sense of the mosaic of this country.

How did you guys tackle bringing the experience of the food to the audience at home?

Simmons: The million dollar question of working in food on television is why should viewers care if they can’t taste the food? So our job is to be the tasters for the audience. My gauge of if I’ve done a good job is if I make people hungry. Interestingly on this particular show, Chris and I aren’t tasting the food ourselves. We leave a lot of that work to the judges to explain how things taste. But we certainly dive into how everything looks and are explaining the process and the techniques and making it accessible to the viewers at home. It’s our job to really break that down and make it appealing and there’s just so much visual sensationalism in the kitchen. There’s so much to watch, so we need to catch it, we need to explain it, and that’s the only way to do it.

Nuttall-Smith: There were so many instances where the two of us were just generally surprised by the techniques, the ideas, and what showed up on the plates. So much of this was spectacular to witness and it’s really hard not to convey that when you’re in the middle of it. Our job is to call what we see.

Simmons: The clock is ticking the whole time too, so you’re under so much pressure as a chef cooking in the Kitchen Stadium and our question is always, ‘Are they going to make it?’ Because every time it comes down to the last five seconds.

Nuttall-Smith: Exactly. Until the bitter end, they’re always trying to do something spectacular. You see some of them come in and in the first 20 minutes of the clock they’re strolling around a little thinking, ‘I’ve got this’ and then the clock keeps ticking and then you see the stress. Or you might see them screw up a challenge, and it becomes incredibly intense very quickly.

What’s one Canadian restaurant you can’t get enough of right now?

Simmons: When we were here shooting I got to eat at a lot of good restaurants I was excited about. And [recently] I went to a really great and really interesting Thai restaurant that was serving food I thought was different than a lot of restaurants, it’s called Kiin. It was really great, it was really beautiful and lovely and nuanced and so I was really happy to eat there. But there’s so much good food in Canada.

Nuttall-Smith: This is so hard, it could be a tiny place like One2 Snacks that serves the most amazing Malaysian noodles. It could be a Tamil place that makes amazing lump rice, so like rice with anchovies, and eggplant, and all sorts of curries. It could be a fancy place like Edulis, which is Spanish and French but they use the most amazing Canadian ingredients. It’s so hard to choose. I think that’s what makes it so incredible and exciting. And these are just Toronto restaurants that I’m naming. The Vin Papillon in Montreal makes me absolutely crazy, it’s so good. Raymonds on the East Coast. There’s so much great eating on the West Coast. I hate being asked this because there’s so many I could never just live with eating at one restaurant.

Who do you want to see next in the Kitchen Stadium?

Nuttall-Smith: I want to see Riad Nasr, from Montreal. He’s an incredible chef, he’s at the top of the New York restaurant food game.

Simmons: He’s a Canadian hockey boy. He was the chef at Balthazar for 20 years and now he opened his own place called Frenchette.

Nuttall-Smith: I would be fascinated to see him. There are so many great Canadian chefs around the world as well though that are doing amazing things. Nobody outside of the intimate centre of the industry knows who they are but they’re doing things at the highest level. There’s a guy, David Zilber who just did a book on fermentation, at Noma in Denmark. Amazing, amazing chef.

Simmons: Also you were talking about Raymonds. Jeremy Charles, I would love to see him in Kitchen Stadium. He’s amazing.

Nuttall-Smith: He would be an amazing competitor.

Watch Iron Chef Canada Wednesdays at 10 PM E/P

Iron Chef Canada’s Rob Feenie Talks Potatoes, Canadian Cuisine and Besting Chef Morimoto

When it comes to Vancouver-based chefs, Rob Feenie certainly reigns supreme. The Burnaby native has been taking the culinary world by storm from a young age, opening the internationally celebrated Lumiere Tasting Bar when he was just 29 years old. In 2005 he became the first Canadian to ever win Iron Chef America when he bested Chef Masaharu Morimoto, and today he holds two Vancouver Gold Medal Plates awards, a Relais Gourmands label, and the Mobil Travel Guide four-star designation. And all this while concocting and creating the menu at the Cactus Club Café.

In anticipation of all the mouth-watering Asian, French and Italian dishes we expect to see from Feenie as one of the newly minted Iron Chefs on Iron Chef Canada, we caught up with the chef to get his take on Canadian cuisine, an unfortunate run-in with potatoes when he was younger, and his love of all things food.

Did you always want to be a chef?

No. I grew up in a large family in Burnaby and I was always interested in food, but like most Canadian kids I grew up in the hockey world. Being a chef wasn’t initially something I thought about but food was always a big part of my family.

Is that where your love of food began, with your family?

If you don’t include the fact that I almost burnt our house down when I was in Grade 7 while roasting potatoes, I guess we’re good with that. But yeah, I grew up in an Irish family and Sunday was a big night for us. My mom had a large family so I got an interest in cooking there. Then I was very fortunate to grow up with some Japanese neighbours of ours that were from Osaka. My love for Japanese food started at a young age. I definitely loved food but I wasn’t thinking about being a chef.

What happened with the potatoes?

I was getting ready for soccer practice and I put them on high and I left the oven on and I burnt my dad’s brand new kitchen. He had just redone it. I didn’t burn it down, but I smoked it out and burnt the new floor when I grabbed the pan and dropped it. I have never done that ever, ever again. I was only in Grade 7!

When did you realize that cooking could be your career?

I was very lucky because at the age of 16 I was an exchange student at the Rotary Club and I travelled to Sweden and I spent a year there. I had the opportunity to travel all through Europe  —Denmark, Belgium, France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria and Germany. I developed this taste for everything—stuff like mussels and cheese and Bratwurst and pasta. When I flew back at 17 years old my mom even said that’s when I started to really love food.

Can you tell us about opening your first restaurant in Vancouver?

It was scary. It was a very exciting time.  I had taken a break from cooking and Michel Jacob called my dad said, ‘Get him back down here, I see talent in him.’ A year later I opened my restaurant. It’s kind of ironic that I opened my restaurant after I was going through that time in my life; my dad was going to get me onto the fire department. But I took a real chance and Michel Jacob, who was my biggest mentor, pushed me towards getting it ready.  I was 29 years old so I was really scared. We opened and the first night we did 80 people, it was a Thursday. And then Friday we did 80 people. Saturday we did 120. It was a crazy and very exciting time in my life and something I’ll never forget.

What’s your favourite dish to make and why?

Everyone probably thinks I’ll say ravioli and they are something I really like to make, but I would have to say chicken. I love a basic roast chicken. Whenever I see chicken on the menu I order it. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed. My kids love it, they ask for it. I’ve done versions of it in the restaurant. I just enjoy really well-roasted chicken.

What’s your favourite local ingredient?

That’s an easy one because they’re just coming out this time of year. They’re called matsutake or pine mushrooms. I love all kinds of mushrooms but it’s one of my favourite ingredients and there are a lot of reasons why. Most importantly it reminds me of when I really started to love food and that’s when my Japanese neighbours cooked with them. They’ve stuck on my palate. They’re grown right here in B.C.

Can you name a Canadian chef who inspires or excites you?

There are several because this country is full of great chefs. Michel Jacob is my mentor and someone who inspires me locally. Pino Posteraro owns a restaurant called Cioppino’s and we’ve been friends for over 20 years and he inspires me. Then I look across the country and Normand Laprise in Montreal, Anthony Walsh, John Horne—one of the guys I competed with—even though he’s very young I’m proud of what he’s been doing. Marc Thuet doesn’t cook anymore but he makes some of the greatest bread and is someone I admire a lot. Marc is one of the guys I look up to most. He’s an incredible chef.

How did it feel to bring an iconic series to Canada? What do you think makes it uniquely Canadian?

I’m very proud to be Canadian. I’ve always believed whatever country you look at, what makes a chef great is the raw ingredients. What’s wonderful about Canada—Lynn Crawford has showcased this a lot on her shows—is that we have a lot of great product and a lot of great chefs. What I’m proud of is we get to showcase great products. Whether it’s dairy, whether it’s cheese, meat, fish, that is what this country has always had. Now we’ve got all these great chefs that can showcase it. So I believe we can compete with any chefs around the world, including some of the ones on the American series.

You’ve previously competed back in 2005—what did your time in the Iron Chef America stadium taking on chef Morimoto teach you that you brought to the show?

Wayne Harris, who was one of my sous-chefs at Lumiere, is one of my main chefs here.  I’ve been working with him for eight or nine years. He did the original Iron Chef America with me. I got to come back to do the show with Wayne. The great thing about having that relationship with Wayne is that we were able to go through our experiences there and talk about it. I remember we were in the second episode that filmed. Like any new show, the chef that was competing before didn’t finish all of his plates, he only finished two. So, we were unbelievably stressed. What I learned was it takes a lot of effort to do five dishes in one hour. The main focus going into Iron Chef Canada was to just make sure you plan your time accordingly to make sure you get the dishes right. When those cameras roll it really is a true hour. They don’t stop and re-roll. You’re either ready or you’re not.

How did you prepare for this competition as an Iron Chef?

It’s a tough one but in each of the shows, I didn’t know who the competitor was until I was on the floor. At the end of the day, you just have to know what you’re doing and stick to your plan. It’s about sticking to what you’re comfortable with and what you know.

Can you walk us through what happens when you find out the secret ingredient and your process for creating an Iron Chef Canada menu?

I panic. Most people, when they watch the show, they always think we’re capable of doing a lot of things, but what I try to do is to stick with the game plan of what we know. My repertoire is French, Japanese and Italian and then keeping it simple. As long as we stick with those three parameters I’m comfortable.

Is there any chef, living or not who you would love to take on in the Iron Chef Canada Kitchen Stadium?

Bobby Flay for sure. He is No. 1 on my list. I had a chance to meet him in New York while he was filming and I was in a battle with him not that long ago on one of his shows. I thought I won but I didn’t, so I would like to go up against him again. And then also just because we’re the same age, David Hawksworth. I’d like to take him down. Can I be any more honest than that?

If you could pick one secret ingredient for your fellow Iron Chefs, what would you choose?

Potatoes. There are a lot of great things you can do with potatoes. And not just potatoes, but potatoes, sweet potatoes and yams. There are a lot of really cool things you can do with them, especially the way people are eating these days.

What would you make?

There’s a dish in my first cookbook, I blanch a red potato in mushroom stock, but in the stock is a whole truffle. So the potatoes are porous and when you slowly cook the potato in the stock it tastes like a truffle. I’d do that and serve it with a very soft potato puree underneath and then shave more truffles on top of that.

 

Watch Iron Chef Canada Wednesdays at 10 PM E/P