Tag Archives: Chefs

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Food Network Canada Chefs Battle at Défi Culinary Showdown

Sharpen your knives, because Food Network Canada stars are getting ready to battle it out in the kitchen, for a good cause. An all-star line-up of chefs will descend on Montreal on October 29 for the Défi Culinary Showdown, a live competition, dinner and fundraiser for breast cancer research.

Food Network Canada stars Michael Smith, Mark McEwan, Tyler Florence and Danny Smiles will be joined by Kimberly Lallouz for a head-to-head Chopped-style competition. Chopped Canada host, Brad Smith will host the live event, where chefs will prepare meals for an audience of hungry diners. The evening starts at 6:30 p.m. with a cocktail hour welcoming guests and celebrity chefs, then the competition kicks off at 7 p.m.

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But before the knives come out, chefs will spend the day training their team of culinary assistants, made up of the top 50 fundraisers. If you’ve ever wanted to cook alongside your favourite chef, this is your chance to earn your way to this exclusive culinary event. To learn more, visit the Défi Culinary Showdown website here.

Top fundraisers will spend the day learning the tricks of the trade in Celebrity Chef School.  For his class, Mark McEwan is planning to help his team perfect their seafood skills by giving them a hands-on course in preparing fish.

“I find that seafood is something that home cooks are reluctant to tackle alone,” he said, “And teaching them how to properly fillet a fish is a skill that they can carry with them.”

Besides delivering top-notch culinary training, Mark looks forward to raising awareness for the cause.

“I have known many people throughout the years that have unfortunately had to deal with the effects of breast cancer,” he said. “Being able to bring more awareness to the wonderful advancements and continued treatment of this horrible disease is near and dear to me.”

Not only is he glad to support this cause, he’s primed to step out from behind the judge’s table and show off his competitive side.

“Being put under this type of pressure is a challenge for everyone – including myself,” he said, adding that he’s excited to face off against one chef in particular – Danny Smiles.

“Look out, Danny!” he joked.

While only one team will taste victory, the real winners are the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation and the Jewish General Hospital, who have partnered together to help fund research and initiatives which will benefit breast cancer patients.

If you’d like to join in this one-of-a-kind event, please visit the Défi Culinary Showdown website to learn more about how you can participate.

Exclusive Interview With The Winner Of Top Chef Canada: All-Stars

In a competition that pitched the best of four seasons of Top Chef Canada, Nicole Gomes sliced and sautéed her way to the champion spot. For the Calgary-based chef-owner of the catering outfit Nicole Gourmet and co-owner of Cluck n’ Cleaver, a chef-driven, fast-casual spot specializing in fried and rotisserie chicken, the win was hard fought and earned. Eliminated only two episodes before the finale in Season 3, Nicole came back to the Top Chef Canada kitchen eager to compete. Leading up to the finale, she won five challenges – three Quickfires and two Eliminations – and faced a panel of disappointed judges twice.

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Nicole in Episode 3 of Top Chef Canada: All-Stars

We chatted with Nicole about how she prepared for All-Stars, what made this time different and what’s next after her big win.

Why did you want to return to Top Chef Canada to compete again?

It took me a long time to reply; I had to think about it. I had no clue who was going to be on, so that was a hesitation. But I knew this round would be great competition – more about the food because it’s All-Stars. And I really wanted to win. It’s not about the money – that’s a bonus, to be honest. It was about a woman winning, as all of the four past seasons have been men.

How did you prepare for competition?

The first season that I did, I prepared by actually cooking and testing dishes, but that was silly. I have so much under my belt from over 20 years of cooking experience, why would I do that? So, this time I prepared by investigating flavour profiles. I read a book I love called The Flavor Thesaurus (by Niki Segnit). You just go into the index and say, “I’m cooking with almonds today, what pairs with that?”

We’re not allowed to bring any recipes, so when you arrive, you have to write down everything you know in your head. Cooking isn’t a problem, but baking you had to memorize before you left – basic recipes: a pie dough, biscuit recipe, cookie recipe, ice cream base.
We were given a book we were allowed to use. On the first page I wrote down mantras, mistakes I’d made from season 3, things I needed to improve on. And as I was going along in the competition, mistakes I made that I wouldn’t do again. That’s the biggest thing about life, you should learn from your mistakes.


More words of wisdom from Canada’s Top Chef.

What did you learn from your own season that you brought to All-Stars?

I said to myself, “Be more quiet.” That didn’t happen. Ha!

The other thing was to cook what I know and just make it relative to the challenge. I didn’t do that in season 3. I was trying to reinvent the wheel and that was the biggest mistake. I know such a variety of cuisines and techniques that you can pretty much apply to any challenge if you’re quick on your feet.

How was it different than your first time on the show?

The level of cooking was more elevated. The food level was way higher. People really brought it. Also, the pantry was amazing, what they stocked it with. As far as the challenges, this season was more, almost, catering based. They were bigger events.

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Nicole in Top Chef Canada Season 3: Evidence that her personality hasn’t changed too much since her first time on the series.

What was your favourite challenge?

For the excitement of it, the [Late Night Eats in the TTC Lower Bay station] challenge was good – and not because I won. It was a really cool set, it was a cool day. It was challenging to produce that much food for that many people walking off the train at the same time.
I really liked the retail wars challenge as well – and not because our team won. It was because it was more in my wheelhouse. Cooking is not all about restaurants. It’s about providing a service that people don’t know how to do at home.

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Nicole and team celebrating their Retail Wars win.

When I started cooking, it was fancy – go out for an anniversary or birthday. It was an occasion. For most people, everyone ate at home and sat around the table and talked to each other. People now don’t do that; people don’t know how to cook. That changes the way we go out and eat. The retail challenge really solidified that. People eat out, out of necessity, not a special occasion anymore.

Which challenge pushed you the hardest and why?

The finale. You want to win. It’s you and this other dude, who is awesome. At some points, I told myself to forget it, you got this far.

I had not prepared a final menu. I was out the night before at Bar Raval with friends and I wrote a menu while they were drinking. It’s all handwritten. They were asking what I was doing and I couldn’t tell them why I was [in Toronto], so I said, “I have a big day tomorrow; I’ve got to do this menu. I’m catering something.” I’m going to frame it; it’s so full of notes.

Who was your toughest competition?

(Dustin Gallagher the Toronto-based chef whom she would battle in the finale.) It was Dusty all the way for me. I didn’t realize it until halfway through, though. He was cooking so well. He has quite a vast knowledge of a variety of cuisines.

Andrea, as far as the women, she’s quite well versed. The retail challenge, I thought for sure she’d kill that. She gives people what they want; she understands her audience.

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Nicole and Dustin awaiting the judges verdict one last time in the Finale.

Tell us about your finale menu, the inspiration and the story you wanted to tell the judges.

For most of the season I hadn’t cooked any Italian. It was all Asian or French. I did pain perdu and these prawn cakes and curries and carrot cake. I wasn’t holding out at all, there just wasn’t an opportunity really for me to do Italian. And that’s my specialty.

I love Italian because of how it brings a table together. Italians eat more culturally. Cooking is about bringing people together and so I decided to do something more comfort-like. I worried, is it too simple? But I know how to refine Italian.

I remember every detail of this menu. The fish dish I was a little disappointed in myself for that; I lacked finesse on plating. I was rushing it. I made a few bad calls there. I had fried celery but the basket still had capers in it and that carried over because I was rushing and I got called out at Judges’ Table.

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Nicole’s Beef Carpaccio with Pine Nut Aioli, Arugula Pesto and Crispy Capers

My favourite dish on that was the carpaccio, for aesthetics and the way it ate and the quality of the beef I was able to get. The other dish on that finale menu I was quite proud of was the panna cotta; panna cotta is simple, but it’s difficult. If you don’t do it right, it’s a mess. I loved the flavour combinations of it: wild strawberry, vin cotto, the Marcona almond-bee pollen crumble. It turned out well and it surprised me; that’s where I thought I failed.

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During the finale, Eden Grinshpan remarked:  “I can’t get over how perfect the pairing of flavours is.”

What are your plans for the future?

Cluck n’ Cleaver is my baby still. The expansion of that is happening quite quickly. I’m looking in Vancouver, and Francine (Gomes, her sister and Cleaver’s co-owner) is on the ground here in Calgary. We’ve had a lot of opportunity come our way and a lot of franchisee people are interested in us.

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I hope that maybe sometime down the road when I get Cluck n’ Cleaver settled that I can open a restaurant. A restaurant would be a dream. I just want a small room, under-designed. Just good food.
I want you to be able to come and get amazing pappardelle and a curry rice bowl. A “neighbourhood” type place would make me happy; knowing the people coming in the door and they’re regulars, having a discussion about how they’re doing. That’s more where I’d be because I love talking to people about food, travels and what they’ve been up to. That’s what I want. It’s not for money; it’s purely to feed people, make them happy. I don’t think there’s anything that would make me happier.

More Top Chef Canada: All-Stars:
Read our Finale Episode Recap for exclusive insight from the Top Chef Canada judges.

Read 12 Times the All-Stars Chefs We’re Just Like Us!

 

Top Chef Canada: All-Stars Finale Episode Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Part II: Spaghetti Puttanesca

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

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

And then there were two.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


From Episode 9: Nicole declares her intentions.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Watch these bonus scenes and bloopers:

The Final Two’s Hotel Bar Chat

Fun With Eden

All-Stars Bloopers

Mmmm…

Top 10 Tips for Making Homemade Pasta Like an All-Star

Pasta can be simple and rustic, or decadent and elegant. It can be dished up on a massive platter and passed around a boisterous table, or perfectly, artistically plated and served with pristine silverware and white linen.

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Nicole’s Goat Cheese Tortellini

For Top Chef Canada: All-Stars winner Nicole Gomes – as revealed in the finale last night – it was a key part of her five-course menu. The judges fell in love with her Goat Cheese Tortellini with Preserved Lemon, Ricotta Salata, Peas and Pancetta in a Butter Sauce (not to mention the other components of her Italian-themed dinner).


Nicole channeling her inner Italian nonna while prepping her tortellini.

Head judge Chef Mark McEwan highlighted Nicole’s pasta as the best part of her finale menu. “Just her finesse on that meal was really extraordinary,” he said.

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Nicole preps the filling while Andrea uses a stand mixer attachement to roll out the dough.

Whether it’s to impress a panel of Top Chef Canada judges or to feed the family at home – who, no doubt, can also be tough critics – pasta fits the bill. At its heart, no matter who’s being served, it’s the same basic dough; rolled, stuffed or cut in many ways and topped with sauce. The trick is having a good recipe (see our list below) and remembering these 10 essential tips and tricks:

1. Trust Your Gut
Making pasta from scratch is really more about a feeling, rather than measurements. Depending on the humidity, the flour, the size of the eggs, you may need more or less flour going along, so getting a feel for the dough is essential.

2. Traditional Is Best
The traditional way of making dough from scratch – with a well of flour, and the eggs and salt in the middle and using a fork to draw the flour slowly in to the liquid – ensures the perfect amount of flour gets added before kneading into a nice ball of golden dough.

3. But If You Don’t Have Time… 
However, for those of us who prefer to use our stand mixers, simply hold back a bit of the flour and only add it when necessary, or add a spoonful or two of water if the dough is too dry.

4. Remember This Basic Ratio for Ingredients
As a general rule, the ratio is three parts flour to two parts eggs by weight. There are tons of variations on this, many depending on if you also want to add water, the type of flour (all-purpose versus durum semolina versus the finely-milled 00) and if you want to add a couple of additional yolks to the mix for a richer dough. (Water-only dough is also common.)  However, this basic ratio will serve you well.

5. Pasta Dough Needs To Be Kneaded
Once your dough is mixed, it’s all about the kneading. It will take up to 10 minutes to transform the shaggy mix into a smooth and elastic ball.

6. Take A Rest
After kneading  it will be time for a rest – for both you and the dough! A little forethought here is key because you’ll want to let the dough relax for at least an hour before proceeding. This will make it smoother and easier to deal with when rolling it out.

7. Salt Cooking Water Generously
Pasta water should be salted to taste like the ocean (or the Mediterranean!) – because that is going to flavour the noodles.

8. Never Rinse Your Pasta
Don’t ever do this! If you rinse pasta after cooking, you rinse off the starch adhering to the noodles. That starch helps the sauce cling to the noodle.

9. Store It If You’re Not Cooking It Right Away 
If waiting, divide the pasta into portions, dust with a little bit of flour to keep the noodles from sticking together and then make nest-like bundles on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and set aside until ready.

10. Fresh Pasta Freezes Well
Fresh pasta can also be frozen for future meals. Just put the baking sheet of noodles into the freezer for about 15 minutes – to keep the pasta bundles from sticking together – and then transfer to a freezer bag, removing as much air as possible. Frozen pasta should be cooked directly from the freezer. Add about 30 seconds to 1 minute to the cooking time.

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Anna Olson’s Mushroom Ravioli with Asparagus and Tarragon

Want to try making fresh pasta at home?  

Here are great pasta recipes from our chefs:
Michael Smith’s Homemade Pasta Recipe
Ricardo’s Fresh Pasta
David Rocco’s Basic Fresh Pasta Dough Recipe
David Rocco’s Fresh Tortellini (Use His Basic Fresh Pasta Dough Recipe for this)
Anna Olson’s Homemade Pasta with Garden Vegetables and Parmesan
Anna Olson’s Mushroom Ravioli with Asparagus and Tarragon

Have the pasta ready and need some inspiration for sauces?

Try these delicious sauce recipes from our chefs:
Chuck’s Bolognese
Tomato Sauce
Giada’s Rigatoni with Eggplant Puree
Giada’s Penne with Shrimp and Herbed Cream Sauce

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

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

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

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

2. Slaying the Budget in the Grocery Check Out Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Being a Fanboy

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

8.  When Someone Mentions Snacks

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

9. Needing to Smash Something. Now.

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

10. I’ll Have One of Each, Please.

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

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

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

12. It’s All About Family.

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

Top Chef Canada Judges Reveal Who They’d Want to Return for the Finale

We all have off days. Those days when we must deal with slip-ups and mistakes, bad choices or simply not doing our best work. Unlike the rest of us who can wake up the next day, shake it off and continue, a bad day on Top Chef Canada: All-Stars can mean the difference between surviving for another round or being sent to pack your knives.

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12 All-Stars chefs assembled in the first episode.

Judges were forced to make tough decisions based solely on the most recent challenge, and ignoring any stellar performance and crave-worthy dishes that had led up to the current one that had failed to impress.

“Those decisions are never clear and they never sit very well,” said head judge Chef Mark McEwan.

If given the chance to erase one of those unclear decisions, who would the judges bring back to compete in the finale? For most, the answer was clear: Andrea Nicholson.

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Premiere Episode: Andrea, Trista and Curtis  find out their Elimination Challenge dishes were the top performers.

Andrea impressed the judges from the first episode when her history on a plate creation for the Elimination Challenge hit all the right notes. “A stand out dish,” said judge Janet Zuccarini of the roasted bison striploin with a barley risotto with a pickled mead and pear gastrique.

She went on to win the mise en place Quickfire Challenge in episode 2, and episode 5’s blind taste test Quickfire Challenge where famed Chef Daniel Boulud picked her Cod Basquaise  as the best of the bunch. She had been a top performer in the first episode as well as with her team for the Middle Eastern feast in episode 3.

But the Elimination Challenge in episode 5 “Retail Wars” would prove to be her undoing.

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Retails Wars Episode: Andrea leads her team in putting together the menu.

“That was a real tough decision [to send her home] because she had made so many great plates up until then and her compositions were good, her seasoning was mature and then retail wars just kind of unraveled,” said McEwan.

As team leader, Andrea went into the challenge with more responsibility. That, and a disappointing meatball with a solidified mozzarella centre sealed her fate.

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The judges have spoken: Andrea is sent home in Episode 5 but not before a hug from fellow chef Connie DeSousa.

For the judges, it was a gut-wrenching choice, which is why judges McEwan,  Zuccarini and Mijune Pak and host Eden Grinshpan agreed they would be quick to put her right back into the competition if given the chance.

“Leading up to [retail wars], in my heart of hearts, I was saying to myself, ‘She’s going to win this, she’s going to win this,’” Zuccarini said. “She’s so talented and her dishes were very sophisticated, really from a seasoned and professional chef.”

Calling her a fierce competitor, Grinshpan said Andrea made some of the best dishes on the show.

“Her food is just so exquisite and she’s so good at really showcasing flavours and not overcomplicating foods and just making foods that you want to eat and make you feel good.”

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One of Andrea’s stand out dishes: the Lamb Tartare with Harissa Labneh and Za’atar Crisps from Episode 3.

For his part, though, judge Chris Nuttall-Smith would have given another chance to Connie DeSousa who was facing some personal challenges during the show that affected her performance.

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Connie prepping her Dark Chocolate Soufflé in the premiere episode.

Or, he says, Todd Perrin who didn’t manage to shine to the level he could have.

“He is this experienced, mature, smart, salt-of-the-earth, hugely talented chef who got eliminated quite early on in the competition; I would love to see him come back and show what he could do,” he said.

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Todd saying goodbye to his fellow chefs at the end of the second episode.

Though perhaps Nuttall-Smith just wanted a finale where he could try something from every chef, and who could blame him?

“For the most part, they were just extraordinary chefs and you kind of wanted to see them all go through.”

Tell us who would you want to bring back for the finale in the comments below!

Watch the Top Chef Canada: All-Stars finale Sunday, June 4 at 10 E/P.

Top Chef Canada: All-Stars Episode 9 Recap

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

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

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

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

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Dusty and Dale with their beards.

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


Classic Nicole.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dennis’s Whole Roasted Juniper and Cedar Bison Striploin

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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Dennis’s final judges table.

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

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

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

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

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

Make Daniel Boulud’s Top Chef Canada Cod Basquaise at Home

Creating a dish from memory is one thing, but it was a whole different game in the fifth episode of Top Chef Canada: All-Stars when competitors were asked to blindly taste the four favourite dishes of famed chef Daniel Boulud and then attempt to recreate them. Added to the pressure? They would be cooking for the master chef himself.

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Daniel Boulud with Mark McEwan in the Monogram Kitchen.

While others tried to parse out the ingredients in a Mussel and Cauliflower Veloutè, Poulet Chausseur and Steak Tartare, Andrea  and Nicole  were presented with Cod Basquaise, a fish dish flavoured with ingredients that region is known for, including tomatoes, Espelette peppers and chorizo.

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Nicole and Andrea blind tasting Boulud’s Cod Basquaise in the Episode 5 Quickfire Challenge.

Andrea was praised for her version which had all the key components, while Nicole neglected to add peppers – to Boulud’s surprise. (Ultimately, Boulud and head judge Mark McEwan, awarded Andrea the Quickfire Challenge win – and earned the coveted advantage going into the elimination round.)

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Andrea’s interpretation of Boulud’s Cod Basquaise 

The Basque Country region overlaps the border between France and Spain, at the western edge of the Pyranees mountain range and along the Atlantic coast. Unsurprisingly, seafood is a chief ingredient in the Basque people’s celebrated cuisine, which shares some commonalities with Spain, including the use of olive oil and tomatoes. Peppers are also frequently seen in dishes. But, while we in North America will likely reach for red peppers, those in Basque use the Espelette, a variety grown in the Basque area.

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Espelette peppers

This trio – tomatoes, peppers and olive oil – are key ingredients in Boulud’s celebrated Cod Basquaise, which takes the fish and cooks it with the vegetables, oil and onions, along with some garlic, naturellement.

While chicken is often on the ingredient list for Basque-style recipes, Boulud uses it and cod in seemingly equal measure. In his Café Boulud Cookbook it’s all about the fish (along with chorizo and clams), while on his website, he has posted his recipe for Poulet Basquaise with Artichokes, Peppers and Chorizo.

Fish is such a treat to make a meal from because it cooks quickly and, when done right, is flaky and light. Boulud’s Cod Basquaise takes about half the time to prepare and cook compared to the chicken version – even quicker if you consider the famed chef recommends seasoning the chicken the night before cooking the recipe.

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Daniel’s Cod Basquaise from Top Chef Canada: All-Stars Episode 5

A fish like cod, known for its mild flavour and versatility, does well when paired with most flavours, including the bold ones associated with Basque cooking. However, fish can seem intimidating to many of us because for lack of experience cooking it, fear of committing the cardinal sin of overcooking.

Cooking fish at a lower temperature – whether roasting or pan-frying – makes it easier to catch it when it’s cooked to perfection and before it’s gone too far. For Boulud’s recipe, the temperature of the pan is turned down to low once the cod has been added to the pan, for example.

While Andrea fairly accurately recreated Boulud’s memory only from taste, those of us wanting to attempt Cod Basquaise at home have a little help – Daniel Boulud  shared his recipe with us! This recipe has been modified slightly for the home cook.

Daniel Boulud’s Cod Basquaise

Total Cooking Time: 15-20 minutes
Servings: 4

Ingredients:
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, split and sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 bell peppers, red and green, cut into thin strips
Salt
1 tsp piment d’Espelette
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 cup white wine
4 plum tomatoes, peeled, split, seeds removed, cut into thin strips
4 5-oz filets of cod
2 Tbsp chopped parsley

Directions:
1. In a shallow braising pan set over medium heat, warm 2 Tbsp of olive oil and add the onion, garlic and bell pepper.
2. Season with salt, piment d’Espelette and smoked paprika. Cook for 5 minutes, until the onion and peppers have softened, then add the white wine, tomato and cod.
3. Cover, reduce the heat to low and continue cooking 8 to 10 minutes, until the fish is opaque and flakes easily with a fork.
4. Top with the chopped parsley and serve with crusty baguette.

You can also try these delicious cod recipes:
Ling Cod with Clams

Granadian Cod and Orange Salad with Black Olives

Pan Braised Cod with Puttanesca Sauce

Top Chef Canada: All-Stars Episode 5 Recap

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

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

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Daniel Boulud, left, with Mark McEwan.

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


Seeing a dish treated like this just hurts.

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

Nicole might be having the most fun this season.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


That exact moment you find out the other team won…

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

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

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

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


We’re just going to leave this here. 

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

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

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


We so feel this.

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

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

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

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

How to Make a Top Chef Canada-Worthy Meat Pie

In a challenge that came down to pie vs. pie in Top Chef Canada All-Stars Episode 4, the winners were most definitely the judges, who were treated to some seriously stunning dishes. Both Nicole Gomes and Connie DeSousa whipped up meat pie creations for the elimination round that challenged chefs to get inspired by cities across the country; their efforts put them both into the top three for the night.

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Nicole’s Montreal-inspired meat pie with bacon, duck, veal, trumpet mushrooms and albufera sauce.

“Holy smokes, this is the best meat pie I’ve ever had in my life,” guest judge Chef Lynn Crawford said after tucking into Gomes’ indulgent, Montreal-inspired, triple-meat pie.

Connie DeSousa’s rustic hunter’s pie, inspired by St John’s, Newfoundland, had a whimsical presentation and judges couldn’t stop raving about the bone marrow chimney. Months later, resident judge Chris Nuttall-Smith can still recall the details and the flavours of it.

“That, to me, was an example of a chef at the top of her game, making beautiful food that people can’t help themselves from eating almost compulsively,” he said. “I could have just eaten the whole thing.”

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Connie’s St. John’s-inspired hunter’s meat pie with bone marrow and roasted root vegetables.

Both chefs found the formula for a compliment-earning, crave-worthy pie: a good, flaky crust; tender, well-seasoned meat; and a rich sauce.

Making a Top Chef Canada: All-Stars-worthy pie can be done by keeping a few simple tips and tricks in mind. First, though, let’s talk about the main types of meat pies.  A standard meat pie typically features flaky pastry above and below, encasing tender pieces of meat, a gravy-like sauce and some vegetables for colour and flavour.

Traditional-Tourtiere
Try this recipe for a classic tourtière.

The Québec classic tourtière has a pastry crust, but is made from ground meat, warmingly flavoured with allspice, cloves or cinnamon and without much sauce to speak of.

Ina-garten-Chicken-Pot-PieIna Garten’s chicken pot pie has moist chicken in a rich sauce and is topped with a tender, flaky crust.

Pot pies, typically reserved for chicken, only get pastry (puff or otherwise) lids, while shepherd’s pie foregoes pastry altogether in favour of fluffy mashed potatoes dolloped atop and then baked until the edges are crisply golden. (Technically, most people serving this dish are making cottage pie, which is made from beef, instead of shepherd’s pie that is traditionally made with lamb or mutton.)

Crust:
It’s no secret that the key to a flaky dough is having a light touch; overworking the pastry will only lead to a tough crust.

A simple trick is to freeze the butter and grate it, right into the flour mixture, on the large holes of a box grater for evenly-sized pieces. You can also blitz the two together using a food processor — just make sure not to over process! The mixture should resemble coarse crumbs.

Watch this video to see how to blend the flour, butter and water in a food process to make the pastry.

Add the minimum amount of liquid and tumble it all onto the counter to press together the loose chunks to form the dough. Work quickly to keep everything cold and give the pastry a chance to chill out in the fridge before rolling out and using. Try Ina Garten’s recipe for the perfect pie crust.

Anna Olson makes her meat pies with a savoury pastry that uses cake and pastry flour, and room temperature butter to form a crust that’s sturdy enough to stand up to the filling, but still tender. For her pastry, she recommends using a mixer as opposed to a food processor. Get Anna Olson’s pie crust recipe here

Filling:
The filling needs to be rich and, well, meaty. Unlike many fruit pies where the filling is just tumbled into the crust, covered and thrown into the oven, meat pie fillings are usually cooked in a separate pot or pan before being encased in pastry and baked. This is a great way to build flavour and ensure the meat is cooked before going into the pie.

Good fillings have some sauciness to them, but they shouldn’t be overly runny; cooking it off first helps get that thick, gravy-like consistency.

Rocket-Bakery-lamb-stout-pie-2A mirepoix of aromatic vegetables add flavour to a sauce made of beef stock and stout in this Lamb and Stout Pie.

For pies with bottom crusts, it’s key to let the filling cool before baking the pie, so a little organization will be necessary. That’s less of an issue for pot pies since a hot filling has no bottom crust to cook too quickly, nor for shepherd’s or cottage pies because there’s no pastry to begin with.

Presentation:
Save the lattice tops for fruit pies; you’ll want a fairly solid pastry lid to keep all that delicious meaty filling inside.

However, you’ll want to give the steam a chance to escape, so make cuts into the top crust or throw in a pie bird or chimney. You can certainly get creative with how you slash.

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A close up of Connie’s pastry decorations on her meat pie.

Connie decorated her chubby little pies with small pastry leaves, which were both pretty and evocative of the woods where hunters would gather game. Pretty pastry decorations are also a great way to use up any last scraps of dough.

Even if pastry isn’t the starch of choice, using the tines of the fork to create patterns in the mashed potato topping of a shepherd’s pie can be beautiful. The peaks of those striations will get deeply golden brown and stand out nicely when served.

Here are some more recipes to get you started on your efforts to make a Top Chef Canada-worthy pie:
Puff-Topped Spiced Pork and Apple Pot Pie
Alton Brown’s Shepherd’s Pie
Chuck Hughes’s Tourtiere
Mini Chicken and Broccoli Pot Pies
Mexican Beef Pie with Cheddar Crust
Tomato Slab Pie

Top Chef Canada: All-Stars Episode 4 Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Be careful not to get a contact buzz, Trevor.

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

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

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


You can almost hear giddy Nicole’s cackle…

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Trista should have listened to Professor Curtis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Iron Chefs Flay, Morimoto and Symon Dominate Kitchen Stadium

In the fight for culinary supremacy, there is no greater arena than Iron Chef’s Kitchen Stadium. Here, chefs have sweated and swore as they sliced and diced their way to victory (or defeat!) by conjuring up a series of dishes all using a mystery ingredient. Each dish is presented to a panel of exacting judges and the chef with the highest total score in taste, presentation and creativity wins.

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Iron Chefs L-R: Masaharu Morimoto, Bobby Flay, and Michael Symon

In its next iteration, Iron Chef Gauntlet, premiering  Sunday, April 23 at 9 E/P,  the original cooking competition show takes a new turn as seven chef superstars face off first against each other in kitchen stadium. The last one standing then challenges three Iron Chefs – Masaharu Morimoto, Bobby Flay, and Michael Symon.  Should they be successful against the acclaimed trio, the challenger earns the title of Iron Chef.  That will be no small feat.

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These three were guest judges on The Next Iron Chef: Redemption’s Final Battle “Heritage.”

Morimoto, Symon and Flay are all accomplished chefs that have earned their way into Kitchen Stadium, building up restaurant empires that dot the United States and beyond.  Their varied backgrounds show there’s no one way to become an Iron Chef.

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Masaharu Morimoto as Iron Chef Japanese in the original Iron Chef series.

A chef trained in the art of sushi, Masaharu Morimoto has combined his instruction and heritage with his years of cooking in the U.S. to create his own fusion approach. His first restaurant opened in 1980 in his home city of Hiroshima. After running it for five years, he left Japan for the U.S. where he was ultimately tapped to be the head chef of famed restaurant Nobu.

Morimoto joined the original Japanese version of Iron Chef in 1998, while still leading the Nobu kitchen.  After the series came to an end, Morimoto eventually left Nobu and opened his own restaurant in New York City  – the first of many, including ones in Napa Valley, Mumbai, New Delhi and Tokyo, for which his restaurant earned a coveted Michelin Star in 2008. When Iron Chef America was created and filming was moved to New York, Morimoto returned to kitchen stadium to battle once again. He also served as a guest judge on The Next Iron Chef.

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Masaharu Morimoto working with the secret ingredient salmon  in season 10 of Iron Chef America.

He would ultimately take 42 wins out of 68 head-to-head battles in both the original series and Iron Chef America, showcasing his out-of-the-box thinking and fusion approach with his dishes. While he won more than he lost, his battle against Homaro Cantu was an upset when he was bested by the chef known for his technological and molecular gastronomy approach to cooking the humble beet.
But perhaps the most noteworthy battle pitted him against now-colleague Flay in the first of four episodes across different iterations of the show. That first time, Morimoto was horrified at Flay’s behavior after he jumped on the counter at the end of the cooking time. He stated that Flay was “not a chef” because of how he behaved. (Flay lost that battle, but won the next against Morimoto in a rematch in Japan. They’d each win one more round against the other.)

Watch Worst Mishaps on Iron Chef America, including one from Bobby Flay.

 

Flay is known for his brashness – after all, one of his most popular shows, Beat Bobby Flay, has him challenging chefs in culinary competitions. However, with several Food Network shows under his belt, not to mention numerous restaurants across the U.S. and in the Bahamas, Flay has earned the Iron Chef title.

Bobby Flay came into prominence as the Executive Chef at Mesa Grill and not long after opening the spot, he  became a partner in the southwestern-focused restaurant. Other Mesa Grills, along with Bolo Bar and Restaurant, would follow, including one in Las Vegas which earned a Michelin Star in 2008.

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Bobby Flay and Michael Symon team up in a Thanksgiving themed episode of Iron Chef America.

While he continued to build his restaurant empire, Flay joined Iron Chef America in its first season in 2005, racking up 43 wins out of 61 battles. Among them, a battle that saw his competition, Hiroyuki Sakai (who had the most wins under his belt in Japan) make ice cream from trout – and serve it with a trout skin crisp. (Being a judge on Iron Chef America would never be dull.)

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I
ron Chefs Symon and Flay team up against Alex Guarnaschelli and Geoffrey Zakarian in Iron Chef America’s Thanksgiving battle.

Compared to those two chefs, Michael Symon is a relative neophyte, only joining Iron Chef America in Season 5.  He opened his first restaurant, Lola, in Cleveland in 1997, followed by Lolita and his B-Spot burger joints in the same city.  Roast, in Detroit, began dishing up meat-centric meals starting in 2008. His latest restaurant, Mabel’s BBQ opened last year. Symon was named best new chef by Food & Wine Magazine in 1998 and Bon Appetit named his burger joint as one of the country’s ten best. His food has a Mediterranean focus – something he comes by honestly, having grown up in a family of Greeks and Sicilians.

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Michael Symon and Masaharu Moritmoto meet again in Kitchen Stadium in an Iron Chef America Holiday Battle.

His first foray into Kitchen Stadium was as a competitor on Iron Chef America, trying to best Morimoto in a battle featuring asparagus. The Japanese chef showcased a stunning dish of “stained glass” sushi, wowing the judges with all his plates and taking the win. Symon may have lost, but clearly did not lose his fire for competition.
Three years later, he competed on The Next Iron Chef, coming out on top and earning a spot on Iron Chef America alongside Morimoto and Flay. Although the newest of the three to join the show, Symon has the highest rating of the trio with an impressive 34 wins out of 42 battles.

Next-Iron-Chef-Cast
Michael Symon (third from left) with the cast of The Next Iron Chef.

Go behind-the-scenes of Iron Chef Gauntlet:
Watch Iron Chef Gauntlet Set Tour
Watch Tools for Iron Chef Gauntlet

Awesome Sauce: The 5 Mother Sauces Aren’t Just for All-Stars

The names themselves may be unfamiliar but chances are, you’ve likely come across a mother sauce.

In this week’s Quickfire Challenge, chefs went head-to-head against a fellow competitor to make one of these five foundational sauces. Those at this level of competition should know exactly how to make Hollandaise, Velouté, Espagnole, Béchamel and Sauce Tomate without a second thought. Known as the so-called mother sauces, these recipes are building blocks of cooking and are a feature in everything from your standard eggs Benedict to a traditional lasagna. As guest judge John Higgins, director of George Brown Chef School said, “You make a béchamel, you can make macaroni and cheese. You make a velouté, you can make chicken pot pie. That’s why they’re important.”

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J
ohn Higgins puts the chefs through the ‘mother’ of all Quickfire Challenges.

Originally, there were four “grandes” sauces — so dictated by Marie-Antoine Careme in the early 19th century: béchamel, espagnole, véloute and allemande (a velouté thickened with egg yolks and whipping cream). But 100 years later, French chef and restaurateur Auguste Escoffier dropped allemande, adding brunch bastion Hollandaise and a sauce tomate. Some two centuries later, these sauces are still typically taught in culinary schools around the world and used frequently by home cooks.

Barring hollandaise, mother sauces all start with a roux — even a traditional sauce tomate, though it’s not unusual for that part to be skipped.  Made from fat mixed with flour, the roux is what thickens the liquids added to it. A roux is typically made with butter, but other fats and oils can be used. Once hot, flour is stirred in and cooked for a minute or two to eliminate the raw flour flavour, before the liquid is slowly added and cooked until thickened. The type of liquid used is what separates the mother sauces

Let’s break them down, shall we:

1) Béchamel
That creamy white sauce found in traditional lasagna is a béchamel, which is a roux that has cream or milk added to it. Traditionally, a little nutmeg is also thrown into the mix. A béchamel is the starting point for most cheese sauces, like those for macaroni or for topping steamed or roasted veggies. Here’s a step by step recipe on how to turn a béchamel into a family friendly cheesy sauce for veggies.

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Curtis Luk added sour cream to his béchamel and served it with roasted cauliflower.

2) Velouté
Like béchamel, velouté is among the easiest of the five mother sauces to make. It again starts with a roux, but then either chicken, vegetable or fish stock — all pale in colour — is added. Its name shares its roots with “velvety,” and this sauce should be smooth and soft. Jesse Vergen went the seafood route for his velouté, using lobster as a base and serving it with crab and chanterelles.  A simple version using chicken stock is good in a chicken pot pie, like this Ina Garten recipe.
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Jesse’s seafood casserole made with his lobster velouté, dungeness crab, chantrelle mushrooms, old cheddar and pine nuts.

3) Espagnole
Translated as the ‘Spanish’ sauce, though why a recipe so intrinsically linked to French cooking bears this name is up for debate, this one is essentially a roux mixed with veal or beef stock. However, most recipes for this rich and meaty sauce start with a mirepoix of onions, celery and carrots and call for the addition of bones, bits of meat and tomato puree — along with a bouquet garnish of herbs — to build flavour.

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Connie builds flavour in her espagnole sauce using mirepoix.

Unlike the other mother sauces, espagnole is rarely served as is, but instead is used as a jumping off point for a sauce chasseur (hunter’s sauce, with herbs and mushrooms) or added to a bourguignonne sauce (made with red wine, herbs and onions or shallots).  Try this not-so-traditional recipe for Beef Bourgignon that uses the mother sauce technique.

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Surf and Turf: Trista unconventionally paired her rich, beefy espagnole sauce with a seared, meaty piece of halibut.

4) Hollandaise
It’s often proclaimed that hollandaise is a tricky sauce to master and there are numerous tips and tricks for what to do if it “breaks” or curdles. Patience is key here as the melted butter has to be slowly drizzled into the whisked egg yolks, all while keeping the temperature steady so you don’t end up with scrambled eggs.

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John Higgins tests if the Hollandaise coats the back of the spoon properly.

Virtually any breakfast spot is going to have hollandaise on the menu, but it’s also nice with fish, and can be easily transformed into a Béarnaise — delicious on steak — by swapping out most of the lemon juice for vinegar, and adding some shallots and tarragon.

By browning the butter, Dennis Tay gave his hollandaise a nuttier flavour before adding soy and lime and serving it with poached salmon.TTC-Episode-3-Dennis-Tay-Salmon-Hollandaise-2

For a luxurious seafood dinner, try this recipe for Lynn Crawford’s pan seared salmon with wild mushrooms and pink shrimp hollandaise sauce.

5) Sauce Tomate
More modern versions of this sauce exist, but at the time that Escoffier was listing off the five mother sauces, his recipe called for a few unexpected ingredients, including salt pork and a roux. The pork, no doubt, added flavour, but cooking the tomatoes down will thicken a tomato sauce just as easily — and with fewer steps — than a roux.

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John Higgins tastes Nicole and Trevor’s versions of sauce tomate.

No matter how complicated you want to go, the base remains the same: tomatoes. A standard mirepoix is usually also part of the recipe, along with garlic and herbs. Fantastic over pasta, bien sur, this sauce is also good with recipes that have a Provençal flair, like Nicole Gomes’ dish of seared lamb, grilled eggplant and Nicoise olives.

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Nicole’s Quickfire Challenge winning dish using sauce tomate.

Try this recipe for lamb shoulder chops in tomato sauce, a  lamb dish with a Mediterranean flair that you can make at home.

Looking to learn more? Discover the 5 Knife Skills Every Chef Should Know.

Top Chef Canada: All-Stars Episode 3 Recap

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

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

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

These two…amiright???

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

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

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

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


Squad Goals.

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

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Sabrina Ghayour at the tasting table.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


And again…Squad Goals.

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

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

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

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

Chuck and Danny’s Perfect PEI Breakfast

It’s the end of the road for Chuck and Danny as their epic culinary trip draws to a close. Driving the RV across the Confederation Bridge (the longest one in the country), the chefs are on the search for seafood — and Prince Edward Island is home to some of the best that Canada has to offer. Chef Ross Munro of Red Door Oyster Co. points the chefs north to harvest some of the ocean’s bounty onboard Lester the Lobster boat. “We’re here to show them PEI’s best,” says Munro, who gives the chefs a surprise gift: a huge bag of local mussels for a true Maritime breakfast.

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Ross Monro (right) takes Danny and Chuck out lobster fishing.

Mussels are big business in PEI, producing 50 million pounds (22,730 tons, if you’re counting) per year, according to The Mussel Industry Council of PEI. Canadian mussels should be shiny and blue-black when you buy them from the store. “You know they’re fresh when they smell like the ocean,” says Chuck.

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Acadian bread from  ‘the weirdest baker on PEI’.

Since Chuck and Danny have got straight from the source, they want to show off their mussel power with a nontraditional eggs Benedict, Maritime-style. Even though they’re camping beach-side, Chuck and Danny are still chefs at heart — no store-bought English muffins, here. Friend and fellow chef Robert Pendergast (the self proclaimed “weirdest baker on PEI”) is camping at the same park with his family, and he stops by with some of his famous fresh-baked heritage bread, made Acadian-style with chunks of pork and potato.

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Danny and Chuck have a PEI breakfast with Robert Pendergast (center).

“Bread, mussels — it’s a PEI breakfast, no?” says Chuck. Danny offers to whip up a fast hollandaise in the trailer, while Chuck gets started on the mussels. The rule of thumb when cooking mussels is that they should be closed (or at least, close when you tap them.) Scrub them clean with a brush (no soap, obviously, says Chuck) and steam them in an inch and a half of seawater in a large pot with the lid closed for a few minutes.

See how Chuck and Danny make their Mussels Benedict:

For a classic hollandaise, Danny separates the eggs, using just the yolks for the emulsion. Since there’s no room in the camper for a full standup blender, Danny is using an immersion hand blender, which home cooks can emulate. Slowly adding the melted butter until the mixture is emulsified and thickened, Danny adds his own twist: white balsamic vinegar instead of the traditional lemon juice to complement the mussels with its sweetness. “This white balsamic is great and won’t change the colour of my hollandaise,” says Danny. A bit of salt and the hollandaise is ready to go.

Time to dig in — the chefs start popping the mussels out of the shells (and a few into their mouths while they’re working) and set them onto the bread. Their creation is finished with a healthy dollop of hollandaise, and a sprinkle of cayenne “for that extra little bit of spice to wake you up in the morning,” says Danny.

“Anybody who puts potato and bacon into their bread is okay with me,” says Chuck, taking a bite with a loud crunch.

“This is one of the best things I’ve eaten in a while,” says Pendergast.

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The sun sets on this road trip;  PEI is Chuck and Danny’s final destination.

Bring mussels to your table with 25 Marvelous Mussel Recipes or for more inspired Benedict ideas, check out 10 Brunch-Worthy Eggs Benedict Recipes for everything from devilled eggs to pizza. Get Chuck and Danny’s recipe for their PEI breakfast of champions here and be sure to check out their most bromantic moments from the road.

Missed the episode? Catch it online at Chuck & Danny’s Road Trip.

Five All-Star Knife Skills Every Cook Should Know

The secret to a smooth restaurant service is perfect mise en place.
With each ingredient prepped properly and literally “in its place,” chefs have everything they need on hand to prepare a dish as soon as it’s ordered. For the Quickfire Challenge in this week’s episode of Top Chef Canada: All-Stars, chefs’ prep skills were put to the test through a series of tasks that had them filleting fish, finely dicing shallots and shucking oysters — all to the exacting standards of head judge Chef Mark McEwan.

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Those shallots aren’t going to brunoise themselves, chefs!

“Every great dish demands accurate preparation,” he says before the challenge is launched. While those cooking at home aren’t under a clock or McEwan’s watchful eye, there’s no doubt making a meal is faster and easier when all the ingredients are ready to go. Knowing how to properly slice and dice underpins all that prep; uniform cuts guarantee even cooking and also makes it all look like you’re a professional.

Here are five knife skills essential to perfect mise en place:

1. Julienne
Julienne simply means to cut food (usually vegetables) into long, thin strips, some 1-2 mm square and 4-5 cm long. This cut is also sometimes known as alumette, which refers to their matchstick shape. Squaring off the edges of round vegetables like carrots helps keep the julienne precise, and you can pop those trimmings into stock or soups. Once squared, simply slice the food into slabs and then again into strips.

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A perfect carrot julienne.

 

2. Batonnet
The big brother to julienne, batonnet uses the same technique of cutting food into strips, but to a more robust size. Food cut into batonnet (literally batons) is about twice the size of a julienne, with the sticks some 6 mm square and 6 cm long. Just like for julienne, it’s best to start by squaring off the vegetable, then slicing into slabs and then into batons.

3. Dice
Dicing vegetables is a snap once you’ve learned the basics of batonnet. There are a few different sizes of dicing, which are essentially cubes of food. Depending on the recipe, it may call for a large dice (20 mm cubed), medium dice (13 mm) or small (6mm cubed), which is the size of dice you will get when starting with the batonnet cut above. The smallest type of diced vegetable, the brunoise, gets a category of its own (see below).

To go from a batonnet to a dice, simply take the item that has been cut into batons, turn it 90 degrees and slice cross-wise. This will make the right-sized cubes. (For larger dices, simply start with larger batonnet-type cuts.)

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Different sizes of diced vegetables.

4. Brunoise
The smallest of the dice cuts, brunoise is a mere 1-2 mm square. Just like dicing starts with batonnet, a brunoise begins with food cut into julienne. Then, it’s a simple matter of turning it 90 degrees and slicing it cross-wise to make the small squares.

Brunoise is particularly great for things like shallots, where tiny cubes of the allium go a long way. Pop them on top of salads, to flavour a vinaigrette or use as a base for pan sauces, like Andrea Nicholson did in the Quickfire after finely dicing an impressive 273 grams of them in three minutes.

Watch How to Brunoise an Onion:

5. Chiffonade
This knife skill is generally used for herbs or leafy vegetables (think spinach or chard) that cuts them into ribbon-like strips. A larger chiffonade of leafy greens is great for cooking, while using the technique on herbs like basil or sage makes a beautiful garnish.

Start by stacking the leaves one on top of the other and then rolling them tightly, like a cigar. Slice through the stack cross-wise (across the cigar shape). The narrower the cut, the more fine your ribbon strips will be.

Watch How to Chiffonade Basil:

Going for the Gauntlet: Iron Chef Returns with All-New Series

It’s been four years since chefs stepped into Iron Chef’s Kitchen Stadium to determine ‘whose cuisine will reign supreme,’ but the epic wait is finally over. Chefs will battle it out for culinary supremacy in the premiere of Iron Chef Gauntlet on Sunday, April 23 at 9 E/P. 

In Iron Chef America, a competitor and an Iron Chef go head-to-head, cooking a series of dishes using the dramatically unveiled Secret Ingredient. Each dish is judged by a panel of esteemed judges on all things taste, presentation and creativity. Whoever has the highest combined total score is the winner of the challenge.Iron-Chef-Gauntlet-Bobby-Flay-Michael-Symon-Masaharu-Morimoto
Iron Chefs L-R: Masaharu Morimoto, Bobby Flay, Michael Symon

But it’s a new era in Kitchen Stadium and the battle to win the Iron Chef title is tougher than ever.  Over the course of five episodes, seven culinary superstars will first face off against each other in Chairman’s Challenges and Secret Ingredient Showdowns until they are whittled down to just one. In the finale of this six-part series, the last chef standing enters the gauntlet where he or she must face off against three Iron Chefs — Bobby Flay, Michael Symon and Masaharu Morimoto — and cook with three Secret Ingredients. No good work goes unpunished in Kitchen Stadium! If the chef succeeds against the Iron Chef trinity in taste, presentation and creativity, he or she will earn the title of Iron Chef…and will have our unwavering awe and admiration until the end of time.

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We miss the Iron Chef drama! Alton Brown unveils the secret ingredient.

Alton Brown returns as the host of Iron Chef, but this time he has a new task on his plate: he will be judging the Chairman’s Challenge; the first test that decides which chef will go onto the next round. Alton told Foodnetwork.com that in this elite culinary competition, he will not stand for sloppy technique.
“One of the first things that falls off when the clock is running is knife work, is consistent knife cuts and I won’t put up with that.” You’ve been warned, chefs!

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Click here for Iron Chef Gauntlet competitor full bios.

Meet the chefs who have the stomach to take on this grueling challenge:

  • Stephanie Izard (Chicago):  Top Chef season 4 winner and James Beard award winning chef and restaurateur.
  • Nyesha Arrington (Los Angeles): Named Chef of the Year by Eater L.A. in 2016. Combines French technique with Southern California cuisine.
  • Michael Gulotta (New Orleans): Named 2016 Best New Chef by Food & Wine magazine.  Executes Southeast Asian cuisine using the Louisiana pantry.
  • Shota Nakajima (Seattle): Won the Seattle round of the World Washoku Challenge in 2014. Creates Japanese comfort food with Pacific Northwest ingredients.
  • Jason Dady (San Antonio): 2012 James Beard award semifinalist for Outstanding Restaurateur. Runs a Texas-sized empire of Italian, Spanish, BBQ and seafood restaurants.
  • Jonathan Sawyer (Cleveland): 2015 James Beard award winner Best Chef: Great Lakes. Worked for Michael Symon before opening his own French, Italian and Asian restaurants.
  • Sarah Grueneberg (Chicago): Chef/Partner of Monteverde Restaurant, named a Best Restaurant by Food & Wine, Bon Appetit and GQ. Travelled the world and has global approach to cuisine.

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Sarah Grueneberg setting Kitchen Stadium ablaze.

And there’s more Iron Chef!  The one-hour special,  Legend of Iron Chef, airing Sunday, April 23 at 8 E/P right before the Iron Chef Gauntlet premiere, relives the most memorable Iron Chef moments and gives you the inside scoop of this culinary phenomenon.  Iron Chef Eats premieres Monday, April 24 at 9 E/P with back-to-back episodes each week, and will recount where the stars from the world of Iron Chef eat when they’re not in the kitchen.

Top Chef Canada: All-Stars Episode 2 Recap

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Nicole is totally handling the pressure well. 

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Those are the breaks.

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

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

Why Top Chef Canada Judges Are Still Raving About Trista’s Pot-au-Feu

A chance to overcome past humiliation with a few humble ingredients was on the menu as some of Canada’s best chefs returned to Top Chef Canada seeking redemption, and the opportunity to be named the best of the all-stars. The first elimination round saw chefs forced to revisit the ingredients that had been their downfall in their original appearances on the show.

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Trista looks less than thrilled to see her past on a plate.

For Trista Sheen, who made it to the 10th episode on Season 2, it wasn’t the chicken, carrots and peas that sent her packing; it was a piece of plastic wrap that made it onto the judges’ plate.

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Trista faces the judges in the tenth episode of season 2.

There’s something deliciously poetic and just plain delicious, that for her chance at redemption, Trista went with a humble dish with plenty of history for a challenge about facing the past.

Her “Scarborough” pot-au-feu played on a classic French dish of braised meat and broth, but she infused it with her own history, taking the flavours from the neighbourhood where she grew up.

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Trista preparing her elimination challenge dish in the Lavelle kitchen.

By definition, pot-au-feu — literally translated as “pot on the fire” — is an age-old French dish made with meat and vegetables, cooked in water that slowly turns into a broth. Picture a bubbling pot set over a fire in a kitchen fireplace, and you’ve got a sense of its origins. (Not to be confused with a soup or stew, the broth from a pot-au-feu is not generally served as the main part of the meal.)

Traditionally made from a mix of inexpensive cuts of beef such as short ribs, brisket and shanks (ones that benefit from being cooked for long periods of time) pot-au-feu also includes root vegetables, along with simple seasonings of garlic and herbs. That slow braise of meat and the later addition of onions, potatoes, carrots and turnips — and, in some cases, leeks and cabbage — creates a deeply flavoured, clear broth. Recipes often call for marrow bones, which add even more richness.

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A traditional pot-au-feu made with different cuts of beef.

Although cooked in one pot, it’s dished out as a multi-course meal. The rich broth is customarily served on its own as the first course, or with the marrow bones; a prized part of the meal as people scoop out the buttery marrow onto toast, and eat it alongside.  After that, the meats, neatly portioned, and vegetables are dished up family-style on a large platter with standard garnishes of tangy mustards, crunchy cornichons and salt. Some versions include a recipe for pistou, a blend of oil, garlic and herbs, to be added to the table for drizzling over the dish, while others suggest serving it with a bit of horseradish.

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Trista’s elegantly presented “Scarborough” pot-au-feu.

Trista’s take was a nod to the neighbourhood of Scarborough, a Toronto suburb with a vibrant immigrant community that has translated into the area being known for its ethnic cuisines, including Caribbean, Chinese and African.

“I loved the soul and the personality behind that dish; that really stuck with me,” judge, Chris Nuttall-Smith said. “I hope that dish doesn’t end with this competition; I hope she continues to serve it and works with it.”

The base of her dish was the same as any pot-au-feu: meat and vegetables. But she then gave it a Jamaican twist by adding jerk flavours, with the heat of spicy peppers and warming spices like allspice, nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon. She served it up with a carrot, chard and corn pistou — a take on the more traditional basil-oil version — and a jerk aioli, all artfully presented.

“She nailed it on the first round. Beautiful, the presentation, the flavours, it was gorgeous,” said judge Mijune Pak, who still raved about this dish, months after tasting it.

Watch the Top Chef Canada: All-Stars premiere online.

Chuck and Danny Get Schooled On Acadian Caviar

This week, Chuck’s got a family connection to the chefs’ destination: his grandfather hailed from New Brunswick, and his best food memories stem from out east. “When I was growing up, we’d always have lobster and oyster parties,” says Chuck. “It has a lot to do with my love of food.”

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Chuck and Danny’s million dollar view of the Bay of Fundy.

Danny’s also excited about their campgrounds at Fundy National Park (“How did we score this campsite?” he says, surveying the incredible view) as well as meeting the local artisans behind the products they cook with on a daily basis. “A lot of what we use in the restaurants back home is from New Brunswick, so it’s fun to come here and connect with the guys that are bringing us the ingredients that we love,” says Chuck.

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Caviar expert Cornel Ceapa talks to Danny and Chuck.

One of those producers, world renowned caviar expert from New Brunswick, Cornel Ceapa, founder and owner of Acadian Sturgeon and Caviar Inc., joins Chuck and Danny for breakfast — and he’s brought along a tasting of three caviars, an excellent start to the day. “He’s the king of caviar,” says Chuck. “He’s the doctor of caviar,” Danny corrects him, since Ceapa has a PhD in sturgeon studies.

Caviar can come from a variety of sources, but sturgeon eggs are particularly prized. Ceapa settled in New Brunswick — where sturgeon is native to the Saint John River — to farm it in captivity. “When you think of sturgeon, you think of Iran or Russia, not New Brunswick,” marvels Chuck.

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That’s not a surfboard — it’s a sturgeon skin! Ceapa shows Chuck and Danny how large a sturgeon can get.

Similar to cheese, caviar changes from day one to the end of its life cycle as it matures into different flavours. Ceapa prefers an aged caviar, so he’s brought along two young wild caviars (one week old and two months old) and a third one from aquaculture for the lucky chefs to compare.

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Ceapa walks Chuck and Danny through the finer points of enjoying caviar, with tips that you can use at home:

  • Caviar is delicate, so keep it on ice. Spoon a bit onto the back of your hand and tilt it to look at the shine, colour and shape.
  • Put it in your mouth and don’t swallow it right away — feel the eggs in your mouth and swirl it around a little bit to let the taste develop.
  • The taste will grow on you; the salt will be the first taste you register, as that is the first sensory element on the tip of your tongue. Then, the butteriness will build, as a base flavour, as the other tastes develop.

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The two month caviar has more of a complex, ocean vibe, while the younger version is grassier, says Danny. Chuck prefers the feel of the eggs in the Acadian Green caviar from aquaculture, that has a vibrant dark green hue and slightly larger eggs with a nice shine, so they decide to use all three types in a classic egg-on-egg pairing: a caviar omelette.

Watch how Danny makes his omelette:

 

“Everybody has their own technique,” says Chuck, who is vigorous in his egg mixing. Chuck keeps the eggs constantly moving in an almost scramble, and then, instead of flipping the omelette out, uses a plate held over the pan to invert the omelette in one move — a method that home chefs may find less stressful.

Savouring their omelettes, topped with all three types of caviar, the chefs and Ceapa concede that these are “best omelettes I’ve ever had.” With the salty notes of the caviar playing counterpoint to the creamy eggs, the group finishes every bite of their caviar creations.

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Here’s the recipe for the Caviar Omelette.

“This has ruined omelettes for me for the rest of my life,” says Danny.

Caviar is a luxurious treat for breakfast (you’re so fancy Chuck and Danny!) and can make a dinner très special. Kick off dinner with an hors d’oeuvre like a devilled egg with caviar or a blini made from buckwheat flour (another Acadian ingredient) and topped with caviar and crème fraîche. For the main event, serve this impressive plate of sturgeon two-ways: seared sturgeon with nori and sturgeon caviar.

Missed the episode? Catch it online at Chuck and Danny’s Road Trip.