Tag Archives: Jinhee Lee

Top Chef Canada Season 6 Episode 8 Recap

It’s hard to believe we’re already here: the very last episode of Top Chef Canada season six. It’s been a pretty shocking season to say the least, what with contestants returning to the game only to quit (oh, Nathan), frontrunners being sent home in a pretty dramatic fashion and some of the coolest and most innovative plates we’ve ever seen put out on this show.

That basically made it anyone’s game heading into Sunday night.


Jinhee, Mark, Ross and JP remain out off 11 who began this journey

The episode opened with a brief reminder of this year’s Top 4: Jinhee, whose Korean-inspired plates had Mark referring to her as the “silent assassin;” Mark, whose foams and bold flavours made him an early target; Ross, whose real-world experience in the kitchen rivaled any classically trained chef’s; and JP, whose French training is something to be reckoned with. I don’t think I’ve ever been this torn about who I wanted to win.

Learning From Your Mistakes

It seems the judges felt the same way. And so for the very last Quickfire challenge of the season (which also happened to be a double elimination), Mark McEwan, Eden Grinshpan and Janet Zuccarini were all on hand to taste the food. The task? To take a dish that put the chefs on the bottom and transform it into a winning plate. Talk about the past coming back to haunt you. None of the chefs were particularly pumped about the task, but they knew it was time to pull out all the stops if they wanted a spot in that final dinner service.


Jinhee’s birch shrub and lemongrass-marinated duck with coconut red curry and frozen foie gras

Jinhee never really came in the bottom in terms of the Elimination Challenges, but as we saw during the food trend Quickfire in episode three, “frozen” and “coconut” were not her forte. So she recreated her dish by plating a coconut red curry and injecting it with frozen foie gras in a move that McEwan deemed genius. The plate’s only downfall? The curry tasted a little too much like something the chef had previously served the judges.


JP’s ravioli in brodo: chicken and chicken liver stuffed ravioli in clarified broth

For his part, JP had an epic fail in the Canadian farmer Elimination Challenge in episode two, despite his cool concept of what came first, the chicken or the egg. So he tried to recreate his Ravioli in Brodo by improving on the pasta’s texture and making the stuffing itself tastier. Unfortunately, he still missed the mark and the pasta was slightly too thick for the judges’ liking, which meant he was clearly on the bottom.


Mark’s roasted lamb saddle with bread emulsion, blistered tomatoes and apricot relish

Meanwhile, Mark had failed to impress during the more recent pizza Elimination Challenge in episode six, so it was back to the dough for him. In an hour he whipped up a Roasted Lamb Saddle with Bread Emulsion, Blistered Tomatoes & Apricot Relish that impressed the judges so much they seemed giddy. It’s not often you get to eat a deconstructed pizza at that level, I suppose. Give this guy all the points for creativity.


Ross’s lobster bisque with butter-poached lobster, roasted corn and confit fennel

That left Ross, who was asked to recreate the lobster bisque he served up during the hockey Elimination Challenge, and this time he made sure to crush those lobster bones even harder to get the brilliant red colour (not to mention flavour) you want in a bisque. It was the ultimate redemption for East Coasters everywhere when the judges said he nailed it.

By the time the judges were ready to decide, it was obvious JP was going to be sent knives packing and that Mark was going to move on, but it seemed like a toss-up between Jinhee and Ross. Maybe they just wanted to see an East versus West coast showdown, or perhaps they were less impressed with Jinhee’s curry than they let on. But the judges deemed Ross and Mark as the two finalists, which meant Jinhee had to say farewell to her brothers.

Goodbye, Jinhee. I’d still love to grab that glass of wine with you.

The Final Dinner


Mark and Ross listen to the judges before beginning preparation on the final challenge

It was poetic, in a way, that Ross and Mark should cook together at the very end. They made for a pretty cool team in the hockey challenge, and it was because of Ross’s immunity that they were both left standing at the end. I guess Matthew was right after all when he predicted that Ross was one of the top competitors.

But that’s the past, and we had a challenge to get to in the present: show the judges your personality on a plate. I’m always super jealous of these judges for getting to try so many yummy things during the competition, but the tasting menu in the finale always makes me the most jealous of all. It’s like they’re sampling so much fare they don’t know what to do with themselves when I’m sure all of us at home would love a bite… or two.

This year, not only were Mark and Ross going to be whipping up a feast in the kitchen, but the judges asked season three winner Matthew Stowe and Ross’s boss Jeremy Charles to come out and help the guys as their respective sous-chefs. That’s a whole lot of star power taking over the kitchen at the OMNI King Edward Hotel.


Matthew Stowe (left) will assist Mark and Jeremy Charles (right) will help Ross

Right away both chefs realized how important their overall story would be in terms of impressing the judges with their food. For Ross, he wanted to showcase his Newfoundland heritage with simple ingredients that spoke for themselves. Meanwhile, Mark wanted to pay homage to his own Filipino roots, and in particular to his mother who left home when he was one to come to Canada. He didn’t get to even meet her until he was eight, when he followed her to our home and native land. Now that’s how you make it personal.

Ross’s Menu

Anyhow, let’s start with Ross’s offerings, shall we? He literally put heart on a plate with his amuse bouche, which was a trio of moose heart tartare, whelk skewer and cod chitlin with capelin gold leaf. “We eats it all in Newfoundland,” he and Jeremy joked as they assembled the bites.


Amuse bouche: moose heart tartare, whelk skewer and cod chitlin with capelin gold leaf

For an appetizer, Ross then moved on to a sea urchin and diver scallop offering that Janet said showed a lot of restraint—something that’s sometimes harder to do in a competition like this than to go all-out.


Appetizer: sea urchin and torn diver scallop with dashi and dried seaweed

But what really seemed to be best-sellers for the judges were Ross’ cod, and his wild hare and partridge entrees. When Ross poured sauce from that flower vessel they were falling all over themselves at how cute it was. It’s no wonder Ross was chuckling to himself in the kitchen afterwards—that has got to feel pretty damned good at this point in the finale, no? All that was left was an equally innovative dessert, which was a roasted parsnip concoction that was just sweet enough to satisfy the judges.


First entrée: skin on pan-roasted cod with onion soubise, charred onions, leek and sea urchin beurre blanc


Second entrée: wild hare and partridge with partridge heart, artichoke purée, winter chanterelles and glazed beet


Dessert: roasted parsnip cream with parsnip chip, whisky-compressed apples and creeping snowberries

“This would be your worst seller but your best experience,” McEwan declared of the dish.

Mark’s Menu

Then there was Mark, who went for a totally different style (only two foams!) but was equally impressive in his offerings. He absolutely wowed the judges with his amuse bouche, a kusshi oyster with lightly smoked crème fraiche and pickled shallots to bring it all together. Every single one of the judges’ faces lit up when they popped that thing in their mouths, proving that this was going to be one competitive final dinner service.


Amuse bouche: kusshi oyster with dill oil, smoked crème fraîche and pickled shallots

“I can’t handle what he just gave us,” Eden said.

“Oh my God you’ve got places to go,” Chris Nuttall-Smith raved.

The highs kept on coming with Mark’s deconstructed burger appetizer, which was a beef tartare with all the elements of his favourite burger, like charcoal mayo, toasted bread and tomato bacon jam. “It’s just like eating a burger,” Eden declared.


Appetizer: beef tartare with charcoal mayonnaise, tomato bacon jam, iceberg lettuce and toasted bread

Personally, I was curious how McEwan—the burger king—would respond to the dish, because isn’t that the real challenge when you serve up a burger? Turns out he wasn’t just impressed with the food, he said it also brought back memories of him eating burgers in the backyard. Chalk one up for Mark, folks.


First entrée: cured tuna with truffle soy, cilantro relish, crispy nori, salted cucumber and shaved white truffles

Where Mark stumbled was with his mains. Janet was critical of his tuna and “make it rain” white truffle shavings, claiming the flavours melded together a little too much. The other judges disagreed and said the flavours actually worked together quite well, but then again they didn’t exactly rave about the dish either. As for Mark’s second, the duck entrée? That was just all-right too and maybe even a little dry, according to the judges. Considering that dish looked like the simplest one Mark has put out to date, I have to say I was a little disappointed in it watching from home, too.


Second entrée: seared duck and scallop with rose petal xo, bbq jus and fried rice

That left Mark’s dessert, which was an elevated take on Halo-Halo and another Filipino classic. It managed to put Mark back in the judges’ good graces again, with Mijune Pak even declaring that Mark should open his own Filipino restaurant.


Dessert: Halo-halo with coconut sorbet, pandan syrup, coconut and grassroot jelly, toasted coconut and crushed iced tea

Well, yes—that’s the idea, and why this guy entered the competition to begin with. He’s been pretty clear about needing that cash to get out of the catering business and to open his own brick and mortar spot.

Canada’s Next Top Chef Is…

With the eating aspect out of the way, and considering how well received both menus were, I still thought it was really anyone’s game. McEwan himself declared that this was the toughest showdown ever, proving even further how conflicted everyone was. And while the chefs were supposed to be judged on this one service alone, I imagine you can’t help but be influenced by past performances too. Mark was steadily at the top this whole time, while Ross stumbled through the first half of the season. That has to factor in, no?

Perhaps, but in the end, it was the Newfoundland chef who impressed the most, and Ross got to hear those magic words: “You are Canada’s Top Chef.” He quickly fell to his knees (as one does in that kind of a situation), realizing that his life had just forever changed.

Cue the biggest smile we’ve seen from the stone-faced chef all season long.

“This is a life-changing event for me because I believed in the food I was cooking,” he said. “I never second-guessed myself… it paid off. This is for so many people. It’s for my wife, for my son and myself… it’s for everyone on that little island on the East Coast that kind of gets forgotten about.”

“I was surprised it took Ross so long to get going because I knew he was a much better cook than what he was showing us,” McEwan said. “He’s kind of a shy individual, it just took him longer to get out of his skin and actually do it. And when he did, he was really creative. The finale meal was unbelievable. He was the clear winner and we said, ‘We’re not looking back on the rearview mirror. We’re not analyzing.’ He won the day.”

As for Mark? It seems like he’s destined to always be the bridesmaid and never the bride. At least in this season of Top Chef Canada.

“So close!” he said to cameras afterwards with his chin up. “I know I’m a good cook and that’s why I am feeling like this is just the beginning… I can’t wait for the next step.”

“Mark is brilliant with making incredible flavours in tiny little dishes. You have one bite of his and there’s more flavour a lot of the time in that single bite that you’ll find in an entire meal from other chefs,” Chris Nuttall-Smith said. “He’s going to land extremely well… He’s learning and waiting to see where can he go that will make a real impact. I have absolutely no worries that he is going to wind up doing something huge.”

And just like that, another season of Top Chef Canada was in the books. Bubbly for everyone, y’all, because what a season it’s been.

Top Chef Canada Season 6 Episode 7 Recap

In order to appreciate how far you’ve come, sometimes you have to look back to the past. That seemed to be exactly what the remaining chefs were doing heading into Sunday night’s penultimate episode of Top Chef Canada; with Darren eliminated that meant things were really going to heat up for the Top 5 and they knew it. Each one of them reflected as much to the cameras as they pondered what winning this thing would actually do for them, especially Jinhee, as she reminded us all what a win would mean to her.


The remaining five chefs; only four will move onto the final episode

But there’s a time for reflection and there’s a time for action, and with a Quickfire to get to there wasn’t much time for reflection. Not when Eden Grinshpan and guest judge Amanda Cohen (of New York City’s Dirt Candy restaurant) were ready to sample some special French fare.


Amanda Cohen joins Eden Grinshpan to judge the Quickfire Challenge

But Make it Vegan

When you think of French cuisine what comes to mind? For me it’s creamy, buttery goodness, rich, meaty textures, and of course robust flavours (why do you think it pairs so perfectly with wine?). What French cuisine is not as well known for is its plant-based goodness. But with a vegan master like Cohen ready to judge the challenge, of course that was the Top Chef Canada twist of the week.

Obviously, none of these carnivores were impressed at the thought of turning things like tartare and coq au vin into delightful vegan plates. Ross basically called it an oxymoron when he was asked to create a vegan foie gras parfait, while Jinhee’s face at being tasked with a vegan beef bourguignon was pretty much the entire reason to tune into the show. In fact, only Mark seemed excited about the prospect of a plant-based dish, because it’s something he does all the time through his catering company.


The challenge left Jinhee almost speechless

One thing that everyone seemed to be able to agree on is that after having gone through a competition like this and surviving each dish together, this fab five felt more like a family than ever before. Jinhee even began referring to the other guys as her “brothers,” solidifying how they all felt about one another. In a world of cut-throat competition shows, it’s nice to see one in which the contestants genuinely seem to have one another’s backs, isn’t it?


Mark’s Vegan Coquilles St. Jacques: seared potato, potato skin jus, chive oil, white wine onion foam and torn bread

Anyhow, the level of innovation was pretty freaking spectacular. As someone who totally subscribes to eating more of a plant-based diet on the regular, I’m a total trend-follower in that regard. But that doesn’t mean I make good vegan food—usually, my creations are watery dishes with lots of beans and disappointed faces at the dinner table from Hubby and Toddler. So every single one of the dishes these chefs put out really impressed me. I thought it was pretty cool how Mark used seared potatoes to look like scallops, while Ross’s mushroom custard sounded ridiculously delicious. JP managed to piece together a really cool “tartare” of plum and beets that I’d kill to try, and Jinhee’s mushroom concoction turned out to be pretty fancy looking too.


JP’s Vegan Steak Tartare: marinated plum & beet tartare with horseradish tarragon aioli and charred bread


Jinhee’s Vegan Beef Bourguignon: roasted lobster mushrooms, maitake mushrooms, carrots, potato confit in mushroom stock

But while all of those dishes were fine and fancy, it was good old Nate, who once again went into this thing with little confidence, who managed to come out on top with a rustic offering of “Champignons Au Vin.” The flavours completely impressed Amanda Cohen—who declared that all of the chefs nailed this thing, by the way—and Nathan finally landed the big W after being in the Quickfire bottom every week since his return.


Nathan’s Vegan Coq Au Vin: roasted maitake mushrooms with portobello and porcini mushrooms and root vegetables

Sorry Mark, your own streak of making it to the top but never winning continues.

“Boom, I’m on top! It’s great… I was aiming for the middle,” Nathan told the cameras afterwards.

Bottle of Red or Bottle of White?

Unfortunately for Nate, he didn’t have long to celebrate, not with an Elimination Challenge to get through. And what an Elimination Challenge it was—not only would the winner get an all-expense paid trip to Napa Valley, but he or she would also secure themselves a spot in the finale. You could feel the tension mounting.


Top Chef Canada: All-Stars’ Dustin Gallagher

So how do you get a group of tense chefs to relax? By bringing in Top Chef Canada: All-Stars runner-up Dustin Gallagher, of course. He waltzed into the kitchen with that signature smile as a guest-judge for the big challenge: to create a canope that pairs with a Beringer wine. Dusty won this same challenge last year, so he was able to give the chefs some sage words of advice: keep it simple. Easy words when you’re also trying to impress a boatload of judges with just one fancy little bite, if you ask me.

Even though Nathan had the advantage of selecting which wine he’d pair with his dish (pinot, because that’s what he “drinks the most of”), you could tell he still wasn’t really on his game. Anyhow, Nathan decided to prepare a chicken and foie gras canape, but even before he was putting it out he was asking Ross whether he should add more parsley. Don’t get me wrong, I love that these guys are willing to help each other out, but at this point in the game Nate should be confident in his own skills. He’s there for a reason.


Mark’s Kilawin: ahi tuna with XO sauce, cilantro jus, apple kombu relish, crispy nori and smoked oil

Mark was certainly confident, in a mad scientist meets Top Chef Canada kind of way. It really looked like things could go either way for him at McEwan Foods, when he spent so much time waiting in line at the seafood counter that he barely paid attention to the rest of the things he threw in his cart. As a result, for the first time that I can remember in the show’s history, a contestant was over the limit at the checkout and had to actually put some stuff back. See that? Those numbers aren’t just an empty threat.


Ross’s scallop crudo with grilled pear, apple, thyme jelly, cucumber foam and smoked scallop roe

Actually, huge kudos to the entire editing team in general on this episode because I would have bet it all on Mark going home. Between the disaster at the grocery store and then Mark McEwan’s advice that the chef needed to add a little more punch to his tuna dish because it wouldn’t stand out against the wine pairing, it looked like Mark’s risks wouldn’t pay off. So it was a huge surprise when he was named the night’s overall winner (Dustin declared his dish even made the wine taste even better), landing himself a trip to Napa and an immediate spot in next week’s finale. Also on top was Jinhee, whose red wine and pork pairing was unexpected and delicious, according to the judges. In fact, Mijune Pak called the sauce she served it with “MSG 2.0.” In a complimentary sort way. Meanwhile, Ross took a page from Mark and served up a cucumber foam with his scallop crudo, resulting in McEwan declaring that Ross has finally found his sea legs. It’s about time, if you ask me. I’ve been curious what Matt saw in him as his hardest competitor.


It’s genuine happiness (and relief!) when Jinhee, Mark and Ross found out they’re going to the finale

Oh. Nathan.

That left Nate and his chicken meat log, and JP, with his basic duck magret, in the bottom fighting for their lives. Or at least I thought they’d be fighting for their lives; as it turns out Nathan was just plain old ready to fall on his sword.

Before the judges could really dig in and criticize either dish, Nathan asked to speak.

“I would like to disqualify myself from this competition,” he said to the shocked faces over at the judges’ table. “I know I’ve struggled, and it’s not just cooking. It’s mentally. There’s been a lot of things that I’ve put up that I’d never, ever put up. Even when I’ve won I haven’t been happy or satisfied with my dish.”

Talk about a shocker, huh? Okay so maybe not a complete shocker, given that Nathan clearly has been struggling, but why would he just opt out before the finale? Especially since I’m pretty sure someone like Felix or Ivana would have killed to be in his spot.


Nathan voluntarily withdraws from the competition; JP can’t believe what he’s hearing

Even JP seemed upset by the decision, noting that he didn’t feel like he had earned a spot in the Top 4. McEwan was quick to reassure him, but I understand his feeling like he’d won by default. Let’s just hope he moves on and proves himself next week when the real prize is officially on the line.

“Nathan put so much heart [into it], he doesn’t know where to stop,” Mijune said afterwards. “You end up just getting something that’s super confusing as your end product and that’s not what you’re about or what you wanted to present… If Nathan worked at finding his voice and what to listen to from others and [to strike] that balance between what people are telling you to do and what you actually want to do, that is something that he would benefit from hugely.”

Sadly, it obviously won’t be on a reality show where we can all see it.

“I do apologize for doing this but at the same time it wasn’t making me feel good in my own self,” Nathan said following his elimination. “To me, that was more important than any money could possibly offer me. I just couldn’t go on. I feel happy even though there’s a lot of people around me that are very sad. This was me, this is my choice and it was my time to just sort of move on.”

What. A. Game.

And just like that, we’re almost at the end. The Top 4 return one more time next week for the final showdown. At this point, it feels like anyone’s game.

Top Chef Canada Season 6 Episode 6 Recap

You don’t get to be one of the Top Chefs in Canada without learning a few basics along the way, so in that vein the latest episode of Top Chef Canada was all about bringing the chefs back to the beginning—fried chicken and classic pizza beginnings, that is.

This episode picked up following last week’s shocking double elimination, in which Jesse and Matthew were sent packing. The elimination proved that anyone could go home anytime for one bad plate, but while the remaining chefs seemed shocked at Matt’s departure, it also gave the Top 6 a little more spring to their steps. Mark flat-out admitted that Matt being gone gave him a better chance in this thing, while Darren told cameras the game has changed.


Every one of the chefs was excited to see last year’s Top Chef Canada winner

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

That didn’t mean the remaining chefs could just phone it in though. With no more immunity on the table and a Quickfire to get out of the way, Eden Grinshpan introduced the next task: to recreate a Top Chef Canada version of a classic fried chicken, complete with one side dish. Cue saliva glands around the country, folks, because who doesn’t love a piece of perfectly fried chicken? Well, vegetarians and vegans, obviously. But apparently also Jinhee, who made as much known to the cameras after the challenge was announced. I really love how that woman doesn’t hold back.

Eden Grinshpan and Nicole Gomes on Top Chef Canada
Welcome back, Top Chef Canada: All-Stars winner Nicole Gomes! 

To judge the dishes (and to potentially inspire the chefs as they head into the home stretch), Eden welcomed Top Chef Canada: All-Stars winner Nicole Gomes back into the kitchen. Since her time of making it rain in the Monogram Kitchen, she’s gone on to open Cluck N Cleaver alongside her sister Francine, and if you’re ever in Calgary I hear there’s no better place to eat fried (or rotisserie) chicken.

I forgot how much I love watching Nicole and hearing her candid remarks, which she brought back in full while judging the Quickfire Challenge. She and Eden were kind of the dream team, with Eden noshing on the chefs’ offerings using her fingers and doing her version of the chicken dance, and Nicole joking about wearing her stretchy pants. I smell a chicken-loving spinoff, folks.

Anyhow, it was clear right away that some chefs nailed this thing while others were just destined to run around like a chicken with their heads cut off (sorry, I had to). JP had a good base with a basic buttermilk batter, but he burnt it and wasn’t fooling anyone with his dusting to hide the fact. He knew it too, which was probably why he was so angry at the whole situation. Meanwhile, Nicole declared Nathan’s batter to be thin and his double-fried chicken dry, which will probably lead the chef to reconsider the way he does it in his restaurant in the near future. Poor Nathan. And I here I thought he might finally be done double-guessing himself.


Mark’s Seven-Spice Buttermilk Fried Chicken with Waffle Emulsion, Charred Shishito Peppers and Corn Salad

Not all of the dishes were bad though. Mark zigged with his waffle emulsion while almost everyone else zagged with some sort of a slaw for a side. Nicole also declared his chicken to be perfectly breaded. While Mark certainly impressed, it was fried-chicken-hater Jinhee who surprisingly came out on top. Her chicken with an anchovy glaze was a homage to her mother, who never approved of her being a chef. Jinhee revealed to cameras that she hid her job from her mom for six whole years and that to this day her mom still hasn’t tasted her food in her restaurant. That made the win a nice full circle, as it potentially proved to her mother that she does have the chops to make it in her chosen profession. Now if only there were an Elimination Challenge advantage or a cash prize to go with her win. Sadly, Jinhee only walked away with Quickfire bragging rights.


Jinhee’s Fried Chicken with Anchovy Glaze and Mango, Carrots and Compressed Cucumber

It’s Not Delivery…It’s Top Chef Canada

But even those were short-lived, because next up was the Elimination Challenge, and one of the top six was about to be sent home. Cue the ominous music, y’all. The task at hand? To create a memorable, Top Chef Canada calibre pizza with an international flair, and then to pair that pizza with two complementary sides. Did I mention the taskmasters behind-the-scenes were a little fast-food obsessed this week? It made me pretty damned hungry because that kind of food I do have access to at my fingertips.

Related: Go behind the scenes to learn how challenges are created

To find out which country the chefs would be representing on their pizza, the six had to select cardboard pizza boxes. Once again Jinhee, whose face said it all when she picked India, was clearly not pleased with her selection and revealed she’d only ever made a couple of curries in her life. Does anyone else get the feeling that girl doesn’t play much poker during her time off?


A blessing and a curse: picking Italy for the pizza challenge

Meanwhile, JP seemed equally scared to have picked Italy. While you’d think the country would be the perfect inspiration for a pizza, this week’s guest judge, Evan Funke of L.A.’s Felix is basically renowned for his Italian food. So not only was JP facing the pressure of cooking for an Italian food master, but he knew Italian pizza would probably be judged a little more harshly by all of the judges, especially Janet Zuccarini who is a  AVPN certified Pizzaiola.

Related: Janet Zuccarini and Evan Funke’s Felix Trattoria Up Nominated for Best New Restaurant

Conversely, Darren, a.k.a. the “Swedish Chef,” really didn’t seem to hesitate at picking Sweden for inspiration—not when he had his pickled-fish-loving grandfather to inspire him. I guess that’s why he decided to top his pizza with a series of seafood selections, namely prawns and anchovies. Throw a few chanterelle mushrooms on there and his pizza was complete, along with his Swedish meatball (obviously) and pickled mackerel sides. Maybe Darren never actually watched The Muppets to realize what a terrible chef The Swedish Chef really is, but unless you’re a hardcore lover of “slime on slime” (as Mijune Pak described the pizza), you’re probably not going to be lining up for a slice of that unique concoction anytime soon… no matter where you live. The fact that Darren kept the bones in his pickled mackerel side for extra crunch really, really didn’t go over well with the judges either.

Darren and JP present their pizzas to the judges

The self-proclaimed youngin’ wasn’t the only one who faltered though. Mark has been on a bit of a tear this season while trying to win some extra cash so that he doesn’t go broke, but his Turkey-inspired spiced lamb “flatbread” pizza was so flat and dry the judges were masticating it. They were definitely not going back for seconds on that one either. As for JP and his Italian pizza? That was a  pass for the judges too thanks to the overly complicated way he approached it. Apparently, you a white pizza with potatoes and artichokes can fall flat by not seasoning the crust or adding enough olive oil, and then topping it with an arugula salad. I mean, obviously I can only see and dream about what that would have tasted like, but to be perfectly honest I would have been down to nosh on that. But that’s why I’m not a judge.

Winner, Winner, Pizza Pie Dinner

Actually, the judges (and Eden, who downed her ‘za using her hands like a regular person) didn’t have a lot of positive comments about most of the pizzas this week, proving that the classic dish is actually a lot harder to make than you’d think. Jinhee tried hard with her curry pizza and integrated paneer cheese, but the judges declared that it lacked flavour. JP’s Italian pizza also lacked flavour and the judges didn’t feel his meal represented Italy at all. Mark McEwan declared that Mark’s pizza wasn’t crispy.  Ross, whose German Speck, Onion, Mushroom & Gruyere Pizza (and potato salad and sweet fried rye bread) managed to capture their imaginations, making him the night’s big winner and $5,000 richer.


Ross’s German Inspired Pizza with Speck, Mushroom, and Gruyere

Experience Does Matter

Sadly, that meant Darren and his young blood was the one to say arrivederci this week. The guy had everything to prove as the youngest chef this season, and while he did really well by landing in the top six it looks like he won’t be ultimately slaying that dragon and saving the princess anytime soon. I’m definitely going to miss his one-liners, video game references, and his overall antics in the kitchen.


Darren’s last time at judges’ table

“What I lacked wasn’t talent, it wasn’t passion… it was experience,” he told cameras afterwards, with tears in his eyes. “You don’t have to win to conquer something. That’s what experience is, it’s learning from your mistakes.”

Well way to conquer my heart, Darren. Okay guys, let’s add Darren to our list of Top Chef Canada: All-Stars season two contenders, shall we?

“He’s a very, very capable young chef. He’s at the developmental stage where when he’s outside the element of the restaurant, he maybe didn’t have enough to bring to the table to create his own, new story that day,” Mark McEwan said. “He had his moments. I just think he needs a couple more years to really work on his base knowledge so that he has those instinctive skills and a repertoire to fall back on. That would give him better choices under pressure.”

Speaking of pressure, next week the chefs are tackling another food trend: veganism. Is anyone else excited to see how Jinhee’s face feels about that one? Personally, I can’t hardly wait.

Top Chef Canada Season 6 Episode 5 Recap

I wonder what was going through Nathan’s head as he reentered the Top Chef Canada locker room on Sunday and found his things exactly where he left them after he was eliminated in episode two. The judges had no choice but to send him home the first time around thanks to his complete lack of confidence, but earning himself a second chance in this thing should surely bolster his mettle a little, no?

Related: Watch Nathan’s Exit Interview After Episode 2 Elimination

It certainly seemed like Nathan was ready to face a new day as he put his jacket back on and sported that big, signature grin, but then again so were the other remaining chefs. Maybe it was just me, but with Restaurant Wars out of the way, everyone seemed to stride back into that Monogram Kitchen with purpose this week. It was almost like they were ready to spice things up with their newfound confidence.


The remaining chefs await the next Quickfire challenge

Let’s Start With Dessert

In that case, it was a good thing the Quickfire challenge happened to feature a whole whack of spices from McCormick. Eden Grinshpan revealed the spicy task was to blindly pick two seasonings and then create a Top Chef Canada calibre dish showcasing them. The bittersweet twist? That dish had to be a dessert. You could physically see the chefs’ spirits crumbling; if this season has taught me anything it’s that most chefs would rather eat their own arm than make a dessert. And creating a dessert out of spices was just preposterous.


Mark says what every other chef is thinking

However, if you want to prove you’re the best of the best, you’ve got to be able to do dishes of all different types, so these guys trudged along as best they could for Eden and this week’s guest judge, Brandon Olson of CXBO Chocolates fame. (It didn’t hurt that $5,000 from McCormick was on the line for the winner.) Brandon came decked out in his awesome banana button-down shirt to explain the importance of innovation when it comes to sweets, and how any regular old dish just won’t do in this kitchen.


Don’t try this at home

So, once again the chefs scrambled over one another to get to their stations first, gathering at the fridge and completely emptying the liquid nitrogen in their bids to make frozen treats. Some of them, like Mark, really went for it. Although he pulled the unlikely combo of rosemary and ancho chile pepper, he managed to impress Brandon with his Apricot Ancho Chile Purée with Rosemary Ice Cream, Shortbread Crumb & Fried Crickets. In fact, Brandon asked Mark if he had any pastry training, that’s how good it supposedly was. Me? I’m still getting over Ivana serving up fried crickets two episodes ago. I don’t care how high-protein or trendy crickets are, at the end of the day they’re still fried bugs to me.

Ross’s equally unlikely combo of turmeric and cilantro seemed impossible to work with (has anyone in the history of cooking ever purposefully used them together?!) but his Turmeric Shortbread with Cilantro Cream, White Chocolate, Sea Buckthorn Turmeric Sauce, Mango and Pear was tasty and elegant. It’s hard to make the most of the strong yellow tint of turmeric, but somehow Ross managed to pull together a modern plate that Brandon said “brought it home without being overbearing.”

Matt’s Hat Trick


Matt’s sriracha beignets, burnt orange jalapeno ice cream and caramelized banana with bone marrow caramel

But once again the night’s winner was Matthew, despite the fact that Brandon actually choked from the heat of his jalapeno and sriracha pairing. He whipped up Sriracha Beignets, Burnt Orange Jalapeno Ice Cream and Caramelized Banana With Bone Marrow Caramel, pulling full inspiration from Brandon’s shirt. Did you know that bone marrow could make for an excellent dessert? Yeah, me neither but there you have it. In this competition, anything goes, and Matthew proved yet again that he’s a huge frontrunner in this thing; this was his third win in a row. He’s certainly won more money than any other current competitor, at this rate, and I can’t help but pull for him given that he’s got a pregnant wife at home. Well, that and he’s got everything to prove, considering he’s more of a corporate chef than the others in this competition thanks to his gig at MLSE.

As for the other competitors, once again Jesse and Nathan found themselves in the bottom. Jesse’s Chinese five-spice and smoked paprika dessert was entirely too smoky for Brandon, whereas Nathan’s celery seed and ginger doughnuts were doughy and undercooked. Not a great start to his grand re-entrance, but as he said, “keep on trucking.”

Toot, toot. Hopefully that means he’ll finally stop over-thinking things?

Chefs Hit the Ice


Some of the chefs’ skating skills were a little less impressive than their cooking skills

Anyhow, with the Quickfire complete, it was time to move on to the most nerve-racking part of the evening: the Elimination Challenge. As we’ve seen in the past four episodes these things are always stressful, but this week was particularly brutal because not one, but two chefs were going to go home. I suppose that’s the Top Chef Canada gods balancing the scales after allowing Nathan back in; we’ve got an episode number to stick to, people.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom though. How can it be when the chefs were asked to celebrate Canada’s national pastime by teaming up to create post-game meals for the players, parents and coaches of a kids’ league hockey team? Plus, the chefs had lots of inspiration thanks to the four signature Canadian proteins they were to implement in their dishes: Ontario pork, Atlantic lobster, Alberta beef or Pacific Coast salmon.


Jinhee’s pork and tiger prawn dumplings with chili peach mango chutney


Nathan’s soy-braised pork belly with fried rice and Saskatoon berries

For me, it was fun to see some of these teams being forced to work together. Jinhee was obviously not happy to have selected pork alongside nervous Nathan, but the guy handled her obvious concern in stride and in the end #TeamSweetheart (sorry Jinhee but that name is sticking) ended up working really well together. I’d eat Jinhee’s dumplings anytime (not just after a hockey game) and I could practically taste Nathan’s pork belly from the TV screen. Maybe we shouldn’t count Nate out just yet, after all, working with Jinhee he really seemed to come into his own.


Teamwork is dream work: Jinhee shows Nathan how to pinch dumplings

Meanwhile, it was equally fun to see this season’s jokesters, JP and Darren, team up and take their beef dishes in a different direction by invoking home-cooked comfort foods. Although I was unsure how a beef bourguignon would play in a hockey rink, JP nailed it with perfectly cooked beef and a savoury broth, and Darren’s overindulgent meatloaf sandwiches had Mark McEwan singing his praises. That three-cheese sauce on the homemade bread must have met McEwan’s “high performance” cheese standards, which these chefs are still joking about. Personally, I thought it was just cool to see that chefs can have fun in the kitchen together and still come out on top.

Given how different those two menus were, the judges must have been in a tough position. I thought it could have gone either way based on the comments, but I guess when Mijune Pak dances in happiness while eating your pork belly, you’re probably going to be the winner. Sure enough, Jinhee and Nathan came out on top, giving Nathan the ultimate reassurance that he deserves to be in this competition after all. Now if only he could work with Jinhee every day. Maybe we could pitch a #TeamSweetheart web series?


#TeamSweetheart celebrates with an awkward hug

With the winning dishes determined, the judges then set their sights on the night’s worst offerings. Matthew, who has been on a huge winning streak, managed to impress with his Bibimbap salmon, but his partner Jesse really didn’t think through his own salmon tartare. The dish felt out of place in the hockey arena (to be fair when does salmon anything feel right at a rink?), but he also loaded it up with so much salmon roe that it was completely over-salted. Even Matthew, who was so sure of himself heading into the challenge that he was swigging beer while prepping (hey, what goes better with hockey than beer?) agreed when pressed that it wasn’t something he’d put on one of his MLSE menus. Poor Matthew… why did the judges have to put him on the spot like that? Obviously, he was trying his best to stick up for his teammate.

“He had a harder time putting ingredients together in a meaningful way,” said McEwan of Jesse’s performance in general. “Some [of the ingredients] he used were very creative, but it didn’t necessarily work for me.”

Then there was Ross and Mark, another completely unlikely match. It came out in the episode that all of the other chefs make fun of Mark for doing foams and using gadgets in the kitchen, which would explain why no one has been taking him seriously as a contender in this thing so far. But the dude continued to do his own thing with a poached lobster potato salad with charred garlic foam that positively lit up Chris Nuttall-Smith’s face when he tried it, proving that the haters gonna hate but taste reigns supreme. Unfortunately for them Ross’s lobster bisque just didn’t do it for the judges though, and that landed the duo in the bottom.


Ross’s lobster bisque was pretty but lacked substance

The Most Shocking Elimination Ever?

That meant both teams landed in the bottom, where they defended each other’s choices in the face of elimination. And while I really wasn’t sure which way the judges would swing on this one, Ross—who refused to use his immunity the last two weeks after finding himself on the bottom—finally used it to save himself and Mark from elimination. And why wouldn’t he? This was the last challenge he was allowed to use it so he had everything to lose.

But what using that immunity meant was that Jesse and Matthew had to pack their knives and leave, which felt totally unfair given Matthew’s performance. I really, really thought he was going to take this thing all the way to the end considering how many challenges he’d already won. I honestly thought the judges might take Ross’s immunity back and send him and Jesse packing instead. Aren’t they allowed to bend the rules in situations like this?

“I didn’t see this coming, I was on a bit of a roll,” Matthew said to the cameras afterwards, confirming everything that was running through my head.

“Hopefully I didn’t make two new enemies,” Ross added. “Having this immunity was a very sharp, double-edged knife. Unfortunately it sent home two great chefs, but fortunately, I’m still here.”

That’s all fine and dandy, I suppose, but you’ll have to forgive me if I start mounting the campaign for Matthew’s return in the next All-Stars season, should it come to fruition. As it turns out I wasn’t the only one upset about his elimination. Janet Zuccarini, who wasn’t present for the challenge, was also shocked to hear that he was eliminated when she returned to judge her next Elimination Challenge.

“I actually thought that Matthew could almost do no wrong. And he was on the top with almost every challenge,” she said. “It was just a shock to learn… He understands what people want, but he also had this amazing ability to make the dishes super unique and have these twists, which I think is what you need to do when you’re in a competition like Top Chef Canada.”

Matt surprised head judge Mark McEwan with his skills and ability to thrive in the competition. “He cooked more like a hands-on restaurant chef than a corporate chef,” said McEwan. “Kudos to him for being able to manage both those angles because neither one is easy.”

Like I said, #MatthewForAllStars, y’all. But before then, we have a competition to get back to when the show returns next week. Judging from the previews there’s a pizza party in store, so let’s all bring our appetites.

Watch Matt and Jesse in their exit interview after elimination:

 

Top Chef Canada Season 6 Episode 3 Recap

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


Peter Meehan joins Eden Grinshpan for the Quickfire Challenge

The Next Big Thing?

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

On Trend: Chefs Mark and Matt

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


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

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


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

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

Hola, Chefs!

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


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

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


Carlos Gaytan at the tasting table

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

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

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


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

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


Elia was the one to beat in this challenge

JP and Ivana Get Their Just Desserts

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


The bottom three chefs have their reckoning at judges’ table

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

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

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

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

 

Top Chef Canada Season 6 Episode 1 Recap

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Best Places to Eat in Calgary: Top Chef Canada’s Jinhee Lee

Jinhee Lee’s love of cooking wasn’t exactly fostered by her parents growing up in South Korea; she spent 11 years working as a kindergarten teacher before moving to Canada and secretly enrolling at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in the Professional Cooking program. Now she’s a force to be reckoned with as the executive chef at Foreign Concept, and is ready to prove she’s a top competitor across the country.

For the past two years Jinhee took the top prize in Gold Medal Plates, and in 2016 she was also named one of Avenue Calgary’s “Top 5 people to watch in Calgary’s food scene.” With credentials like that, Jinhee certainly knows where to grab some delicious eats; here are her top Calgary restaurants where she loves to eat.

Related: Read Jinhee Lee’s full bio here.

Foreign Concept

Pan-Asian cuisine with an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients and modern cooking techniques is apparent throughout the menu at this Calgary hotspot, which features items like Angus beef striploin tataki and charsiu pork & foie gras steamed buns.

“[The restaurant features] fresh, clean and bright flavours,” says Jinhee, noting that her favourite dish is Alberta trout cha ca la vong. “I love the marriage between the Asian flavours and Canadian ingredients.”

Anju

Chef and owner Roy Oh puts an emphasis on bold Korean flavours with a modern twist on this expansive tapas menu with items like the clayot black cod and his KFC sliders. Anju, a Korean term that translates into “food you eat with alcohol,” is all about sharing a great meal with good friends and frosty drinks.

“[There’s] bold Korean flavours and good soju,” Jinhee raves. In particular, she’s a big fan of the crispy tofu and kimchi. “I love the crispy texture of tofu and tasty fried kimchi and pork belly. [It] makes me thirsty for soju!”

Charcut Roast House

When you think of quality, expertly prepared cuts of meat, Top Chef Canada: All-Stars competitor Connie DeSousa certainly stands out. As the co-chef and co-owner of this rustic, award-winning establishment, she’s proving that seasonal menus and in-house butchered meats are where it’s at.

“[Charcut has] good quality meats and charcuterie,” says Jinhee. “They make the best pig’s head mortadella.”

Happy Valentines week….. Let’s meat at #CHARCUT ????❤️

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Model Milk

The self-professed methodology of this contemporary eatery is to “buy the best ingredients we can afford and try not to screw them up before they hit the plate.” The strategy seems to be working, given how popular Model Milk’s rotating menu of Canadian-sourced and inspired dishes seems to be.

“[There is] great ambience and room,” says Jinhee. “I love the Sunday Supper; they create menus with different cuisines every week.”

Halibut Ceviche. Grapefruit. Nori. Chili.

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River Café

An orchard-wood-burning grill and oven sit in the heart of this kitchen, where chefs roll out a variety of items based on fresh produce and locally-sourced ingredients from Canadian farmers and ranchers. That’s probably why the tasting menu—Jinhee’s favourite selection when frequenting the joint—is so popular.

“[River Café makes] great use of local and sustainable ingredients,” she says. “[There are many] creative dishes.”

See Top Chef Canada: All-Stars Winner Nicole Gomes’s Picks for Best Calgary Eats

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